miscellany

4 August 2018

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           2014, 2015, 2016, 2017,            2018        Ian McLauchlin

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CAR IN, DAY OUT


There comes a time in most people's lives (well those who've decided that lying on their back in the cold and wet isn't fun anymore) when you have to take your car in. They have it all day and it's in Exeter. What could possibly go wrong?

There's always a traffic queue into Exeter so I'll set off early. Satisfyingly missed the queue and arrived at the crack of 8am when the night cleaners were packing up and going home. Formalities over. "Do you still give customers a free return bus ticket into Exeter?" Puzzled. Sharp intake of breath. Look in drawer. Looks at ceiling - nothing there. Floor equally devoid. 'The person who might have them gets in in half an hour.' "Ok I'll wait."

Two minutes later, and as if by magic but mainly to remove a bedraggled homeless-looking person from their pristine showroom, I was presented with a bus ticket. It was stained and had a bit of raisin stuck to one corner. But valid. That's the main thing.

Well, that's me arrived in Exeter. BHS still boarded up without a pension to be seen. And I've a whole day to kill. I know, let's have a coffee in M&S. And they have a toilet too. Wonder why they've gone coy? Their wifi usually says "Hello Ian me old mate, welcome back and yes, things have been a bit tough but you've survived haven't you. 'Cos you're here. And us? Mustn't grumble, except clothes are still a bit dowdy." It ignored me.

Exeter's quite interesting but do I want to spend all day here with just the occasional sitting down, or do I want to see how they're getting on ripping the bus station apart? (Old 60's style architecture and they've been threatening to rip it apart for years but never quite made it. Now they're actually going to rip it apart in earnest to provide a theatre, swimming pool, multiple coffee and fast food outlets, a circus, and several hospitals complete with maternity wings. Oh and a bus station.)  There didn't appear to be much ripping apart - just a bit at the far end where they sit drinking tea, eating sandwiches and wondering what to rip apart next. Ah, there's a bus, with seats. Wonder where it's going, not that it matters.

Well, travelling down the A38 is much the same as travelling up it. Except the conversations are worse. From behind me, presumably on the phone: "Is it raining there? It's raining here. Don't forget to get it in if it rains. Put it in the back bedroom and mind the cat on the stairs."

Then on the northbound carriageway a car was on fire with two fire engines in attendance. Strange way of putting it. Sounds like fire engines are bridesmaids.

After fairly slow progress, we turned off the A38 and progress was much slower. Suburbs of somewhere and more suburbs of somewhere else. Then we drew into . . . .  Newton Abbott, home of the Busroof gull.

Wonder where next? That looks like the River Dart at Totnes. Haven't been to the Independent Principality of Totnes lately, let's have a look. By this time I was feeling a bit peckish and a bakery appeared as if by magic. Blimey, what a variety of pasties. Chicken, Chicken and Leek, Bacon, Bacon and Leek, Chicken Bacon and Leek, throw in Cheese and Onion, oops sorry, missed . . . and so on. "Can I help you Sir?" Yes. A shorter pasty list would do the trick. After a quarter of an hour's careful studying I finally decided. 'I'll have a chicken, bacon, leek and potato pasty please with extra chicken and bacon. Oh and Leek.' There was a protocol that you had to learn. The lady who selects and bags the pasty couldn't possibly take your money. That was the job of Agrapina  from Romania. Name means 'born feet first'. She wasn't familiar with English money and scratched her head several times before the leu, sorry penny (in lieu of leu), dropped.

'Do you know where the bus to Exeter stops?'

"I know nuzzing" said Agrapina automatically and feet first. "I know" said Doris (meaning 'no idea') between sneaking up on pasties. "Do you know where the toilets are?" 'No'. "Well you go down the street and at the bottom, you turn right, or is it left, yes left, no right." 'And where's the bus stop?' "It's near there - better ask."

Luckily I needed to get out of the shop as the CBLP pasty was burning my hand. After a walk up the famous Totnes main street with its characteristic Independent Principality arch and clock, and quaint alternative shops which sold things you'd never seen before as they were Independent, I stumbled across a seat by the Tourist Information Office. Two birds wih one stone - what a stroke of luck. One of the birds was a Pastygull. There's nothing puts you off a Chicken, Bacon, Leek and Potato pasty like a Pastygull staring at you with its little beady eye from a couple of yards away. I ignored it and concentrated on finding the chicken. Lots of potato and pepper. Some green things which were probably leek. Just as I was getting to the end, A PIECE OF CHICKEN!  Never did find any bacon. Right, Tourist Information here I come.

"Well, you go down the street and at the bottom you turn left, or is it right . . .  Anyway, it's near the toilets - just ask. You're not going to Exeter by bus are you? It takes forever . . ."

'Well I was thinking of doing just that.'

"Go by train, it's much quicker."

'I have a bus pass.'

"Well that's cheap . . . but slow. Have you been by train before? You MUST go by train, it follows the Teign Estuary then clings onto the land like a mountain goat, goes through tunnels - red rock. It's marvellous."

The last time I travelled that line by train was in the early 1960s. A group of us from University had the spiffing idea of hiring a cottage on the Lizard peninsula one summer. I travelled down from oop North and arrived at Bristol, which signalled I was nearly there. I hadn't reckoned on Bristol being near The Midlands . . . Eventually I saw the Exe estuary, Dawlish, Teignmouth and all stations south.  A foreign country to me in those days. Don't remember Totnes with its pasties, Agrapina, toilets, bus stops and Tourist Information centre.

"You turn right, no left over there and then left, no right and go downhill. Just keep going down and you'll get to the station."

As I was turning left, no right then going straight on, I came across an art shop with these paintings in the window. I thought they were worth a mention.
























I kept going down. Round a bend, under an arch and then more down. I hope this is the right way,  'cos I'll never get back up again if it isn't. Eventually I saw the station. There were two roads down to it, one for each platform. I reckon I want to go North East-ish. Which platform looks like that, assuming trains keep left on the whole. That's the one. Even more down. It was indeed the one, but the ticket office was on the other platform! Footbridge involving quite a bit of up, some down and more up again. The Penzance to London Paddington train was late. Never mind, the whole exercise is to kill time and late can mean dead, can't it. Must remember to sit on the right hand side to see the view, which I'd seen many times already since I lived across the water on the River Exe, but no matter. When it arrived It was nearly empty! (Well it was probably nearly empty well before it arrived, but no matter.)

Yes it was nearly empty but all seats had Reserved Tickets sticking out of them. Bugger. I walked from one end of the train to the other, just about managing to stand up as the swaying train tried to knock me over. I finally found a seat. It was on the left hand side. In the only carriage with no air conditioning. With lots of people blocking the view. I managed to zoom the camera through brief gaps in the thronging sweating masses and in front of people chatting and ignoring the view. Oh look, there's Newton Abbott with its racecourse. Oh look, there's the Teign Estuary with it's pictur . . .  (refocus) . . . esque boats at anchor. Oh look, there's Dawlish rushing past (LHS so could make the blur out). Oh look - no can't really be bothered. Oh look, there's Exeter St Davids. Oh look, time to get off.

Have you noticed the notices? "Please hold the handrail" (I was going to do something else with it.) "Don't sit on the planters."   "Don't sit on the Gap." "This is a customer announcement." Is there any other kind? 'Yes a staff announcement.' OK smarty pants, what about "Take care on the stairs." No, I'm going to behave as though it's flat and trip up over every one.

Satisfyingly, and demonstrating that I'm not losing all of my marbles, I remembered to get off the Exmouth train at Exeter Central, and not go on to Exmouth. Some of us have a car to collect. And others of us have to race past the slow guy on the stairs. All 6 of us, nudging him and otherwise impeding him in the mad rush to demonstrate how young we are in comparison. As we approached the ticket barriers, one of us, well of them and well in front, asked whether they'd got the tickets. Er, I think I left them on the train ha ha ha. Then they weren't sure who had them and how many and, wait a minute, that must be yours, where's mine have you got it? Meanwhile, the slow guy sauntered past the lot of 'em, inserted his ticket in the barrier and left the station, to strains of "That's five there should be six that's the last time I trust you wiv . . . etc."

Finally, towards the end of my Grand Day Out, I had a phone call to say that the car was really missing me and pining in a corner. Used the return part of my customer complimentary bus ticket which had been in my pocket all day and had picked up bits of pasty - ah THERE'S the bacon - and gull feathers. And there was another notice. "Don't distract the driver without good reason". "Excuse me driver. I've damaged my fist on your notice. Is that a good enough reason to distract you?"

"I'll show you your car Sir." I think I'll recognise my car, unless they've done something unspeakable to it. "Are you happy with your car Sir?" 'Yes, that looks like mine. And it's really really pleased to see me.' She scuttled back inside before I confused her some more. I promised the car never to leave it again (until the next adventure) and it purred into life and happily drove me home.