SOML Stories: My Worst London Weekend


As promised, I am going to tell you one of my crazier “Story of my Life” stories this time. This one happened to me when I was in college in Dublin, and I decided to visit some of my friends from high school who were living in London. The flights between Dublin and London are many and cheap, so even a poor student like myself could manage a short trip away to visit friends.

The plan was simple: Leave on Friday evening after classes, sleep on my friends’ dorm room floor, and fly back to Dublin on one of those redeye flights on Monday morning, arriving back just in time for my Chem lab at 10AM. Easy, right?

I was a little short on cash, but I checked with my bank and they told me there would be no problem using my bank card in London. So I stuffed a couple of changes of clothes in a backpack together with a few packs of cheap cigarettes from Italy, topped up my phone, and headed off to the airport.

 

I landed in Gatwick, and figured out which train I’m supposed to take to get to my friend’s dorm. After exchanging the little cash I had left in my pocket, I realized I don’t have enough for the train ticket. No problem, I’ll just go to the bank machine.

My card is rejected. I try another one, that one rejects my card too. None of the bank machines will take my card. No problem, I thought, I’ll just pay for the ticket directly with my bank card at the desk.

I get to the head of the line for the tickets, but my bank card is rejected again. They inform me that my kind of bank card wont work in the ATMs in England, as I needed to get a special one for outside Ireland. I gave them my credit card, but they informed me that I cannot use that either, as they stopped accepting prepaid credit cards 6 months ago. I’ll be able to get cash from an actual bank on Saturday morning, they told me, but not from the ATMs.

I leave the line. No problem, I thought, I’ll just go to one of the internet computers and buy the ticket online. I spend one of my precious pounds to get a few minutes worth of internet, only to discover that this train does not have online ticket sales.

I call my friend. Can I take a cab to her dorm, have her pay for it, and I’ll pay her back Saturday morning when I get some cash from the bank?

No, she tells me. It turns out, someone had recently stolen her identity, and so all of her cards were blocked until they sorted the thing out. In fact, she was planning on borrowing money from me this weekend, as she did not have a pound to her name, and was surviving on the meager food they provided at the dorms. Plus, the cab from Gatwick was probably going to run me somewhere north of 70 pounds (at the time, that translated to north of 130 euros), and none of the other people I was visiting had that kind of cash to spare, nor were they close enough friends for us to ask such a favor of them.

I start to panic. I have 2 options here, either I sleep in the airport for the entire weekend and wait for my flight back on Monday morning, or I find a way to scrape together enough cash for me to get out of this bleeding airport. What do I have on me that is of monetary value?

I sidled over to the smoking area, and found a young guy who might be nice enough to hear me out. I explained my situation, and offered to sell him my 3 packs of cigarettes at half price. He took pity on me, bought my cigarettes off me, and so I rushed back to buy a train ticket, letting my friend know I was coming.

Still a little shaken, I dazedly followed her from her dorms to another set of dorms in Camden where we were invited to a party. We had a good time, slept over, and the next morning I wandered around London looking for a bank.

After being sent to three different banks and a post office, it seems as though no one was going to give me cash out of my account with my crappy Irish bank card. I now do not have a single cent for food, let alone for transport back to the airport.

With my last 10 cents of phone credit, I texted my father, who saved the day and wired me some money through Western Union.

Thinking that will be the end of it, I treated both of us to some food and cigarettes, and we spent a lazy Saturday afternoon watching trashy British TV and eating cake. That was the best day of the weekend.

On Sunday, she tells me that she needs to leave me for a few hours to go to a dinner organized by an instructor of hers. She says she should be back before 11PM, but if she isn’t I need to make sure I leave her dorm before then and wait for her outside. She’s only allowed evening guests 2 days a month, you see, and her boyfriend would be coming over next week. If she’s not back by 11:30PM, I should just meet her back at the Camden dorms, I remember how to get there, right?

Um no, I tell her, I most certainly don’t remember how to get there. It involved two bus connections and quite a bit of walking, and I was just following her the other night, still recovering from the stress of leaving the stupid airport. She says she’ll be back by 11, and leaves.

11PM comes and goes, and I’m waiting for her on the corner of the street. 11:30PM comes and goes. So does midnight.

Crap. She’s going to meet me at Camden, and I haven’t the foggiest idea how to get there. I don’t even know the address of the dorms, so I can’t tell a cab driver. I ran out of phone credit, and in any case she didn’t pick up her phone when I called her repeatedly from the dorm pay phones. Now what?

As I’m standing on the corner, wondering if I should find an all-night cafe of some sort to wait in until morning, I see someone who looks vaguely familiar stroll by me on the street. After staring at him for a few seconds, I realize that I met him at the party on Friday night.

I was never even told his name. He was presented to me only by his nickname: Chardonnay. What’s more he doesn’t seem to be alone, he’s walking along the street with two people who are significantly older than him. Fuck it, he’s my only shot.

YOOHOOO! CHARDONNAY!! REMEMBER ME?

Turns out, Chardonnay was having a family reunion that weekend with his much older sister and her husband. He was walking them back to their hotel room, and then going on towards the Camden dorms. Of course, I follow him.

So, at 12:30AM you could find me, being dragged into a tipsy, emotional and teary family group hug, in which they told each other how much they love each other and how great it was to see each other again, feeling about as awkward as I have ever felt in my life.

An eternally long 10 minutes later, I trotted along behind Chardonnay and finally made it to the Camden dorms. My friend turned up there at 2AM, and I informed her that she was a bitch.

At 5AM, after a 40 minute power nap on a floor encrusted with Thor knows what and next to a moldy old pot of burnt rice, I got up, grabbed my shit and made my way back to Gatwick airport. I landed, hopped on a bus and went straight to the Chemistry Department feeling deeply relieved, for the first time in my life, to be back in Dublin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *