You get what you pay for, right?
One of the dilemmas we experienced on our recent six week holiday in Lanzarote was how we would get to the airport. Generally, we would stump up the money for the Long Stay car park and jump on the free shuttle bus to the airport. The Boss would never use Valet Parking for our own car, having noted how often in a previous life his company car would scream off at 100mph, then be returned next day, windows down, seat practically horizontal and radio now set at full volume playing some weird ‘drum and base’ music.
Long Stay was an option for this trip, the £150 asking price was not the problem, even if it was inducing the usual facial contortions. He was more concerned this time about the effects on the car battery over six weeks, nor was he prepared to open up the bonnet at 05:00 to start disconnecting said item. Alternative options had to be quickly assessed. The Train? Unfortunately, being Britain, the ability to get from ‘A’ (our house) to ‘B’ (the airport) in the very early hours was a complete non-starter. Pay the Jellybeans £75 each to take us there and back? This was looking favourite for a while but making them get out of bed at 03:30 for a two hour journey before their full day at work, then fight through M25 evening rush hour after their full day at work seemed like a lot to ask. Aware that friends often travelled by Coach to the airport we started a little ‘Googling’.
Research revealed that our town was indeed frequented by a coach from a National company that would Expressly deliver us to the airport fifty miles away in about four hours, and no doubt, many stops along the way, but not at a time that was convenient for our flights, but wait, for only £29 there was a ninety minute, one stop, ‘return’ route from Portsmouth Harbour arriving at the airport at 22:30, we matched this to a Premier Inn booking at Gatwick for £38 pounds, congratulated ourselves on some smart planning and sat back relaxing feeling quite smug.
The big day arrived, Jellybean No.2’s birthday too, so we took her for a birthday meal at Portsmouth Harbour (surprise) and gave her the pleasure of driving there. Full bellies, waved goodbyes, “See you in weeks,” then off to the coach depot. A quick wee in the public loos …. an ‘erm’ … lovely experience just before the coach arrived exactly on time.
For £29 pounds our expectations were low, QR code was scanned off our mobile phone, suitcase stowed in the luggage deck and we step on to a very modern, clean passenger area with neon blue mood lighting and TV screens showing the forward view of the coach, we are impressed, comfortable seats with seat belts, setting off on time the holiday has the perfect start. The only stop en-route is easily navigated in Chichester then upwards to the M23 northbound and we can see Gatwick airport on our left. It is 22:25, we can check in the hold suitcase between 20:00 and 23:59 then have a nights sleep in the Premier Inn before waking relaxed for the flight. Wrong, the Northbound exit is closed for roadworks and the day is about to get a whole load different to the one we were experiencing one minute ago.
The Boss is a little puzzled, the junction closure would have been a ‘planned’ closure with public notification, surely the National company would have Expressly communicated this to all their drivers. With a good knowledge of the area he informs me the driver could have exited at the previous junction and nipped around Crawley to the airport with only about an extra two minutes delay. ” Not to worry,” he quips, “He can turn either West or East onto the M25 and double back after a mile or so at the next junction, the Southbound Gatwick junction was open as we passed.” The driver seemed to be heading East, then suddenly changed lanes and went West onto the M25. Nicely lined up to exit at J8 the driver suddenly indicates right and steers right back onto the M25. ‘The Boss’ showed slightly less empathy, “What a Muppet, it’s about three miles before he can double back near Leatherhead now, what the hell is he doing, he doesn’t have a clue what to do,” he growls through gritted teeth, before, “I’d go up front and help but he will just get arsy with me.” The next chance to double back is J9, the driver exits, “Finally, he’s done something right,” then disaster, the re-entry to double back is closed, the driver panics and just takes any exit from the roundabout, we are now heading on the A243 towards Kingston upon Thames and London. “That’s it, I’m going up front, he’s in a right mess now.” The Boss strides the length of the coach, no doubt the ‘Rocky’ music is playing in his head. As he reaches the front the driver has made contact with the office, “Nat,” I’ve changed his name, “I’m Lost.”
Nat was about as much use as a chocolate fire guard and seemed to have no knowledge of the well planned roadworks, not helped by the fact he was tracking the coach with a one minute delay so could only see where we had been one minute in the past. Knowing the junction behind us was closed ‘The Boss’ guided the driver away from Kingston out on the A3 back to the M25 entry, which, was closed. The hero of the day is now panicking, does he guide us to Guildford then ‘A’ roads or head the wrong way on the M25 hoping double back is possible at the next junction, he has made himself jointly responsible. As the driver, now unsure who to trust, gets back onto the office ‘The Boss’ starts shouting at Nat over the drivers shoulder, “Just find out which junctions are closed.” As continued loops around the roundabout waiting for the chocolate fire guard to make a decision seemed pointless ‘The Boss’ directed the driver to take the wrong direction on the M25 to chance the next junction being open, when it eventually turned out to be open as we finally doubled back everyone on the coach gave a silent cheer, until … we got back to the A3 junction and the traffic cones now signalled a completely shut motorway … Aaaaarrrgghh.
Clearly, we were only going to get to Gatwick via ‘A’ roads. Nat suggests we head for Leatherhead again and ‘The Boss’ says he can direct the driver from there through Dorking and Reigate to Gatwick, whilst desperately searching Google for bridge heights and shouting, “Left,” “Right,” “Straight On,” at every junction. The comedy continued as Nat continued on the phone offering directions as we approached junctions on his tracking screen we had cleared one minute ago until the exasperated hero at the front said to the driver, “Just ignore him and listen to me.” Nat fired the next salvo, telling the driver he did not have enough driving hours to deliver passengers to both the North and South terminals and should take the coach directly to the South terminal only. ‘The Boss’ explained to the driver he would take no responsibility for any mutiny or public servant lynching caused by the non delivery of passengers to the North terminal. The reader will have to imagine the course of action followed by the driver, who subsequently avoided any mutiny on the vehicle.
The coach unloaded at 00:30, after passing Gatwick northbound at 22:25. All the passengers shook ‘The Boss’ by the hand as they departed, He now knows how Bobby Moore felt as he was chaired around Wembley holding aloft the World Cup. We missed booking our hold luggage in before 23:59 and had to drag it half a mile to the hotel where we now only had four hours before waking up time. What a night!
Surely, the return journey in six weeks time will be better!
… six weeks later…
“Ave you got your tickets, Darlin’,” prompts the roadside operator who appears from nowhere. “Yes, here’s the QR code for you.” “I can’t read that Darlin’ I need your tickets.” I immediately sense my other half is switching into ‘Arsy Mode’ as he thinks a National company that has Expressly issued a QR code to board the coach should have a QR code reader, or maybe at least a bookings list Expressly listing who has booked to travel.
“You never sent me any tickets,” “We must have, coz you have a screenshot of the QR code Darlin’.” I don’t think being casually called ‘Darlin’ repeatedly was bothering him too much but the ‘Chim Chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim, cher-ee’ accent definitely was. I knew what she was suggesting but he was digging in.”You didn’t send me any tickets, I took a screenshot of the QR code as we have no access to a printer and in case there was no internet here, so what happens if I can’t open your email?” “You won’t be getting on the coach Darlin’.”
The email eventually opened, very slowly, we got on the coach resisting the urge to say “Thanks for your help, Darlin’.” The very friendly driver took the trouble to walk back to our seats and apologise for the incident saying she must have been having a bad day.
Next day, we got an email….