The scheduled time for a bus to travel the distance between Edinburgh and London is 11 hours and thirty five minutes. I remember thinking as I was booking that mentioning the extra five minutes was surely on the borderline of pointless. Just round it down to eleven and a half hours and be done with it. Having now long since taken the journey I fully understand why it is mentioned.
I was counting down every single minute of that bus ride and if I had ticked off the final minute only to find that five more still remained it may well have been the straw that broke this camel's back.
I mention camel's because they are directly involved in one of the occurrences that made this particular bus trip the worst travel leg I have ever undertaken. I had not known, and admittedly I had not read the fine print on my booking confirmation where this information may well have resided, that in order to survive the lengthy jaunt one would need to either be a camel or at the very least have inherited some of their survival methods.
The first leg was six hours and during a teary farewell at Edinburgh bus station I had forgotten to get a bottle of water. Not a worry though, I realised as I clambered onto my stead to London, for a drinking fountain resided halfway along the rows of seats. Fantastic! No need to sprint back to the vending machine before departure.
My error was to not test this beacon of hydrating light. When someone did, roughly half an hour along the road, we were all furnished with the news that it was not operational in the slightest. Not a dribble was to be had.
‘No bother,’ said the confident and helpful man two rows in front as he toddled up towards the driver to relay the news and request a quick stop at the next services so that the passengers without evolutionarily placed, water holding humps could secure a refreshing beverage.
The first hint that the discussion was not going well was the sound of the driver threatening to throw our noble water gatherer from the bus. It transpired that unscheduled stops were not an option on this service and they would not be entertained no matter what the circumstance.
I could understand the situation from the driver's perspective. I'm sure late arrivals are not looked upon kindly by management and passengers should be able to think ahead and bring the necessities of survival with them on lengthy journeys. However I do feel that in the event of a faulty appliance, some concessions should be made for fools like me that fail to pack the essentials. I should mention at this point that I also forgot to bring along any food. So half an hour into an eleven hour and thirty five minute trip, I was both hungry and thirsty.
At this point I decided my best option was to attempt sleep. I soon discovered this was about as likely as getting a hydrogen and oxygen mixture because clearly the driver had decided not only would we not be stopping, no one would be sleeping either. I can't say for sure that he was aiming for every pothole in the road but I certainly harbour suspicions. This was accompanied by the occasional swerve to the left and then back to the right, presumably to cater for those not bothered by the up and down of the pothole service.
Mercifully the spot next to me was empty so I attempted the bold manoeuvre of laying down over two seats in the hope of successful slumber. Unfortunately, at six foot tall, this was not possible and certainly not practical. Not one to give up easily and definitely not one to admit fault quickly, I stuck with it until both my neck and back received lasting damage.
In the wake of another video game style swerve across the road I set my mind to discovering what it was that had turned this bus driver against the human race in such a severe manner. It undoubtably involved water and it occurred to me at this moment the likelihood that it had in fact been the driver who had disabled the water fountain. I passed the next few minutes envisioning the driver, spanner in hand, possibly lightening flashing across the background, rendering the fountain useless and laughing maniacally into the night sky.
One thing I had remembered to bring onto the bus with me was my ipod, along with the headphones required to utilise it. I congratulated myself on the day's first win and settled in to listen to music and podcasts while ignoring the dryness of my throat, slowly increasing headache and image of a crazed bus driver illuminated only by weather.
The bus had left Edinburgh in the late evening and would be powering down the United Kingdom through the night for a morning arrival in London. It seemed logical then to continue attempts at sleep but the mixture of excitement for further travel, sadness at leaving friends behind and the slow approach of death from dehydration were all too much for me.
Time seemed to at least be moving a bit more swiftly now thanks to the ramblings of Karl Pilkington in my ears and I managed to forget about all bus related issues until I was roused back into the world of uncomfortable travel by the sound of a pained man shouting.
It turned out the lack of water had finally gotten the best of a fellow passenger and he was making his feelings on the matter known. Human rights were mentioned upwards of five times within a single sentence and suddenly the bus was stopping. Perhaps the cries of the man were being heeded and we were pulling into a service station to replenish our liquid stocks.
This turned out to be so far away from the truth that even binoculars would make the truth little more than a dot on the horizon. We were in fact stopping so that the bus driver could march down the aisle and make it abundantly clear that if he heard another word about the water situation he would be throwing the utterer from the bus, possibly while still in motion, he had left that detail fairly uncertain.
To be honest I was surprised he had even bothered to stop the bus for this encounter, he seemed to be as unstable as the bus ride itself and I would not have been in the least bit surprised to see him marching down the aisle while the bus was still flying along the motorway. In fact I think it would have improved the overall stability of the vehicle.
Two things were now abundantly clear. We would not be receiving any form of sustenance until the scheduled stop, and we were being driven across the country by a madman.
Some hours later we were pulling into the bright lights of a roadside service station. My headache was in full force and the battery on my ipod was rapidly dwindling. What would fill the next six hours of the trip I had no idea and didn't care. All I wanted was a cold beverage and dangerous amounts of food.
The driver, who I had dubbed Reginald for no other reason than to put a name to a man that was at least giving me a tale to tell, took longer than could possibly have been necessary to choose a space to park the bus and made sure once he finally did, it was the space furthest away from the shelves of life saving liquids contained within the neon lit Nirvana of the roadside.
Reginald then informed us that the stop would be no more than fifteen minutes and anyone not on the bus in exactly fourteen of those minutes would be left behind. The thought of hitchhiking to London from wherever I was crossed my mind at a very leisurely pace and almost set up camp there. Not only was Reginald's hospitality well below par but I was genuinely fearing for the safety of all on board due to his erratic method of attempting to cover every section of road, including the wrong side.
I attempted the maths of how long it would take to walk a distance that takes six hours to drive and gave up when I realised that whichever way I manipulated the numbers it would always end with me missing my flight out of London. It seemed I was stuck with Reginald and his eccentric ways. At least for the second leg I would have food and drink. Presuming I made it back in time of course.
The service station was grim. Even for 1am.
I decided to avoid the visibly greying chicken in the pie warmer and instead stocked up on fruit. I ate two bananas and an apple before getting back on the bus and washed it all down with a litre of water. I also bought the same again to take with me on the bus. Out of genuine fear that Reginald wouldn't allow me to take water onto the bus I protected it within the zip of my bag and hurried to my seat without making eye contact.
The world is a better place when hydrated and I began to laugh at the previous six hours and jotted a few notes down about Reginald and his ways. I wrote a short story over the next hour in which Reginald is a misunderstood villain who just wants to conserve the world's dwindling water supplies.
I couldn't come up with a reason for his desire to deny passengers sleep.