End of the story

warned me to allow enough time to get from the middle of Liverpool to the Belfast ferry, and she was right. I only discovered which stop to get off at by asking locals at the train station (none of the maps say “alight here for ferry” or anything helpful like that). Once I reached Hamilton Square, there was no trace of transport to get to the ferry terminal – the bus stops running before 7 pm, although even on a normal night the ferry doesn’t sail until 10 and boarding doesn’t start until 8.

Luckily I identified familiar accents from a couple who were also waiting for a taxi, and shared with them to the terminal. They had only planned to fly back from Liverpool rather than London, so had not travelled as far as me. And anyway, as it turned out, the boat was not sailing until a quarter to midnight anyway – it was already going to be half ten rather than ten o’clock because of the tides, but the sudden onrush of passengers meant they needed – and took – some extra time to get things ready.

I ended up talking to a gynaecologist while we were waiting; we watched the beautiful sunset light linger and evntually fade on the towers of the Liver Building. He too had come from London having missed a later flight from Heathrow than mine, and was bewailing the fact that he had booked too late to get a berth, at 1030 that morning. (I was pretty sure I had a berth, and hadn’t booked it until noon, but kept quite about that.)

Once we got on I realised that I had been assigned a cabin with three made-up berths, and one still folded away, entirely to myself. But by this point I had lost the gynaecologist, and didn’t feel I had the energy or chutzpah to recruit extra cabin-mates from the huddled masses. There was a four-course dinner included in the price of the ticket, but I had eaten in Liverpool, and went straight to bed.

Breakfast was decent if early (before 7) with views of the Ulster landscape (Scrabo Tower the most obvious landmark). We docked at 8, but disembarkation seemed to take ages. I also realised that the wait for taxis at the terminal was going to be pretty lengthy, and walked about a mile inland – this still only got me as far as the Duncrue industrial estate, but I was able to get a cab pretty quickly from there. And so home.

I was very fortunate, I suspect. Emily Flynn Vencat interviewed me for this Newsweek piece on the Heathrow express yesterday; fortunately for me, my story was not dramatic enough for her to use. My travel costs have been covered by my employers, since it was a work trip; I am fortunate enough to be able to afford other incidental expenses, mainly food. I didn’t miss any crucial life events, like a wedding, a funeral, a job interview, or a critical negotiation; missing a day of holiday with my family is aggravating and annoying, but not devastating. Lots of people will have been hit far worse than I have.

And if they’re serious about no books on planes, I am revising my travel plans for the next few months… (On which point, see George R.R. Martin.)

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