Those of you who have been kind enough to spend time in my corner of yon t’Interweb may remember that I often catch the 6.55 bus to town in order to transfer to the 7.23 train. Usually this is a seamless process and I tend to be half asleep as I am transported to the delights of Head Office.
Today I awoke to the shock news that it was winter and that there was ice on the roads. In this part of the country the council is very efficient at gritting. We are the leading Winter Olympic Team in Laughing at the Soft Southerners Who Can’t Cope with a Bit of Frost. We chortle at London’s hapless attempts to keep trains running after a millimetre of snow, and snort at their feeble cries that it’s a really, really hard thing to do. (Note for those not familiar with English geography: for the purposes of identifying a Southerner, anyone living in the Southwest counts as a Northerner when referring to snow, ice and gritting.)
So this is a shout-out to North Yorkshire County Council who spectacularly failed to grit the lane last night. It is unusual, to be fair. The consequences, however, were entirely predictable and underline why they should grit the damn lane as a matter of course.
The 6.55 bus was a little late. Three of us were waiting at the bus stop: myself and Sigoth, and our lovely neighbour, Marathon Runner with Diabetes. We were stamping our feet and puffing into our hands and talking about the owl we could hear, badminton tournaments and Christmas parties at work. It was convivial and we were not surprised the bus was a little late because clearly the roads were not in peak condition. We had all slithered precariously across the glacier at the roundabout so we knew it very well and were considering Writing A Letter to the Council to voice out displeasure.
As we waited at the bus stop a car fishtailed round the roundabout because he was going at more than one mile an hour. We all ducked into the shelter to avoid being walloped.
The bus eventually appeared about 15 minutes later, chugging along very slowly as befitted the conditions. We all dug out our passes and change and watched him inch his way round the roundabout. Our stop is at the end of a lane and the buses come up, go all the way round the roundabout and head back to the main road again. It confuses the hell out of tourists because you can’t tell so easily where the bus is going (north or south) after that. There’s a trick to it called “reading the destination on the front,” but this is not always possible because it scrolls and you have to catch it at the right moment.
Anyway, this was the bus we wanted. It slipped as it approached the roundabout and slowed down even more. Then as it started to go up the incline and round the edge it lost all grip on its rear wheels, slid sideways and stopped. After a couple of minutes it was obvious there was nothing for the wheels to grip and it sat there, hazard lights flashing and one road junction completely barred.
An oil lorry came along behind it and skidded into the verge. Eventually he got the vehicle under control but couldn’t get past the bus.
The bus inched forward slightly then slid back. It began to spin a little. The woman in the upstairs front seat displayed true Yorkshire grit by sitting calmly throughout, no matter how the bus danced and pranced. It was like dressage for motor vehicles.
Time went by and the sky grew lighter. Cars and vans came along, skidding and sliding too. They had to go the wrong way round the roundabout to get to their exit. The bus inched forwards a little more. After 20 minutes it had got round the first quarter of the circle. We cheered and stamped our feet and Marathon Man posted pictures on Facebook. Sigoth tweeted the Council to let them know about their dangerous and inept #FAIL.
After another 20 minutes or so it was clear the driver could do no more. A small van arrived from the bus company with sand and a shovel. The bus driver got out and apologised to us for the delay and offered us some of his coffee from his thermos. The man deserves a medal.
The rescuer used up all his sand and the bus began to skate towards the third quarter leading back to the bus stop. A large oil lorry slid into a hedge, recovered and carried on down the other exit. As the bus crawled towards us the man with the sand pushed the left front wing to guide it along its way. It was so slippery on the road that this actually worked.
The driver got the bus to where we were standing and appeared to stop although he was moving slightly without volition.
“Jump on!” he said, voice tight with stress.
We hesitated at the thought of imminent disaster, then jumped on and sat down and everyone on the bus said hello and smiled. We wobbled off down the lane, crawled over the hump-backed bridge and lurched towards the main road. Traffic on the main road roared by. The main road had clearly been gritted. Cautiously we felt our way onto the carriageway, although it was hard because our lane was very icy at the junction too so we had no power.
It was an hour late, but we were on our way. By the time the kids come down for the school bus I hope the ice will be in retreat and they will be safe.
I understand that some drivers get frustrated when they are caught behind the slow moving gritting lorries. They are idiots. Those lorries are absolutely vital and you don’t know how much until they miss you out.
So here I sit in the station café with a steaming mug of tea, waiting for the next train 2 hours after my usual one, and wondering what it will be like when I come home on Friday.