Sunday, 28 March 2010

Trial Run: The Stansted Flyer

No one from Ongar left Ongar that day. Perhaps ever. I was the only passenger on the X3 to Stansted. And with the driver yelling desperately, Polish-ly, into his hands free phone whilst hurtling round corners, tyres squealing, it felt like I was in an action film: A hapless stow-away in a madman's escape, or a defenseless citizen that the maverick hero recklessly delivers from the battelfield. Whatever it was, I made it to Stansted shaken but alive.

Just like all those maverick heroes, the Polish driver had a hot-headed, jobsworth of a boss. Here at Stansted the X3 now became the next bus I was to take, the X5 to Ipswich. This was the boss's ride. He stood in front of the queue of weary travellers - all tired from RyanAir incompetence, itching to board the bus - and told everyone to 'Just wait 'til I'm ready, please.' Then, in an extraordinary display of exhibitionism, he dressed himself for driving, with self-satisfactory slowness, right in front of us. He eased his day-glo jerkin off his shoulders, letting it slide down his arms; he pulled fingerless driving gloves over his stubby fingers, raising his hands high in the air, then fixed the velcro straps tightly around his wrists. I expected this top heavy wedge of a man a secret Drag Queen.

He still wasn't ready. He checked the bus inside and out. This, I imagine, is protocol. But he made a meal of it. He walked round the bus with a disdainful sniff, fingering the scratched paint work and chipped wing mirror purposelessly, labouring the point that he wasn't ready yet. The Polish driver returned and the boss launched into his scripted tirade about careful driving etc, again he seemed to be doing this for our 'benefit', his reluctant audience.

Finally on board, I flashed my Freedom Pass. 'That doesn't allow you free travel on here, mate,' said the boss. 'Eleven quid, please.' It may be that it's not a designated bus route, even though Traveline seemed to think it was, or maybe he was just flexing his muscle, but he wasn't very personable. I didn't pay. I got off and waited for a different bus. The whole point is that I use my pass. At the risk of sounding precious, my disability is my payment. Or rather, free bus travel is my rebate.

The bus I finally took was operated by a man who walked like he was not much more than a host for a serious case of haemorrhoids. But he was much more friendly. He even asked how I was as I entered. Due to the stubbornness of the X5 driver, I now had to take 3 buses where one would've done. First stop: Braintree.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Further to Rule 5:

Today an anonymous donator challenged the reasoning for Rule 5 in the first post of this blog. After careful consideration I reached this conclusion: Milton Keynes - used 3 times in a row - is an anagram of the following sentence:

Tinsle monkey - lets my one kin - seek only mint


I hardly think so.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Trial Run: Twinned with an Ancestor of Evil

Still in Ongar. How I love Ongar.

Seeing as, according to my previous day's rushed route planning, the bus I rode in on didn't even exist, I was at a loss as to when any ongoing bus services might arrive.

The women and men of the village's general shop, hairy cheeked and aproned, gave me such varied opinions on the topic of the bus out of Ongar, that I just extracted what little information they all agreed upon.

Already I'd gathered a couple of lessons to put in my knapsack of experience for the journey real: firstly, that planning a route was pointless seeing as it was only going to change the moment I stepped onto the first bus - as it had literally done today; secondly, that I am probably going to be on first name terms with the entire Traveline helpline staff by the end of the two weeks.

After catching up with Kerry at Traveline, I found a cafe to pass the time in. London is creeping out into East Anglia, prices first. On the bus there I remember thinking that some of Epping's neighbouring settlements looked like they couldn't make up their mind whether they were country villages or suburban leakages. Maybe they're set there as a lure for London to come and swallow them up; teases, flirts. Or rather, the other way round: these villages are being groomed by London, the geographical paedophile.

I settled down with a postage stamp size granola 'bar' and freshly squeezed orange juice that, yes, probably was freshly squeezed at some point, when I noticed the village sign (pictured above). Ongar - twinned with Cerizay. I wondered if Cerizay was as odd a name in its home country as Ongar is here. They sound straight from some Historical fiction, the twinned Ongar and Cerizay, an alternative Cain and Abel. Ongar the murderous and greedy half of the brotherhood, Cerizay the humble and brave, yet ultimately destined for defeat at his wicked brother's hands.

I left a tip for the staff that reflected a fair percentage of what I thought the prices should have been - my passive-aggressive gesture for the day. At the bus stop I met a nice old woman who looked like she'd just had her highlights done. Her face sprang into life when I spoke to her, as if woken from a coma. I know it well. I do the same thing travelling on public transport alone. You wear a face that says, "I am neutral. I am not here." It's the child's logic of covering your own eyes when you don't want to be seen. You play vacant and no one will take up the empty seat next to you.

She wasn't taking the X3 to Stansted, I learnt. She was on her way back to Epping. But we got talking. Her ancestors were all Norfolk dumplin's, back in the day. There's a tree, she told me, somewhere in Norfolk that still stands today, on which her great x5 uncle was hanged. It's interesting what people choose to tell a stranger at a bus stop.

I left Ongar feeling the day had got off to a positive start.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Trial Run: Stay In Ongar For Longer

The trial run was from London back home to Norfolk, to familliarise myself with the ins & outs, the boardings & alightments, of 'long distance-short distance' (LD-SD) public transport. I took the Central line out to Epping - the end of the line closest to Norfolk - just to get a head start. This was just for the trial, a luxury I will not allow myself on the actual trip.
The first town I stopped in was Ongar. A universally alien sounding name, Ongar. If told, you might be forgiven for believing that its etymological origin was Scandinavian, Sanskrit, Aboriginal or even Martian.
The first thing I noticed as the bus halted in the town centre was this banner: 'Peter the Pleater', a blind maker. Superb. Not enough businesses base their names on crap jokes. It reminded me of a town in New Zealand called Bulls. There, it seems, the whole high street has joined in on this daft punning, with the grocer called Edi-Bulls & the antique shop called Collecti-Bulls. Then there's Dispensi-Bulls, Fashiona-Bulls, Reada-Bulls etc. Genius. So much more individual than Boots, WHSmiths, Tesco & McDonalds.
Incidentally, Ongar is an anagram of Rogan. With which tenuous relevance I note that it is the first town in which I have seen a Tandoori in a mock-Tudor building. Not especially surprising, I know. But I like the idea of the exotic, sizzling Asian cuisine inside the quaint and dainty English architecture. Half the town was made of mock-Tudor houses, in fact. Some of them maybe even not mock. Just Tudor.

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Trial Run: The Stats

Herne Hill, London - Aldborough, Norfolk

2 tube trains
7 buses
1 battered sausage
17 epileptic absences
1 lift home with my mum
12 hours door to door

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Yonder Habitation Allures

Thanks also to the Youth Hostel Association UK who, for charity, have granted me a free membership in order to keep the costs of accomodation down. This is very generous and will keep me out of the gutters and paddocks that otherwise would have doubtless been my bed.

Thanks YHA.

Scotch Leg

Thanks to the Stagecoach Group Buses in Scotland for granting me a temporary disabled person's bus pass for my Scottish leg of the journey. This was an essential piece of kit, as much as, if not more than, my Blue Peter orienteering set, back-up double decker chocolate bar and copy of Worst Case Scenario Hand Book.

Thanks Stagecoach Scotland.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

First Post

I head out from Land's End on April 30th. So the plan goes. I'm very excited. Even though my brain is saturated with things I needed to have had done last year.

For about 2 weeks I will be on the road for about 8 hours daily, using about 5 0r 6 different buses daily, waiting for about 2 hours daily. So think of me as you curse the 37 to Putney for being 7 minutes late.

In the way of 'rules', this:

1. I will only use local bus services, or coaches on designated local bus routes which accept the disabled person's bus pass.
2. I will not pay for any bus ride (except in emergencies)
3. I will not use taxis, coaches, trains, trams, ferries, public mules, tuk tuks or any other public transport
4. I may walk
5. I will not go to Milton Keynes
6. I will not buy food from any supermarket or chain store
7. I will not accept lifts apart from when I will be dropped back in precisely the same spot later in that same day or early the following day
8. I will not accept sweets from strangers

Thanks for reading,

Please tell as many friends as you think might be interested, and then some more,