Monday, March 26, 2018

Many a slip 'twixt opera cup, East Croydon

On Saturday night I was honoured to be a member of a media panel, six critics convened to select the winner of a special award in the Glyndebourne Opera Cup. It was a wonderful event, and nice to see the gardens in early spring for a change, full of daffodils and primroses. Describing us and our task, presenter Chris Addison quipped: "That must be a fun room." You better believe it, buster - we were tucking into our sandwiches very happily, and reached exactly the same conclusion as the chief jury, but in a fraction of the time. We gave our media prize to the lovely American mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey, who also emerged with overall first prize. I'm writing a full account of the evening at the moment and will post a link as soon as it goes live. 

What follows now is what followed.

Unfortunately Southern Trains had decided to do weekend engineering works that day, so the Lewes line was closed south of Three Bridges. The press office kindly agreed to provide the five of us who needed transport with a large taxi to and from Three Bridges station. 

Coming back afterwards, large taxi is late, but eventually turns up driven by cheerful if charmingly dim cabby, who treats us to a CD of Christian devotional songs from the 1970s twice through. After three hours of unadulterated Mozart, it's briefly refreshing; we could, of course, use some silence, but politely do not object. At some point the critic of the Financial Times notes quietly: "This journey feels longer than the one on the way down, doesn't it?" 

He's not wrong. "Oh," says cabby, "I missed the turning. Sorry 'bout that..." We go round a roundabout in a concrete wasteland for a second time, take a bumbly right turn across a carriageway on which a maniac is speeding towards us at what looks like 95mph, and pull up outside...Crawley station. But we don't want Crawley - the trains crawl. We want Three Bridges, whence trains go lickety-split to Victoria via Clapham Junction, and it's very nearby. Indeed, it's round the corner. There were signposts to it. Cheerful cabby can't find it. "Uh, that's where the satnav sent me... Dunno why I did that... I think it's just down here, let's go round this roundabout again." 

We do. We turn right. "Oh whoops, I think this was the wrong one..." - and, boing, we're back on the M23, with no turnoff before Gatwick, 'Amazing Grace' blaring out. One of us suggests going to Gatwick instead - it's only a mile away and there are more trains. We head for Gatwick... find that the motorway exit, bless its cotton socks, is closed for roadworks. There isn't another for many miles. The deputy editor of Opera Magazine discovers on Google Maps that it will now take 26 minutes to get to Gatwick, despite it being 1 mile away, and it's only 3 mins longer to drive to East Croydon... 

Cheerful cabby, eye on meter, agrees to take us to the latter, as we can't turn round now in any case. A few miles up the A23 by a traffic light, there's a sign to Coulsdon station. Taxi screeches to halt: "Is it that station you mean?" No. The name's Croydon. East Croydon. 

We trundle through the backwoods of Surrey, which are quite extensive, to South Croydon. "Is it that station there?" No. That one's South Croydon. It's only just down the road from....

Full credit to the deputy arts editor of The Times, who is in the front seat, asserts his authority, finds the right turnoff and navigates us safely to East Croydon at long last.

Moral: never underestimate a bunch of music critics. And if your cabby puts on a playlist of devotional songs from the 1970s, exit the cab at once. Don't wait. Run. 

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