Thursday, September 21, 2006

Country roads take me home

They are the words ever man, woman and dog travelling by tube and local commuter train dreads.

“All trains are terminating here. Passengers are advised to seek alternative routes or wait for further announcements.”

From personal experience I can tell you that those words can take any ordinary Monday morning from grey to clinically depressing.

On the morning of 7th July last year thousands of commuters were asked to evacuate trains and stations across the city. Groggy eyed and grumbling I emerged from the rabbit warren that is the Underground out in to sunny Euston Square wondering how to get to Kings Cross. It was only after a confusing half hour of trying to board buses, make phone calls and wondering what the loud boom a few hundred yards away was (Tavistock Square) that the news of the explosions began to trickle in.

Since then, every time I am asked to disembark a train or hear the words cancellation, delays or emergency my shoulders tense and I feel a mild panic ripple through. I wait for bad news to follow.

A week ago, I stood at Slough Station humming, reading and impatiently foot tapping – in short waiting for my train to Paddington (where a famous bear resides in bronzed glory). After what seemed like an eternity I boarded the train, gloating over the prized seat I had managed to procure with no elbowing and rib jabbing. Just as my posterior began to get acquainted with the upholstered seat my fellow passengers and I were asked to leave the train. How rude.

The platform filled up once again and the train doors shut. Just to make sure no one decided to get back on. (You’d be surprised at the number of idiots who do this. THE TRAIN IS NOT GOING ANYWHERE MORON. GET OFF) So we waited. And waited. And waited some more.

And then the news. A man had thrown himself in front of a train at Ealing Broadway. And who can blame him? He was probably fed up with London Transport. As the station master relayed the bad news to us someone next to me tut-tutted. I was furious though. Selfish bastard. Of all the places and ways to commit suicide he had to choose Ealing Broadway during rush hour. Some people are so inconsiderate.

I was helpfully told to try and go to Windsor where I might be able to get a train to Waterloo. Try? Might? I wanted a fool proof way of getting home.

As I walked out of the station I realised I had spent too long inside waiting for good news from the rail Gods and staring at a woman’s black patent heels. The queue at the taxi rank stretched all the way to hell. Which isn’t as far from Slough as one would think. My only remaining option was bus.

Now, I haven’t always had the best experiences on buses. Memories of crowded 13Bs, a jaunt on the upper deck of the London Big Bus Tour which started off well enough until it started raining, and a trip to Stratford on a YMCA bus that played Bhangra music all the way crowd my mind. But I had no choice.

Slough Bus Terminus is like the rest of Slough. Large, not very clean and I’m sorry to say ugly. No wonder Betjemen wanted to obliterate the place – tinned fruit and all. The cavernous bus terminus has more than 12 different stands inside and about 3 outside. And zero employees it would seem. The information desk was closed and the man at the newspaper stand became very unhelpful when he realised I was not going to be buying anything.

By now, the motley crew of commuters trying to get back to London any which way they could had grown. Muttering imprecations under our breath we slowly began to gravitate towards one another. Misery does indeed love company. My own little band of stragglers included a Scotsman, an Australian, a Brit and myself (that sounds like beginning of one of those jokes doesn’t it? Trust me. There was nothing amusing about the situation we were in).

I decided to name them in my head. The Scotsman was Sean, the Aussie was Russel and the Brit was Colin. Sean was chatty and actually called me lass, Russel was much better behaved than his namesake and never once tried to throw his phone at me and Colin was typically tight lipped about the whole thing, clutching his umbrella and newspaper like they were all he had left in this world. An ageing Keira tried to join us but I managed to send her to a near empty bus shelter at the other side of the Terminus from where I assured her she would be able to get home.

However, my gang of buff men were pretty useless. Sean kept looking at me and saying “What we gonna doo lass?” Not very 007 and I’m pretty sure Russel would sell my kidneys if it meant a chance to get home. Maybe I should have joined ageing Keira after all. After much to-ing and fro-ing I lost the losers and spotted a bus that would take me reasonably close to where I live. And by that I mean about ‘3 tube zones and forty minutes by train’ close. I had now been looking for a way home for an hour. I knew how Lassie felt. Well. Almost. If I had that kind of hair on me, I’d be pretty bummed.

After half an hour the bus finally trundled up. I boarded, tried unsuccessfully to get the driver to accept my train tickets to Paddington and then found a seat next to a bunch of old ladies who were sweetly showing one another the potatoes they’d bought at the market earlier that day.

As the bus pulled out of Slough I sighed with relief. Finally. The rhythmic lurch of the bus was soothing. I pulled out my book and began reading quite sure that nothing outside my window would be worth watching.

How wrong I was.

For just outside Slough and its Cheerful Chicken Shops and Poundland is South Buckinghamshire and its glorious countryside. Alice Munro was soon forgotten as I lost myself to the sight of quaint pubs and charming names. Stoke Poges. Pennylets Green. Packhorse Road. Ramblers. Gosomer Cottage. The sun was comfortably sprawled out in her boudoir in a cloud peignoir of pinks and purples that would have looked gaudy on anyone else. The stress, frustration and anger of the last hour and a half ebbed away. Quiet country lanes. A large, green, common scattered with dandelions and daisies and young men in cricket whites. Independent bakeries, patisseries and bookshops. No Witherspoons, WH Smith or TopShop. This is England I thought to myself - sheep, wild flowers and the Our Lady in Heaven Churches.

After forty minutes of bucolic charm the traffic began to build up and a mammoth Tesco cast its ugly shadow on the green hills of Amersham. I was almost home.

I don’t remember every journey I make. Stations and tube lines blur and become a mish mash of names of coloured lines. But I have a feeling I’ll remember this one. After all, how can one forget a name like Stoke Poges?


Falstaff said...

Ah, Stoke Poges. You give me Betjeman, I give you Thomas Gray:

Okay, okay, so you're not a ploughman, but you were plodding your weary way homeward, no?

30in2005 said...

That's what comes of going to Slough girlie!!!

Nice one.....

rads said...

That was very descriptive and picturesque, unlike the England we all like to believe. Reminded me of the time I got lost in the moroccan part of Brussels and was pretty sure I was in Turkey. Don't ask me for the connection.

DesiGirl said...

You survived Slough eh? Cool! Maybe you should get a tshirt with that statement!
Oh that part about Sean Russel and Colin cracked me up!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Falstaff - :)That was a long one. Lovely. It took me 2-3 readings thought. And I wouldn't mind being a ploughman. I'd look very chic in a hessian sack and sandals.

30in2005 - I know! Such is life though :(

Rads - None asked for :)

Desi - I did survive Slough! Am very proud of myself. Would you buy a t-shirt?

ammani said...

Come on, all you people, don't be so harsh on Slough.

It was the first town we lived in in UK. And I can still remember finding our little decrepit maisonette in the heart of Slough 'charming'. I still have more friends in Slough than I do in my posh South Bucks neighbourhood. I visit the town at least 4-5 times a week and have even kept my Slough library card.

As for Betjemen, he is believed to have apologised publically for his tirade against the town.

But all that apart, I never understood how those of us, raised in Madras and lived in Mumbai can find Slough 'ugly'.

Well-written, Shoefiend. Even if I don't agree with what you had to say.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Ammani - :D well if it took you three hours to get home you'd have been (perhaps) unfair to the place too. I must admit, much of my frustration that day was unfairly vented on Slough. How can I have bad things to say about the home town of Que Pasa (and unsullied lettuce leaves ;))

ammani said...

What Que Pasa? What lettuce? What are you talking about, Shoefi? It's all a puzzle to me.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Ammani - :O Iru iru both of us will be caught on CCTV camera.

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