Friday, August 25, 2006

A Week In England

What we needed to do was get from Liverpool to Doncaster on the first day, hop over to Scunthorpe two days later, and then get to Manchester Airport three days later for our flight back to Dubai. My first thought was National Express coaches. I called them and heard a sharp intake of breath. The guy said he could get us to Doncaster, but it would involve changing at Nottingham and it would take eight hours! No thanks. So we opted for the train, and one hundred pounds later we had our tickets.

So, off we go. We have to change at Manchester Picadilly. This station has always been a major pain in the butt because the Liverpool trains come in on platform 14 which is across a road from the rest of the station. So you have to lug your aptly-named luggage up a load of stairs, and then lug it down more stairs and walk a helluva long way to get to your connecting train. So imagine my surprise. We are walking towards an information office when a guy leaps through the door to find out where we are going. We say 'Doncaster' and he tells us it goes from platform four in thirty minutes' time. And here's a brand-new shiny lift. We take the beautiful brand-new shiny lift, walk over the bridge and then have the choice of taking another brand-new shiny lift down, or using the elegant travelator ramp. We opt for the latter. We arrive at the main station concourse which has been completely utterly and totally rebuilt. It is fabulous - absolutely unrecognisable from what it was before. There's even a wi-fi zone so I try to fire up my laptop but the battery is 99% empty.

On the extremely comfortable TransPennine Express I was astonished when I found a power socket for laptops and mobiles attached to the underside of our table. Free electricity! But no wi-fi unfortunately. When we got to Doncaster I really wanted to find an Internet cafe before heading off to the wilds of my dad's village, so I abandoned BetterArf with the luggage and went for a little scout around. Nothing doing. I asked in a computer shop and was told they'd all closed down since the Public Library had started offering free interweb access. 'What, to anyone? Or do you have to be a member of the Library?' Well, of course you have to be a member. Crap.

Onwards. We should have headed for the South Bus Station but we opted for a cab instead. Arriving at the village was slightly problematic. My dad stays with his 'girlfriend' most of the time now. I've been there a few times before but I don't actually know what the address is. I think I'm at the right place but I ask the nosy neighbour standing on his doorstep if this is where my dad's girlfriend lives. He's quite emphatic: 'no'. I phone the house. No reply. So once again I abandon BetterArf with the luggage and go for a look round. I happen upon Maggie, a long-time acquaintance, and she walks me back to where I'd started from.

My dad and his girlfriend are sitting in the back garden enjoying the sunshine and of course they can't hear the phone ringing. Deaf old gits. A certain amount of beer is consumed and I get into trouble for putting empty cans into the main dustbin instead of the recycling box. Night falls and it doesn't look like anyone's going to cook so we head off to el chippy.

me: Small cod and chips please.
chippy lady: Is that small cod and small chips or small cod and normal chips or normal cod and small chips or what?
me: Small cod and small chips
chippy lady: Do you want to upgrade to the supersaver meal?
me: What's that?
chippy lady: You get curry sauce or mushy peas and a drink with it for three quid.
me: No thanks.
chippy lady: Would you like a drink with that?
me: Bloody hell this is like Starbuck's! Just gimme the food.
chippy owner: Hahaha.
me: Too much choice is a bad thang.

The next day we took the bus into Doncaster. I had my laptop with me just in case I found a wi-fi zone. The bus arrived at Doncaster and drove right past the South Bus Station, which I noticed seemed to be full of cars rather than buses. Nobody else on the bus was panicking so we went with the flow and discovered that Doncaster now has a brand spanking new 'interchange'. It's right next to the railway station (I wished I'd known that the day before), and is connected to the extended Frenchgate Shopping Centre. The new bus station is wonderful - there's a glass wall with sliding doors separating the people from the stinky buses, the concourse is bright and clean, and once again I was impressed by England spending money on infrastructure.

BetterArf found an information desk in the Frenchgate Centre and asked about Internet places. Result! There is one! We headed over there and I asked the guy if I could connect my laptop. Hmm, I guess I could enable the wi-fi, he says. Great stuff, but we couldn't get it to work. Then he gave me a LAN cable and bunch of IP addresses and we were sorted. I'd been a bit anxious because I hadn't been online for three days and I had some stuff to do for a couple clients. Anyhoo, jobs jobbed.