Once upon a trip to Bristol
Do you ever have those days where everything just goes tits up? I mean, where nothing goes right and you just want to stop, crawl back into bed and hide under the duvet for the rest of the day? Where you think it can’t possibly get any worse and then it usually does? Well, it happens to all of us. Yes. Every single person experiences this at least once and others more often and it is nothing to do with karma, it’s not bad luck and sometimes you can’t control the events which happen around you. Sometimes though, it kinda is your fault.
I’m pretty clumsy. I also tend to find myself in quite random, embarrassing and awkward situations from time to time. One way I cope is to just roll with it, go with the flow, laugh and write the day off and start afresh the next day. Usually, I can look back on the experience and laugh even though at the time I was really stressed, harassed and feeling like a loser.
You might not be able to change or control what is happening around you at the time but you can control how you react and how you choose to feel in those moments and that can affect how you handle the situation. And that in itself, will help you to relax, take a step back and look at how the heck you got there in the first place and what to avoid in the future.
Did you plan enough? Did you prepare for mishaps? Did you sleep enough? Are you stretching yourself too thin and running around like crazy? Do you need some time out and to slow down? Look inwardly and look at the things you can influence to try to avoid calamities in the future. While I’m not the most prepared person, I struggle with time management, sleep too little and I take on way too much and am constantly racing from A to B, I do try to prepare ahead for things and especially if it includes travelling to somewhere new or if I have important meetings etc. As the saying goes, “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”
One of my favourite funny stories to share and one I often include in my letters to the US troops I write to is my somewhat disastrous trip to Bristol with my sister. For a few giggles and respite from your work day, I’d like to share it with you, too. Remember, nothing in life is more important than your health, both mental and physical, so if everything is going to shit, then say fuck it and write it off. It’s not worth the stress. Tomorrow is a new day to try again, to do better and to go one step further than you did today. We’ve all been there so give yourself some slack, put on the kettle, make a brew, sit back, enjoy some Schadenfreude and take five.
Let’s start …
I’d spent 3 years in Bristol studying German and Russian. I had failed a few exams and in the end dropped out but my time in Bristol was a little crazy, fun, stressful and where I met my best friends. There were a few ups and downs like any student probably goes through but overall I made some fond memories. Anyways, I left Bristol in summer 2006 and hadn’t been back since. It was a strange feeling leaving and I didn’t know if I’d ever be back again. My compass was pointed to Germany and I had left, tail between my legs, head down under a big cloud of “failure.” In 2008 I returned to the UK to study Graphic Design. My sister Heidi, who had originally graduated as a beauty therapist and had been working on board cruise liners, had also decided to change direction slightly. She wanted to work for Harding Brothers in the retail shop on board the liners instead of in the beauty salons as a therapist.
In 2009 when her contract was up for renewal she came home for a month and had arranged for an interview for the new position. The interview was in Bristol. She wasn’t sure where she was going and the temptation to head back to my old haunts and see how things had developed in the city was way too strong so I played hooky and we decided to head off West for a couple of days.
So the Day of Constant Disasters began on one fine day in early Spring around March, it had been cold but the day we wanted to travel was boiling hot. Nevertheless, we dressed in warm coats just in case the weather should turn and Bristol was always much cooler than on the south coast. We packed one overnight case for us both and booked a hotel for the night in Clifton, Bristol not far from the interview place. We left plenty of time and set off to walk from our village to the train station in the neighbouring village (Angmering) It was around 10 am. We soon realised how baking hot it was outside and mildly sweating we took off our coats and continued dragging our case taking it in turns. Onwards we continued, steadily perspiring and thinking, “we packed way too much, this case is too heavy and we probably don’t need all this gear.”
Heidi kept dropping things, then her bag came undone, then when she was faffing around her suit skirt fell on the floor. Cursing she quickly grabbed it and brushed it off. She hadn’t packed the suit in the case because she didn’t want it to get creased. But throwing it on the floor kinda got it dirty and creased (face palm). Then Heidi stops dead in her tracks and shouts a massive “fuuuuuckkkk!!!!” I look at her and ask, “what’s wrong?!” But noticing her expression I interpret it to mean she forgot something important. She looks directly at me exclaiming, “I forgot my fucking suit jacket! It’s on the back of my fucking bedroom door!!! Fucking hell! I’m gonna have to go all the fucking way home again to get the fucker!”
(She reminds me of Bridget Jones’ friend Shazza at times)
So I suggest instead of dragging everything back that I slowly continue on with the case and coats and handbags and she should run back home, grab her suit jacket and then catch up with me. She has 40 inch legs and is a lot faster than me with her gigantic strides so should be able to do that in no time. “Fucking good idea” she says so off Heidi goes lighting a fag (cigarette) on the way and puffing and power walking back the way we came. I load myself up like a mule and start heading off again in the direction of the station.
Slowly, sweating now profusely like a pig on a spit about half way cooked, inching ahead I start to regret this trip! I’m looking at the time and thinking, “shit we don’t have much time left now.” We had left earlier anyway to allow for an easy stroll but now we really needed to be picking up the pace and catching the train we booked. I keep looking behind me and don’t see Heidi and I had all her gear and her handbag with her mobile in it so I couldn’t call her to see where she’s at. So I continue on slowly.
Then after what feels like ages, (few tumbleweeds blow by, sun beating down, the haze rippling off the tarmac … ok so it wasn’t that hot or deserted but it felt like that!) I see Heidi jogging up to me with her suit jacket blowing everywhere. Cigarette in one hand. A new one. And Heidi never jogs. She never runs anywhere. Her motto is, you wait for her and if she is late, well … she’s never late, you’re just early.
So for her to be jogging; beads of sweat trickling down her temples, meant we were running late and she really wanted this job!
We work out that we have no time to spare, in fact we need to make up time and we need to get our arses moving asap so we Army tab our way to the station carrying our things. We are panting, sweating and can’t even talk! (I’m talking huge sweat patches that run down our backs and underarms. Forget the female ads about deodorants combatting gentle every-day-in-the-office perspiring, this was full on man style bucket load!) The mutual glances we give each other say it all. We get to the station, print out our reserved tickets and the train is already there about to depart.
We need platform two. We are on platform one. FUCK!
Angmering station is tiny. It only has 2 platforms but to get to platform two you need to cross the bridge over the railway. So fucking typical!
One look at each other, one nod and we just shout, “run!”
We dash up the stairs (Rocky would be very proud) me carrying our heavy case, despite my arms burning on fire and my barely-there muscles quivering, shouting “Go! Go! Go!” Heidi gets there first and dives through the train doors then stands with her arms stretched out preventing them from shutting while I catch up. She shouts to the conductor, “my sister is just coming, wait a fucking second!” And I dive through the door. With a big smirk on her face she says, “tar love” (thank you) to the conductor who is fuming that we are now 3 minutes behind schedule and we go find a seat. We get a few disapproving looks and tuts from the older ladies sitting on the train. 😛 #rebels
We have a 3.5 hour train ride to Bristol with 2 changes and a bus ride with a further 20 min walk from the bus stop to the hotel. Our first change is at Southampton about an hour later. We get off and decide we need sweets (candies). You cannot go on a road trip without sweets. It’s just not done in our house. Heidi grabs a coffee but ends up spilling it down herself and I grab some hard boiled sweets and open the packet but they fly out everywhere and all over the platform floor! Such a fucking disaster already and we are laughing at the sheer bad luck we are having.
I say to her constantly throughout the trip, this job interview better be fucking worth it!!!
(I usually don’t swear that much in spoken language but on that day I think every other word was “fuck” just to emphasize the sheer stress we were under!)
So we head off on the second leg of the train journey with Heidi in her coffee stained t-shirt and both of us in dire need of a shower already and with only half a packet of sweets. After encountering a number of train delays (this was the First Great Western line after all) we finally, at some time in the evening around 5 pm, hit Bristol Temple Meads station. It’s already dark.
Being clever and perhaps ever so slightly cocky, I tell her let’s get the bus because it is cheaper than a taxi … like miles cheaper. I used to get the bus all the time around Bristol so I jump on the bus that takes us up to the Clifton area and off we head.
For about an hour, I chat away to Heidi and we sit and gaze out the window rather tired and in need of proper food. By now it is pouring with rain (Bristol is always very very rainy) and it’s pitch black.
Then it dawns on me that actually, the ride should have only taken 20 minutes. I’m like, “errr this isn’t right.”
I go up to the bus driver and ask him to verify the route and that we need Clifton and he said they changed the bus routes a year ago. I did not think to check this! But he said he does EVENTUALLY go through Clifton at the end of the route … We were at the beginning and we’d only gone in the wrong fucking direction.
So I say, let’s get off at the next stop and head back on the right bus. So jumping off, lugging the case in the torrential rain for a further 15 minutes, we reach another bus stop. We wait a while there taking shelter in the tiniest of half open glass cases they call a bus stop waiting area and jump on the next bus …
… which takes us right back to the sodding train station we just left! Oh for FUCK’S SAKE!!!!
Double, Triple, Quadruple fucking bollocks!!!
We get off at the train station and then ask the bus driver which bus we need. He tells us to go to the exact same point we originally got on at. My look of annoyance mixed with disbelief and sarcasm with an additional eye roll must have been enough for him to point out that we apparently had jumped on one bus too early.
Right, once we were on the right bus it didn’t take that long to get to the BBC studios on Whiteladies Road and relief hit us when we finally reached our bus stop! Woooo!
“Now all we gotta do is find the fucking hotel” Heidi claims sarcastically.
“No sweat, I know where it is because I used to walk past it every day on my way to dance training” I reply excitedly yet with a tad of uncertainty lurking in my tone. “Unless they moved the hotel or dance centre” I wonder quietly.
So now it’s Heidi’s turn to drag the case and we head up over to the traffic lights so we can cross the road. The pavement is all uneven and broken in places and it is pouring with rain and dark and it’s that kind of torrential rain where you can’t see much in front of your face.
Then suddenly the suitcase cracks in half and splits open. All over the pavement out fall our clothes and they just start lapping up the wet puddles, absorbing the torrential rain and become covered in mud and splashes from passing cars! Heidi is shouting, “I don’t fucking believe it!” and wailing at me to help. Her cigarette hanging wet and limp from the corner of her mouth, having been clearly extinguished by the downpour. I scramble to get the clothes and stuff them back in and we try to zip the case together noticing then where the crack is. We go into a nearby hardware shop (thank God!) and grab this kind of elastic bungee cord stuff and we tie the case shut but it’s still gaping open in places and the rain is just soaking us and the case and clothes! I am in hysterics, like screaming with laughter and nearly collapse on the street in a fit halfway between hysteria, frustration and comic relief. I am shouting at her above the heavy and noisy rain and splashes and cars whizzing past with their headlights dazzling us, that she better get the fucking job after all this!!!
She is creasing up in hysterics too. Phew. At least I can handle that. If she’d been crying I would have felt guilty like it was all my fault!
We were both famished and really needed to just get inside so we continue on but even more slowly both carrying the broken case taking one end each like we’re smuggling some dead body in a sack in the middle of the dark rainy night. A couple of passersby stared at the case and I just felt like saying, “nothing to see here folks. Just two soaked women carrying some broken luggage as you do! Totally normal!” (Note to future self: take a fucking taxi next time!) Some 20 minutes later we finally reach the hotel. Hands are ice cold and numb. Arms feel like they’ve been on a stretching rack for the past 5 hours. We stood in reception looking like drowned rats leaving a puddle of rain water around us. The little old receptionist glanced up and down at us over her specatcles, pursed her lips together and sighed. Then checked us in.
So we go up these exhausted creaky stairs, in this dated, very English, hotel with worn through carpets, and faded yellowing wallpaper with pokey windows and old musty smells in the corridors, the slight tinge of cigarette smoke impregnated in the furnishings. We find our room and put the huge iron key in the door and walk into our bedroom that is decorated in ugly florals and eiderdowns and well-used blankets, like it hadn’t been touched since the 50’s or earlier.
We dump our things, grab her suit and assess the damage. I use baby wipes to clean up the suit and we hang it over the radiator to dry. We lay our clothes out to air dry and then shower and change into some clothes that are not as wet and we head out for food and grab snacks at the supermarket afterwards for the next day and journey home.
We finally make it to bed around 10 pm and are totally knackered and laughing in hysterics at the journey we’d just had!
The next day Heidi gets ready, the suit is alright but her make-up and hair won’t play ball. She gets all stressy and has this feeling it’s all going to be a wasted trip. I escort her to her interview while she’s nervously puffing away on cigarettes. We had met up with a couple of other girls in the hotel who were also going to the same interview so I leave Heidi and the girls for a few hours of fun interview processes. I head down to the city centre to look around and go via my old uni, my old dance centre and take in all the changes that have occurred since I have been gone. So much change. I didn’t recognise much of Bristol and it felt like my 3 years there had not existed. Like I had imagined it or something. It was weird. There were just a few traces of clubs, shops, bars and buildings left that I remembered but the majority of the city was different and the people I studied with never stayed in Bristol afterwards so no one I knew was there. Quite a few businesses and clubs had gone bust and ceased to exist. Uni lecturers had also changed universities or left. A very weird eerie feeling. A bit like being erased I guess and feeling totally alien. A constantly evolving city whose fingerprints keep changing.
I had a quick walk around town and then Heidi phoned and I headed back, we met up, grabbed food and then packed our things and started heading home. We didn’t bother to get a new case because Bristol is very expensive and we knew the same case in our area would cost a hell of a lot less so being thrifty, yet again, we redid our case with the cord and dragged it back like that! And it held all the way too! The rest of the journey was absolutely fine without delays. We even got the right bus back to the station. We arrived home and just laughed in hysterics as we recalled the events to mum and dad reenacting our expressions and how we were trying to juggle the case. Many laughs, tuts and eye rolling from the parents.
A week later Heidi got a phone call to say she had the job and she then left for another year on board the cruise liners but this time as a Shoppy (perfume and skincare specialist in the cruise liner shop). SO it WAS worth it and she did get the job in the end but it definitely was a very stressful, everything-went-wrong-kinda day yet one of the funniest memories I have. Every time Heidi and I remember it we burst out laughing all over again with tears streaming down our faces.
Despite all the mayhem, there was definitely a silver lining. There always is. And it was pretty interesting to go back down memory lane. But personally, I prefer to look forward and move on than to head back and try to reminisce, recreate or relive past feelings, events and things that are no longer there. Things change, move, develop, grow, people do, too and life takes us on many different paths. We’re always learning and evolving with every new experience. A quick glance back to remember where you came from is fine but life is about constantly moving forward and living in the present and you are no longer the same person you were back then. And that lesson has been my silver lining many a time with regard to overcoming many difficult emotional struggles.
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