Saturday, 1 October 2011

Travel for Work Part 2

The point of this story is the occasional pointlessness of trying to economise.

On another trip to the north of where I live; I was to visit a business park on the outskirts of Preston. I changed trains there, but never strayed out of the station. If I have any say in it, I won't end up there again.....even to change trains. There might be the possibility of being stranded there and once bitten, I intend to avoid even the remotest risk of being bitten there again.

I joke with colleagues that I don't 'do' places that have less than two museums, an opera house and entries in the Good Food Guide. Of course, I go where I am sent, but on no level is Preston a place anyone other than the most thorough of visitors would want to visit and even the intrepid and completest kind of traveller is unlikely to return. The very nicest thing I can think of to describe it is, unlovely.

I travelled up the day before for an all day meeting with an earlyish start; for sure too early to allow me to get there on time that morning. On my economy  drive; I had a look at a map and decided I could walk, with luggage, to the hotel and save charging a taxi fare. Taxis generally make me very twitchy. No matter who is paying, I am constantly eyeing the meter and mentally urging lights to change so as not to rack up the total. The walk allowed me leisurely views of the filthy and dilapidated state of the town centre. Old buildings uncared for and newer ones of the stained concrete variety.

The hotel I had been put into was a Holiday Inn which delightfully faced the characteristically stained concrete bus station and multi story car park. I asked at the hotel how long a taxi ride was out to the Business Park I was going to the next morning. I was told it was at least 20 minutes. Ouch! I asked whether buses went there. Yes, a 41B, I was told what stop to go to....well, the 41B stop, but it was pointed out to me from the window.

Ever intent on punctuality I went to the station, confirmed that the route did indeed go to the Park and worked out the timing of the bus I needed.

So, in good time next morning I was walking towards the bus stop and could see it looked like a bus was about to draw away. It was a 41...not a 41B. But I had been throrough with the timetable the night before and the only bus due to draw away from this stop was the 41B. So, I got on and asked the driver if he was going to the business park....he just grunted, took the money I had in my hand and chunked the ticket and my change out of his machine.

I sat down and watched the world go by.......for about 25 minutes, then I started to get a bit concerned. I waited until we were at traffic lights, then went forward and asked the driver how far it would be to the Business Park. He just grunted, gave me a dirty look and turned back to watch the lights.

On the way back to my seat I asked the pensioners around passenger under about 70 other than me.....none of them had so much as heard of the Business Park. This bus terminated at Tesco supermarket. I complained that the driver had not only taken my fare when I asked if we were headed in my direction, but now refused to speak to me.

"Oh" said one of the passengers, " He is Polish and doesn't have one word of English."

I was pretty taken aback at this and although it explained the event, it did not explain to me why Preston would employ someone with NO English to do a job that needed some kind of communication skills beyond grunting. I also wondered at there being no test he would have to pass to read road signs and deal with any emergencies. It did make me wonder about how they recruited doctors for their hospital. I was having darker and darker thoughts about this town and the people in it who surely only remained because they were somehow stuck in the way flies get stuck to flypaper.

It seemed like a sensible thing to get to Tesco and no doubt there would be some taxis there. It was still a fair ride to the Supermarket, but I had 20 minutes left to the time of the appointment. Luckily I had allowed plenty of time. But my stress level was rising. I don't take it well if there is even a risk I am late for a meeting and in this instance I was going into a situation that needed some delicate handling.

At Tesco, I got off the bus, it scarpered and I could see there were no taxis. The upshot was I had to phone, apologise and have one sent by the people I was visiting. I was 30 minutes late for the appointment and the fare was almost exactly what I ended up paying to get back to the railway station to get home. My best laid plans had been a failure. I had ended up spending more than had I got a taxi from the hotel, and I arrived not just late, but at a disadvantage in the psychological negotiation stakes. I did not get out of the meeting all that I had intended. Economy is not always the best policy.

I swore never to darken the towels of Preston again.

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