On the buses

PUBLISHED: 12:46 09 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:26 11 June 2010

I NEVER thought I'd have to use the screen of my mobile phone as an impromptu torch to read a bus timetable. That's exactly what I found myself doing, in the dark, at 7am last Wednesday. I set out from my home, in Lyme Regis, at 6.45am, determined to re

I NEVER thought I'd have to use the screen of my mobile phone as an impromptu torch to read a bus timetable.That's exactly what I found myself doing, in the dark, at 7am last Wednesday.I set out from my home, in Lyme Regis, at 6.45am, determined to reach Honiton, approximately 17 miles away, by 9am - using public transport. I was looking forward to the challenge, stupidly thinking it would remind me of my youth and the many happy hours I spent travelling between jobs and my friend's house in Axminster.What a fool!Freezing weather, including a biting wind, left me daunted from almost the start.I was upbeat, however, as I opened my front door and ventured into the great unknown.After 10 years of never being without wheels, I was joining the ranks of the car-less - the kind of people I've passed on countless occasions at bus stops, selfishly ignoring their need to be somewhere else. Most of the time, I bet, we've been heading in the same direction.Wearing flat-healed boots and, what I thought was, warm clothing, I trudged to the bottom of Charmouth Hill, to the bus stop next to a block of flats. Although I realised I needed to be on the other side of the road, I checked out the bus shelter first. There was no sign of life and virtually no light. I tried to use the screen of my mobile phone as a second-rate torch to read the timetable, but quickly gave up. There was no timetable - or shelter - on the other side of the road.In case a bus was imminently due, I raced down Church Street, over Bridge Street and, puffing and panting, arrived in The Square at around 7am. I'm not as young as I used to be!The weather was nothing short of wild. My hair, so carefully straightened at 6am, was now verging, cliff-hanger-style, on the frizz-ball mess that dampness always threatens to create.In the pitch black, I could make out signs of life in The Rock Point Inn. I realised, a cleaner was hard at work.With a cruel wind blowing my ever-frazzled hair in my face, I managed to make out that I'd just missed a bus. It took about three attempts to read the truth, using my, by now, trusty mobile light: I'd missed the first bus out of Lyme to Axminster by sheer minutes. All the while, I was concerned a traditional fingerpost sign, next to the timetable, would give in to the elements and donk me on the head. After dodging in and out of the public toilets opposite for safety and respite from the cruel wind, I decided to make my way to the Post Office - for clarity. Surely, the bus stop there would be of more help?Nope!The writing on the bus timetable was so small that, in little light, I could barely read it. Did it even mention buses due opposite?I decided to walk on, to the top of Church Street. I looked like a paler shade of Marsha Hunt by this time, and definitely not smart enough for the office.Horror! No shelter and no timetable at all. I walked on to the medical centre. No shelter on my route, which was opposite, and tiny writing again.Some of the timetables were two years out of date. Confusing to the public and, if still correct, a testament to the lack of investment in extra services needed to tempt people away from cars.I walked on to The Woodroffe School, surely a major stop-off point? No shelter and, worse, no timetable.I walked on to Uplyme (it was better than standing still and freezing to death). As I approached the phone box, opposite The Talbot Arms, I heard a bus. I ran, in sync with its engine, and thrust my arm out to indicate a fare. Joy of joys, it stopped - at my feet. I clambered on board and paid £2.60 for a return ticket to Axminster Railway Station.I wouldn't say the bus was overly warm, but at least I was out of the wind. I was so cold you could freeze a meal on me. My ears, in particular, felt as though they had been attacked by frostbite. My body could crumble at any minute and what for? Transport to work!Worse was to come. I reached Axminster shortly after 8am, only to find the next train to Honiton was at 9.50am - nearly two hours away. The first bus to Honiton from Axminster was sooner - at 8.50am: a 40-minute wait. And I'd still arrive in Honiton too late to start work at 9am!I hate the pain of being cold and ventured, cheekily, into the train station waiting room, hoping for some warmth. Forget it! It was almost as cold inside as it was out. Only the biting, biting wind made the bus stop a worse proposition. The station cafe was closed.A bus driver, early for his next journey, killed time, walking from the railway station to somewhere that served hot pasties. He walked past me looking thoroughly warmed. I wanted to hitch a ride on his coat tails - just to feel the warmth and savour the aroma. At around 8.50am, I paid £2.50 for a return ticket to Honiton; a good price and cheaper than the rail fare. I arrived in Honiton at 9.20am. A total of 12 people used the bus, and most of them had a bus pass. Its capacity was 43 seated, plus more standing. On the return journey, I spent a further hour waiting in Axminster for a connecting bus to Lyme. My bus pulled in early, but I wasn't allowed on. The driver took a break, which he was entitled to, and the passengers were left outside in the cold. During this time, the bus driver who'd enjoyed a pasty in the morning pulled up. "You haven't been here all this time?" he asked.If I can't take calls this week, it will be because I'm in hospital suffering from pneumonia!

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