Moulton Seas End's John Ward looks back at a memorable coach trip
Considering the cost of travel by one’s own mode of transport these days over any distance by car, motorcycle, oxen or helicopter can be costly however it’s always the final destination that can be mortifying as in the ransom being asked for parking, but it’s finding somewhere first to actually park, unless booked in advance when possible.
We decided to go by coach to Birmingham to do some Easter shopping as we missed out earlier in the year when the Christmas shopping malarkey started (think it was July when it kicked off) as it gets earlier every year nowadays.
We saw an advert in our local community magazine about a trip going there, inquired and obtained seats - so much whoopee then as no worries about parking, being caught up in assorted traffic roadwork’s that is now part of our culture and heritage, so less stressful as somebody else was driving.
I would point out we used to go to Birmingham quite regularly and so know the city centre reasonably well.
All went smoothly as picked up on time, deposited in said Birmingham and back without any incident although in the past there have been assorted ‘events’ with coach trips that have made some memorable but perhaps not for good reasons.
One unforgettable event still lingers in the mind as it’s very hard to forget.
Over the years assorted coach trips have yielded incredible, nay unbelievable situations that make the benchmark ‘Carry On’ films seem almost pussycats in comparison if the following incident or life changing moments were anything to go by as I ask you to now buckle up your seat-belts as I take you on a journey of discovery in more ways than one.
Journey and discovery did go together well some years ago as the plastics laminating company I was gainfully employed by had organised a staff coach trip to Earls Court - the London one - to a trade exhibition relating to plastic products from around the world then called ‘Interplas’- and still going today I think - with assorted processes plus the machinery that made such items possible.
The Journey bit: the Saturday morning started off well as everybody who had booked to go were present as the driver ticked them off on his list on entry as away we went although it didn’t really seem relevant at the time but before we set off, his reference to "I want you all to behave or I will stop the coach until you do" was puzzling but hey - he’s a professional.
We made good time and had one break along the way at a services area as once back on the coach, yet again "I want you all to behave or I will stop the coach until you do" was heard from the driver - odd or what?
Was this now a normal coach driver phrase or saying? - nobody knew for certain.
The Discovery bit: off we went and soon got off the M1 as he found a spot to pull into, stood up as he then made a speech of sorts: "Does anybody know where this Earls Court place is, please?" as 40 or so faces were struck dumb, mine included.
Thinking this was some sort of joke, it wasn’t - he had never been to London before in his life as he explained: normally he did the school run around the villages 'back home' but as nobody else was available due to sudden illness of the allocated driver, he then volunteered ‘to have a go’ (!) on this trip.
However with no definite idea of where we were going other than a very ‘dog eared’ map of sorts he had brought along, nine years out of date, but luckily that London place was still featured in it.
This gave a whole new meaning to the ‘mystery trip’ concept although usually the driver of such events at least knew the end destination but it did clear up the significance of the "I want you all to behave or I will stop the coach until you do" as to him this was possibly a ‘big boys’ school run.
A couple of us knew where to go, so together we guided him in - today this process is called Multi-Tasking - but could it get any worse going back many of us wondered as were there any more ‘highlights’ or confessions to follow?.
The exhibition was amazing plus everybody honestly said it was quite an eye-opener in many respects and glad we went, or rather glad we got there at all might be a better description.
We all had our fingers crossed (a few bought ‘lucky rabbits feet’ from street vendors and souvenir shops close by) that he would be there at the pick-up point but yes he was - a big chorus of ‘phew’ was heard from the assembled mass.
Back on the coach the driver asked how it went as we replied okay as he then gave us some ‘exciting news’ (?) such as he had bought a (new) ‘A to Z’ of London maps, had sat and read it all afternoon so was now ‘more informed’.
What could possibly go wrong?
We set off as we all felt relaxed as did the driver as he now became rather chatty and gave us a verbal guided tour of land marks as we went along via the onboard PA system that he had by now found during the afternoon plus how it worked.
‘If you look to your right, you will see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament’ and so on as we went down the road as he searched for more things to yap about he knew or has seen on television or in films as don’t forget, he had never been to London before.
About quarter of an hour later of non vocal activity: "If you look to your right, you will see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament..." which one or two well informed or conscious passengers begged to ask how many such land marks there were as we had already seen one set not so long ago.
A minor glitch the driver assured us as "we had took a wrong turn but now had got his bearings" as silence came from him as he drove on.
Ten minutes or so later, he broke into chant yet again: "If you look to your right, you will… er…see… Big Ben… and the Houses of Parliament… ooooh, butterballs - I’m lost, folks" he sighed.
This time I got the short straw and guided him back to the M1 as away we sped towards home.
When we got back we disembarked as many were glad to feel the earth beneath their feet again as one or two asked if he knew the way back to his depot, but he amazed us yet again as he said he thought he had ‘done really well’ as we stood there in silence.
It seems he had never really driven a coach at night before as he always did the school run, so never drove in the dark as it was ‘all daylight stuff’ but reassuringly he did say he had the headlights on which had helped - we slept soundly that night for knowing.
Friend Jim asked if we had imagined it all but sadly no, it had been all for real.