Picture from Waimh Congress website here because I was too busy weeping about the terrible journey to take any pictures of my own
If you’re seriously short on cash but need[/strongly want] to go cross-country, a coach is your best bet. National Express are, in my experience, a decent ride apart from the occasional coach breakdowns. But if you’re too broke for even a National Express coach, Megabus is the only way. You can get tickets for as little as a pound – if you’re willing to gamble with Megabus roulette. Will your journey be pleasantly quiet on a vastly underbooked service, or will it be the journey from hell?
Well back in November 2013, I needed to get from my Kentish abode to Edinburgh for a Countdown tournament, and the cost of a train – even with a 1/3 young person’s discount – was eye-watering. It was the Megabus way or no way. For a Megabus journey it was actually quite expensive, costing about £30 (plus fees to get from my hometown to London), and took 9 hours each way. But it was less than half the cost overall of a train, and I’d had a mostly good experience of the company before.
That time had been a ludicrous mission to get from Falmouth to Manchester to see my nearly-boyfriend (incidentally, the same person I was going to see in Edinburgh) film Countdown. ‘Fresh’ from an all-nighter writing a uni presentation and an early morning 3-hour seminar in which to present it, I had to get 2 trains to Plymouth, hope neither was late, and scramble across the city in 20 minutes to get on the bus, which would then take 7 hours. It should have taken 9 hours in total. (Yep, I really, really, really liked this guy.) As it was, the bus was cancelled, but they made provision to take us to Exeter and get us on a bus to Manchester from there, and aside from the hour delay, it was a smooth trip and for the time I had there, more than worth the effort. The ride back was on time too, despite there being widespread flooding across the South West. Megabus were, I thought, far better than people would have you believe.
Oh boy, was I wrong. Not really because of the Megabus, but because of the time and the place and the other passengers.
9.25am: Get on the coach. A group of rowdy Londoners gets on at the back. I think “Oh Christ.” A group of rowdy Essex boys wearing appalling baseball caps sits around my seat, but are at first less rowdy than those at the back.
9.30: The coach pulls out from Victoria Coach Station.
9.30.05: The rowdy Essex boys pull out a 2-litre plastic bottle filled with Bacardi, and begin drinking it.
10.00: The rowdy Essex boys are absolutely wasted. The ringleader is loudly discussing his misdeeds in Ibiza the previous summer, in between barking for no apparent reason. It transpires they are going all the way to Newcastle, 6 hours away. 6 HOURS OF THIS.
10.15: I try to drown them out with my iPod, but even on full volume I can only hear their rambunctiousness. I turn my iPod off and try to read.
10.30: Ringleader has now started hitting on the girls sitting in front of him, who are innocuously trying to watch a film on an iPad. They reject him. This fuels him up even more and he keeps pestering them.
11.00: To get some good shut-eye, the man sitting in front of me has put a coat over his face, and it seems to have worked as he is sound asleep. Fair play – this is a strategy I will later use for myself. But Ringleader isn’t having any of it. How dare someone be asleep when he could be ruining their life? He starts poking the man and throwing things at the coat.
12:00pm: I have never wanted to murder anyone as much as I do this guy right now. Still screaming “BYKER GROVE!!!”, still barking, still being the most obnoxious person I’ve ever come across, and he is a metre away from me. I tweet abusive things and send friends desperate messages. He says he is planning to go for a smoke in the toilets. I message my friends, darkly hoping he will be “kicked off in the middle of nowhere and forced to walk to Newcastle before choking on his own vomit halfway.”
12:30: Having aggravated everyone around me, it’s thus far been surprising that he hasn’t directly tried to bother me. However – as they have a Mini Cheddar food fight and scream at the top of their lungs – I am so fed up that I can’t help giving them my absolute worst stink eye. Ringleader notices. “I don’t think she likes us,” he says to his friend. SNAP. “I don’t like you. I think you’re an absolute cunt and I can’t wait for you to get off the coach,” I hiss, so full of pure rage that if he tries to violently retaliate, I don’t think he will win. I am more angry than I have ever been in my entire life. He and his friends just go “Oooh” in unison but do nothing else as they think I have said “twat” instead of the c-bomb, so I go back to reading my book and pray for a miracle.
13:00: The coach makes its first stop at Sheffield. I am virtually the only person left on it, as everyone else gets off to have a smoke. The coach driver begins rounding up the smokers so they can get back on the coach, but Ringleader is drunk and thinks he’s a hardnut king of the world because he once shagged a girl in Ibiza. Instead of getting back on the coach, he argues with the coach driver. The coach driver isn’t happy and tells him so. So Ringleader just straight-up headbutts him.
Astonishingly the driver allows him back on the coach – albeit with a warning that if he does anything else, he will have to walk to Newcastle – but the drunkenness has hit sleepy point, so he and his moron mates snooze for a few hours – much to my and everyone else’s relief. I’m still too scared to leave my seat though, just in case they do heinous things with my personal belongings.
15:00: He’s now wide awake and whining that he’s hungry. “Why ain’t he stopping? I want a sandwich. What a wanker, we could just stop at that service station there! I need a smoke!” Oh, boo fucking hoo mate. As he is incapable of speaking quietly, his cries now drown out my iPod. Again. At least they’re not- “BYKER GROVE!!!” Oh for fuck’s sake.
16:00: The happiest moment of my life so far comes as these Essex wankers get off the bus. In a punk-as-fuck moment I flip them off through the coach window, but they’re too busy excitably lolloping off for their big-ass night out. Poor Newcastle. A load more new people get on the bus, but the trip is much quieter now. Ironically, the original lairy group at the back are fairly quiet, and have been since 10am. Or maybe my tolerance threshold has been raised after the trauma of being near the Essex cretins.
18:00: Trying to apply red lipliner and lipstick on a jerky bus, in the world’s smallest toilet cubicle, was a bad choice, but achieving it with not a smudge or smear in sight is one of my proudest moments.
19.00: I am at Edinburgh Coach Station, and one thing is for sure. I will never be setting foot on a Megabus again.
How did the tournament go? Fucking disastrously. I drank my Megabus-induced sorrows into oblivion that night and had to play both hungover and with grotesque greasy hair, as I realised I’d accidentally brought aftersun instead of shampoo (oops). But it was otherwise a great weekend. Especially as my then-best friend had been so concerned by my live updates of the situation that he refused to let me get the bus back, and shelled out 92 quid to buy me a train ticket home. That’s a true friend.