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Late for work? The longest Santa Faz weekend ever

Carol Perry
English teacher – EOI ALICANTE

During the week of Santa Faz, three members of the staff of the English Department travelled to Cambridge in England to attend the 32nd annual congress of the LTRC (Language Testing Research Association). María, Antonio and Carol were very interested in the most recent research in the field of language testing, and for nearly 10 hours each day they attended conferences given by world wide experts and heard research papers by university lecturers and graduates on subjects as varied as the type of vocabulary recognised in listening tests to how to assess different aspects of written production, or whether orals should be individual, in pairs or in groups. The congress was preceded by two days of workshops on practical aspects of assessment in all the different skills, given by specialists and authors of the Common European Framework for Languages, on which all our studies and certificates are based.

There were over 300 delegates at the congress, from countries as far apart as Finland and Australia, Japan, China, America as well as European countries and of course the host country, England. The organisation was wonderful, everything perfectly timed, until the bomb dropped – or rather the volcano erupted, on Wednesday afternoon.

We only started reacting on Thursday, as the news filtered through – and by Friday the organisers were giving out news bulletins and faces were becoming longer and longer!

Ryanair cancelled till Monday  – All flights out of UK cancelled until 1 0´clock…7 o’clock…tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock…More news soon…

The problem was how long to wait before finding an alternative means of returning to Spain. The ash cloud over Northern Europe was getting worse and worse. Those delegates who had come from other continents were totally stranded, and decided to make the most of a few (only a few?) extra days in England. Really, Cambridge was at its best, everything was green, flowers were welcoming the spring, and the clear blue skies made it difficult to believe that up there somewhere ash was preventing everyone from getting home!

Eventually the congress finished, and we had to face up to the fact that our flights back to Alicante were not to be, at least if we wanted to get back to work. Off we went down to London, Antonio and María to find a hotel and queue for ages in the coach station, only to be told that there was no possibility of a seat on a coach until the end of the following week. Meanwhile Carol and her husband were able to stay with relatives, and… thank goodness for internet! How to cross the Channel, that was the problem. We  tried bus lines (36 hours to get to Alicante by coach, no seats available), the Eurostar (more than 50,000 passengers a day trying the same means to cross the English Channel, only to find that in France trains were on strike! If only we could get to France, perhaps we could get back to Alicante by renting a car (£150 to the border with Spain, £650 if we carried on to Alicante in the same car!)

At last we found a possibility, the ferry the following Tuesday from Portsmouth to Santander – once there we would see how to cross Spain. Four cabins left, great! We could share one. Let’s fill in all the details…. credit card details…. and the laptop suddenly goes off! No battery left! Th English take all sorts of safety precautions, and all the plugs have safety switches – and we’d forgotten to switch it on.  Quickly, quickly… we went through the whole process again, only to find just ONE cabin left! But it was OURS. The money changed hands, online, and we knew that we would eventually arrive in Alicante, even though we had to wait three more days, and then travel for another two.

Now relax. Emails and phone calls to family, school, students in Alicante, and then just wait, and enjoy a few more days in London.

At last, early on Tuesday morning off we set, train down to Portsmouth, and


board the ferry, which turned out to be really good; we had a very comfortable cabin looking out over the sea, the food was good and not too expensive (fortunately, as our expenses were going up and up!). In fact the 24 hours aboard the Cap Finesterre were really relaxing after the stress and strain of the congress and the travel arrangements. We were able to enjoy the sun and the relaxing pleasure of watching the ship plough the seas.  And the sea was calm, even in the Bay of Biscay!

One unfortunate incident spoilt the voyage – María tripped and fell over, and had to be bandaged up, and her eye started turning a deep blue the following day.

At twelve o’clock, Spanish time, the ferry docked in Santander. There were so many foot passengers that it took us ages to disembark. Off we went to Renfe, dragging our cases, to see if we had time to catch the train. We knew we only had an hour before the 2 o’clock train left for Madrid The alternative would be coach, or wait until the following day. In Madrid we would have to catch another train to Alicante, arriving nearly at midnight! Who cares!

And for the first time in nearly two weeks we came across rain! NO, not in England, but in Alicante! But at last we were back home, safe and sound, ready to get back to work the following day of course.

This just goes to show how much we depend on travelling by air. For a journey of just over two hours, we had taken 46. Above all, it is amazing how much we depend now on the facilities that internet can offer us. Without Carol’s little laptop we would still be in England, waiting for our airline companies to find a place for us on a plane returning to Spain – and we would certainly be VERY LATE FOR WORK!!!

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EDITA: Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Alicante
COORDINACIÓN: Juan Tomás García Asensi
ISSN: 1886-1792