To Bristol by coach

The other Victoria station.

“While you’re capturing the zeitgeist they’re widening the motorway.”

– Half Man Half Biscuit [1]

To Victoria, then, for the “Megabus” to Bristol.

I don’t like coaches. The motion of them makes me sick, so I can’t read. And motorways are the worst way to see a country: endless, multi-laned scars paying no dues to contours, landscape or basic context.

Victoria is London’s main coach station, a stone’s catapult from Buckingham Palace. Coaches arriving from Paris, Cologne and beyond. Many a migrant charges their phone for the first time on British soil around this tired terminus.

My coach, almost empty on a Sunday morning, reverses out of bay 16 [2], and heads west. We pass houseboats wallowing in the Thames mud at low tide, then houses dirtied by pollution on the dual carriageway through Barons Court.

The flyover at Hammersmith, past the Apollo. New cars trapped for marketing purposes high up multi-storey showrooms angled towards our concrete channel.

And then Heathrow: each fast-rising plane a banal miracle on this Sunday morning, disappearing into the clouds above much-benighted Slough.

Like I said, I can’t read on coaches. Instead, I look out the window, and try to write down or remember what I see.

And what I see is “free airbag test” written, menacingly, in grime on the back of a lorry from Spalding. A first predatory bird, rising above a copse outside Littlefield Green.

Solar farms outside Reading. Motorway services partially hidden behind early blossoming trees. A business park arranged around an artificial lake, with empty office chairs in a pontoon gazebo.

“We warmed our hands on the corpse of a wild horse”, Bill Callahan sings in my ears, as I pass a field of the paddocked variety. Three lanes become two, marshalled by plastic cones; as we slow I remember John Major’s cones hotline, a doomed policy from a dying government in simpler times.

More birds of prey hover above, as we pass Scratch Face Lane. A warning? Birds of prey above the motorway is a tempting title for a song. I will try to remember.

The landscape opens up and becomes the North Wessex Downs. Distant sheep don bald hills, as our driver keeps two chevrons apart. I move my focus back to the road ahead of me, and take in a motor home named “swift lifestyle” and a sign threatening Royal Wooton Bassett.

Back to the window, and the sight of crows nesting in skeletal winter trees by the slip road. We cross the river Avon as the sun peeks briefly from behind the clouds, and see our first seagulls over Castle Combe. We must be nearing the estuary.

But first: signs for Wookey Hole. A hare at full pelt next to the solar farm by Pucklechurch.

Traffic slows as we reach our junction, for Bristol and the worst of all station types, the parkway: delivering passengers to car parks.

A mobile phone pagoda up on the hill, and signs for a new clean air zone.

The motorway ends, and we are deposited outside a shut-down Debenhams.

Postscript: the return coach caught fire, and I got the train home instead.

[1] Tommy Walsh’s Eco House. Off 90 Bisodol (Crimond)

[2] It is a replacement coach, after the one we were supposed to be taking was reversed into by a coach belonging to Megabus’ arch rivals, National Express, at 6:30 that morning.

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