Friday 8 August 2008

Travels on public transport

Over the course of many years of being in the outdoors, I have spent as much time and effort getting there as I actually do on the hill. Possibly these days I am a minority, that is because I predominately use public transport. It is a different life style. There is that frisson of excitement, of going places. Counter balancing that is the dread of long hours cooped up in a cramped seat with limited leg room. Coach stations, they all have a familiarity about them. Metal, uncomfortable seats, cold, drafty. When travelling, I usually make do with snacks. At Victoria coach station I have spent many hours waiting for coaches to transport me to far off places. At all hours there are milling crowds of people. Families with kids, excited, sometimes tearful, stressed. People with great lumbering suitcases being dragged behind them. Early mornings with folk bleary eyed after travelling on the night buses. Students and young people off on their own adventures. Their belongings in bulging, huge rucksacks, often with bulky sleeping bags tied on underneath; A plethora of odds and ends dangling from various straps and string. The concourse with coaches heading off to destinations country wide. The long haul European coaches with strange destinations marked up. They evoke thoughts of exotic places in the farther reaches of Europe. Buchanan street bus station in Glasgow. The times I have had to wait some six hours and more for the night bus south. Since Scottish city link split away from National coaches,City link was taken over by Stagecoach. The differences where noticeable. No longer could one buy a ticket from London to Skye as I had done a few times in the past. Cooperation between the bus companies ceased. This meant if a bus heading down from Fort William ran late, the connecting service would no longer wait. Many the time when I travelled almost every other weekend I ended up sitting in the bus station with a bag of chips and a book. In the winter it meant wearing all possible cold weather clothing.

One of my difficulties is that I can be extremely uncomfortable around people. On the modern coaches the centre arm rest has been removed. That little barrier between yourself and your fellow passenger could make a world of difference. What a strange, weird and wonderful mixture of folk travel on these journeys. My mind recalls for example a time I was coming down on a morning bus from Inverness. There is always a scramble for seats, despite the fact there are enough for everyone, (usually). Me, I too have this foible, preferring a seat up near the front and on the aisle side so that I can stick my legs out a bit. Sometimes things work out well and an empty seat is left beside me. On this occasion though every seat was taken. A stout lady plonked herself down next to me. She wriggled in her seat to maximise the amount of room possible. Unfortunately she was also talkative, very, chattering away nineteen to the dozen the moment she sat down. As we pulled out of Inverness she opened a large shopping bag that was carrying, pulled out a large bag of crisps and proceeded to munch. This was quite something, her conversation flowed non stop except when she paused to swig down large gulps of soft drink from several bottles she carried. At any service stop she would dash off to replenish supplies. by the time we reached london my head spinning. By then I knew the history of her cats, one apparently terrorised the next door dog, nipping over the garden fence to chase it up the garden path. the poor dog fleeing in terror. Her failed attempt to run a B&B, she was unable to cook the breakfast and would regularly burn the toast. The lady also told me about her various illnesses, bemoaning the fact that she had been discharged from hospital far too soon etc. On a rough average I would say she had consumed at least fifteen large bags of crisps by then and at least three large bottles of coke.It made me feel queasy just to see that lot going down the hatch. On a night bus from Glasgow I had the misfortune to have a very large guy next to me. He stank of B O and all night he sniffed, snuffled, snored and wriggled.

Sometimes too there are quiet fascinating people. On one occasion I had this dear, little old lady next to me. She was amazing. One of those old ladies that seem to have a core of steel in them. She took me very much by surprise, asking me if I was lesbian. That was not the sort of question you would expect from someones granny. Gradually though as we chatted things became clearer. it turned out that she had been a land girl during the last war. From what she told me, it her first time away from home. Her father had been somewhat scandalised that his daughter was actually wearing trousers. he considered it improper and saw no reason that she should not wear a skirt while working on the land! Apparently she shared digs in an old stable with another couple of land girls. Somewhere along the way a relationship developed between herself and one of the other girls. In those years it was obviously a taboo subject and yet somehow this lady had never looked back from that moment and was currently living with a female partner.

Sometimes too there are the upsetting and crazy moments. Once, at Victoria coach station, not long before we where due to pull out a woman dashed across. As the relief driver put her case in the luggage compartment she got on the coach and stopped in the aisle. The driver asked her to sit down.. She snapped at him, complaining that there where no seats. The driver pointed to the empty seat next to me. She glared at me, "I am not sitting next to that." her voice was vitriolic, she spat pure hatred. Me, well, I refuse to retaliate, it normally only worsens things. That is not to say I did not feel angry, both angry and humiliated. However, she then made a bad mistake of arguing with the driver. At that point she was given the ultimatum of either leaving the coach or being removed by the police. When we pulled out she was still on the concourse screaming at an inspector.

Over the years I have seen the weird, the wild and the wonderful travelling on the coaches. Maybe sometime I will post a few more things that have occured at different times.


  1. What a brilliant post, Dawn! It drew me in right from the start and held me tight until the end. In particular, it reminded me of the year I spent as a student in London, and the bizarre nightime commute between there and home at the start and end of each term, by National Express. Thanks v. much indeed for that :)

  2. That is some talent you have there Dawn. For just a minute I was 14 years old visiting my Aunt again.

  3. An enjoyable read :-) I'm sure we all have stories from public transport trips, I've have a couple in recent years and nightmare to Birmingham for an outdoor show and then the trip back from Windermere after doing the dales way.

    When I was a kid I use to travel to different relatives to spwnd my summer holidays; it was always by coach and always seemed as a great adventure.

    Nowadays I can't tolerate the invasion of my private space that happens on coaches now plus 5/6 hours on a coach, drives my insane.

    I'm just able to put up with the trains :-).

  4. Dawn
    I thought of your post 2 days ago as I sat on a train. I sat and watched as a young mother expertly entertained 2 children, and old lady complained a lot to her friend and a teenage couple engaged in activities that they really should have got a hotel room to do!

    I sat there with a canoe paddle in my hand, a woman asked what it was and why I was carrying it. I told her that I had been up the creek without a paddle so many times that now I just carry a paddle; just in case.

    She didnt speak to me again.

  5. yes please Dawn - more bus stories!

  6. Lol Shamus, observing people while on public transport is a hobby of mine as well.