In about 1994, I remember my friend Fee telling me how much she hated flying; to deal with this she would have a couple of stiff drinks and then rush for the plane with 5 minutes to spare. This way she didn’t have to sit on the plane, worrying. I am anxious just describing this approach to travel (or any other events where you are required to be somewhere for a specific time). I am the complete opposite, as any of my friends would tell you. I need to be at an airport many hours before you are required to be; I need to be in the queue for the theatre long before the show starts. This isn’t about being at the front of the queue or getting priority seats; it’s about just getting where I need to be. Why do I get anxious about such things; I don’t know. Friends have tried the CBT techniques on me: what is the worst thing that could happen if you missed the train, boat, plane, show….? It’s obvious; I would miss it and I had planned to be there or get on the train etc. It messes up my whole routine; I know that sounds silly and it is even sillier because I am also quite good at problem-solving, getting myself out of a mess.
So has anything disastrous happened, with all this anxiety? It depends what you mean by disastrous. Well, I missed Margaret’s funeral; Margaret was someone I had worked with, a patient in Glenfrith Hospital. I didn’t leave enough time to get to the funeral in good time. I rushed into Room 1 of the crematorium, sat down, the coffin appeared; there were very few people there so I was glad I made it in time. The vicar clearly didn’t know her, it was all very general; he only mentioned Margaret’s name at the end, actually he mentioned Constance’s name. Because I didn’t leave enough time, I had sat through the funeral of someone I didn’t know. This is not the time to rush out and find Margaret’s funeral service; Constance deserved some respect. There were only five of us at the service so I spent the next few minutes concocting a story in my head about how I knew Constance, in case someone asked. I looked at the flowers, shook the vicar’s hand and left as quickly as I could. Margaret’s funeral was in Room 2; it was too late to attend hers. I know, neither of them would know if I had been there or had intruded on the funeral of someone I didn’t know. I have never been late for a funeral since.
It’s not just funerals. In 1999, I was supposed to catch the 6.30am ferry to Tiree from Oban. I had driven up the night before, booked into a Guest House on the sea front, about as near as I could get to the ferry terminal. CalMac make it clear you need to be in the queue 30 minutes before departure time. I set the alarm. It didn’t go off. I wake at 6.15am; I panic, running around like a headless chicken. Then I decide to put a jumper over my pyjamas and see if I could still get on. Three minutes before the ramp was drawn up, I arrived and they kindly let me on. If I’d missed it, the next boat wasn’t for three days. So there I am, on the car deck, trying to find some clothes from the back of the car so I could walk, with some dignity, to the toilets to change and have a wash. I managed it, got myself some food and made sure that I was hours early for the return journey.
It’s not just ferries. In 2000, I went to Sri Lanka, flying from Heathrow. Lovely holiday so I decided to go back in 2003. We were driving to the airport, having booked a car park. Off we set in plenty of time, my sort of plenty of time. On the M25, I looked at the car park ticket to check which one we were in; Car Park 5 at Gatwick! Had we booked the wrong car park? No, we were driving to the wrong airport and driving the wrong way round the M25! Good job we left in plenty of time but then there was the traffic jam. We arrived at the check-in 25 minutes before the plane was due to depart; bearing in mind we were still under the effects of 9/11 and the lengthy security check-ins. Made the flight by about 10 minutes.
It’s not just planes. About a month ago, we set off for the theatre in Nottingham; I can’t leave less than an hour for travelling time, even though I know it only takes 25 minutes. A huge traffic jam on the M1 meant that we actually missed the show. You see that possibility is always there. We now leave one and a half hours before the performance.
So where does that leave us? I have already said, in a previous blog, that the way to manage the Edinburgh Fringe is good planning and I am a good planner. I know Edinburgh, so I know the distances between venues and how long it would take to get from one to another. 23 shows over 8 days and all had gone well; I had always allowed too much time, which is good; we could get a cup of tea. However, the penultimate show was Out of the Blue, an A Capella group who had been on TV. I knew it would be in a big venue and would be packed. I’d been to the Assembly Rooms on George Street on a previous occasion so I knew where it was. We ambled along Princes Street with plenty of time to spare. Presented the tickets; they had never heard of the show. They looked at the tickets – “Oh no, it’s at Assembly George Square Theatre, over the other side of town. 30 minutes to walk (and that would be at ordinary pace, not the pace of someone with a dodgy back) or you could catch a bus, Number 3 from Princes Street”. Do you know how long Princes Street is? Do you know how many bus stops there are on Princes Street?Where was the bus stop going to be? At least I knew which side of the road we should be on. Fortunately I saw a Number 3 pass. Thank goodness for traffic jams, we caught the bus which took us to very near George Square Theatre and made it in time. I am very grateful to the Princes Street buses who saved the show for us; we would never have been able to walk there.
So what have I learnt? Certainly, that my policy of leaving for a funeral, plane, boat or show in plenty of time is the right one; better to be too early than not get there at all. The other lesson, of course, is to read, and re-read, the instructions of where you are to be, BEFORE you leave home, not while you are on the journey! So when I saw this delightful tea towel called ‘Princes Street Buses’, I knew I had to have it, as a reminder of the lesson I need to learn.