Monday, 26 April 2010

An Inconvenient Truth

Well, it’s now only 18 days before I set off, and today I fulfilled a modest ambition.

Anyone who has read my previous blog entries will have seen what I had to say about Barnsley and the fact that it has long been a bus’s final – indeed, terminal - destination. Well, today I visited two of Barnsley’s finest scrap yards to see just what becomes of a bus when it’s reached the end of the road.

It was a fascinating experience. Poking about in a scrap yard is always fun, but I also got to meet a couple of people who make a living out of obliterating Olympians, trashing Titans and rendering Routemasters (they’re all names of buses, by the way). I’ll probably write about my experiences today more fully in the book I’m intending to write, but here’s a few of the headlines.

To begin with, I hadn’t realised that the engines and gearboxes of many of the buses sent for scrapping were removed and sold for refurbishment and, ultimately, export. These newly-refurbished power units used to be exported to Hong Kong, but now it’s more likely that they’ll see a few more years of service in Africa before they finally throw the towel in.

I hadn’t expected to see so many obviously very old buses in the yard, neither. Alongside the fairly modern double and single deckers were the occasional Bristol Lodekka, the remains of a couple of half-cab Leyland’s and about a dozen London Routemasters, many of them dating from the 50's and 60’s. Most had been scavenged to within an inch of their lives, but the yard owner hung on to the carcasses so that the steady stream of bus preservationists - well, trickle, really – could hunt out long obsolete, and therefore valuable, parts for their own vehicles.

I even got to meet someone who was doing just that, though in his case he wasn’t an amateur preservationist but a coach operator with his own fleet of vehicles. He’d found a couple of interior blinds which he was intending to use to replace damaged blinds in one of his 10 coaches – at a fraction of the cost of new off-the-shelf units from the manufacturer.

However, the most interesting, and in some respects the most disturbing, discovery of the day was in relation to my bladder. Or, more accurately, its endurance potential. Or lack of it.

It was all a bit unexpected. I dropped off my wife at work then, before setting off on the road to Barnsley, paid a much-needed visit to a nearby petrol station. But not for petrol, if you get my drift… the second of the day, as it happens (I hope you are keeping count).

Duly refreshed, I pressed on down the A1(M) but only got as far as Wetherby before nature called out loud and clearly once more. Quite nice services at Wetherby, I thought….

Onwards then to Barnsley, a couple of hours of visits, then back up the road to Durham to collect my wife at the end of her working day, calling in at Costa Coffee at Wetherby (did I mention how nice the services were..?) en route. However, by the time I got to Stanley, it was obvious that my bladder was once more demanding immediate attention and it wasn’t in a mood to be ignored. So I was forced to make a slightly surreptitious call to an Asda supermarket for Call No. 4.

All of which got me thinking about public toilets - or rather the lack of them.

It occurred to me that it’s probably quite feasible that I could spend a whole day, right from leaving my hotel in the morning to arriving at my destination that evening, without once being anywhere near a public toilet. No, really. Think about it – if someone was to ask you where the public conveniences are in your town, could you direct them? No? See what I mean?

I didn’t used to be this way, of course. There used to be loads of them. But then it all got a bit grubby, and in the end the people making most use of them appeared to be the sort of people you wouldn’t want anywhere near you when you yourself were actually using one. If you found one that wasn't trashed, or worse. Eventually, it dawned on local authorities that they don’t actually have a statutory duty to provide public toilets, so as a result most of them decided they had far better things to do with their money (a.k.a., our money) than repair unsavoury, murky and constantly-vandalised public urinals.

So, getting back to today’s unexpected bladder predicament, and here’s the really disturbing bit, if this kind of thing happens when I’m out on the road and find I need to go from A to B via several P’s, what on earth an I going to do?

Suddenly, this trip of mine doesn’t sound quite so simple….

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