An unexpected journey: part one.

ImageUnexpected.

Pron.: /ʌnɪkˈspɛktɪd, ʌnɛk-/

Adj. Not expected or regarded as likely to happen.

Journey.

Pron.: /ˈdʒəːni/

Noun. An act of travelling from one place to another.

SO, there we were – myself, and my pals, Ian and Rebekah – discussing the possibility of some sort of “adventure” somewhere. The first idea was Alton Towers, in the Midlands, then Thorpe Park, further south. At this point Rebekah suggested that if we were heading down to Thorpe Park via London, we’d may as well just go to London instead – she’d never been there.

The problem was the cost – within the timeframe that we wanted to visit, train, plane, and coach fares were far too high. It was Saturday, Rebekah and Ian had already handed in all their uni work, and I had one piece to hand in on Tuesday. If anything was happening, it would be after that.

Luckily, I remembered that I had won two free return tickets on National Express over a year ago. There was a rather emphatic response of “book it!” when I told them this. I tried, they didn’t work.

On the phone, I explained the situation – they told me I’d have to wait until Monday. Not great, when we were planning on catching the overnight coach on Tuesday. I headed off into Edinburgh to see a friend, as my train disappeared into Haymarket tunnel, my phone rang. It was National Express. No sooner had I gleaned this information, then the call was dropped. I arrived in Waverley to a voicemail asking me to call them back ASAP – I did so, someone had approved the use of my tickets. Success. Minutes later, three return tickets to London had been booked.

Tuesday. I duly handed my report in, and headed into town for a meeting. Then it was off to get supplies with Ian and Rebekah. In hindsight, I think 12 500ml bottles of Pepsi was a little too much – it resulted in far too much weight to carry around the following day.

We went to Rebekah’s, ate, half watched Mock The Week…and ran out of things to do. Well, apart from Ian, who took one of his multitudinous ‘selfies’ in Rebekah’s bathroom…again. We waited. Then we walked into town and went to McDonalds, where we waited for a McFlurry. Thence to the bus station, where we waited some more.

The excitement was building slightly by now, but also anxiety. There were a lot of people waiting on the bus, and we didn’t fancy sitting in crap seats for the seven and a half hour journey.

Somehow we were first on the coach. The driver glanced at the ticket, “London? Sure?” before gesturing towards the coach. We managed to get seats together – Ian and Rebekah took one pair of seats, I took an aisle seat on the adjacent row, and that was it.

A little hint for you: do not ever take the National Express if you want a good night’s sleep. It just won’t happen. The three of us tried to drift off, using iPods to block out the engine whine – no success. We resorted to chatting instead, this resulted in a stern (and unjustified) telling off from the woman in the row in front of us:

“Come on! Cut the chat for a few hours, it’s almost midnight!”

Ten minutes later, she was asleep. We weren’t. According to National Express’ own Coachtracker service, we were due a stop at Durham Services. Given that we were passing Newcastle, we decided to give up on sleep for the time being.

We did stop in Durham. At the park and ride. We changed drivers and headed back on to the motorway. Steve, as he introduced himself, told us that we would get a break…in Woodall Services, some two hours’ drive away in the East Midlands.

I managed to grab some sleep, Ian and Rebekah didn’t and clearly begrudged me this – judging by the fact that a rather unflattering picture of me slumped in my seat appeared on twitter.

Woodall. What can I say about it? Not much. It has toilets, and the worst McDonald’s I’ve ever been to.

Heading south again, we soon picked up our third driver of the journey: Paul. As we tried to sleep, half the coach wandered down to Paul and moaned about the temperature. Paul responded by using the coach’s PA system to tell (and wake up) everyone that he was going to pull over and try to heat up – in our opinion – rather warm coach.

We, somehow, managed to get some sleep. But we were all awake by the Golders Green stop in North London. It wasn’t even 6am, yet we would have to somehow stay awake until 11pm that night, when we would catch the coach back. As some recompense, we were treated to a great view of Hyde Park at dawn, but that was it.

We stumbled off the coach at 6.45 with the same thing in all our minds: “What next?”

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