Friday, 25 March 2011

Rustic Restrictions

I recently spent a weekend with a Lithuanian and Italian girl who were both clearly city chicks unused to the slower pace of country life. After a surprisingly smooth coach journey from Leeds to London, we arrived in Waterloo in perfect time to meet the rest of the Birthday revellers.

Her birthday falling on a Monday (a “rubbish day”), as you do, my sister decided to make up for this by celebrating for two nights in Leeds, one in Kent and two in London. Meeting the rest of the gang in Waterloo marked the beginning of “Day Three”.

With a tight schedule to stick to in order to fit in all the evening's plans, the first hurdle appeared in Waterloo ticket office when a helpful booth operative informed us engineering works meant there'd be no direct trains from London to Staplehurst and that the next train wasn't for another half an hour.

Cue frantic phone calls and texts to those meeting us in Kent to try to reorganise plans. As Tiff panicked away, I almost vomited when I noticed a sleazy man standing across the carriage staring at my legs and making blatant eye-contact with me in order to spark off some uncomfortable eyebrow activity. I was actually grateful for the opportunity for escape that the change of trains in Tonbridge gave me!

Aside from trying to fit in too much, our next mistake was made in Tonbridge. Rather than getting a taxi back from Tonbridge to my parents' house, we decided to get the connecting train and then get a taxi from Staplehurst – and all merely so we could sup on some Birthday champagne.

Anyone who has ever been to Staplehurst or similarly small commuting towns will know that, unlike in London, taxis are scarce. The twenty minute journey between Tonbridge and Staplehurst was packed with unsuccessful phone calls to fully-booked taxi firms who'd be unable to accommodate our booking for another hour and a half.

Arriving at the bus stop was the next surprise for our Kentish visitors. Again, unlike in London, buses are incredibly infrequent. Despite being a Saturday night, buses only run every few hours and of course we'd missed one so would have to wait a further hour and a quarter before we'd be on our not-so-merry way.

Waiting at the bus stop deliberating our plan of action, some of our party actually approached a waiting minibus to ask for a lift but were told our potential fellow passengers were in fact prisoners. In our desperation we also almost contemplated hitching a lift with a young girl similarly stranded who'd contacted a friend with a car. Chatting away on a mobile, our fellow sob-story amusingly seemed to insert “boy” or “girl” after every Christian name she mentioned: “Gary Boy”, “Sarah Girl”...

You may wonder whether we spent the night in The Railway Tavern but I'm pleased to tell you this exceedingly sorry story wasn't our fate. Instead, my dad rung a family friend for us who kindly came to get us, as if we were celebrating a fifteenth birthday, rather than a twenty-eighth! Reunited with another member of our party, who'd been waiting outside my parents' house for over an hour, with a bit of tweaking our evening finally started to come together.

Instead of an apres-meal trip to Tunbridge Wells, we spent a quieter night drinking in the historic market town of Cranbrook. As the chairs were put up and we were put out, I was once again reminded of how alien this way of life is to life-long Londoners and city folk. Living a short drive outside Cranbrook, the only way back from the pub is to get someone to collect you, drive yourself home or walk back. At one in the morning, telephoning my parents shouldn't really have been an option but matters were taken out of my hands and the call was made with the expected outcome. As all of us had been drinking and were without vehicles, there was no lift to be had and certainly no impromptu taxi alternative. Used to this short 30 minute walk, I was amused by all the grumbling from the city kids and their genuine disbelief and amazement at the limited services available in small towns.

Flitting between London, Kent and Leeds I'm used to the differences in the pace of life and availability of resources. In London there's no shortage of different means of transport and few patches of road without an off-license. Unfortunately there's no vendor near Staplehurst station and the lack of alcoholic availability was another cause for concern.

Safely travelling back up to London and civilisation on the Sunday, with less of a plan to follow, our journey back was typically somewhat more smooth-running than our disastrous outbound adventure. And we were provided with hilarious entertainment for much of the journey courtesy of a fellow passenger who clearly thought he was a bit of a geezer, said the funniest things while chatting to a friend on his mobile and had the strangest sounding voice. I'm not much of a stand-up fan but I could envisage myself and a whole auditorium in stitches after paying to watch him chatting on his phone; We all spent the latter half of our journey trying to suppress giggles before each utilising London's varied transport system to return to our respective homes and prepare for “Day Four”.

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