It was cute when I got a text that said "The black train about to pass your train is apparently the royal train with hrh on board. Small story to tell your mum." I smiled -- it's Mom's birthday, so I've been thinking of her already -- but thought no more of it.
I got to Piccadilly just in time for my train to Huddersfield. 10:27, Newcastle, platform 3. But I saw the strangest thing as I neared the platform: lines of people, so close together and three or four deep so I couldn't see what, if anything, they were looking at, but I supposed I now knew where HRH's train was going to end up. I was worried they were blocking my way, but they were at the next platform along. So I dismissed the phenomenon again.
But the train wasn't there. Platform 3 still claimed it was expecting the 10:18 to Glasgow. Which wasn't even showing up as delayed, though it was 10:25 by this point. I checked the display boards again; yep, 10:27, platform 3. There didn't seem to be anyone I could ask what was going on; all the station staff were busy with these rows of people. But if I couldn't get that train, I might as well go to Victoria for the train I know leaves on the hour. So I headed for the exit, marveling at how long the line of people was, they were standing on chairs, murmuring to each other...it reminded me so strongly of that bit in Guards! Guards!
where the good people of Ankh-Morpork are cooing over the guy that's going to slay the dragon. I'm the only person I can see heading in the other direction. I'm the only person even looking
the way I am, as surely as I would be if, like Amélie, I'd turned around in a cinema to look at the people behind me.
I am of course here playing the role of Vimes (though I'm only thinking the things he says, because I'm a foreigner and not captain of the Watch).
Anyway, I walk parallel the line of people all the way out the door...it just goes on and on. People are loitering around Greggs outside in the bright cold morning. Standing on tiptoes, I can see over enough of the people to see the metal barriers they're butted up against. I start to worry I won't be able to get out, and then a nice woman confirms it by telling me this. She suggests I try the Fairfield Street exit at the same time I think of it, and so I go back into Piccadilly, muttering the news grumpily to a couple of people who also seem to be trying to get out of the station.
At this point, I have to text magister
and tell him that my original estimate of when I'll be there is a lie. In the, what, seven months now we've been making this journey back and forth across the Pennines, we've had pretty regular problems from train delays and engineering works and missed connections and once a train broke down in dramatic fashion and left me stranded for a while in Rochdale. But I've never had the chance before to say "sorry I'll be late but it's the queen's fault."
I could get out the Fairfield Street exit, though now I was just reaching the time when if anything else went wrong I'd be worried I wouldn't make it to Victoria in time (and if I didn't I'd have to go back to Piccadilly, assuming it can get back to normal any time soon). So naturally something else went wrong.
When I got to the intersection in front of the station approach, by Caffe Nero, I ended up stuck on the median in the middle of the road with a little cluster of people, who were staring confusedly at the cops on motorcycles that were there to prevent pedestrians crossing the road -- something I didn't notice (obviously I saw them but I didn't know their presence meant I couldn't cross until I started to try) which made me nervous. I hate it when things are different but not obviously so, for blindness reasons. But I also hate that one person gets such special treatment, while others like me are left to flounder and miss trains and be late for things. No police motorcycles follow me around to keep me safe.
"Three minutes," one of my fellow huddled pedestrians said, apparently at some signal from the guy on the motorcycle in front of us.
I seethed at having to stand there for three whole minutes, and while I have to admit that the disruption would no doubt have been similar in a country with an elected head of state, I spend the time cursing the idea that some people are born worthy of this sort of treatment while most of us stand out in the cold, unable to get where we want to be. It'd be nice to know, if stuck displaying the forced deference of barriers and police, that at least it's for someone you get to vote into that position.