It’s the first working day of August 2009 and we’re flying down the M40 towards London. It’s about 06.40 and we’ve just gone past the junction to Princes Risborough, if you care.
This journey is being brought to you courtesy of one of the Brand New Super Dooper Oxford Tube Executive Luxury Coaches.
OK, I don’t know if that’s their official title because I made it up.
But these coaches cost, I’m reliably informed, £250,000 each; the Oxford Tube is replacing their old fleet of coaches with a large number of these behemoths, for that’s an accurate description of the size of these big boys.
As well as being larger they also have a modified seating layout.
The lower deck still has the two tables, one on the left and one on the right. Each table is ‘surrounded’ by two forward- and two backward-facing seats, but the tables are the width of the average emery board.
The seats on the right of the aisle (as one stands beside the driver, facing backwards) are about a foot lower than the seats on the left. I don’t know why, they just are.
The seats are very comfortable, as is the ride, and the noise levels are consistently quieter too.
The colour/dÃ©cor in here is predominantly light blue, it’s not unpleasant.
The internal lighting has a slight blue tint to it too which, in my head at least, makes the ambience slightly reminiscent of the lounge area of a 1980s disco. The heavy tinting on the windows generally adds to this effect.
But there aren’t any people in here wearing big hair and bad clothes so the ambience is acceptable.
‘Safety’ is a highly visible feature; I can see four of those little ‘in case of emergency, break window’ hammers and a compartment right at the back marked as ‘First Aid Kit’. And two CCTV camera lenses. I’m not sure what they’ve got to do with ‘safety’ but that’s how CCTV cameras are being ‘spun’ these days.
Unfortunately the WiFi doesn’t work; bit of a bummer on a brand new coach. But the 13amp sockets are up and working. Mine is, at least.
The drivers seem to love these new big boys. The two I’ve spoken to so far have said that the gearbox is brilliant to play with and the controls are all far more ‘positive’.
So well done Oxford Tube.
I know the old coaches have all done over a million kms; that’s quite a distance!
One thing I would point out; the re-recorded safety announcement seems to have been produced in the cellar of The London Dungeon; the quality of echo is bordering on the ghostly and may well instil nightmares in small children.
If we’re lucky.
Here we are, Victoria, and the starting point of tonight’s journey home on the Oxford Tube.
It’s another one of the new coaches.
Unfortunately the internal colour scheme of the coach clashes beautifully with what the woman sitting opposite me is wearing.
She really chose her colours carefully to achieve a brain-numbing effect of this quality; the artfully-crafted symphony in clashing colours is more a case of ‘car-crash couture’, rather than an accidental ‘getting dressed in the dark’.
Her name is Sharon. Everyone knows this because she has announced it, loudly, to the five people she’s called on her phone. As in ‘Hi Deidre, it’s Sharon calling…’
She says that because she’s leaving voicemail. She’s left voicemail on all of her calls so far.
That’s either a really bad run of luck on trying to get hold of your friends or they’re trying to tell you something, Sharon.
And there’s a girl about to get on with a cello. And massive dangly earrings. The girl, not the cello. And now the conversation of inevitability takes place.
No, you can’t bring that on here. Yes it’s too big. It’ll have to go in the luggage compartment. No you can’t put it on the seat beside you. No you can’t put it in the aisle.
She looks as though she’s a very nice person and she’s very single-minded which, I suppose, one has to admire. But she’s not going to win this one.
And she doesn’t; the cello goes in the luggage compartment, she pays the fare and stomps upstairs wearing a loud frown.
Don’t ask me about the loud frown, it just was.
There’s a three-person family trying to board the coach now, and this causes me to wonder why people don’t get their money out before they attempt to board the coach?
It’s almost as if they’re expecting a different conversation to the one that goes:
Three day-returns to Oxford please
That’ll be £xx.
[stunned silence followed by] Oh!
[rummages around in handbag large enough to contain Mary Poppins and the two annoyingly smug children. Eventually money is produced and the fare paid]
Hmmm… time for a change of topic:
Selfish seat-baggers (being those who bag seats selfishly by claiming a seat for their personal items), I think we need to have a quick headcount.
There’s the old woman who must be well in to her late 60s; she’s chosen the aisle seat and put her handbag and raincoat on the window seat beside her – thus making it doubly unattractive to a new passenger.
There’s the young guy opposite her, he’s in his early 20s; he began by employing precisely the same tactic – and then trumped her by deploying a pair of iPhone earbuds on top of his lightweight rucksack and then feigning sleep.
Cunning, my friend, very cunning; the old woman is clearly not in your class – although I can tell from her body language that she is banking on the late flourish of The Daily Mail to put any indecisive seat-hoverers off.
Then there’s Extremely Hot Girl, the one sitting behind the kind of weirdly creative guy who is laughing at Twitter on his laptop (that would be me).
She’s using the Many Bags Of Shopping technique; Next, M&S, Anne Summers, Carphone Warehouse, some shoe-shop I’ve never heard of, she’s piled her baggage high in an attempt to keep ‘sitting next to her’ people at bay.
Thirty-something guy has opted for the one-dimensional approach; choose an aisle seat and feign sleep. Low-tech, simple but effective. Especially with all the drooling and the occasional twitches he throws out now and then.
Anyway, that’s enough of what’s going on inside for now.
Outside a German coach (and is it only me that finds it funny that the German word for ‘travel’ is ‘Fahrt’?), anyway, this German coach has cut right across us; pulled straight out from the kerb directly in to our path. We only avoided shunting him up the arse through immediate anti-collision techniques (i.e. slamming on the brakes) employed by our driver.
Or perhaps the German driver wanted to get shunted up the arse? Who knows?
And so we go through Shepherd’s Bush, past the enormous roadside poster that advertises some guy’s debut album, except the eye-attracting qualities of the font makes the words look like DEBT ALBUM and we all forget to look for the artist’s name. What a shame. Ad Agency Fail.
Amazingly, by some complete fluke of the universe, We are through the roadworks with almost no conceivable delay and out on to the A40 towards Hillingdon.
If I had the capability of being worried I would be very worried.
Where is the traffic? Why am I not nose-to-tail in miles of stationary metal? Is it because everyone on the road is intimated by the size of this big boy?
We zip past RAF Northolt where a couple of North American-registered executive jets are parked on the western-sector perimeter track, incongruously separated by a fully-armed RAF Tornado IDS.
Hillingdon, where no-one gets on but MILFY woman from upstairs gets off.
The police are having some kind of a ‘stop all traffic and check for things untoward’ party in the layby opposite. From the amount of cars parked on the side of the road the police are having a bumper harvest!
Sharon’s on the phone again. Leaving another voicemail to another of her friends, poor love.
We hit the M40 which continues the journey speedily; I’m still wondering where all the traffic has gone.
This coach has working WiFi.
But the 13amp sockets don’t work.