Thursday 27 August 2020

Stop! Thief! That's my bike!

Inspired by Jim's bus exploits on (Blogger has changed: I can seemingly no longer insert a link in the old way) I decided to use the bus as part of the journey to get our car from Fazeley where we had left it. I was starting from Market Drayton which, sadly, no longer has a railway line - let alone a station - leaving bus as an essential part of doing this by public transport. I started with the crazy idea of doing the whole trip by bus, but it would have entailed multiple changes and would have taken a long time. I decided, then, to use bus and train - and cycle where necessary. Jim would have relished the bus challenge, but agreed that my route was easier and more suited to a bus "novice" such as me. Having been assured that buses can take folding bicycles I waited at Market Drayton Bus Station for the 1111 bus to Hanley, i.e. Stoke-on-Trent. The bus arrived from Shrewsbury a few minutes early, giving me and three or four other passengers plenty of time to board. I really can't remember the previous time I used a bus. When it got under way it felt most odd not wearing a seat belt. Between Market Drayton and Newcastle-under-Lyme we went through a couple of villages off the main road, negotiating some rather narrow country lanes en route.
From Newcastle-under-Lyme the bus went near to Stoke-on-Trent railway station before finishing up at Hanley Bus Station. By the time I realised the proximity of the railway station it was too late to press the button to ring the bell to stop the bus, so I got off at the end of the run and cycled down the hill - crossing the Caldon Canal on the way - to get the train.
Here I made my first proper mistake. There was a queue at the ticket office so I used a machine to get a ticket for Stafford, forgetting to use my railcard and thus forgoing a discount of £2. This is the train I caught, here at Stafford Station at the end of this third leg of the journey (bus, bike and train 1).
At Stafford I bought my final train ticket, this time from the ticket office with my railcard, to take me on to Tamworth. I could have got a ticket from Stoke to Tamworth but splitting here, where I had to change anyway, saved £6 or so on the full price. This is where things got interesting. I boarded the train and leant my bike against the folding seats next to the loo, as I had done on the previous train. At Rugeley Trent Valley some passengers got off, and I glanced over towards the loo and saw NO BIKE! One of the passengers, a young man, was calmly pushing a bike across the platform to the exit. I grabbed by bag, leapt off the train and ran after him. Hey! Stop! That's my bike! I shouted as I charged past the two or three other people who had got off. The thief stopped and looked round at the lunatic who was running towards him. Only he wasn't a thief. It wasn't my bike. Oh no! What had I done? What an idiot! I raced back to the train, still stationary, but the doors were locked and unresponsive to my desperate jabbing at the button. As the train pulled away, with my bike heading to London, I looked around. Rugeley Trent Valley is an unmanned station. There was a help/information pillar, but it wasn't exactly a 999-type of emergency, and I didn't want train timetable information. As I stood there I noticed two workers in hi-viz just outside the station. One was Openreach - and the other was an Avanti West Coast (train company) person. I explained my predicament. He calmly went to his car, tapped away on his laptop for a bit, asked my to describe the bike and then made a phone call. In the heat of the moment I couldn't remember the make of my bike, so I phoned Jan - whose head was clearer than mine - and got the make and colour (!). The Avanti angel finished his call and told me that my bike would be taken off the train at Tamworth and would be waiting for me in the ticket office. Wow! All I had to do was get the next train and hope the bike would be looked after as promised. As I ate my sandwiches in the shelter on the platform, trying not to let the wind blow the rain on me too much, I mentally kicked myself for being so stupid. I worked out that the eight-coach train was two four-coach sets joined together, with the loo compartments next to each other. I had somehow got confused about which loo my bike was near. I also thanked the Lord that he had provided such an amazing means of resolving the problem. At last the hour was up, and the 1405 rolled into the station. No sooner had we got under way, though, than the next part of the saga started to manifest itself. The guard announced that it seemed that there was a problem ahead and that we should listen out for further announcements. It soon transpired that a person had been hit by a train in the Rugby area. We pulled in to Lichfield Trent Valley Station. The guard announced that there had been a fatality near Atherstone and that the train we were on might have to return to Crewe. How terrible, and it put my bike worries into context. After a few minutes the guard suggested that London-bound passengers might like to transfer to the high level platform where they could get a train to Birmingham and continue their journey from there. I went to the ticket office and asked how long it would take for me to get to Tamworth via Birmingham. Ooh - it could take an hour and a half. Better get the bus, love. Well, I reasoned that I was in no particular hurry, that a bus would cost me an extra fare, that continuing by train would not cost me anything and that I'd see some more bits of Birmingham. There was another option, which was to ring my friends in Fazeley, eight miles away, to see if they could pick me up. I knew they had gone out to lunch; by the time they returned my call I was already on the train to Birmingham. We stopped at stations I didn't know existed, including Gravelly Hill. Claim to fame? The motorway interchange known as Spaghetti Junction, of course!
So that was leg five completed, having stopped at just about every station between Lichfield Trent Valley and Birmingham New Street - here's the train about to continue to Redditch.
I didn't have long to wait for the train to Tamworth; once on board I wasn't expecting any further incidents. I was wrong. The train started to go really slowly, just creeping along for what seemed like ages. Then BANG! Some substantial branches of a "windblown tree" (as CRT sometimes puts it) crashed and thudded along the windows right where I was. The train wasn't merely brushing past foliage: that had already been ripped off. A few seconds later, when the driver had judged that the train was past the tree I suppose, we speeded up again. At last I was in Tamworth Station. I asked about the bike ... and YES! Hooray! They had it. I filled out a form to claim it and there we were, reunited. The staff there were very friendly, as, of course, had been the Avanti chap at Rugeley. So top marks to them all. The time was now 1650. I cycled to Fazeley where David and Mary gave me cups of tea and some food; just before 1900 I set off in the car for the hour and ten minute drive back to Market Drayton. Even this journey had "interest": the strong winds had blown plenty of debris from trees onto the road. At one point an oncoming car had to stop because of a large piece of tree in its way. I half expected the day to be rounded off with a branch through the windscreen but, fortunately, nothing further untoward happened. I arrived back in Market Drayton just after 2000. Cost of tickets: bus from Market Drayton to Hanley £3.60; train from Stoke-on-Trent to Stafford £6.00; train from Stafford to Tamworth £4.45. Total: £14.05 (but should have been £12.05 if I'd remembered the railcard earlier). Of course, I could have done it for nothing if I'd cycled the whole way, and it probably wouldn't have taken any longer! More posts will follow on our boating from Fazeley to Market Drayton, where we have a new mooring.