8:15 is early for a Saturday morning, I don’t care what anybody says. Still, we’re luckier than most, joining as part of the final boarding from outside Tesco Eastville. Some of them have been on since Bridgwater. Must have got ready in the wee small hours. That said, they’re happy enough to acknowledge our muffled greetings as we do the facemask shuffle towards our seats.
I remember Liam’s nan recounting one of her own coaching adventures, memorably describing the early pickups as “sitting there like zombies” by the time she got on.
“Where were you going?”
“A long journey then?”
“Ah, it wasn’t so bad.”
“And was the language a problem?”
“No, we were fine.”
Turns out I’d misheard. They’d gone to Torquay.
Anyway. You might think that a personalised ‘Good morning!’ to the first two thirds of a coachful of random elders is overegging it. But on a trip like this you’ve got to snatch those face-to- face moments whenever you can. Once you’re belted in, a view down the aisle is the best you can hope for. A fleeting glimpse of a paperback here, a hint of a Hula Hoop there, some lurid pink nail varnish if you play your cards right. Otherwise, it’s backs of heads all the way to Abergavenny.
We’re having a weekend away courtesy of (curiously named coach company) Bakers Dolphin. Originally formed by Charles Theodore Baker- the Dolphin came on board later, as it were- it started out as a pony-chair-for-hire business in Weston-super-Mare in 1889. Given the average age of our fellow travellers, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them knows someone who remembers someone who fed the pony.
Our destination is Portmeirion in North Wales. So, after a year of lockdown, we’ve opted for a trip to the village famed for being the one place that no-one was allowed to escape from. A slightly Stockholm syndrome-ish choice maybe, but at least we don’t have to drive all the way to Stockholm to experience it.
The day opens out as we cross the Severn Bridge, pursued by a motley crew of leathered-up bikers. Wales is swarming with them this weekend. Later, we will share a car park on the outskirts of Abergavenny. Fortunately, this car park is big enough for both of us, and no Hula Hoops get thrown.
Like all Lexonik Regional Trainers, my role has changed over last year, as the regional has been replaced by the remote. Even teaching in Qatar was just a left at the top of the stairs. So, it’s great to be out and about again, and even better to have someone else driving.
Because just as travel broadens the mind, it’s also guaranteed to keep you on your toes. One minute you’re sailing down the M5 to ‘Good Day Sunshine’, the next you’re in the middle of a rainstorm and your wipers have locked. Then there’s the random gridlocks, the unexpected diversions, and any other number of curveballs that the gods of the highway may choose to throw.
No wonder we’re all ready for a Premier Inn or a Travelodge at the end of it. Once more, we’re back in the world of the familiar. We know exactly what we’re going to get, and we know exactly what colour we’ll be getting it in. And as night falls, and a shady figure approaches with a whispered “Could I tempt you…”, we know it’ll be nothing more dodgy than a dessert.
So yes, I’m a big fan of budget accommodation. But then, I’m a big fan of work travel in general. There’s always a tip-off to be had, and a new bit of the country to explore. And now, after all those months of remote training, we’re daring to dream about checking those treads and cranking up our satnavs once again.