Saturday, 29 June 2019

Never travel on a Friday

Never travel on a Friday. How many times have I had that thought but then gone ahead and done exactly that. Invariably I end up stuck sitting in traffic for what seems like hours on end, having forgotten quite how bad it was the last time I set off on the last working day of the week. It’s a case of getting caught a few times on the hop, but then thinking it can’t possibly be so bad next time.

Oh yes it can, especially if last weekend’s trip to Norfolk was anything to go by. In fact I would say the volume of traffic was amongst the worst I have experienced in over 15 years of doing the trip on a regular basis. Rather than the usual shenanigans at the Dartford Crossing, the hold-up  this time round was on the M11, just north of the junction with the M25.

There was nothing Mrs PBT’s and I could do except sit in the car and creep slowly forward. We stopped at Birchanger services on the M11; somewhere I would normally avoid, but with bladder capacity almost reached, and the hunger pangs catching up with us, the Waitrose sandwich,  cup of coffee and “comfort break” were all much needed.

There was another hold-up, further on; this time as we approached the Barton Mills roundabout. This was down to just sheer volume of traffic, so I decided to turn off, up towards Brandon and Swaffham, passing the massive USAF airbase at Lakenheath, en route. Unfortunately the town of Brandon was snarled up as well, but by then I was almost passed caring.

I could almost do the drive up to Norfolk in my sleep, as I know every stretch of the road, every roundabout and virtually every pot-hole, along the M11 and A11. Mrs PBT’s and I were journeying up to Norfolk in order to visit my father in his care home. It was just over three months since I last saw him, although my sister had been to visit him more recently.

It’s always difficult, especially when you’re feeling slight guilty for not having visited more frequently. It is perfectly possible to do a trip up to Norfolk and back in a day, but it does obviously depend on traffic conditions and how willing the driver (me!) is to remain in the saddle for five to six hours!

It is also feasible to do a day trip using public transport, especially as there are some real bargain rail fares available for advanced bookings. There is also a regular and frequent bus service which runs from Norwich station to Dereham, but that still leaves the final and most problematic leg of the journey.

It’s around three and a half miles from Dereham town centre to dad’s care home in the village of Gressenhall, but it’s not a journey I’d want to undertake as a pedestrian. With no footpaths once you reach the edge of the town, and narrow roads busy with speeding traffic, walking is not an option; much as I enjoy being on foot.

A pre-booked taxi, for that final leg, is the answer, but the last time I made the journey I had to re-schedule the taxi, as my train was delayed for 45 minutes at Ipswich, on the outward journey. (That day was a Friday, too!). Taxi companies are often fully booked for the return school run, during term time, and having to change my pick-up time, meant I was left with only a limited amount of time at the care home. Despite these pitfalls, I am still tempted to make use of the public transport option for future visits.

My preferred option though, is to make a weekend of it, and drive up either on a Friday or a Saturday, book into a convenient B&B, and combine the trip with a visit to dad, followed by some time spent enjoying all that Norfolk has to offer. I have been doing this for the last four or five years; more if I take into account the visits I made whilst mum was still alive.

Son Matthew would often accompanied me on these trips, but more recently Mrs PBT’s has decided to join me. The cynic in me would say that’s because my mother is no longer with us. The well known antipathy between wives and their mother-in-laws certainly limited my wife’s trips to Norfolk to just the occasional “duty visit,”  but that’s not really fair, as ever since her spell in hospital, last year, she has been much keener to accompany me on visits to see my father.

So now, instead of an unspoilt country pub, or a quirky B&B in the middle of nowhere, it’s the good, solid and eminently reliable Premier Inns, even if at times they are  somewhat more expensive. And with me picking up the bill, what’s not to like, as far as Mrs PBT’s is concerned!

Last weekend we again found ourselves at the Premier Inn, Norwich West, directly opposite the Norfolk County Showground. We have stayed there several times in the past, as its location to the west of Norwich means that dad’s care home is just a short 20 minute drive away.

Dad seemed much better than he’d done on my previous two visits, and rather than falling asleep in his chair, he was up and walking about. We stayed whilst he had his dinner, and watched him demolish both courses with some relish. Seeing him active and alert like that made the trip all the more worthwhile.

We didn’t get up to that much on the pub front, particularly on that first evening, as after nearly five hours behind the wheel, neither of us fancied jumping into the car again, even for a short while. Instead we popped next door to the Table Table (daft name for an eatery) chain restaurant, adjacent to the Premier Inn.

We’d eaten there before of course, and whilst the food offering is pretty good for a chain, the beer range is piss-poor. With Doom Bar as the only cask ale, and some very lacklustre, big-name international brands of lager (Carling, Stella & San Miguel), on sale, Table Table’s saving grace was bottled Brew Dog Punk IPA – despite its eye-watering price of £4.50 for a 330ml bottle!

We ate there on the second night as well, but only because the pub we’d driven out to was fully booked. In my defence I had tried to book, but the pub is closed afternoons, between 2.30pm and 6pm, and they don’t answer the phone during that time!

The name and location of the pub will be revealed in a future post, but we did manage a drink there after making a frantic phone call to reserve a place at Table Table. You leave me enjoying my roast breast of chicken and rack of ribs, complete with bottle of Brew Dog Punk IPA

Until next time……………….


retiredmartin said...

Love your customary detail, Paul.

Sound advice, unfortunately hard to avoid for most.

It's the stop start that's worst.

Paul Bailey said...

It's doubly frustrating Martin, when there's no obvious cause for the delay. Earlier today, we found two lanes of the M20, westbound between Ashford and Maidstone, cordoned off by a 14 mile long, concrete barrier.

No work was taking place, and no signs that Highways England were going to attempt anything, apart from inconveniencing travelers. Needless to say we crawled along, and a journey that should have taken 20 minutes, took nearly an hour!

Russtovich said...

"There was nothing Mrs PBT’s and I could do except sit in the car and creep slowly forward."

It's amazing how conditioned we all can be. Everyone leaves work at the same time; starts their weekend trip at the same time. Heck, when we were at Disney World (back in the 90's) we finally figured out the best time to hit the rides was the 'normal' lunch and supper times! :)

"Taxi companies are often fully booked for the return school run,"

You're the second person to mention that in the last few days (BRAPA did as well). From personal experience that's quite uncommon over here. But, to be fair, we have oodles of parents driving to pick up their little darlings. Not like in my day when we had to walk to and from school! ;)

"The cynic in me would say that’s because my mother it no longer with us."

I was never a big fan of my mother-in-law when she was alive (though I tried to hide it well). My dear wife on the other hand, got on very well with my Dad (when he was alive) and even phones my dear old mum about once a month just to chat!

"And with me picking up the bill, what’s not to like, as far as Mrs PBT’s is concerned!"

The sooner you realise that's what's yours is hers (but not vice versa) you'll be on your way to a better marriage. (LOL)

"Seeing him active and alert like that made the trip all the more worthwhile"

Agreed. (but maybe put a period at the end)

"despite its eye-watering price of £4.50 for a 330ml bottle!"

You'd think you were in London at that price.

"In my defence I had tried to book, but the pub is closed afternoons, between 2.30pm and 6pm, and they don’t answer the phone during that time!"

Helluva way to run a business.


PS - "that’s because my mother it no longer with us."

Is, not it.

"after making frantic phone call to reserve a place"

Maybe 'a' before frantic.

Etu said...

Many's the time that I've broken that resolution and regretted it, Paul.

Travel back on a Monday isn't quite so bad, mainly because the social and commercial stuff are split between Sunday and Monday, I surmise.

It gives us a warm feeling, to know that we are not alone.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for the comments, Russ and ETU, and the odd correction of course! The post has now been amended, accordingly. Leaving aside the vagaries of traffic on our over-crowded roads, and the sometimes vexed issue of mother-in-laws, it’s the availability of taxis that I want to take a little further.

Following your comment Russ, I checked out Simon’s blog, pleased to discover that I was not alone in suffering the curse of the “school run.” I suppose that whilst it’s a nuisance for pub explorers, or even just someone wanting to visit his elderly father, the school-run provides a regular and virtually guaranteed source of income for taxi companies.

It is potentially much safer than picking up revellers, or even out and out drunks, from pubs, clubs and bars after closing time, and probably less hassle than running commuters home from the station, through traffic-choked streets. It is still a damn nuisance though for anyone wanting a mid-afternoon taxi ride!

Russ, drivers in the UK also have to suffer the mummsies, picking up their precious little darlings, after school, and also dropping them off in the mornings. There is a real noticeable difference during the school holidays, which makes the drive into work a breeze.