South by South West

I found myself under the weight of a myriad of emotions on Tuesday 24 January. The morning of what was to be potentially the most significant and most exciting interview assessment centre of my life had me stuck in a see-saw of excitement and dread, of hope and of cynicism. This purée of varying emotion had been in motion ever since first getting a rather exciting phone call from the recruiter, reinforcing what an opportunity the assessment would be, and what potential the possible job provided.

What followed was considerable preparation. A presentation was made after much deliberation; a (proper fitting) suit was purchased; travel plans were made, checked, and checked again; little coding challenges completed to ensure I wouldn’t falter when presented with some technical challenge; and interview practice sought and digested. The relatively little time between the end of exams (which followed the initial phone call) and Judgement Day had been used to maximum effect. I was prepared for anything.

Well maybe I wasn’t prepared for stepping out the door onto sheet ice and falling over to set the wheels of the day in motion, but nothing of substance ever passes without event, so that was the mishap of the day out of the way, I thought. However as I sat on the train from York to King’s Cross, carefully sipping a hot chocolate and rereading my notes, tragedy struck in Woking; a fatality.

I travelled to Waterloo blissfully unaware of the disruption to South West Trains, but quite quickly, with every single train from Waterloo indefinitely delayed, it became apparent things weren’t quite running smoothly. A well-meaning but ultimately clueless member of staff from the station assured me that the board would show a departure to Woking soon. I wasn’t massively worried, I had accounted for a delay of about an hour - between an East Coast Train and a tube through London I didn’t expect things to go exactly according to plan. Still, things had the potential to get worse so I left a message for the recruiter, I had heard the horror stories of South West and knew there was potential for a delay in excess of an hour.

Shortly after I learnt there had been a fatality in Woking, and various staff frantically ushered me on and off various trains that both were and were not stopping in Woking. Eventually, at 12:30, a train was bound for Woking, and I was bound to arrive at the company in the nick of time for 1, when things started to get rolling. Having got through to the recruiter who assured me that if things didn’t go to plan then an interview could be rescheduled, I was not massively stressed, however the relief of being on my way was great. Stress surrounding the assessment had disappeared, with getting there to feel a success in itself.

Things were too good to be true however, and barely minutes after the conductor assuring me we would arrive in Woking in good time, the tannoy announced that the train was not stopping at Woking. Passengers disembarked at Surbiton while station staff argued with train staff over where passengers would change train, continuing the trend where each South West employee had a different method of how to get to Woking.

At this point it was looking like I’d get there late. But I was going to get there, I just had to change at Guildford, and with some fortune with the changeover I’d be there before things kicked off proper (the centre started with less formal refreshments). The journey to Guildford was spent staring at the blue dot of Apple Maps, watching the station get increasingly close, trying to predict when I’d arrive. But just as things were to fall in place, suddenly we stopped, the blue dot barely centimetres away from the station on my phone. Time marched on, and 20 motionless minutes later, 30 minutes after things kicked off, I conceded defeat.

I likely could have gotten to the company in a reasonable time, in hindsight. Woking had supposedly opened about 15 minutes before I arrived in Waterloo. Misinformation from South West Trains left me running to miss trains I’d previously been told to avoid. Trains that would have had me in Guildford at a suitable time to either make the train change or to travel via taxi or bus to my final destination in a reasonable time and a price that was to be less than an additional ticket.

Perhaps I placed too much faith in the staff of South West Trains. Maybe I could have explored more worst case scenarios in preparation. It’s possible that whatever I planned the day could not have gone any better than it did (there were other train passengers who had been stranded for far longer than I). But regardless of the possibilities, the result was a day that was rather disappointing, but from which lessons were learnt. Excitement remains for the eventual interview, hope that it goes well and the opportunity develops. But it is important not to forget that someone sadly lost their life, which put all of other supposed struggles in perspective.