Friday, 8 August 2008

A Minor Odyssey

Like Leopold Bloom in Joyce's Ulysses I had a minor adventure yesterday in my case 3 weeks after surgery. I ventured into town for the first time in quite some while, by myself aided only by a pair of elbow crutches. As I have not yet been cleared to drive the journey would need to be made by bus.

The reason for this was a visit to the chiropodist who I last saw in February. Unlike the local hairdresser who has been happy to visit at home 3 times this year the chiropodist, who I have visited for a few years now, does not do home visits so I have had to wait till I felt able to make the journey.

The appointment was for noon. The journey into town usually takes 20 minutes at this time of the day. There are 2 bus services that follow the same route that would get me near enough to the chiropodist's premises in the centre of town. Each service runs a 10 minute frequencies.

I needed to allow sufficient time to slowly negotiate the long and steep and sometimes damp paved drive from our house to the road before making my way on pavement around a corner and down hill to the bus stop. I always tend to assume that I will just miss a bus and allow an extra 10- 15 minutes for this. In the event I left home at 11:15 having just watched the start of the 4th test match against South Africa at the Oval.

The chiropodist is a private practitioner and any missed appointments have to be paid for. I was late once but was let off as he managed to squeeze me in between other appointment. On that occasion I was travelling by car and one of the main roads into the centre of town was blocked because a open top Sunbeam alpine had broken down astride a bus lane and the leftmost lane of two for everyone else. I think the driver realised something was wrong and was trying to pull across the bus lane towards a nearby filling station to get it off the road but was out of luck. As a result buses had to negotiate the way into the outside lane. This might not have caused a bottleneck but unfortunately the little sports car had broken down opposite a narrow lane used by large Tesco delivery vans and one had been trying to make its way out which usually meant stopping traffic across all lanes while it traced a graceful arc onto the public highway. As you can imagine this took some sorting out and I ended up 15 minutes late.

Yesterday my journey was similarly delayed. About half way to the centre of town on the bus route I take is one of 2 local hospitals. There are always plenty of travellers getting on and off at this stop and many times there are 2 or 3 buses waiting. In fact this stage on the route is often used to make up or take up time as appropriate. If buses are late they don't hang about but if they are early they can wait up to 5 minutes before setting off again. In fact if they are on time they are expected to wait 3 minutes so that is built into the overall route time calculation and is one of the timing buffers - the others are at each end of the route.

Before that however I safely negotiated the long drive and at the end stopped for a minute to chat to a neighbour who was gardening. He was part way through yet another course of radiotherapy and we agreed to compare notes next time we met. As luck would have it I turned the corner onto the main road ( and bus route) and made my way slowly downhill towards the bus stop. There were 3 people waiting so I thought even if a bus came at that moment there was a chance I could still catch it. After 5 yards I noticed movement among those waiting and one stuck a hand out. I stopped to look over my shoulder and sure enough a double decker was approaching. I was not going to rush as I had allowed for just this eventuality - If I made it by walking at a comfortable pace that would be a bonus. I watched as the 3 passengers queued up on board to pay and was still a few feet from the back of the bus when it started to move away.

I was pleased that I had not succumbed to the temptation to make a rush for it and settled in to wait up to another 120 minutes for the next bus. About 8 minutes later a single decker bus arrived and the driver dropped the platform so I could get on more easily with crutches. I presented my mobility bus pass ( the first time since it had changed to the national scheme) and was told to place it on the scanner which was pointed out to me. I did this and the scanner bleeped satisfactorily . I asked the driver to wait until I was safely seated which he was happy to do. A gentleman occupying one of the 2 front double seats asked if I would prefer to sit where he was to which I said yes and thank you. These seats offer more leg room and have a vertical support bar which is handy when the bus turns corners. He moved to one of the side bench seats. Once in place with crutches supported I shouted to the driver that I was safely seated and he set off.

A few stops later and we turned the corner towards the hospital. The vertical bar came in handy and stopped me falling about. We pulled into the bay outside the hospital and a few people got on the bus. Then the driver got out of his cab and said we had just been hit. None of us felt a thing but apparently a double decker bus had pulled in to the same bay and not wanting to stick too far out into the road and obscure line of sight for cars turning left out of the hospital onto the main road had pulled just a little too close to the bus ahead.

The diver explained we would be delayed 5 minutes while he exchanged details. After a couple of minutes some people got off to board another bus that had stopped just ahead. After a few more minutes even more people got off. I decided that I would wait until the next bus and if we had not set off by then would transfer. Given that I could not manage this too quickly I stood up and looked backwards to get as early warning as possible of the arrival of the next bus. As I was doing this the driver reported it would take longer than he thought and suggested we all transfer to the next bus which was just arriving. I now had 15 minutes to make the appointment. I reckoned as we were about half way that might just work out as I would get off after 10 minutes and still have 5 minutes to cross the road and make my way up the steep hill and around a corner to get to the chiropodists premises.

This is how it turned out and I managed to enter the premises he uses as the local town hall bell struck!

The return journey required a little planning. The nature of the bus routes around the city centre mean that negotiating one way streets sometimes means it is sometimes more sensible to complete a journey into the main transport interchange where passengers have to get off the bus, wait in the nearby shelter for 3 - 5 minutes then - when it is ready to start off again - reboard.

In my current state of mobility it made more sense to do this than to walk a couple of hundred yards to pick up the same bus a few stages into its return leg.

To my surprise the bus driver allowed me to stay seated in his bus at the interchange - for which I was very grateful. Common sense does sometimes permeate through even the most officious sytems.

The rest of the return journey was relatively uneventful but nonetheless I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I finally sat down again once back home.