‘Dad, why is it that whenever we go anywhere, we’re always running to catch a train?’ asked Charlie, my 13-year-old. This was just over a week ago and Charlie and I, along with 16-year-old Ludo, were running from the Holiday Inn Express in Birmingham to Snow Hill station in the hope of catching the 7.25 p.m. to the Hawthorns. Miss that and we’d be in trouble because the next one wasn’t until 7.57 p.m. and we’d be late for kick-off. We were there to watch QPR play West Brom and the match started at 8 p.m.
Charlie’s right. He and I have vowed to go to as many QPR games as possible this season to make up for not being able to go a single match last season, but whenever we go to see them play away we usually end up in a mad dash to get to the stadium.
Sometimes this is unavoidable, particularly if the game is on a school night and I have to wait for the boys to get home. But it also happens when it’s eminently avoidable. The truth is, I’m a bit of an adrenalin junkie, except that instead of jumping out of planes I get my kicks from nearly missing departure times.
Needless to say, this doesn’t endear me to Caroline. On the day we left for our honeymoon, I insisted on returning my newly bought Skoda Octavia vRS to the dealership in Brentford on the way to Heathrow. I was convinced it would get stolen if I left it outside my flat in Shepherd’s Bush for two weeks and Citygate Skoda was more or less en route. The upshot was that we got to Terminal 3 just as the gate was closing and the jobsworth BA check-in clerk wouldn’t let us on the plane. We spent the first night of our honeymoon in twin beds in the Castle Hotel in Windsor.
Fast forward 20 years and I’m now inflicting the same misery on my children. We made it to Snow Hill with seconds to spare, but just as the train was pulling out of the station and I was blowing raspberries at my sons — ‘See, I told you we’d make it’ — I had a terrible realisation. I’d left our tickets in the overnight bag we’d just dropped off at the Holiday Inn. That left us with two options, both unappealing. Either we got off at the next stop, went back to the hotel and picked up the tickets — which would mean missing kick-off — or I shelled out another £45 at the West Brom box office.
Just three minutes separates Snow Hill from Jewellery Quarter, the next stop on the line, so I didn’t have long to make a decision. But Ludo gave me an idea.
‘Next time we go to an away game, you should take photos of the tickets with your phone,’ he said. ‘So long as you’ve got the barcodes, you can probably get in.’
‘That’s it,’ I said. ‘Brilliant.’
I called the Holiday Inn and in what I hoped was my most endearing, self-deprecating manner told the receptionist — Courtney — what had happened. Was there any way she could dig out my bag, find the tickets, photograph them and then email me the pictures? I knew it was a long shot. It’s the kind of favour you might ask the concierge of the Savoy after having established a reputation over many years as a great tipper. But Courtney turned out to be a general manager in the making and did exactly as I asked. By the time we got off at the Hawthorns six minutes later I had the pictures on my phone.
There was one more obstacle. Would the stewards let in three away fans without physical tickets? Once again I launched into my Hugh Grant impression, telling them what a prize chump I was, and they couldn’t have been nicer about it. One of them actually helped me position my phone under the scanner correctly so it could read the barcodes. Mission accomplished.
As we were sitting in the stadium waiting for the game to start, it dawned on me why I like cutting things so fine. It’s precisely because it makes it more likely that we’ll find ourselves in a tricky situation that requires a bit of fancy footwork to get out of. I love the pulse-quickening sense of jeopardy, the ticking clock, the need to suppress the rising wave of panic.
And no prizes for guessing where I get this awful habit from: my father. He too was a deadline surfer when it came to travel — and it caused his family no end of grief. Charlie may find it infuriating now, just as I did when I was his age. But in 40 years’ time he’ll be putting his own children through the same anxiety and loving every minute of it.