It was Wednesday February 9th, the day I was scheduled to begin my journey to Thailand. The flight was due to leave Birmingham at eight twenty in the evening. In recent years I have made several car journeys to Birmingham from Sheffield. It normally takes an hour and forty five minutes - M1, M42 and then A38 right into the heart of the city. No problem. And the airport lies to the east of the city anyway - meaning the journey would be even shorter
To be cautious, Shirley and I set off at just before quarter to four in the afternoon. We tootled along the Dronfield by-pass towards Chesterfield, possibly thinking that we hadn't needed to give ourselves so much time. We'd probably be there by half past five, ready to order a last supper with Frances who planned to come out to the airport by train from Selly Oak in Birmingham to see me off.
We sped along the A617 towards its junction with the M1 - Junction 28. And when we got there - yes, you've guessed it - the traffic on the southbound M1 was completely stationary - as far as the eye could see. Panic. I was going to head across to Mansfield and try to get down to Nottingham but Shirley mentioned Clay Cross and the A61 so I doubled back and, feeling not unduly concerned, drove over to Clay Cross, meeting the A61 at about four thirty.
Between Clay Cross and Derby there's a squat little former mining town called Alfreton, mentioned in some of D.H.Lawrence's writing and bang in the centre of this ugly town is a busy crossroads with traffic lights. Unfortunately, we weren't the only ones who were trying to avoid the M1 car park that evening and Alfreton was becoming not just congested but clogged up like a U bend filled with solidyfying fat. We found ourselves moving at a snail's pace. From Higham to Alfreton is little more than a mile but it took us almost an hour, so now it's just past six o'clock and we're miles from Birmingham. Could we make it? I was beginning to doubt it.
I had checked in online but I still needed to be at the airport ninety minutes before departure at six fifty. The race was on. Fortunately we breezed around Derby and hit the A38, driving as fast as I dared as we watched the minutes and the miles tick away. Shirley had kept Frances informed of our progress with one of those annoying inventions that Americans call "cell phones".
It was touch and go as the airport drew closer. After all, many people have missed flights because of road hold-ups and I thought that perhaps this was my time in spite of our early departure from home. Like Michael Schumacher, I skidded into the drop off zone of Birmingham International, hauled my bulging suitcase from the boot and dashed to the Emirates check-in desk. Amazing! Just in time - by the skin of my teeth!
And there was Frances! Little time to talk. Just hugs, kisses and a "Bon Voyage" card with three tiger cubs on the front. Then dashing through security to the departure gate, on to the plane to find that a creative writing student from East Anglia University, Norwich was in my pre-booked seat. Get out of there ye scallywag! I needed to catch my breath. Phew!