Waiting at Exeter St Davids on Thursday 2 May for the 17:58 back to Barnstaple on platform 3, from which the electronic display indicated it would depart, and with a good 15 minutes or so before it was likely to arrive, I thought I would slip across to the Gents on platform 5. For once, I opted to use the lift.
Fine. The lift came down when I pressed the button. The doors opened. I stepped inside. “Door closing” was announced. The lift climbed to bridge level. Its arrival was announced. But the door did not open. I pressed the appropriate button. Still the door did not open.
Instead, the lift went back down to platform level. Its arrival was announced in the usual way. But the door didn't open. Pressing the ‘open’ button made no difference. The door remained firmly closed. Instead, the lift went back up again. Again the door didn’t open. I pressed the alarm. Have you ever heard the lift alarm? It makes quite a racket. But there was no response. And the lift went back down to platform level.
You’ve guessed it. The door didn’t open, in spite of my efforts. But the light went out. I pressed the alarm again, this time holding it down. After some time, a voice sounded, indistinctly. My difficulty in making out what was being said was made greater by the additional sound of one of those routine recorded watchfulness announcements that abound at stations these days.
Eventually it ceased. By this time, the voice over the emergency communication had ceased as well. The lift continued to go up and down. I pressed the alarm again. The voice came back. “Which station are you calling from?” Taken by surprise, “St Davids”, I answered.
“Which St Davids?” the voice asked. (Is there another one?) “Exeter”, I said; “Exeter St Davids”. “What’s the problem?” “I’m stuck in the lift. The door won’t open. I’m just going up and down”. “I’ll send an engineer”, the distant voice announced.
The intercom went dead. The lift continued to go up and down. I’ve no idea how many times.
To cut a long story short, eventually the door did open. A workman stood outside with a barrow and a brush. He didn’t look like an engineer. I assume, however, that he had opened the door from the outside with a view to getting his barrow across the line.
By this time, it was a good minute after the Barnstaple train was due to leave. I hadn’t heard it leave. But it wasn’t standing at platform 3.
From the the corner of my eye, I spotted it standing at platform 1. Presumably a platform change announcement had been made while I was riding up and down in the lift. I scuttled along the platform at what passes as running for me these days, hoping that I could get across to the other platform before the train left. Fortunately, one of the station train dispatchers was to hand. Saying that I had been stuck in the lift, I asked her to try to get the Barnstaple train held for me and scuttled on.
A London train had arrived. The stairs were congested. Many people were heavily laden with luggage. Crossing to platform 1 was taking me longer than usual. The train was still at the platform when I emerged from the stairs. The door opening lights, however, went off as I crossed the platform. However, the conductor was standing by an open door towards the front, presumably waiting for me.
How she could have known that I was the person who had been stuck in the lift, I have no idea. But she did hold the train until I had climbed in. For that, I was very grateful. I didn’t fancy waiting another hour for the next one. We left several minutes late; I didn’t note how many. It could have been worse.
We stopped at every station except Chapelton. Someone got off at Portsmouth Arms, a rare occurrence.
The train was due to arrive at Barnstaple at 18:09. A bus is scheduled to leave the station for Bideford at 18:10. There have been occasions on which I have managed to catch it. This time, the train arrived at Barnstaple station at 18:12. The bus, it appeared, had already departed. Ah well, only another 28 minutes to wait.
Had the train been held for me at St Davids? I don’t know. I should have asked, but regret now that I did not, Had it been, I would have been able to thank the conductor. I think I was too bemused by the whole saga to think straight.
Does this story have a moral? I think so. If you want to visit the Gents before leaving St Davids, don’t leave it too late. The same would go for anyone wanting to get to the Ladies. Above all, if either would mean changing platforms, think twice about using the lift.
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