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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Steak Pie On Wheels



I’ve written quite a lot, just lately, about my doomed attempts to buy a steak pie from a local café (see here, here and here).  The continued absence of this comestible, despite it featuring prominently on the Specials Board, seems to me to be redolent of a societal longing for something that used to exist, but no longer does.  Alternatively, it could just mean that they can’t be *rsed to change the Specials Board.

Anyway, it seems to me that this ‘steak pie’ attitude to customer service can be found in lots of other places, for example…

The other day we had to go into Burton upon Trent to collect a second-hand car we had ordered for my wife.  The reasons why we’ve had to buy a replacement vehicle for my wife (by which I don’t mean that I’m having the car instead of her, although…) are sufficient to drive a relatively sane person barmy, so I won’t go into them here, other than to invoke a specific curse on the person who knowingly sold a particularly lethal car to a young family.  May he (and the person who gave it an MOT) rot in an exclusive circle of Hell.

We decided that it would hardly be environmentally friendly to drive into Burton and bring two cars home so, as we unusually had some time on our hands, we opted to take the bus for a change.  I should point out, at this juncture, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, there has only ever been one bus service running through our village and that goes, about once an hour, to Burton.

The only timetable we had was a few years old but we decided it should be a reasonable guide and so we presented ourselves at the nearest bus stop about ten minutes before the appointed time, and an hour and a half before the appointment made to collect the car.  Burton is only a half-hour ride from our village.

Can I say here, I think it is a shame that in order to make bus-shelters more or less vandal-proof, they’ve also made them decidedly uncomfortable?  The same is true on unmanned railway stations, where (in both instances) those tip-up seats allow you to perch precariously, but not sit properly.  Mind you, I suppose it is an advance on the stainless steel hurdle that constituted  bus-stops in my youth, against which you could lean or, if small enough, hang from like a monkey.

The bus arrived bang on time and we boarded.  My wife has a bus pass but I don’t due to my relative youth (yes, I know it’s hard to believe).  She said to the driver, very clearly, “A single to Burton Town Centre, please”  My wife prides herself on her clear diction, whereas I, apparently, mumble.

“You don’t need to do that, now” the Driver replied, “you just have to touch your card against the scanner” So she did.

I followed and said, “Well, I need the same but I have to pay for mine” and he duly charged m £3.10 and issued me with a ticket.  I thought that this was a bit steep but it’s been years since I last caught a bus.

We settled down in our seats and prepared to enjoy the novelty of a bus ride.  Actually, ‘enjoy’ might be rather over-egging the pudding.  It has to be said that if you were hoping for the smooth and relatively silent glide of a coach, you would be somewhat disappointed.  I think you could have had  a more tranquil journey in the revolving section of a cement mixer.

After a while, my wife said “Shouldn’t we have gone through Sudbury?” (our neighbouring village).  “I thought so” I replied with my usual quick wit and ready repartee.  “Perhaps they don’t go there anymore?” She suggested.  I shrugged my shoulders, my conversational capacity exhausted.

Our bus then joined the A50 and continued on its merry, bone-shaking way to Mickleover.  By now we were looking at each other quizzically.  No bus going to Burton would readily divert through Mickleover.  I hauled my ticket out of my pocket and noted, for the first time, that it said ‘Single to Derby’.  It is, perhaps, worth noting that Derby is in exactly the opposite direction to Burton.

Still unwilling to accept the written evidence, and that of our own eyes as we trundled around various Derbyshire villages, my wife asked another passenger where the bus was going, and she confirmed it was for Derby.  As getting off in any of these villages would not guarantee the possibility of a bus back to Burton, we realised that we were trapped until we reached Derby City Centre.

“We’ll get off at the Bus Station and catch another back to Burton” my wife decided.  “Does this go to the Bus Station?” She asked our helpful fellow passenger, as we weaved around the streets of Derby.  “I’m not sure that it does” came the less than helpful reply.

With the Bus Station in sight, we pressed the bell and the bus pulled up.  The conversation with the Driver then went like this:

Wife:  “Do you go to the Bus Station?”

Driver:  “Oh no, we try to avoid it because it gets so busy” (foolish of us to imagine a bus actually using a Bus Station, obviously)

Wife:  “We’ll have to get off here then.  I asked you for a single to Burton, you know?”

Driver (looking at us blankly)  “Oh!”

As it was clear that this conversation was getting us nowhere, other than Derby City Centre, we got off and headed for the Bus Station with all haste.  The haste was, actually, a little redundant as we had just witnessed the express, non-stop bus to Burton gliding serenely past us as we alighted from our previous instrument of torture.  Sure enough, on entering the Bus Station, we learned that the next bus to Burton would depart in twenty minutes and would call at all of the little villages we had just, unwillingly, visited, plus a few more for good measure.

By the time we caught our new bus, it was well past the hour when we should have been collecting the car.  One apologetic phone call to the garage later, and with me nearly £10 lighter in cumulative bus fares, we set off for another scenic tour of the more obscure villages of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, accompanied by the usual crashes, bangs and bone-shaking bounces that are such a fun feature of public road transport.  Quite why they offer free wi-fi is beyond my comprehension, I should think it would be a minor miracle if you ever managed to get your finger anywhere near your touch screen without doing you, or your companion, a serious and possibly deeply embarrassing, injury.

When we finally dragged ourselves into the garage, weary, deafened and shaken to the core, we had been in almost permanent transit for a total of three hours in order to complete what should have been a fifteen mile journey.

So, if you’re wondering why we need a second car when we have such a wonderful public transport service on our doorstep?  Don’t ask, just don’t ask!


You can find this story, and a whole heap of others like it, in the new bumper collection of 'nostalgedy' stories "The Things You See..." available now on Amazon.