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10:22pm on Monday, 5th April, 2010:

Bussing it to Gatwick


Ah good, my laptop still works. I guess the bus driver didn't throw my suitcase onto the pile hard enough.

Normally when I go to airports, I travel by train. This means I can do things like read, which I can't do on a bus as I get travel sick when I try. Today's being Easter Monday, however, most train services are disrupted by extensive engineering works. You pay a train fare, but end up having to spend most of your time on a bus. This being the case, I decided to go by bus the whole way and pay a bus fare (£20 one-way — around half what it would cost me by train). I set off at 3:35pm, and arrived at the hotel at around 8:35. That's roughly how long it will take to get into American airspace tomorrow...

I must have seen over a hundred things I could have blogged about on the journey; cities are like that when you pass through them by bus (well, they are for me). I'm not going to blog them, though, or I'll be here all night. Instead, I'll talk about the two legs of the journey: Colchester to Victoria and Victoria to Gatwick.

Colchester to Victoria was destined to take ages because of the roadworks on the A12. Except, as I'd booked on an express, in theory the driver could have gone a different way — A120, M11. He was actually planning on doing this until someone at the station told him he had a passenger to Romford. This annoyed him, because it meant he had to take the A12, plus he didn't know where to stop at Romford bus station (or, indeed, where Romford bus station was). So, we set off on the A12. I nodded off, and woke up over an hour later as we were entering Romford. The driver announced over the PA systtem that he didn't know where to stop, but a person sitting near him did and pointed out the route. He pulled the bus to a halt, and no-one got off. This was a surprise, because I'd actually heard one passenger talking to her friends who were seeing her off in Colchester, telling them that she'd call when she got to Romford. She stayed on the bus, and went to London instead. Had the driver checked everyone's tickets, he'd have perhaps made her get off; however, he didn't — he just assumed that he'd been misinformed. He cursed that he needn't have gone to Romford and we'd basically had an hour added to the journey for nothing, and continued to Victoria. Other than saying one of those things you really don't want to hear a bus driver say ("Shit! Shit shit shit!") when he made a wrong turn off Queen Victoria Street, the rest of the journey was uneventful.

The next journey I knew was going to be eventful when a woman got onto the bus for Gatwick and presented a ticket for Brighton. Now the bus did actually go to Brighton, via Gatwick, but the Brighton ticket was a special deal for people going away for the day. It struck the driver as a litle suspicious that someone would be going to Brighton for the day on a 7pm bus from London, so he asked her if she was indeed going to Brighton. She said she wanted to get off at Gatwick. He pointed out that she wasn't allowed to do this because she had a super-cheap deal that was being subsidised by Brighton to try get people to visit it for the day. I think he said it was £2 or £3 return, which is rather less than a single to Gatwick. He insisted that she had to buy another ticket if she wanted to get off at Gatwick. She said she wouldn't (carefully omitting to say whether that meant she wouldn't get off at Gatwick or that she wouldn'tpay full fare for a ticket). At this point, she suddenly started talking in a broken African accent (she was of African extraction — somewhere like Botswana or Kenya, I'd guess) in an effort to make out that she didn't understand what the driver was saying, even though she was speaking perfectly normal English until that point. The driver stressed that if she got out at Gatwick, he would call over the inspector and she would have to pay full fare. She repeated that she wouldn't. She had a valid ticket so he had to let her on the bus, even though we all knew what was going to happen when we arrived at Gatwick.

Sure enough, when we pulled up at the South Terminal she tried to get off, the driver called the inspector plus a female colleague who could restrain her if she tried to run for it, and when I left the scene the inspector was threatening to call the police while she was shouting on her mobile phone to some relative asking for help. Incredibly, she was shouting into the phone in a regular accent, then speaking in I-not-understand English to the bus officials.

You don't get that kind of quality drama on trains. Maybe I'll take a bus next time, too, even if it does take twice as long to get where I want to go.

Referenced by Bussing it to Heathrow.

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).