25 August 2010

A journey from a bygone age

Last week I took a return bus journey which transported me back to a time and a service that I had thought disappeared.

The route is between two centres of a decent population but taking in small villages for which this bus is the only service. It travels the whole route return four times a day.

I got on the bus and asked the fare and the driver was meticulous in ascertaining if I needed a return ticket (because it's much cheaper love ) and in informing me of the return times (because you don't want to miss the last bus do you now love?) For the record I don't mind being called love because it's a local thing and it's nice.

As I sat down I noticed that everyone that boarded was given a personal greeting and it appeared that many of the elderly passengers were known to the driver by name. The journey itself took about 10 minutes longer than timetabled, not due to any traffic problems but because the driver really did provide a very personal service. Not only did he stop at all the regulated stops but he also stopped where convenient to an individual passenger. Each one was given a cheery 'tarra' from the driver. And this is why I will not name either the bus company or the route because I have a horrible feeling that allowing passengers to board or disembark at anywhere other than a designated stop is probably against the law or something similar.

At journeys end I was wished a good day along with everyone else.

The return journey was what really took me back. It was the same driver and after responding to his question as to whether I had enjoyed my day I asked whether he was the only driver on the route, which he confirmed he was. This explained why everyone knew him and why he knew them. As the journey was being taken during the rush hour most of the passengers were workers returning home for the evening. I was struck by how they sat in groups, chatting and discussing the days events. Seats were kept free for those who joined the bus later on in the journey. The driver greeted everyone by name and asked about their day and each passenger asked after the drivers day and/or health.

As people reached home there were numerous goodnights' around the bus and to the driver and then as the driver drove off again, the people who had disembarked waved to the driver and their friends and everyone waved back! It was delightful and reminded me of travelling by bus as a child with my Mother who always knew all the drivers and conductors.

This journey gladdened my heart and put a massive smile on my face. The only downside to all of this is the route is heavily subsidised by two councils. I sincerely hope that with all the cutbacks that are being made and are to be made, that this service will not lose out, for neither leg of the journey was full by any sort of description you would care to use. Not only would the villages lose their only service but a little bit of happiness would be lost too.

11 August 2010

There really is no such thing as Society, not when there's CUTS to be made!

This article and associated reports carried in various media yesterday started a few thought processes in my weary brain. Feel free to pick it all apart but these thoughts come from the heart because I've seen it all before.

Last week I watched a programme on BBC Four Britain's Park Story and a fascinating piece of social history it was. Towards the end of the programme they touched and it was only a brief touch on how Britain's Parks became no go areas during the 1980s following savage cuts during the Thatcher Years, in funding. You may remember it all well. Once a park is neglected, plant beds left to the weeds, pathways left to crumble, buildings not maintained, park keepers and rangers made redundant along with the skilled gardeners et al, then the vandals move in to destroy what remains. Graffiti became more prevalent than foliage, children's playgrounds became the haunt of disassociated young people who had nowhere else to go and nothing better to do than cause trouble and take drugs. The families stayed away because of the danger of a child picking up used needles or condoms. Councils couldn't do anything about the problems because the funds were not available and so it all became a vicious circle.

If you allow places to rot and fester then there is no pride. How can you have pride in something that is vile and vandalised? And so the situation gets worse and the behaviour of those who are disassociated becomes worse and society as a whole breaks open a little more. This may all sound so dramatic but think about it. When something is good and well maintained and money is spent in keeping it that way then there is a pride. A pride in a place that is ours, belongs to all of us and that we all as a society use. I don't have a lot of time for the last Labour Government but give them their due, the rise in use of our parks and there has been an incredible increase in the popularity and use of all types of park, does coincide with their 13 years of power.

It is easy for departments that provide for our leisure activities to be subjected to the first and most savage of cuts because they are not considered essential, hence the cut in new playgrounds that would have made such a difference to the lives of those who had help plan them and would have used them. But these services are essential in my eyes and a wider perspective needs to be taken into account. Cut these provisions and we start that vicious circle of decay, decomposition and ultimately destruction all over again.

Everything starts with but a small seed.....

7 August 2010

Single and No Car! A Moan...you're warned.

I write this as Frustrated of Aldridge!

In September my wonderful daughter is off on a venture week with her school so I thought I would take the opportunity to raid the savings of a very modest amount and go away for about four days on my own and recharge the batteries, have some quality me time with good old thinking time thrown in for good measure. Easy you would think. Think again. This world is set against people like me that are not only travelling solo but on public transport too. How very dare I?!

My first thought was to go up to the Hebrides, I've always wanted to go there and I can't think of somewhere else that would be as wild, windy and pretty deserted for quality thinking time. Unfortunately, and I have spent many long hours pouring over the logistics of all modes of travel be it air, sea, coach, bus or even all four and a good walk thrown in for good measure and it is nigh on impossible. I have no desire to spend a night in Glasgow, had enough of that city in the early 90s or to spend the sort of money that would be required in order to avoid a night there!

So my thoughts turned to North Devon and in particular Lynton. Again pretty wild with beautiful coastal scenery and the stunning coastal path between there and Ilfracombe , a mere 21 miles. The area around Lynton is known as Little Switzerland so those who know me would also know why the area appeals. Again however, getting there is an all day job involving a bus to Birmingham and then the train to Taunton, bus from Taunton to Minehead and then another bus from Minehead to Lynton. Now do I want to spend a total of 18 hours travelling the round trip out of my few precious days? I remember now why I always end up in North West Wales: not only is it beautiful but it takes 3 hours door to door! Grrrrr.

My other bug bear though is the local public transport in North Devon. Guess you have to own a car to live there because the bus services STOP for the winter the day after I plan to travel there! So no walking to Ilfracombe or Hunters Inn and then getting the bus back! I thought public transport was bad around here in the wicked West Midlands after experiencing the joy and frequency of London public transport (do Londoners really appreciate what a wonderful service they have?) but at least the service doesn't stop for the winter, well only when it snows!

Then there is accommodation. Nothing flashy. Just a simple B&B is required but as soon as you tell them the room is only for one person they do not have any vacancies! I did try calling a couple back, pretending I was someone else looking for a booking for two and miraculously they had vacancies! Even if they do have vacancies, said B&Bs want 75% of the price of two people sharing the room! Oh yes and this is for single rooms too!

So I'm having a moan. It is unbelievably difficult to try and do something that should be so simple and is if you are a couple and you drive!

Looks like Wales and I'll just have to swallow my anger over the 75%!