Monday, 7 September 2009

I must have been very very bad in a previous life.......

So I went to London to see my Dad who is still in hospital.

However, getting there and back has been pretty eventful. London Midland decided that they wanted volunteer train drivers to work Sundays without paying them the Sunday premium and expressed surprise and disappointment when nobody volunteered.

Across the weekend, there should have been about 500 trains in total. They got 1.



1.






One.







There were, of course, engineering works on some other stretches of the railway so the roads took the strain.

And of course, there were roadworks along the way, so that helped.

We got to London in good time, regardless.

We got stuck on the Buckingham Palace Road for over half an hour before the driver found out that a bus had broken down in the middle of a roadworks strewn one way system.

Nutter-On-The-Bus (there is always one) started on at the driver to let him off.

In the middle of Buckingham Palace Road.

We were in the right turn central lane, facing a major crossroads junction, with traffic still moving past us going straight on or left.

Letting us out there would have left us wandering across two lanes of busy traffic, before we got to the safety barrier which we would then have to climb over to reach the pavement.

Great idea.

I did say he was a nutter.

After another fifteen minutes of effing, blinding, whining, shouting and unsuccessfully trying to garner the support of the other passengers, the driver relented and opened the door.

At which, Nutter forcefully waved a hand to point out a left side window

"No! I got luggage!"

What?

He seriously wanted the driver to open the luggage compartment under us so Nutter could stand in the path of the oncoming traffic, search for his suitcases and then try to drag his belongings across two lanes of busy traffic.... you know the rest.

The driver closed the door again and Nutter started shouting and whining and generally rendered himself an even bigger pain in the arse than before.

The Police had to stop all the traffic approaching the junction, so that all the still functioning coaches stuck behind the broken down coach could be reversed out into the middle of the crossroads and sent back down the way they had come, before we were sent the wrong way round and into the Departures section of Victoria Coach Station.

All the while, I was receiving texts from my SiL who was under the impression that she was only one of a cleaning party at Dad's house.

I was stuck in traffic on the coach trip from Hell and Kid Brother hadn't arrived either.

I got requests for more kitchen spray and more antibacterial stuff.

Nearly an hour after we arrived in the general Victoria area, I was still on the bloody coach.

We finally parked up in one of several long lines of coaches who were trying to embark and disembark passengers all at the same time.

All the coaches were parked up about one suitcase width apart from one another. It was mayhem.

There was a insane scrum of people and their suitcases, pushchairs, rucksacks, walking frames and small children trying to push past us to get to the coach that had parked up behind ours as we disembarked into the squirming masses.

There was the obligatory line of people who had tried it on with the driver with stand-by tickets and who were now hoping that there was space to carry them on to their destinations.

They helped.

I had no hold luggage just a small weekend case and a bag. I left my fellow passengers to the experience of trying to find the hold luggage amongst the exodus.

It was dreadful. I was squished between the coaches trying to push against the tide of people coming the other way.

When I got to the Departure halls the same thing was happening. I was walking towards the entrance as people were trying to walk towards the Departure gates.

It wasn't until I got to the entrance and fielded the scruffy little men with the foreign accents asking for TravelCards, that I was able to get out of the way and just stop for breath.

Then came looking for cash so that I could go the Oyster machines and charge up my card for the weekend.

Recently, that has not been a happy experience.

There are four Victoria stations.

Victoria Train Station running mainline trains around the south east of England. A large building which is undergoing refurbishment work. Again. 19 platforms, several exits and entrances, a busy concourse, a number of ticket offices and shops and a large, overpriced shopping centre attached to one end of it.

Although there are ticket machines within the station, they are just ticket machines for the mainline trains. No one thought that London Transport TravelCards or Oyster cards might need to be paid for before hundreds of thousands of commuters travelled on throughout London.

Victoria Bus Station which confusingly sits beside Victoria Train Station and on top of Victoria Underground Station and which acts as a Terminus for virtually all the red London bus services passing through Victoria. Virtually all.

Not all.

You have to check.

At the Bus Station.

Victoria Underground Station which has seen the total shut down of the Victoria Underground line in recent weekends for engineering works. Like the website says, it is one of London's busiest underground stations.

There's a wide flight of stairs just outside one of the train station exits which leads down to the underground station. Thanks to the engineering work and the sheer throngs of people there are not enough ticket machines downstairs and certainly not enough space.

and

Victoria Coach Station which is a brisk walk and completely out of sight from Victoria Train, Bus and Underground stations.

Someone with common sense would have worked out that London Transport ticket and Oyster machines in the Coach Station would be a good idea.

No one with common sense is in charge.

To charge up my card with cash, I have to hoof it down the road. The Buckingham Palace Road. The road I had just spent the best part of a hour stuck on with a mouthy nutter who couldn't be drowned out by my 'phone radio.

Anyway. Past the ticket touts. Over the crossings. Past the Sightseeing Bus touts. Past all the bus stops for all the services that don't stop at the Coach Station. Past an enormous shopping/office centre with steep stone steps that the drunks and backpackers sit and sleep on.

And on to another crossing and on to the expensive shopping centre attached to the arse end of the Train Station. I went to the cash machines to get an up to date mini-statement from the HSBC machine. Nope. Not working.

Through the shopping centre, down the escalator to the station concourse and across the station battling through the scrum of travellers which include tourists, football fans, families on outings and there is often a wedding or a christening somewhere, so there tend to be a small number of people in smart occasion wear and fancy headgear looking very out of place. And all of them stopping to check the sign boards very suddenly and directly in front of me.

And on to the cash machine array down on the concourse. There was a massive queue. No one was queueing for the HSBC machine. I soon found out why. The card slot was blocked and wouldn't take any cards.

On out of the train station to find an HSBC machine for a mini-statement so that I could see how much cash I could get out.

I have a PAYG Oyster which needs to be topped up but I don't usually have enough money to charge it up by card or in most shops (£5 minimum). So I need to top it up with any amount of cash.

I wanted to find an HSBC cash machine to get an up to date mini statement before I thought about spending any money. Money is so tight that I need to calculate to the nearest 50p.

So I walked up to Westminster and back looking for the HSBC. And found it. Near the start of my journey.

I took out a tenner, cracked it at Superdrug for a bottle of drink and a chocolate bar and went to top up my Oyster.

Thanks to the engineering works and the cramped space down underground, to stop people bottle necking, a kind of semi-permanent ticket machine array and a ticket office have been built above ground. Just outside the main entrance to Victoria Train Station.

Directly outside the main entrance and around the temporary ticket office, there's a taxi rank with taxis disgorging and picking up passengers often travelling in large groups with lots of luggage.

There are thousands of people to-ing and fro-ing to the train station and wandering through the milling crowds of people trying to make sense of the underground ticket machines often for the first time and with little English.

And it's true, they don't know how to queue properly.

As well as a giant snake of a queue for the ticket office, there are queues for the separate ticket machines, some of which only take cash, some only take cards, some take both cash and cards, some give the full range of tickets and Oyster top-ups and some only give tickets and some only give Oyster top-ups.

And such is the state of the crowding, it isn't always possible to see which ticket machines are which and which ones have broken down and which ones are free.

It's bedlam.

My heart always sinks when I get to this point.

And then once I've topped up I've got to find a bus stop. The 148 goes straight to Shepherd's Bush via Park Lane and Marble Arch and the C1 goes to the Westfield Centre Interchange (in Shepherd's Bush) but takes the scenic route via Sloane Square, Bond Street, Knightsbridge, South Kensington, Earl's Court, Kensington, the arse end of Holland Park and finally Westfield.

I'd spent close to three hours in Victoria so I got the 148.

Once at the West 12 Shopping Centre, I went to Morrison's.

This place is set at the back of the shopping centre and used to be Presto. Remember them?

An oddly shaped and strangely laid out place with shelves built around pillars, pillars blocking aisles and two separate areas away from the main checkouts for snacks, newspapers, the Lottery, drinks, tobacco and a Pharmacy area.


Being Saturday, it was extremely busy and there were all the usual bugbears present. Stray half loaded trolleys left in awkward spots, children whining and running around, gossiping women parked up and blocking the cramped aisles and long queues of trollies in the basket checkout aisles.

I bought some food for me for the weekend, some cleaning stuff and then went home.

I fought my way onto a 283 Hoppa bus which stops directly opposite Dad's house and once in found my SiL had been, cleaned the kitchen and lounge and gone again, leaving a note.

I started cleaning. The bedroom stank. So did the bathroom.

I stripped the bedclothes, wiped down the plastic mattress protector, vacuumed and wiped the carpet, cleaned the surfaces, tidied away the dried clothes and started piling stuff in the the washing machine.

I started to lay into the bathroom. It was pretty disgusting. Scary brown stains and lots of soap scum.

Once that was over, I brought my suitcase and bag upstairs and came down for the vacuum cleaner before taking that upstairs too.

Starting along the landing, I went in and out of the bedroom at the top of the stairs, down the stairs, into the front room, into the small hall, down through the bathroom, the back room and through into the kitchen.

And on and on it went.

Tasks, chores, errands, visits to Dad in the New Charing Cross Hosptial in the Fulham Palace Road.

More shopping for when he came out of hospital. More cleaning stuff. More cleaning and listening to my Dad in and out of lucidity trying to explain what he thought he was looking at, where he thought he was and why he thought he shouldn't be there.

There was an almighty comedy bandage on his right foot after an operation to remove rotten portions of two of his toes.

In the middle of trying to clean and freshen his bedroom, I received a mobile 'phone from the hospital explaining that even though Dad had a Zimmer frame, he was falling over with the frame as he was trying to escape the hospital.

He wasn't going to leave the hospital without a care package in place, social workers alerted, medication sorted and the doctors were happy to discharge him. That wasn't going to happen over the weekend.

Shortly after this, I managed to pull down the curtain rail as I tried to get the curtains washed.

MwK has removed all working/useful tools from the house as Dad was liable to try using them and hurting himself. Consequently, there were no ladders.

I tried to get the curtains down, had to stand on a chair and managed to pull the rail off the wall by breaking the brackets that attached the rail to the wall above the window. They were brittle after nearly twenty five years up there. The curtains looked as if they hadn't had a wash for about as long.

MwK was there as he was trying to unblock the drain outside whilst trying to avoid the nettle bush from hell growing in from next door's garden.

By the time I left the house on Sunday, it looked and smelt clean. I went to the shops to get yet more stuff, brought it up to the hospital where I found two family friends just leaving and one of my Cousins sitting by the bed.

She and I chatted with Dad who insisted that he wasn't a "fucking invalid" despite all evidence to the contrary and she drove me to Victoria Coach Station.

Clueless about driving around Central London, she asked me to look after the satnav as she recounted the story of a shopaholic friend of her late mother's who needed a drive into town to visit graves after she'd just pop in to M&S.

Hours after Cousin had arranged to meet her husband, they were still in M&S to buy yet more toot the shopaholic would never wear.

All the while Garmin the Satnav was not co-operating. It never acquired a satellite signal and I guided cousin across central London by following the bus route I normally went on.

She parked illegally at the bus stop to let me out.

I just got to the bus stop in time to get on board.

The journey out of London was a nightmare.

We left at 6pm and were still in London by 7:45pm. The traffic caused by the train strike, Sunday drivers and extra coaches was just mental.

Shortly after we started a small baby started crying.

And crying.

And crying.

And crying.

For four long, fucking hours.

The parents were Eastern Europeans, the mother in a long headscarf tied around her head and neck and the baby was tightly swaddled in a blanket.

It was a relative new born and still fairly rubbery. They did everything. Rocked it, shook it, walked it up and down the aisle, took it in turns to rock it, shake it and virtually throw it up and down. It's shocked little face flubbered up and down as it was bounced in its mothers lap.

The heat was stifling and people started to complain. The driver refused to stop at a service station as he was late and wanted to make up time and the mother was crying herself by the time junior started to make some very bad smells.

It got its nappy changed twice, it threw up a few times and STILL it refused to stop wailing.

By the time we got into Birmingham, we were just grateful to get off the bus. We were an hour late.

The replacement driver told us that we had a few minutes and so I went into the station to get a drink.

The first machine took the money but wouldn't let me make a selection so I retrieved my money and went to the next machine which had an OUT OF ORDER sign stuck to it.

I asked the girl at the INFORMATION counter if there was another machine and she said no. So I went outside to get back on the coach only to see the arse end of my coach heading out the gate.

I hadn't been off the bus for more than 5 minutes.

I went back inside. Onwards to the girl at the INFORMATION counter and explained that my coach had left with my stuff on board.

She asked me why I didn't take my stuff off with me and I told her that I was supposed to go to Wolverhampton.

I showed her the ticket.

She told me that she would arrange for the driver to leave my coat and bag at Security in Wolverhampton and I could get on the next available bus to Wolves.

As she tried in vain to get in contact with the driver, I could have told her why that wasn't going to work.

She put the 'phone down and explained that she couldn't contact the driver, Head Office couldn't contact the driver and that Security at Wolverhampton.......

I finished the sentence for her as I watched the minute hand of the clock above her head tick around pass 10pm

"...piss off at 10."

The driver wasn't answering his 'phone. She had left a message at the depot where he would eventually end up after arriving at Wolverhampton to take my coat and bag and put them in the shuttle car that ran between the depot and the bus station. When I got them back, I could get on the next available bus to Wolverhampton.

I was still parched and went off in search of refreshment.

In Digbeth on a Sunday night.

I found the main road and started walking down towards the car showrooms. There were a few pubs that looked like they catered for the alky end of the market, some "adult" bookshops, clothing stores, The Custard Factory, nightclubs and derelict stores.

There was a Subway. Which had closed at 9pm.

I crossed the road and walked back in the direction I'd come from.

There were derelict sites, a Banqueting suite (yeah, right), the old bus station being refurbished and the greasy spoon trailer that sat in the car park of The Dubliner was closed as there was no custom from the bus station for the time being.

I was desperate enough to try The Dubliner but a vicious cat fight broke out in the doorway and spilled out onto the pavement.

I crossed the road away from the pub and towards a chippy.

I ordered chips and two cans of Diet Coke. The bottles were Coke Light and not in English. The chips were horrible. The cold drinks were great.

I walked back to the temporary bus station.

And waited.

10:30

And waited.

11:05

And waited.

I put in a £1 and checked my emails on the PAYG computers that were bolted into a corner of the waiting room.

Nope. Nothing.

And waited.

11:35

The girl from the INFORMATION desk came over, waved her hand in the general direction of the desk and asked if that was my stuff.

I looked over and almost didn't recognise them. Coat and bag. Oh, yes, I said. I can get the 11:45 bus too. Just in time.

Oh, no. She said. It hadn't arrived. It wasn't going to. There were no passengers who wanted to go this far.

I went outside to check.

One small shuttle car. Check.

One large National Express coach being shut down to be returned to the depot. Check.

The INFORMATION girl followed me out as I tried to explain to the two drivers what had gone wrong.

They ignored me completely as the INFORMATION girl explained what I needed.

One of the drivers 'phoned Head Office.

The sensible thing would have been to return the bus to the depot and transport me in the car. The driver had to ask permission.

Nope.

Any passenger had to be driven in the coach.

Reluctantly, one of the drivers took the shuttle car back and the the second started up the coach again.

I only had hand luggage, so the luggage hold check was a bit of a nonsense but it had to be done.

He fired her up, I got on and sat in the seat behind him and we chatted all the way to Wolverhampton.

To cap it all, he knew where All Saints was and could have driven me if not to my front door, then to the bottom of my road. Now I was in a coach, he had to take me to the Coach Station.

Brilliant.

Tired and extremely pissed off, I walked home to get some fresh air.

It has not been the best of weekends.

Note to self.....

1) Fire up the mp3 player and bring it with you

2) Find, clean and bring the ear plugs

3) Next time, bring a cold drink.

I'm knackered. I'm so tired, I was staggering this morning and had to call in sick. It was like being drunk.

This isn't good.