Thursday, 27 May 2010

Day Six: Leaving Chippenham

178, 231, 55, 51


Radstock to Bath. Driver: Killer eyebrows. This is the only late growth facial hair a man can be really proud of. Beards are two a penny, they grow from youth. Nose and ear hair, well... But a man with a fine, second-tier brow of hair is a man to be admired. I've always aspired to and envied the abundant growth of my Grandfather's eyebrows (pictured above). The one down one up, gentle wave-like appearance reflects both his artistic flair and his placid temper. The over-eye hair on this driver, although no less impressive in its profusion or protrusion than my Grandpa's, had matted so densely it resembled two rhino horns. His skin, too, hung pachydermal off his face. This guy may have appeared like a beast but he was well friendly, a herbivore like the rest of them. No visible tattoos or piercings.

The wildness of the Cornian and Devonnish landscapes was gone. Somerset had exorcised the rock and gorse from the ground, leaving it a lush, green pelt. The hills and valleys were mellower, like the rucks of an unmade bedcover. We passed a hillside field of rape that buttercupped the chin of a neighbouring copse. I'd been told that the journey to the Cotswolds would be a handsome one. Yes, well, it was all fine until I changed onto the...


Bath to Chippenham. I emptied the tin in Bath's LloydsTSB. After five and a bit days, the passengers' generosity had stretched to just under a hundred pounds. That's a lot of spare change. Before hopping on the 231, I strolled around taking in the attractive city centre. Like with every city, I suppose, the sport is keeping your eyes above the level of the Specsavers and Subway shop fronts.

The start of the 231's ride was quite enjoyable. Good names around there. We drove through or near Calne, Devizes, Frogwell, Ditteridge and Derriads. A healthy, cosmopolitan approach to naming, I thought. But my favourite was Box. Simply Box. It's quite famous for a little place. Apart from its engineering history, Peter Gabriel lives there with his Real World Studios. And Midge Ure. Which is all well and good but, most impressively, it's where the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine came from.

Leading up to its destination, the bus route was dull territory. Chippenham. Depressing. The name is an anagram of peach nimph and hip chap men, though the residents fall under neither of these categories. The town's most attractive features were an old railway bridge and an impressive burial ground. A town should know there's something wrong when the only things it's got going for it are ways of leaving. And one of these the most final departure methods of all.
The first of many Stagecoach Bus services.


Swindon to Cirencester. Driver: Rookie. All his colleagues reassuring him they'll all be there on the end of the line if he needs help. A little jerky on the retreat from the parking bay, but otherwise a clean ride. Swindon: on the grubby side of unremarkable.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Day Five: Cont'd


Tiverton to Taunton. Driver: No visible tattoos but a piercing in his left ear; pale blue eyes, faded with age; white hair, Leslie Nielsen hair; rolling Devonshire accent; watches the Grand Prix with the sound turned down and snooker with the sound turned up; for the last fortnight he hasn't been able to get a song out of his head, a song he heard while queuing in the chemist for his second wife's migraine prescription, played on radio 1, of which the only lyrics he can remember are "All that she wants is another baby, he's gone tomorrow, now all that she wants is another baby, oh woah-oh" and he catches himself absent-mindedly singing it sometimes, and although his workmates will give him a load of shit if they catch him singing it he can handle that whereas his second wife would not find it so funny 'cause all that she wants is another baby. But he doesn't. Even though he's told her he does. So that's a bugger, isn't it?


Taunton to Wells. We passed through a little village called Street. The way into the village from the Southwest is called Street Road. The village is twinned with a French town called Notre-Dame-de-Gravenchon, Normandy. I wondered if the residents of Street felt they'd been gypped on their own village's name when their twin's name is something far grander. Or whether the residents of the French twin's village wished they had something shorter and snappier, like Street. Or rather, Rue.

As we went through Street I saw a blackbird standing on someone's front lawn, looking up expectantly at a wheely bin. It was a tough battle of wills but, unfortunately for the blackbird, I could only see one outcome.


Wells to Radstock. Driver: No visible tattoos or piercings. Hair the colour of brick dust. Talked a lot. Not just comparatively with other bus drivers - who are, in general, taciturn creatures. He talked a lot. I enjoyed his chat. Most of it. It started off with him calling out points of geographical interest, like a coach holiday driver. Without a microphone. He leant over his driver's gate, half turned towards the rest of the bus and shouted, 'Tor!' I was on the phone at the time so I ignored him. 'Tor! To your right. That's Tor.' I ended the phone conversation and asked the driver what he was talking about. 'Tor, mate. That's...oh, you've missed it now.' 'Missed what?' I said. 'Tor,' he said. I crafted a question that would get to the bottom of this conundrum with no room for further confusion. 'It's a hill,' he said. 'With a tower on top.' He'd heard me talking on the phone about doing this bus trip, so thought he might give me a bit of local history. I'm glad he did. He told me that the Tor is a large hill bursting out from the middle of a plain. The plain used to be marshland and the hill was an island within it. It's supposedly the Avalon of Arthurian legend. Apparently, King Arthur's body was found buried there. How could I be sceptical when Bricktop told the story in such an enthusiastic way?

We had more chats. We talked about the bus trip. He drove someone who did it not so long ago, he told me. Bugger. We chatted all the way to Radstock. Yes, Radstock. Rad. As I alighted, he shook my hand and even gave me his email address. Nice bloke, Bricktop.

Day five was good.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Day Five: A Home-Coming. Of Sorts.

398, 92A, 29, 173


The driver let me on over half an hour earlier than my pass allows. (On weekdays I am not allowed to travel earlier than 9:30am.) The success of the entire day's travel relied on it. So I was thankful that Mr Threenineeight was not a jobsworth or a Joy Spoiler. Not only was he neither of these things, he was, in fact, a particularly nice bloke.

Part way down the A396, the road South through Exmoor from Minehead, a delivery truck came charging round a corner. The truck driver was apparently quite a liberal thinker, as he didn't believe traffic should be constrained to 'sides of the road', nor speed to limits, neither. However, he did not act in such a comradely way after clipping some part or other of the bus. Whatever he clipped made an almighty cracking sound. We screeched to a halt in fear that something had been damaged, something the truck driver apparently wasn't concerned about. Perhaps this reflected his views on material wealth and the path to enlightenment. In any case, he disappeared up the road.

It was only the driver and me on the bus at the time. After checking and discovering no serious damage to either vehicle or person, we got to talking. He asked about the charity project. I explained. He told me how he has a close friend from childhood who is epileptic. 'It's a shame for him,' he said, ''Cause we were both brought up around bikes. Y'know, motorbikes. We used to do motocross, me and my friends, but he wasn't allowed to drive. All he ever wanted was to ride.' The bus driver, he told me, built his epileptic friend his own motorbike. The friend used to ride around the course before and after the races to ensure there were no obstructions. 'It was his only opportunity to ride, but at least it was something.' A touching story.

From Tiverton I was picked up by a couple who now live in the house my mother was brought up in. They bought it from my Grandparents in the mid '70s and have lived there ever since. I had been in touch with them before I started my trip and they kindly agreed to show me round the house.

I have heard so many stories about this house from my mother, aunties and uncles, that it was quite easy to visualise them living there as children. I remembered a story my uncle told me. He and his older brother had adjoining rooms with cupboards that backed onto each other. At easter, the elder would stash all his easter eggs in the cupboard. Every year, almost without fail, the younger uncle would slide the panel that separated the two cupboards aside, open the boxes, carefully unwrap the chocolate eggs, steal the back half of each, then repackage the lot and replace the panel. Genius.

Every time my mum and aunty get together they recall the time when, in the nursery as children, my mum was sat counting corn flakes out of the box (?!). My aunty came in and deliberately tipped the box over. My mum, the kindest person you could care to meet (until you play her at croquet. Or disturb her cereal calculations, apparently), was so infuriated that she bit a chunk of flesh out of my aunty's belly.

The current owners then showed me round the gardens, carefully detailing the history of each individual organic growth from asparagus to wild growing bluebell. Riveting. My departing bus was calling. But beforehand there was just enough time for a spot of rushed lunch and awkward conversation.

It was good to see my mother's childhood home. It put a piece of the puzzle into place.

After lunch I popped orff, back into town, to pick up the 92A to Taunton.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Day Four

1, 3, 300 (Filers), 300 (Quantock)

The Spirit of Summer


I set off with a seam busting packed lunch from my aunt and hit the road on Devon's reliable Number 1, The Barnstaple Bomber. It was a nice ride. A grandmother with her grandchild in a pushchair got talking to a young mother with her child in another. A man in a wheelchair got on and the pushchairs reorganised themselves so everyone could fit. There were passengers young and old and everyone chatted, sun-toasted. Community spirit at its finest. I felt strong alongside my new bus dependent brothers.


Barnstaple to Ilfracombe. Another pretty ride, the coastline dimpled with little bays and coves. Ilfracombe itself has a harbour, beach, attractive architecture, narrow streets and steep, hardly any chain stores (!) and lots of fun, of which more hence. Public holiday buses run as Sundays, so I had a two hour wait in Ilfracombe. I thought I would locate the departing bus stop before treating myself to a cream tea or coronation chicken sandwich from one of the town's many tea houses. While checking and rechecking the timetable, I heard the beating of drums. From the top of the High Street was a procession, led by the Town Crier in full dress. Following was a Jack in the Green (someone dressed in a lattice frame bound with leaves, flowers and ribbons), chidren waving branches, drummers, accordians and a thrust of folk merrymaking with leaves in their hair and pagan worship on their minds.

The procession proceeded down to the beach front. There they had maypole dancing, morris dancing, border morris (the chaps with green garb and black faces above), Red Petticoats and various other dancers with bells on their shoes. A couple of hundred had turned out for it, and more got swept along with it. Many people, locals included, seemed as surprised as I was to see it occurring. But everyone was happy: blue sky, the sun's heat on our baldnesses (well, some of us), lapping tide and rippling laughter. Bliss.

During the children's country dancing routine, the Town Crier announced that we were all to get ready as we'd all be joining in afterwards. I was stood next to a group of Brummies who joked that they were too old for country dancing. 'I have an excuse not to dance,' I said pointing at my backpack. 'Hey, you're that bloke doing the bus thing, aren't you?' one of them said. Fame. Recognition. And all it took was a bus ride.

It turns out they were on a bus with me earlier that day. They donated me money when I'd gone round with my tin. ''Ang on a sec,' one said, and started waving. 'Roy! Roy, coom over 'ere.' They were friends with the Town Crier, Roy. Roy's smart. They told him my mission and he obviously like it because he announced it, Town Crier style, in front of the entire congregation. I took a bow, received some applause. It was a glorious moment for the cause. After a whip round the trusty tin was nearly full. Very generous the people of North Devon are.

To conclude the revelries, everyone goes down to the beach to strip the Jack. This entails a few of the main procession frantically tearing the leaves and flowers from the lattice frame. When it is bare, the TC rings his bell as loud as ever and bellows, 'THE SPIRIT OF SUMMER IS RELEASED INTO ILFRACOMBE!' It was actually quite a moving moment. Especially as I felt I'd had a small role in the proceedings.

Today was the highpoint of the trip so far. And it was only half past. Half past the day.

three hundred (Filers)

Driver: Beefcake, thick sleepers in both ears, sun leathered skin, collars unbuttoned, tattoos so old the ink has bled. He was a nice bloke. Another Brummie. There's lots of them in the South West. Weird. He told me he'd 'never seen the point' in leaving the country. Having moved from Birmingham to Exmoor, as he had, I can totally understand.

The drive from Ilfracombe to Lynmouth was even more picturesque than the one before. The Lyn flows at the bottom of a very steep valley with hair pin bends so tight the bus had to do three point turns, the driver grappling with the wheel like it was a shark. Despite being a stop off for coach loads of coffin dodgers, Lynmouth was beautiful. I walked along the river and took some pretentious macro photos and some quite cool photos. I will post some up separately and you can compare.

three hundred (Quantock)

Open topped bus. I got smacked on the head a few times by low branches. Brilliant. Amazing views.

I arrived in Minehead around 6. I wanted to find the Minehead 'Obby 'Oss, which was apparently around somewhere. But I was exhausted after the day's Ilfracombic excitement, so I went straight back to my gracious hosts' house and ate the finest home cooked food I think I have ever eaten (apart from anything my mum cooks, of course).

Beetroot soup.

Main Course
Sliced lamb neck fillet with veg and a fine jus.

A pyramid of profiteroles with chocolate sauce.


Saturday, 8 May 2010

Oli's Bus Trip Election Special

I was travelling from Cirencester to Derby on Polling day. At the start of my journey, stopping in small towns in the Cotswolds, all tree-lined avenues and cafes, voters are offered a cream tea in their booths while they cross the box with Parker fountain pens attached to a bit of string. In Stratford-Upon-Avon their polling stations have signs outside saying Much Ado About Voting, and you use a quill.

That night in Derby I watched as much of the BBC election special as I could while my host, a stranger to me, busied himself around me in an inappropriately tactile manner. (Excuse my prim Englishness. I didn't vote Conservative. I don't want change). The BBC coverage astounded me. The whole thing was more of a parody of news than anything done by Chris Morris or Armando Ianucci. Emily Maitlis, with her crap iPhone wall, looked awkward bending down slightly further than her skirt comfortably allowed. The Swingometer! What is this, Wacaday? And that guy who look like a big gerbil, I've forgotten his name, schmoozing badly round a cocktail party of intellects and glamorous celebrities - the most embarrassing part of which was Joan Collins saying David Cameron should win 'because he just looks good.' But the worst thing was Jeremy Vine. He should be hosting a new version of The Games Master, not prancing about in the BBC's holo-deck like a tit. His absurd graphics and statistics were not welcome here.

The best bits are the bits which are crap in a good old English TV way: the shots of old beardy weirdies darting around like tadpoles in stuffy wooden counting houses; the results announcements by stammering old frumps, as detached from TV glitz as sawdust; and David Dimbleby's impatience in the face of all this unbearable hype. "And I do wish they'd just get on with it," he said after a 2 second wait for a result to be read. Brilliant.

We can't pull off pimped campaign coverage like the Americans, firstly, because our campaigns are so short, and secondly, because we don't believe it. We're too sceptical. Apart from Jeremy Vine. Whose name, incidentally, is an anagram of Enemy Jiver and My Vine Jeer.

Nipping about the country on buses, I expected to hear more about the election. But no one really talked about it. I tried to start conversations with people about it but it normally resulted in them making gurgling noises and shrugging their shoulders. However, I struck gold as I stood in a bus stop in Tamworth, just outside Birmingham. If you ever have a reason to go there, find another to stop you. After practically nothing all the way along, I now heard two conversations about voting at the same time. The first was between a middle aged woman and man. 'Have you voted then?' he said. She said, 'No. They're all as bad as each other. There's no point. Anyway, I sent off for a postal vote this year so I didn't have to go into town. But I lost it.' He said, 'Oh.' 'Did you vote?' she said. 'Yes,' he said. She said, 'My husband he'd go spare if he wasn't allowed to vote.' 'Did he vote, then?' he said. She said, 'Probably.'

Then I caught a couple of young women talking who said,
'Who did you vote for?'
'UKIP. My dad told me I had to vote Conservative, but I hate David Cameron, so I voted UKIP.'
'Yeah, me too.'

I then went back to the first conversation. This is practically verbatim! I wrote it down.
F - 'Anyway, they're all useless. They won't actually do anything. I'd vote for any of them if they agreed to just get all the foreigners out of the country.'
M - 'Yeah, well that's right.'
F - 'And get everyone on the dole working again.'
M - 'Yep.'
F - 'I know exactly what I'd do if I got in.'

A vote for Tamworth is a vote for change.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Day Three

Day 3

555, 510 and 118

118. Driver: Long, grey hair. No visible tattoos. Sound bloke. I was in and out of sleep. At one stage I woke up to find the bus nearly empty. We stopped in a small town and a man stumbled on carrying a bag with a bottle of Laphroaig inside. He looked somewhere between Tom O'Connor and Ken Railings (the bad guy from Strictly Ballroom), his silver hair meticulously styled. He was dressed in shabby clothes and was clearly tight. He made a move straight for the only other passengers on the bus, two young girls sitting up front, and loomed, kissing the air at them and saying things like 'Hello girls, pretty girls. Where are you going?' They couldn't have been older than 15 or 16. Unabashed deviant behaviour.

The girls laughed at him. They made it clear they weren't going to engage him in any way. He started saying, 'I'm just a bloody owd fool,' and sat and turned away, but he would keep turning to face them, speaking incomprehensibly, kissing the air. The situation woke me up and I watched him to make sure he didn't do anything to upset the girls. He got off several stops later without having worried anyone.

After this stop we were out on a dual carriageway. It was about half an hour after I was supposed to arrive at my destination. The driver said, 'We went through Bideford a while ago, mate,' and he dropped me in a lay-by just outside Barnstaple where my Aunt picked me up.

That wretched pederast made me miss my stop.

Day Two: Bodmin to Padstow

'Obby 'Oss

Pikey Funfair

Day Two

The Number 555, 556, 556 and 556

Andrew shepherded me back to Bodmin in the morning (right, I'm dropping the Christian theme now). I asked a woman at the bus stop whether she was going to the May Day celebrations in Padstow. She looked at me without hiding distaste. 'I've never had the slightest interest,' she said. Oh. In my head, I had built this festival up to be of great importance, both locally and to my trip. After this little exchange the reality struck me. The enthusiasm for the 'Obby 'Oss is not as universal as I thought. And why should it be? It's similar to what that bloke said in that thing that time, once: 'Even before the revivals, folk music was never something that everyone participated in; it has always been something for the enthusiasts and die hards.' I guess it's the same with folk festivals too.

Once in Padstow, I took the 556 out to Treyarnon. The YHA is situated there, looking out over Constantine (?) Bay. I looked at the footpath round bay and, sucking my teeth, considered staying here and forgetting the 'Obby 'Oss: it's so much easier to let negativity persuade you than optimism. It's a stunning location, although to get to the beach you have to walk through a field of identical holiday cabins, all of them with fearsome TV aerials sticking out the top. I wondered what they were trying to get away from.

Back on the 556 into town. Padstow looked spectacular. The entire town decked out with flags. I managed to catch a glimpse of the owd 'oss before I turned around and completely coincidentally bumped into Joel and Gen, two of the Norfolk crew from home. We mooched about, ducked into a pub with a catch of owd sea dogs having an impromptu sea shanty sing along, and finally parted ways after a look round the pikey fun fair on the harbour.

The 556 was becoming a favourite of mine. Back to Treyarnon. Having not found Rick Stein's fish shop in town (and being worried that it constituted a chain), I instead took a stroll to St Merryn to Fryer Tucks. Superb work. It took me back to my trial run and Peter the Pleater. Good bit of fish, chip, mushy pea and battered sausage. Lovely. It didn't seem to matter that it was raining on the way home.

In my dorm I met an American whose favourite shop in England, he told me, was Picnic Fayre, my Stepdad and Mums' delicatessen in Norfolk. How queer. It was a nice night at the YHA. But I didn't see one cop, american indian, builder, sailor or biker. I don't know what they're talking about in that song.

Padstow is smart.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Day One - 17A, 14, 27 & 529

Gonna try and keep these next ones short, or I won't even make it as far as D'Erby.


There was a man at Penzance bus stop - huge beard, broad brim straw hat, waistcoat, shorts and pink fleece - sat bellowing at everyone who passed, 'Bodrum and Dalaman!' He was stabbing a squat little finger in the air, accusatively. He got me in his crosshairs. I didn't know what he was talking about any more than anyone else did. 'Up there mate,' he said. He was pointing at an Easyjet advert on the side of the bus. Finally he leant right over and asked a man with a flightcase standing at the next bay down. This man had dark hair and tan skin. 'Hey! Bodrum and Dalaman! Do you know where that is?'
'Yes,' the other man said. 'They're in Turkey.'
The beard didn't stop. This seemed to confirm some point for him. The 'foreign' man knows the foreign place. A man holding a cigarette in fingers with long manicured nails peered over the top of his sunglasses at the beard, past a poor schoolgirl sitting nervously between them, and said, 'Stop being such a silly sod.'
The 17A left shortly afterwards, aiming for St Ives. I took it and got off at Wyevale Garden Centre.


Dora, let's call her, came out of the garden centre and waited with me at the bus stop. She had two bags of Pogonias. She's going to put them in her driveway. Usually she wouldn't get the bus down, her husband would drive, but he's only just come out of hospital and can't get out of bed for a few days and she wanted to pick up the the Pogonias before the bank holiday because they'd all be gone afterwards of course so she took the bus but they move everything around so much in there that she took longer than expected and was worried she'd missed the number 14 home so she was eversogladtoseemestandingtherecosthatmeantsheprobablyhadn't. Dora was the first friend I made on the buses, but she had an unfortunate case of verbal diarrhoea. I don't think she drew breath once apart from to gasp when she dropped her flowers on the bus floor. But we had a nice conversation. Well, she did.


The 27 bus driver was a barrel shaped beast. He had a long goatee and a once colourful tattoo on his arm. Small eyes. He looked solid, tasty, a real bus driver.
In Truro a load of Pensioners got on the bus having done, I presume, their bank holiday weekend shop. They nearly filled the bus. Despite asking very politely, the driver was suspicious of me taking my collection tin around. 'Don't force anyone, yeah?' he said. I was warned. But I cleaned up. I felt like I was doing something wrong at first. Taking money off old people under the pretence that you're raising it for charity when actually you just need it for skinny jeans and Gap's summer range isn't wrong, right?


My first Greyhound bus of the journey. Not to be confused with the Greyhound Coaches operating in the United States of America. Easy mistake to make.

When I arrived in Bodmin, the end of the line for today's bus travel, my first cousin once removed came to pick me up. Let's call him AB. AB is a Vicar. We were driving towards his house when we found a lamb, a hoggett, stuck between a bramble hedge and a barbed wire fence. After a few minutes of it running backwards and forwards between the two, I managed to catch it and lift it to freedom. Its mother, aunts and extended family seemed very grateful. I got back in the car with my cousin, the Vicar, and wondered if I had just been involved in a Christian metaphor.

Saturday, 1 May 2010