The Highs and Lows of storytelling…
A paid gig. A garden centre in Brighton for 4 x 30 minutes of Christmas stories for families with children up to eight years of age. What an opportunity for some travel and meeting people to showcase stories. Train tickets purchased and the timetable worked out. Arrive Brighton about midnight and look around the town for a place to eat, hopefully over 24 hours, where I can lay my head down for an hour or so. What's to worry about?
Let's start outside my street where the bus stops to take me to the station, the 17.10 to Leamington. I arrived at 17.05 to sit with an elderly woman who had been there a while. We spoke for a while and then I glanced at my watch, 17.20. And so it went on-an on.
At 17.40 we both figured that the company had simply withdrawn that bus and the next one was 17.50. A long wait, but I had plenty of time before the 21.10 train to Birmingham for the first stop. At 18.00 the bus came, not the 17.50, it was the first bus, nearly an hour late because of traffic. But, no worries, I was on.
Twenty minutes later, the bus was stuck in traffic under a mile from the station.
"You'd be best get off and walk," the driver told both of us. I needed no second invitation to take her advice. I picked up my rucksack, slung it over my back and started to walk, eventually walking through the reception area, buying my tickets and sitting down to wait a few minutes for the connection. It arrived without too much wait.
New Street Station:
20.30: Plenty of time to catch the 21.10 to Milton Keynes for stage three. Had a coffee and wandered down to the platform. There was a train in the going to Euston (I think) via Milton Keynes but it was the one before my scheduled one so I thought I'd wait-better stick to the plan, right? Out it went and wait for my train.
"The 21.10 to Euston via Milton Keynes has been delayed after a passenger was hit on the rails" I think those were the words, but I can't be sure. What the delay was going to be though, no one seemed to have any idea.
"I've got to be in Milton Keynes by 10.30" I told the man on the platform "do you have any idea when it will be?"
He replied he didn't know, but suggested I should have caught the train which had just left, that was going to Milton Keynes! Grrrrr.
I arrived at Milton Keynes around midnight. Just a few minutes after the train to Clapham Junction had pulled out. Why was that significant? Yes! That was my next destination. The guard on the platform was, this time, really helpful.
He told me to forget my plans, go to Euston, underground to Victoria and then to Three Bridges.
That was the last but one stop on my schedule before Brighton.
This part of the journey was easy, a doddle compared with what I had put up with. The experience had been frustrating but nothing to worry about.
At last, one more stop before Brighton. One more train journey before I can lay my head down somewhere. STOP!
The line between Three Bridges and Brighton is undergoing maintenance. There is now a coach laid on which takes over an hour. Just one more little dig in the ribs, one more turn of the screw.
At least I will be able to sleep for an while, and to be fair I did. Until! At last. Brighton Station.
We all, I think, climbed off the bus weary and worse for wear. I know I did. But that was OK now because I had sussed out a 24 hour eatery on the sea front. That was just under a mile away. It was, however, 2.45 am, there weren't too many people about to ask which way the seafront was and the people who were around, weren't really around if you know what I mean-the aroma of marijuana was thick in the air, even though the number of people around could be counted on one hand.
I walked in one direction until I came to a shop still selling goods and asked directions. I was on the right road.
"It's a straight road until you reach the seafront and then turn left."
I know what you're thinking. Once again I'd met a gremlin, a spanner in the works. No! He was spot on, straight for about 1,000 yards and turn left. Only, when I turned left it seemed that every night club in Brighton had closed at the same time and poured it's contents out onto the street, in various stages of inebriation and dress (or undress for the older readers). Every eating place from McDonalds to the fish and chip shop was heaving with humanity, squealing, shouting, laughing. I needed Buddies Restaurant but I have to say I was a bit wary of asking anyone where it was. But, in the end, there it was. A bright restaurant, with lights blazing and outside tables. It was packed.
Now, Buddies, I have since found out is famous in Brighton. It certainly was on Saturday morning, but the staff found me a table for one and a menu of staple restaurant foods. I decided that the fish and chips, with garlic bread and a pot of tea would probably last me the longest-and thus mean the least time on the street.
It worked. I was able to make the meal last from 4 am until just gone 5, and then sort of melted into the background until 6 am. The staff didn't seem to care. They were still busy with people coming-or staggering in. (I have to praise the staff here. They were brilliant. The noise all night was deafening, many of the customers were in that state where they were either 'jack the lad' or 'Sally the ladette'.
Through it all the staff smiled took orders and served promptly. It did strike me later, that fish and chips at 4 am was a bit out of the ordinary.
The Last Leg?
Refreshed, food wise anyway, I left the restaurant to make my way back to the station to catch a bus, eventually, to the garden centre. It was still only 6 am so I thought a stop off at another, quieter café would at least give me the chance to get my head down for an hour or two. I bought a coffee, found a quiet corner, set my alarm and put my head down. A sort of sleep came. I woke at around 8.30 am and leaving the untouched coffee went for my bus on the final part of the journey.
"Wyevale Garden Centre please."
"That bus doesn't go from here, take the 7 into town and catch the 2."
OK, no problem, I'd been told that morning that the bus to the garden centre left from outside the station, but no problem.
"When's the next bus to the centre?"
"20 minutes. It would be quicker to walk!"
So I walk back the way I'd come earlier that morning to catch the bus to the garden centre. It was, by now about 9.10 and I'd seen that the journey would take 20 minutes, which would be fine. Except the only bus to the garden centre was 'due' in 18 minutes which was cutting it fine. The traffic in the town was snarled anyway and I had no idea whether that would increase the travel time.
Now I was worried...not frustrated or angry (too tired for that), worried that I would miss the stipulated 10 am arrive time and forfeit the contract.
Last resort, a taxi.
I arrived at the garden centre at 9.50 am, had the stand set up by 10 am and ready to go at 10.30 am.
The rest of the day was smooth sailing...stories told, children sat through (mainly) and the parents happy with the event. Home in two hours less than it took to get to Brighton and time to sleep.
Result: A story to tell. An invite to return in December. A life lesson learned. Plans are great until the first shot is fired, then just handle it.