Monday, 7 December 2009

Enough already.

The Alice Band Christmas coach tours are officially and categorically, kaput. In the last few years I have corralled my passengers, clip board clutched to my chest on outings to all nearby major cities. Never have we been without an ‘incident’. What seems such a straightforward fund raiser for my youngest girls’ school, rarely is. The PTA sit in the pub once a month and rack their brains on how to raise some much needed cash and the coach trip has always been a no-brainer. Now I know why, because the person organising it, has no brains.
This year though I thought it would be different. There was a lot in our favour, we weren’t going far, ergo the driver wouldn’t fall asleep as one did once, on the A38, at 60mph; Clark’s Village is a specifically built shopping centre ergo, there is little chance of anyone getting lost as they do, in larger cities, every year and, being only the other side of Taunton, we would be home early, in time to catch of the X-Factor.
So, last Saturday morning once again saw me ticking names off a list and fielding questions as to “Where is the bus then?”. I sighed and smiled and pointed out that we were not behind schedule. Soon we would be though, very, very soon.
The coach it transpired was not going across the Torpoint Ferry as had been promised but instead around the Tamar Bridge. There was a lot of disgruntled tutting, apart from a dear lady who, with her teenage daughter and friend had travelled from Saltash to catch the coach and had to wave at their house as we past it again, an hour later. She found it hilarious.
At Ivybridge the A38 was shut, so we took a detour, across the South Hams. It was very beautiful but very, very bendy and windy. Many of my ladies felt queasy indeed. The swapping of seats commenced and receptacles had to be found ‘just in case’. The coach was stuffy, the air-conditioning didn’t work. We drove through many villages and 45 minutes after we’d left it, rejoined the carriageway. We arrived at Street an hour late.
As far as I am aware everyone had a lovely time. I will assume this because in my experience, I am only approached when there is an ‘issue’. No-one tells you when they are happy and everything is lovely but God forbid, if they are unhappy about something, then they will soon make themselves known. Most had done a lot of shopping given that some seats had been taken up by carrier bags, leaving other passengers with nowhere to sit. Did they honestly think that I would turn a blind eye to a woman standing in the aisle as long as the Monsoon carrier bag had somewhere safe to sit? Many minutes were spent in the beseeching of placing said bags in the underneath hold. Finally my passenger capitulated and my seat-less lady had a place to rest her weary legs. Not for long.
The engine of the bus had been running for quite some time and once I’d checked that all heads had been counted and all had their seatbelts on, the driver put the coach into reverse. It made a few jolts into the car-park and that’s as far as it got. As I was sitting almost directly behind his ear I was able to hear him on his mobile phone to the service engineer, who presumably was somewhere in Cornwall. He was advised to rev the engine to try and get it out of reverse gear. It was very technical, I didn’t understand it. At the front of the coach we were unaware that the back was filling with smoke, until the screams and mass panic travelled to the front. I jumped out of the way to help people down the steps and it was immediately apparent that the engine was not actually on fire but that whatever was being revved, was rubbery and getting hot and smoky. Nevertheless, it was carnage on board. There were women and teenagers crying, people pushing others out of the way, one woman tried to jump out of an emergency window, another in her rush to escape down the middle steps, fell and hit her head, twice. It was by now pouring with rain. We gathered in the car-park. There was a baby being huddled without any waterproofs, frantic screams of “Get the baby a coat” were sounded. Yet there were some, less flappable who were most reluctant to get off the bus. The driver turned the engine off and the smoking stopped.
Lots of women went for a coffee, lots more became very agitated, some went to the pub. Another coach adjacent to ours happened to be returning to Plymouth and had spaces left. All hell was let loose. The baby and its mother were obviously a priority as were those in hysterics, others told me all sorts of lies to get on that bus along with demanding compensation for the accrued taxi fare from Plymouth to Torpoint. My hair, clip-board and passenger list was getting very soggy as I valiantly attempted to keep control of who had absconded where. A simple day trip was all going so horribly wrong. Some of those who didn’t make the alternative coach decided that ours was a death-trap and chose to go to home by train. I ticked their names off.
After an hour an engineer turned up, mended the bus and we continued our journey home. Those of us left enjoyed the quiz and shared not only a tub of Celebrations but very much a Dunkirk spirit. Ironically we arrived home at the same time as the others and, as I wearily stepped down off the coach one of my ladies said, “Count me in next year”. I’d have liked to have said, “Ok, this sort of thing doesn’t usually happen.” But I’d have been lying.


Anonymous said...

You'll look back and laugh at that day by the time you've got
had a large glass of something alcoholic in you hand!

DL said...

I know I shouldn't find it funny, but I was grinning from ear to ear as I read of your passengers' tales of woe. It's like something out of a Carry-On film!

Keep 'em coming!

Best wishes,