How not to spend a Wednesday, specifically a Wednesday in late October 2013: make a journey from Glasgow to London over land, and find just about everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
To be fair, it’s a journey I’d made a few times before that week, and would go on to make fairly harmoniously for a further month and a half, in order to participate in the three-month Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course in the heart of Piccadilly. But if that Wednesday had been the first, and had formed my initial impression of the trip, I would probably have ended up seriously rethinking my travel plans, and possibly my commitment to the course.
A twelve-week, Wednesday-and-Thursday-evening novel-writing course right in the centre of London. Not enough to justify moving to the capital for the duration, but also far too good an opportunity not to take up. So, staying at my Dad’s place in Glasgow Southside seemed like a decent compromise. A nine-hour land journey there and back once a week for three month vs. regular flights back and forth from Northern Ireland or trying to survive full-time in the virtual city state that is London: it seemed like a no-brainer. But that particular Wednesday, with its seemingly-endless run of bad luck, made me sincerely glad the travel routine was only for a very set period.
Up at 5am, courtesy of my phone alarm. Straight to the shower, then a small bit of breakfast, before making sure everything was packed for a one-night stay and overnight bus back on the Thursday night. Then out of Dad’s flat on Underwood Street and up the short distance to the Kilmarnock Road, where the 5.45 bus, the first of the morning, took me to Glasgow city centre, the fifteen-minute walk from Argyle Street up the gradually sloping Buchanan Street to Buchanan Bus Station providing a chance for some slight exercise, exercise which, on that day, I would end up being very grateful for. A flash of my ticket to the conductor, and I was on the Megabus, ready to pull out of the station at 6.35am, settling straight into sleep as the long stretch of motorway began, and waking sporadically over the next three hours- enough to catch flashes of signs for Carlisle, and glimpses of the Dales as the sun started to come up. But, as usual, I didn’t start coming fully awake until Preston, at which point the stop-and-start nature of the next hour’s journey over to Manchester always made it more difficult to slip back off again- a smooth, unbroken journey is always much better for that.
So the coach made it into Manchester city centre, and it was then that the trouble began. The conductor came up to the top deck to inform us we’d got a flat tyre, and it would consequently be another hour before a replacement coach arrived- cue an angry tirade from one passenger furious about the fact he would now be late for a business meeting, which met with an equally irate response from the conductor, who rightly pointed out it was not her fault, as well as advocating the wisdom of travelling ahead enough of time to allow for situations like this. For my part, I was still philosophical at this point- it was inconvenient, sure, and I didn’t much fancy another hour’s travel on top of the existing nine, but I would still be in London for about 4.30pm- still enough time to eat and head over to Piccadilly for the class.
But sometimes, one thing just spirals into another, then another, like some malevolent Butterfly effect, and lo and behold, after the usual dull, fully-awake, four-hour stretch from Manchester to London, characterised by endless motorway with no real distinctive scenery anywhere (a sharp contrast to the beautiful Scottish Highlands backdrop of the Glasgow to Inverness trip I was making at the weekends to visit a best friend), we ran into a nightmare scenario on the outskirts of the capital- traffic gridlock, the result of an accident that had occurred somewhere ahead on the motorway. Hence four further hours of sluggish, barely-moving progress, the coach shifting about ten metres every few minutes, and leading to some inevitable strife among the passengers, one shrill woman in particular, persisting with questions about how soon we’d be in the city when the driver patently had no way of knowing, managing to cause tension and irritation for everyone. Still: at least that provided a warped form of entertainment if nothing else. It got to the stage where anything diverting, even bad atmosphere, began to feel welcome.
And so, finally, sixteen hours after leaving Glasgow at half six in the morning, I was finally in the heart of London at 10pm, exhausted from nothing more than sitting on buses all day, and with no energy to do anything other than leave Victoria Coach Station without complaint, re-learn how to walk for a few minutes, then head up Belgrave Road, finally arriving at Astor Victoria hostel, checking in, and going straight to bed. This last part of the journey, at least, was a small mercy. If it had been one of the couple of weeks during the course when we only had class on a Wednesday evening, resulting in me having to get on the coach straight back to Glasgow at 11.45pm that same night, I would probably have screamed London down.
p.s. I should just emphasise the CB Creative course itself was one of the best things I’ve ever been on, and Megabus journeys ran smoothly for me 9 times out of 10: just in case the provocative title implies any criticism of either of those two bodies! CM