JUST ANOTHER WEEKEND

It started early on St.Patrick’s Day, leaving home at 5am to drive to Galashiels by the light of a banana moon in a clear sky. By the time the Megabus left the bus station an hour later, dawn was beginning to break and before long the sun was up and I was able to appreciate the sheer beauty of the Scottish Borders countryside as we made our way south along the A7. Dozing on and off I noticed low clouds and drizzle as we moved into Dumfries and Galloway, and don’t remember much about Cumbria at all. The weather had brightened a bit as we passed Lancaster and continued to travel south.

On arrival in Preston for the first driver switch I listened with interest as the drivers discussed a mechanical problem with the suspension that was causing the coach to list when stationary – after much starting and stopping of engine, raising and lowering suspension, and wondering why the throttle wasn’t responding, the decision was, “I’ll just have to ‘defect’ it, it’ll sort itself out after I go over a few bumps.” Not particularly reassuring following recent coach crashes, but then I remembered that I had only paid £1 plus a 50p booking fee! Soon we were off again, stopping at Horwich Parkway then Manchester.

Manchester’s memorable incident was when a girl tried to get on, she was told that she would have to buy a ticket for the next bus in an hour’s time, despite there being plenty empty seats on our one. She returned from the Travelshop asking if she could get any help as she had been asked told it was £15 for a ticket on the next bus and she only had £5; I’m not sure what she expected but the controller asked her to go with him so that he could sort something out, allowing the bus to make a sharp exit at the same time!

Shortly before 3pm we passed one of the ubiquitous protests near Hyde Park Corner (various Arab flags and placards calling for an end to the killing of children) and shortly after pulled into Victoria Coach Station. Within a few minutes I was outside the Railway Station waiting for daughter and niece. There was no escaping shamrocks, big ‘Guinness’ hats and false beards as we had a drink in The Shakespeare and a meal in The Albert (‘Big Ben’ burger for me), and then walked on to Westminster Tube Station.

We arrived at The Dome around 6pm and with half an hour to spare before the venue doors opened a drink at Rodizio Rico seemed appropriate. I have to admit that I didn’t find the IndigO2 security checks particularly rigourous. I removed a half-full water bottle and dropped it in the bin as I approached the table, then took out my camera and told the steward that rest of the stuff in the bag was just a change of clothes – “OK” he said and then let me in without looking inside at all!

The venue was as I remembered, and I had an absolutely wonderful night enjoying performances by six excellent bands, fully justifying my journey down – a fuller review of this gig has already been posted on my Tumblr blog http://dstrachan.tumblr.com/post/19625250591/feed-me-music-take-over-at-north-greenwich-five

We caught most of the final band before having to leave to catch the last overland train from Victoria but as I had savoured every second of the performance by the band that was the main reason for me making the journey I left very happy. I had also been able to chat with members of four of the six bands on the bill so all in all it was a very satisfactory evening. We shared a tube to Victoria with an assortment of people, many in St. Patricks’s Day fancy dress who had probably been at the main arena event, a concert by some of the cast of ‘The Commitments’, then got a chance to sit and relax whilst waiting for the train to depart. We left my niece on the train to continue to Gillingham, got off in Bromley, and made our way to the taxi cab office to get a cab back to New Eltham.

More ‘Guinness’ hats and drunken staggering surrounded us as we waited for our cab to arrive. Having warned off an obnoxious drunken posh bloke who seemed to believe that he could simply commandeer a cab as it arrived rather than book one and wait his turn, we were finally on the last leg of our journey back to bed.

After my first lie in for a long time, we rose late on Sunday morning and set off towards central London. There were no trains from New Eltham due to engineering works so we had to start on a bus; as there was nothing else that I particularly wanted to do, I decided to continue by bus from Lewisham once we had done a bit of shopping and said our goodbyes. I enjoyed the opportunity to view more of London as the bus travelled to Victoria via New Cross, Peckham and Elephant & Castle. I relaxed in The Dnister Cafe with a lovely bit of sea bass and then made my way to the departure gate.

Megabus didn’t seem to be having a very good day, with a number of delayed departures and replacement sub-contracted vehicles. Then there was the announcement that you always dread – “the 15:00 service to Edinburgh has been delayed, we will announce an expected departure time as soon as possible.” Luckily another replacement vehicle arrived virtually bang on 15:00 hours and we were soon boarding. I always seem to manage to board fairly quickly so was settled in my seat when the driver came on brandishing a large carrier bag and asking, “whose luggage is this?” A lady admitted ownership and was brusquely told, “it’s not coming on the bus, it’s frozen food.” He went back off quickly pursued by the owner, there was a bit of argument and crying but the driver had his way and an unhappy lady re-boarded, followed by a query from the driver, “that had better not be some frozen food that your carrying!”

Double-manned, we departed only fifteen minutes late and I was soon dozing again as we made our way north towards the M1. Apparently the coach toilet was not functional and the co-driver was approached around an hour later with a request to stop soon as one of the passengers needed to use the toilet. The co-driver was clearly rather frustrated and started to point out that we were only an hour into the journey and that people should have gone to the toilet before boarding. I then heard this ‘Mr Tactful’ state that, “if he’s got a kidney complaint then he shouldn’t be travelling on a coach journey like this.” He further pointed out that he couldn’t make a decision anyway as he wasn’t driving. When we did shortly pull into a Motorway Service area he announced to all, that we were taking a short break for people to use ‘the facilities’ seeing as those on the coach weren’t functional, and then went on to observe that we were just over an hour into the journey and that those going to Edinburgh wouldn’t be too keen to be delayed further.

A large number of passengers got off in Manchester and we then continued onwards. Passing ‘The Reebock Stadium’ as we approached the Horwich Parkway stop, I noticed a fairly large number of tributes on the pavement near the main stadium entrance. Earlier I had been reading a report in a newspaper about Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton Wanderers’ player who had suffered a heart attack on the pitch the previous day. His heart apparently hadn’t worked by itself for quite a while afterwards when on his way to/in hospital; this incident had clearly shocked the football community and had also led the the game being abandoned – the tributes must surely have been for him. While the bus was stopped the driver was asked about a further toilet stop, it looked as if the girl asking wished to pop out and use the facilities at the neighbouring train station. No chance, she was told to sit down and fasten her seat belt and the driver set off. A few miles further up the road he announced that we would be stopping to enable him to fill up with diesel, those who wished could go to the toilet but he would be leaving as soon as he had re-fueled. I was intrigued to note the passenger in front of me using her i-phone to video the fuel pump dial as it rapidly climbed to £320. I was absolutely astounded to see another passenger getting back off to stand alongside the pumps whilst he rolled a cigarette, and then look bemused when the driver told him he couldn’t light it there, and to get back on as he was ready to leave.

The journey was to be disrupted once more as it was announced that the coach would continue to Gretna where we would be transferred onto a Megabus coach before backtracking a bit to rejoin the scheduled route. Despite all the delays, I was only about half an hour behind schedule when I got off in Galashiels. Thanks to the wonder of mobile phones, I had been requested to go to one of the twenty four hour supermarkets for some bread. The fairly deserted streets and supermarket car park were resonating with angry shouts from somewhere in the town, no doubt involving somebody who had overindulged in one of the pubs or clubs. It came as little surprise then, to notice an ambulance, outside ‘The Glue Pot’, clearly taking somebody on board as I drove past the end of Overhaugh Street. Just over thirty minutes later I was happily climbing into bed for a good sleep (dozing on the coach just isn’t quite the same). Another memorable weekend over; radio show to prepare for on Tuesday, a gig in Edinburgh on Wednesday and Winnie’s next jewellery sale on Saturday – I marvelled again at how different my life was since getting out of teaching.

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