Thursday, December 24, 2009
Where to Start??
Seasons greetings Guys and Doll's,
I sit here in the comfort of my living room watching my daughter stuff her face and watch cartoons at the same time. A calm, relaxing feeling pulses through me. A far cry from the epic week that just passed, let me enunciate.
Last Friday morning I boarded the Eurostar in Paris, London bound and well excited at the prospect of spending time with two great men I am proud to call my friends. It had been a surprise trip as my wife and best friend had been colluding to award me with a few days respite from the weekly grind of appointments and all things Autism related. It worked, and on Friday night I found myself watching "Them Crooked Vultures" live in concert. Great night all round and the days that followed passed quickly with lots of banter between the boys about days gone by, it was also a great opportunity for me to explain to my friends how Pearls diagnosis has changed our lives. So all is well and good and come Monday morning (my day of departure) I am landed a blow, the Eurostar is not running. They had been having some difficulty with trains over that weekend due to the amount of snow that had been falling on both sides, but it was in North-West France where it was really causing problems. One train had stopped inside the tunnel and people were stuck underground for 14 hours. So basically anyone who had tickets for Saturday-Monday had been left stuck in London. Now I am sure you are saying to yourself "Yeah but you get a few more days with you mates." Not quite. Pearl was due to enter hospital the next day for an MRI scan to determine if she will have any problems in the future regarding epilepsy etc. So at 8.00 that morning I hastily packed my bags and left my friends house with a head that was as heavy as an anvil. What was I going to do???
I'll tell you what I did..... I went straight to the station and was thoroughly devastated on arrival. No trains for the day and an announcement would be made that evening as to whether they would actually be running on the Tuesday. I felt lost and hopeless. I thought of my wife and my children who were excited and looking forward to Papa coming home, before I knew it I had started to cry. A lovely Scottish young man by the name of Derek approached me and I will never forget his kindness towards me. He reassured me and he did everything he could to make sure I was OK. But time was ticking and once the emotion turned into motivation I knew I had a choice to make. I could either head out solo and hope to find a truck driver who would take me over on the ferry, which was miles away and the roads were already gridlocked with people who had the same idea, or find a flight or bus. I hit the Internet in a little cafe nearby. ALL FLIGHTS GONE, there was one seat left for £400. I took another train to the bus station, all buses for mainland Europe were sold out. On arrival back at the Eurostar head quarters at about 11.00 it was bedlam. Hundreds of people had showed up and the terminal was swamped with camera crews, reporters, photographers and journalists. This was big news and the English were blaming the French and vice versa. The CEO Richard Brown was being interviewed beside me and said that although the train had been built to deal with such conditions, a "fluffier" type of snow was to blame for the engines going down. That actually cheered me up, good old fluffy snow eh!!
So there we all were, eating our free sandwiches and drinking our free coffee, waiting for the announcement. All I can think about is whether I will make it back to be able to be by Pearls side for her scan. In the following few hours I was on TV with Sky, ITN, Al Jazera English and Catalonian TV. Did interviews with The Daily Mail and The Times newspapers. These all turned out to be welcome distractions and made the clock tick just that little bit faster. In the mean time I had made friends with Richard who was the main PR guy at the station. He told me they had finished testing the tracks and the media would get a press release first, but because he was so sympathetic to my situation he said he would slip me a copy before the official announcement was broadcast. So at about 4.30 he did just that. And my heart just sank. The passengers who had tickets for Saturday and Sunday were getting priority for travel on Tuesday. Trains would start at 7.30 and finish at 18.00 and with 26,000 people to accommodate the math did not favour yours truly, Mondays ticket holders (me) would have to wait until Wednesday. So I decided I would hang around and chance my arm, tired, downtrodden and unsure when I'd ever get back.
At 1 am there were only 20 people remaining, so I made friends with 2 guys from San Diego and we decided to take the power back. We formed a queue with everyone so there would be some semblance of order, therefore when people started arrived at 5 am they would see that we were at the front. Everyone was really cool and rallied around the other. At 5 am the place was full with folks, all snaking back behind our improv queue, our plan had worked. Then an official came up and said we had to start queueing in the proper area, but to pass this guy you had to produce your ticket for Sat/Sun. 5 people went through and then it was my turn. I explained that my daughter was going to hospital and that I personified the "special circumstances" exception. He asked if I had any proof of this, I did not but that's when I remembered I had her handicap card in my wallet and a magazine called 'Enfant' in my bag (they had recently interviewed us regarding Pearls early diagnosis and it included photos, more to follow on the publication on the site and here). I showed him them and he had worked with Autistic kids for 10 years "No worries my friend, we have to luck after the ASD kids". After he said that I just bear hugged him and was on my way. His name was Ron and he was a truly great person. The wait for the train was long and cold but my San Diego mates gave me some Whisky to warm me up and we all chatted and laughed, relieved to be finally in motion. The train took off at 7.47 and I had been up for 24 hours at this point, but the thoughts of embracing my family kept me awake and giddy. At 14.00 on Tuesday 22nd Dec I walked through my front door, 31 hours after I walked into St Pancras station in London. I want to say thanks to all the friends and the Eurostar staff who helped me along the way, my faith in human kindness was bolstered no end.
There is more to write on the 2 days that have passed since I got back but I'll leave that for next time, I don't want to bludgeon y'all with too much. My sincerest best wishes I send to you, from the kind words you write on the site to the e-mails you send us to the text message we receive. The people who have joined us on this journey will be in our hearts forever.
God Bless and Joyeux Noel from the four of us.