We decided that 5:30pm on the day before New Year’s Eve was a good time to travel from Leicester Square Tube Station to Heathrow Airport. The fact that it was a Saturday did not seem to have a (positive) impact on the rush hour crowds. As I’m already in trouble for having “way too much crap,” I was acutely aware that James was saddled up like a pack horse and pushing my large bag, frequently commenting that, due to its weight, it must contain a dead body.
After navigating several flights of stairs down into the main station, we made our way to the wide gate where James swiped his Oyster care and walked through to the other side with all our gear. I swiped my card twice and got a red signal both times, then got told to stand back by a very chipper Tube worker. After she swiped my card and received the red signal for the 3rd time, she flatly informed me that it had no money on it. Even though the screen on the gate had informed me of this twice already, I had not noticed. She was not impressed with me.
As James looked back at me from the other side of the gate in one of the busiest transport hubs in the world, covered in bags and standing on a narrow landing that led to 4 downward escalators while thousands of commuters barged speedily past him, you could say the energy between us became tense.
After looking at him with my famous “oops…” expression (which happens on an alarmingly regular basis), I hurried away to the card top-up machine lines. Trying to get to the front as quickly as possible, I changed between the three lines about six times, each one about four people deep, trying to gauge which would move fastest. I removed a £10 note from my wallet and looked over someone’s shoulder to try to get a head start on how the machine worked so I wouldn’t embarrass myself (further) and hold up the line…
I finally reached the front, glancing over at James, who was still standing at the top of the escalators. I swiped my card and selected to top up £10. The screen said, “Insert card or coins.” As I looked down at the note in my hand and recognised the absence of a card in my possession, it dawned on me that this would be one of ‘those’ moments.
I began to furiously pull coins from my wallet and shove them into the coin slot, thinking I might be able to make £10. I realise in hindsight that I should have just cancelled the transaction and changed the amount to five founds, but I wouldn’t call ‘presence of mind in moments of pressure’ one of my strong points.
The coin counter reduced in a paaaaainfully slow fashion as I shoved in handfuls of shrapnel. The coins were running out, but the counter wasn’t… I started to think I was going to be five or ten pence short and was gearing up to turn around and ask the, now much longer, line of people behind me if anyone could spare some change (kill me).
I still can’t believe I had exactly ten pounds in my wallet! All that remained was a pressed coin I got from LEGOLAND years ago that has a horseshoe, a clover and the words, “My Lucky Penny” branded on it. I have carried it everywhere with me for the past eleven years and, to my knowledge, this is the first time it has ever worked.
The screen finally instructed me to tap my card again to confirm the transaction. I did so, then turned around to find a line of no less than 30 people waiting behind me… oops. I looked at the guy directly behind me and gave a sheepish “sorry,” hoping he would pass it down the line.
I rushed over to the gate and hurried through, not able to spot my trusty packhorse anywhere. Excellent. The landing was so small that I figured the only place he could go was downward, so I jumped on an escalator and after what seemed like an eternity, spotted his red hat at the bottom waiting for me.
Attempting to help, I took my large bag from James. As we shuffled through the corridors pushed up firmly against the bodies of other commuters, I tried to change my grip and, in the process, dropped my bag on the floor, hitting several people with it on the way down and blocking off dozens of others.
After this, I was not allowed to “help” anymore.
Honestly, it was the most exciting thing to happen until this morning at the airport when I got a full body scan and pat down because the zippers on my shoes made the security gates beep. I’m sure the security guard sincerely appreciated the inappropriate running commentary I provided free of charge.