My kingdom for a horse...
When I first started doing this, I was travelling to the office and back five days a week by bus. So it was worthwhile financially. These days I travel in to the office by bus three mornings a week, and back home by bus one evening. (I don't bed down under my desk on the other two days, you understand: I'm not that sad. A very lovely friend of mine gives me a lift home.) So now it's not remotely worthwhile financially. In fact, I'd really rather not sit down and calculate the actual cost of my journeys per month and compare that to one twelfth of the cost of my travel card. But what it does allow me to do - and this is enormously important to a woman in my condition - is to sit down before the bus suddenly pulls out and hares round a steep bend on two wheels.
So, anyway, my last travel pass being valid until May 19th, I decided on Friday afternoon that I would go and renew it at the local railway station.
Apart from anything else, I needed to know how long it would take me to walk to the station. This is because the bus I have been using to travel to work for the last twelve years, or thereabouts, has been withdrawn. As part of a programme to "improve services", of course. So, once I have conquered the side-effects of Tramadol sufficiently to be capable of rather more than just sitting at my desk and staring vaguely into the middle distance, I will need to catch a train for one stop in order to pick up the bus which no longer comes out this far. Thereby extending what used to be a thirty minute journey door to door into something considerably more time-consuming.
So I set off at what, for me, is a fairly brisk pace.
Unlike the walk to the bus stop, which was a straightforward downhill meander along the side of a dual carriageway, this one is more complicated. I've got to cross said busy dual carriageway, for a start. Something which throws an imponderable into the time-calculation. Plus, instead of smooth stretches of easily-navigable pavement, we have numerous very short stretches of pavement interrupted at almost unbelievably-frequent intervals by steep kerb cuts. Some of the houses on this route have two drives, would you believe? I'm busy keeping an eye on the time on the way there, but I'm determined that I'm going to count those blasted kerb cuts on the way back. Just for my own satisfaction. So that, in the absence of any more gripping conversational gambits, I will be able to splutter, "Do you know how many kerb cuts there are between home and the railway station? Do you? Go on: guess!" in an enraged manner. (Really, is it any wonder people queue up to avoid me?)
When I finally reach the station, I'm disappointed to note that the walk has taken somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes. (The walk to the bus stop used to take getting on for 15 minutes.) I'm still not persuaded it's actually any further to the station: just that the walk is more difficult.
Anyway, having established how long the walk takes, I move on to stage two of the plan. Slapping my travel pass on the counter, I cheerily request, "another year on that, please.".
"Sorry, luv", the chap says. "We don't do those here. They do them at Central, though."
"Oh. How long 'til the next train into town?"
"Ok, I'll do that then. Thank you." (Note: middle-class conditioning is so deeply-embedded that the impulse to be polite over-rides infuriated disbelief that you can't buy a travel card for a public transport network at all of that network's outposts.)
So I catch the train into town. Central station is, as always, a busy place. Too busy, really, for an ouchy crip in a Tramadol haze. But, hey: needs must, and all that. I queue up at the ticket counter for Quite Some Time. Eventually, I am able to slap my travel pass on the counter and repeat my earlier cheery request.
"Sorry, luv. We haven't got any annual ones. Merseytravel are supposed to send them to us, but they haven't. We sell them on their behalf, you see. You'll be able to get one at the Travel Centre. Do you know where that is?"
I do indeed know where that is. It's quite a long walk from Central station through some of the busiest pedestrianised parts of town. This is turning out to be such fun! I mean, you'd think people would be only too keen to relieve me of the better part of £500, wouldn't you?
So, off I go. I navigate past the small crowd of people who have stopped to look at a pigeon. (No, I don't know why.) I narrowly avoid being bitten in both ankles by a variety of sharpened baby buggies. And falling over the idiot who stops dead in front of me. And being mown down by the other idiot who is composing a text message while walking at full speed.
Eventually, bloody but unbowed, I reach the Travel Centre. I stand in another queue. Behind people with the most complicated and lengthy travel queries known to man. Who haven't the intelligence to fully understand either what they're asking, or the answers they are given. One woman has lost her travel pass. She's told that she can get a replacement for £5 if she brings in a new photograph and some proof of her address, e.g. a gas or electricity bill. For reasons which I can't follow, she doesn't have a gas or electricity bill. On the plus side, however, she does have an exceedingly vociferous friend who appears to be labouring under the delusion that it is her bounden duty to harangue the Travel Centre staff viciously over their entirely-unreasonable desire to ensure that they're issuing the travel pass to the right person.
At last, I get my travel pass renewed. By this stage, I am too tired to ask probing questions about why I have to come right to the centre of the transport network to have this simple task performed.
I wend my weary way back through the milling crowds to the bus stop. The one at which the number 82 bus has stopped since the Dawn Of Time. After watching two 82 buses sail past without stopping, it occurs to me that Something Is Wrong. Moving up the pavement a tad, I accost a gentleman in a luminous jacket.
"It's moved, luv", he says, helpfully. "It's round on Lime Street now. In front of the old picture house. Will be for the next twelve months, at least. It's all uphill from here."
Oh, well, that's just bloody marvellous, isn't it? (I don't say this to the gentleman in the luminous jacket. I know he isn't personally responsible for the fact that the city centre has been in utter chaos for the last three years.)
With faltering steps, I limp onwards towards the "temporary" bus stop. And look back with surprising affection on all those weeks when I wasn't fit enough to leave the house.