Your holiday disaster: Having his coat stolen was just the beginning for Craig Brown

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The Independent Travel
WHEN MY new coat was stolen from my office a couple of hours before I left for France I should have seen it as a warning. It was a cool coat. I'd thought it would impress Sophie when I met her in Le Havre. Now I didn't have the time to replace it. Later, as I walked to the railway station, I passed the shop where I'd bought it.There was another teasing me from the shuttered window. At the station I waited, cold, on the platform as the November gloom thickened in the puddles around me.

I'd planned for the lateness of the train. But by the time it arrived I was tired and agitated. I grabbed a seat, plonking my bag on my lap. And as the damp seeped from the bottom of the bag, a sense of exasperation crept into me. I'd put the bag down on the platform and now there were greasy, wet marks across my trousers.

The connecting train in London was late. Panic fluttered in my stomach but we arrived in Portsmouth without incident and I took a taxi to the youth hostel, about three miles from the city centre. As I walked towards the building, the gravel crunched underfoot and I heard the hum of my taxi disappearing into the distance. Everything was in darkness. I banged on the doors. I'd booked, I knew I had, and I'd specifically asked if the hostel was open that night. They must let me in.

For a time I sheltered from the rain in the entrance of a church. But the rain wasn't going to let up, so I walked on. By luck I stumbled upon a railway station where I dripped into a taxi that took me to the harbour. There was nothing for it; I would have to sleep on the seats at the ferry port. At least these places are open all night. But did you know England closes at night with the sweep of a cleaner's mop? And then you're out on the streets again, in the rain, heading back to the railway station. Because surely, with a connection to London they must stay open and ... as I arrived they were locking up.

So I got another taxi and wearily asked the driver to take me anywhere that was cheap, any grubby B&B that would take me for the night. I told him my woes, I pleaded - and he suggested the terminal for the Isle of White ferry. "There are boats coming through all night. It never closes." I believed him. What else could I do? And amazingly he was right. By dawn I was hardly refreshed, but life was better. The bracing walk to the main ferry port restored normality.

At last I was on the ferry to Le Havre. I was on my way. In five hours I would be there. Just the captain's announcement to listen to before we set off: "The Channel winds are now down to Force Nine so we should be getting under way soon ..."