Victoria Coach Station review
Victoria Coach Station is like a cheapo airport. If you take away all the pilots and planes and glamour but keep all the suitcases and queues, then that's basically what we've got here. For a lot of people it's their first taste of London--of England, even. They step on a coach in France and two hours later here they are: rolling into Victoria Coach Station still half asleep. You can see them unfolding their bones... their stiff legs tumbling down the steps as they get tipped out into a garage full of confused and bemused commuters all trying to find their suitcases and kids and dads (where's dad? where's mum?). Where's the gate? What gate is it? Get a trolley! Where's my bag? Piles of suitcases and backpacks are coming out of the coach hold and people are tripping and picking their way through the rivers of people trying to grab them quick before some hoodlum walks off with it. It's a million different languages all spoken at once. Loud tannoy announcements coming one after the other. No smoking on the forecourt! No waiting by the gate! No doing this or that, or anything else! And don't do that either! Can I see your ticket please? No, this is not the coach to Cambridge you idiot, this is the overnight to Edinburgh -- and stop blocking up the ticket hall with your surfboard and skis. Who takes a surfboard on a coach anyway? And who goes surfing in Cambridge?
Jesus Christ this place is a nightmare. I'm not even going anywhere and it's still stressing me out. And there are dirty pigeons all over the place. They fly in through the concourse and they are doomed to die because there's no easy escape. "Do not feed the pigeons!" the sign shouts in bright red letters. Don't feed the beggars either (it says that as well).
Let me see... what examples of life can I see around me. A bingo party of old women off to Margate. Noisy students off to Uni. A bloke waving his tatty plastic bag in circles above his head. A fat bird with bright blue hair eating a ham baguette. An even fatter women making short work of a carton of chips. A beggar pretending that he's playing trumpet tunes on a traffic cone (he's just shouting through the hole in the end). Two cops walking around with machine guns. Two pigeons. A beautiful woman looking like she's stepped out from a poster. More pigeons. And more pigeons. And even more pigeons.
I can also see a few touching scenes of couples cuddling and crying at the gate. I guess they must be parting for the weekend. "Don't forget me," she's sniffing, whilst he's busy fumbling through his pocket for his getaway ticket: "...I've got to go now, love, or my wife and kids will wonder where I am." I can see lots of excited children smiling widely too -- it's like an adventure to them. They are already thinking of Mickey Mouse at the other end, whilst the parents are still wondering whether they're going to throw up on the coach. It's easy to forget how exciting bustle can be for a kid. I remember when I used to be a backpacker myself, flying off to crap places, and I always looked forward to moments like this. If truth be told I think I enjoyed the travelling more than the sightseeing -- because making your way to a different destination is half the fun, isn't it? You don't mind the busy stations when you're twenty and all you've got is a backpack and B-O.
You can guess the size of their adventure by the size of their bag. In my experience the most daring travellers travel light -- one toothbrush and a spare pair of pants is all you need (one pair to wear and one to wash). One pair of pants can last three weeks easy-peasy. When I was young I didn't even bother booking a hotel at the other end. I didn't take out travel insurance either -- what an idiot. You wouldn't catch me doing that these days. I'm more like one of these worriers standing in front of me... holding a case that's bigger than a caravan. They have packed their entire lives inside that thing. They have dreamt up every possible terrible scenario -- wet weather, hot weather, earthquakes, volcanos, alien invasion... sun cream, spot cream, ice cream. Eight jumpers (one for every day of the week plus a spare), nine dresses and ten vests and eleven hats and twelve monocles and thirteen false noses and fourteen of everything else, just to be safe. And of course it's always the poor husband who has to drag all of this crap around with him. The woman just carries a case full of bikinis.
Other couples I see are just staring into the middle distance (the married ones). They've got nothing to say until they get there. They'll take a few pictures and buy some foreign chocolates and then it will be back to work on Monday morning like nothing's happened. The backpackers will get drunk and battered and wont remember a thing about it -- the married ones will recall every tedious second for years to come. "Do you remember when you lost the tickets at Victoria Coach Station?" Yes, dear -- I do dear -- because you keep reminding me about it every five minutes. "Next time I'll look after the tickets." Okay dear -- if you say so, dear -- if it will keep you quiet.
I'm sitting in front of the departure boards watching fifty people staring up at the lights in a trance, all wondering what to do. You can see it in their faces that they haven't got a clue what's going on. The women are tugging gently on their partner's sleeve hoping that he's worked it out. Every ten seconds the screen flicks over to a new array of words and numbers and there is a collective sigh from the crowd. Their brains get reset -- rebooted -- and they have to wait for the next time around to work it out.
We're all just standing here waiting.
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