Tuesday, 24 April 2012

2012 - Day Out 08: Stourbridge Interchange

Date: Saturday 21 April 2012

It was this weekend that we would see the first buses use the new Stourbridge Interchange in public service. After eighteen months it was a welcome change at not walking down Birmingham Street to catch a bus.

The first bus to use the new Interchange
About a week ago, Phil Tonks contacted me to see if I would go on The Bridge Brunch to talk about the new Stourbridge Interchange, it was an offer that I could not turn down. I asked Mr UKBuses if he would come down with me as a friendly face may calm my nerves. After devouring a Wetherspoons Breakfast at "The Chequers Inn", I walk down the High Street to meet up with Mr UKBuses by the town clock, it was a welcome change as I could walk down the middle of the High Street as it was closed off in readiness for a parade as part of Stourbridge's St Georges Day celebrations. Just before half-past-ten, Mr UKBuses turns up and we see part of the parade before we have to walk back up the High Street to get to the studio, but Mr UKBuses has another idea, he spots the Stourbridge Shuttle bus coming up Lower High Street and we jump on and get off at the temporary stands at Parkfield Road. We now walk down towards the new Interchange but we turn off when we are near St John's Church. The nerves are starting to kick in now, so before entering the studio, which is inside the church, I have a "fresh air" break. We enter the studio and Al Jackson, the presenter of today's Bridge Brunch quickly pops out of the studio to say hello, returning to interview his current guests in the studio. It is now eleven o'clock and whilst the news is being played, it is our turn to go into the studio ready for being interviewed. Mr UKBuses comes into the studio also, but he has to be quiet, now that will be a first. Al reads the weather and introduces me and also the other guest, CENTRO's Chris Perry who is being interviewed over the phone. Chris is being questioned first and it is all silent in the studio as we can't hear what he is saying, this is where I get nervous as I don't want to appear stupid if I repeat anything that Chris has just said. Al asks me questions about the Interchange and somehow I manage to answer all that he asked during the interview, but I cannot remember what I said as I was just a bag of nerves, luckily Al passed me headphones when he realised and then I could hear what Chris was saying. After about ten minutes, the interview is over and Al thanks us for coming along and we make way for the next guest to get in the hot seat. We leave the studio and the first thing that I have to do is have another "fresh air break". Whilst it was nerve racking it was also a good experience, after the show I did think to myself, "I could have answered that question better" or "I forgot to say this". A quick visit was needed to the Lloyd's Bar, "The Edward Rutland", and as we leave I can feel my nerves returning to normal. After our visit we make our way back home.

Date: Sunday 22 April 2012

Phil Tonks and Mr UKBuses
It is the day of the opening of the new Stourbridge Interchange, and to mark the event, Mr UKBuses and myself decide to have a very early start and watch the first bus to enter the new Stourbridge Interchange. I meet up with Mr UKBuses and we have a walk into Stourbridge. We arrive by the subway in Foster Street and after putting on our National Express West Midlands Hi-Vis's on we make the walk underground. We can turn right and we are walking up the new subway that takes you direct into the main Stourbridge Interchange building. We make the way up the stairs and we arrive at the top and after waiting 18 months we are now back on CENTRO ground. I have a look around the buildings taking pictures for the final set in my gallery on the website which covers the redevelopment from start to finish. Steve Hutchinson, the Interchange manager pops by and says hello and we also bump into Phil Tonks, bus user, promoter and also the driver of The Stourbridge Dodger, see picture right. We have a walk around the outside looking at the Interchange from a different view from what I'm used to seeing. It is nearly time and we make our way around to the entrance to the Interchange to see the first bus pull in. As we are waiting there, people come up to me asking where to catch their bus from or if the Interchange is now open, they don't ask Mr UKBuses who actually works for a bus company. The first number 9 turns into Foster Street and within a few seconds, we see it pull in. The first bus is being driven by Driver Pearson, see picture at the beginning of the blog post. As it makes it's way around to Stand H, we make our way onto the path opposite so pictures can be taken. After a few minutes the first bus service pulls out of the Interchange, and there were a few people who record the event, including Chris Perry, the other guest who was on the phone during my radio experience yesterday. Steve runs over to me with an interesting fact, the first passenger to board the first bus is a lady named Anna Loss, a trainee midwife at Birmingham University.

Luckily the information staff aren't as bad as him.
After the start of a new era, we have a further walk around the station, I pop into the Spar shop that is open in the main Interchange building, but sadly I am not the first customer, someone else beat me to that and I got no name to inform you as part of the Interchange facts. I also have a look at the new information desk, but there is this strange person staring, see picture left, so I walk away. After watching a couple more number 9's, we wait by the Stourbridge Town entrance and look at the display screens. Before our eyes, it looks like someone has got a can of black spray paint and sprayed it across the top of the screen. Luckily, the problem (which I think was condensation) fixed itself later on in the day. Since we had an early start, our stomachs were beginning to rumble, so a visit to J D Wetherspoons was in order and Phil Tonks, Mr UKBuses and myself walk to The Chequers Inn and have a Wetherspoons Breakfast (to celebrate the opening of course!), Phil and Mr UKBuses decide to have the large option and I have the standard size. It doesn't take long for Phil to down his, he has finished and I still have some of my standard size breakfast left. We have a few minutes after finishing to let the grub go down and we decide to have another walk around to see more services starting to use the new Interchange. We see the first service 246 use the new Interchange and also we see a new operator to the area, Arriva, who have won the tender to operate CENTRO supported journeys on services 142 and 257. Service 142 was the first one to run, so we see it pull out of the new Interchange and as soon as the bus leaves, the driver takes a wrong turn and heads up Foster Street to get onto the Ring Road, even though it is no entry, the driver has to reverse into the entrance of the Mercedes garage opposite. This was the first driver to go the wrong route from the new Interchange.

Geoff, the best Diamond Bus Driver Ever!
Next up was service 257 and Phil, Mr UKBuses and myself decide that this will be the first bus that we will catch from the new Interchange, so we walk to stand G to catch it, passing David and Emma Balme on the way, saying a quick hello and goodbye as we pass. We board the first service 257 from the Interchange and after taking our seats, we do a couple of poses for David who is taking photo's opposite and then the bus pulls off and does the same as the last service 142, turning left into Foster Street, despite us shouting "No!". Luckily, the bus hasn't gone too far down Foster Street, so the driver reverses into the new entrance of the Interchange, which means that we are on the first bus to go into the new Interchange backwards. Despite the wrong turning, the driver makes no more mistakes even in the tricky part of the route around Gornal Wood. We arrive in Dudley and as soon as we arrive, we leave on the X96, the first one that will arrive in the new Interchange from Dudley. Mr UKBuses has some snooker to watch, so he catches the first 276C from the Interchange, driven by Geoff, see picture right.

Phil pops back home, and I hang around the new Interchange before Phil returns so that Interchange manager Steve can make his radio appearance on The Bridge Radio. I pop round with them, which means I can get the recording of my Bridge Brunch appearance from yesterday. After Steve's appearance, we walk back round to the Interchange and Steve has the same thought as me, that he could have said other things, but didn't think about them at the time. I have one last look around the new Interchange before Geoff arrive to drive me back home on Service 276A after an eventful day and the start of a new era for Stourbridge public transport.

I am totally loving the new Interchange it is the first part of Stourbridge's regeneration with Tesco redeveloping the old Bell Street Multi Storey Car Park and Crown Centre bringing more fresh changes to the town. A big thank you also goes to Steve at the interchange for all the help he has given us this weekend and also Phil Tonks and Al Jackson for giving me the opportunity to appear on radio.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

2012 - Day Out 07: London

Date: Saturday 07 April 2012

It is Easter, so to start off my four day break, we decide to make an Easter visit to London in what looks like on paper to be a "cracking" Easter trip.

The gigantic O2 Arena
It is an early start and I make my way to Wollaston where I catch the first National Express West Midlands Service 276 of the day at 06.36am. The bus pulls up early so the driver kindly lets me on to warm up, as I am waiting he comes up to me to ask "Is the new bus station open yet, as it is on my paperwork". I could have said "Yes", so that I would be on the first bus to go into the interchange, but I think the security fences across the entrance would have given my game away. As I pass the Stourbridge Crematorium, I send Mr UKBuses his usual text which is to get out of bed and get your arse up to the stop. The text worked as he is waiting when the bus arrives. After he boards, we make our way to Stourbridge Junction, passing the new interchange that I tried to get us in, as we arrive close to the junction, Mr UKBuses asks the driver to drop us off up the road which is a bit closer to the station, he'll do anything to save a bit of shoe leather. We have twenty minutes to wait, so we have a warm in the waiting room before our 07.22am Chiltern Train arrives and this time we don't stay on the train as we have to change at Birmingham Moor Street to change to Birmingham New Street and catch a Virgin Train. We arrive at Birmingham Moor Street at 07.54am and we take a short walk through "The Tunnel" where some tramp asks me for a cigarette, which I duly give him, but as I carry on a few hundred yards up the road, he yells for a light, lets just say he had to wait a bit longer. We arrive at Birmingham New Street, where we get some refreshments ready for the journey ahead and then we decide to have a Bacon Roll from Burger King (in honour of Phil Tonks - The Bacon King). After the rolls are consumed, I have time for a bit of "fresh air" before catching our Virgin Train.

We board our train and before we board we have a long walk to Coach A which is at the back of the train, we have the same problem when we alight at London Euston. The train leaves Birmingham New Street and on the journey we stop at Birmingham International, Coventry and Milton Keynes. I pass the time by messaging Phil Tonks via Facebook asking questions about the Stourbridge Interchange opening, later messages turn to Breakfasts (Bacon!), Health and Safety and Extreme and Unusual Health and Safety regarding Mr UKBuses wallet. Whilst this conversation is in place, Mr UKBuses is having a nap and as we pass Milton Keynes, the snoring gets louder to the amusement of other passengers in Coach A. Just before 09.55am, we pull into London Euston and after a long walk to the concourse, it is time for a break outside, which Mr UKBuses has fitted into the plan enabling a "fresh air break" before we start our day around London.

Cheers! From The Gate Clock
We make our first scan of the Oyster today (and also our cash on the card is topped up on our first scan), this time at London Euston underground station. After we pass the barriers, we get onto the Victoria Line and go a couple of stations, Green Park, where we alight and change onto the Jubilee Line so that we can get to our first planned destination, which Mr UKBuses has kindly put in the plan for me. After being on the Jubilee Line for about fifteen minutes, we alight at North Greenwich and as we leave the station, we can clearly see our first destination, The O2 Arena, a place I will be visiting on Monday 16 April when I go to see the WWE Raw Supershow, which is being taped to be shown on TV in the UK and United States (Plus more countries around the world) so I may be on the TV again following my first appearance last November. After looking where I need to go when I return to London in just over a week, we have a walk around to the bus station, where Mr UKBuses is in snap happy mode and has started his picture count for the day. From here we catch Abellio London's 188 service to take us to The Cutty Sark Dockland Light Railway Station, but as we pass through the streets and see Deptford Fire Station, we realise that we have gone past our stop, so we alight and cross over, where almost instantly another service 188 turns up to take us a short journey back in the right direction and we alight at the right stop. As we alight there is a J D Wetherspoons right in front of us, so Mr UKBuses leads the way into "The Gate Clock" and as I order the drinks, Mr UKBuses makes a mad dash to use the facilities, which he makes good use of with the amount of time he was gone. We have a few minutes break and make our way to the DLR Station which is located at the back of the pub.

We make our way into the station and we make our way down (!?) to the platform where we board and take the short journey to Canary Wharf, along the way we pass The Britannia Hotel bring memories flooding back from my stays there with work a few years ago. As we arrive at Canary Wharf DLR Station we take the short walk to the underground station, where we go on the Jubilee Line once more before changing onto the Victoria Line at Green Park to get to Victoria. We alight and make our way to the ground and into the bus station where works are causing hold ups, but we cannot see any Borismasters being held up, so we head to our second J D Wetherspoons of the day, "The Willow Walk" and also the place we have lunch. I order the drinks and Mr UKBuses gets a table, the same table as we had on our last visit. After perusing the menu we have the normal, BBQ Chicken Melt "without the melt" for Mr UKBuses and Beer and Burger for myself. The meals take a while to arrive, and we delve into the food once they do arrive. We are a little bit let down on this visit with the food, I found my chicken burger to be a bit dry, whilst Mr UKBuses seemed to have had the "melt" and then taken off again before being brought to the table, which Mr UKBuses found out as he saw bits of it on his chicken. We finish our drinks and head back to Victoria hoping to catch the new Borismaster, with two now being in service, our chances seem greater. We arrive at Victoria bus station and no Borismaster is in sight, whilst Mr UKBuses is taking a few photographs, I go to the traffic enquiry office and ask when one is due. There isn't. On Saturdays and Sundays, the Borismaster's are used for driver training duties, so we won't be catching one for a bit. We get on a standard Arriva London service 38.

A misty Cheers! From The Blind Beggar
We are on service 38 for approximately an hour, so Mr UKBuses has his afternoon nap and I also join in, but we do wake up in time for our stop. As we near our destination of Dalston Junction, Mr D9 seems to have lent me his bladder and luckily after alighting, we spot an "on-the-street" toilet and I put my ten pence in and nothing happens, I put another one in and still the door does not open. I want to "spend a penny", have spent a total of "twenty penny's", and now I am still desperate. We have a walk around to see if we can find another "convenience" and after a few minutes we find the local library. Whilst I enquire about the toilets at the enquiries desk, Mr UKBuses sneaks into the toilet and when I get there I have to wait longer. After our visit to the library, we make our way to Dalstan Junction station for a new experience, The Overground. We are only on the train for a few stops, but it was weird, especially as you can see from the one end of the train all the way to the other end. We soon arrive at Whitechapel, using a different entrance to the station lobby, and we then walk the few steps to our London regular, "The Blind Beggar". We walk in and it is Mr UKBuses round, but he must have had a prior word with the Landlord seeing as we order the drinks at the same time, but he asks us both to pay for our drinks separately. Mr UKBuses does give me the money to pay for my drink in the end. We take our seats and the Malaysian Grand Prix highlights are being shown on TV, and the landlord has a chat with us, making our visit today more special and friendly. After we finish our drinks, we say our goodbyes and make our way back to Whitechapel station, this time going on the underground and after scanning in, we catch a District Line train which takes us on the short journey to Tower Hill.

He cannot get away from National Express
We make our way from the underground and we appear opposite the Tower of London, where we have a short wait for our Heritage Service 15, or that's what we thought. As we are waiting at the bus stop, we see the Routemaster coming, but at great speed . . . straight past us. We have to wait for a normal Stagecoach London operated Service 15, and it seemed that there may have been problems as it is a long wait. During the wait, I notice that Mr UKBuses has not escaped the clutches of National Express, he may have not seen a coach, but he missed the bus stop! The bus does arrive, and we board, but not without being pushed from the back and side as everyone else wants to get a seat too, luckily Mr UKBuses and myself get a back seat and we get comfortable for the journey ahead. This journey is the first ride on a London bus that I did not enjoy, and the driver must have the patience of a saint as all along the journey, people were standing on the top deck and on the stairs despite being told not to again and again, but the worst part of the journey was when someone continually kept on pressing the button. A bit further along the trip, we decide to get off the bus early and have a little walk to Charing Cross, as I walk along the road I can still hear ringing in my ears. Due to the late running of Service 15, we decide to get onto the Northern Line at Charing Cross and go straight to London Euston, instead of the original plan of  walking to Westminster and getting the Jubilee and Victoria Line trains.

We arrive back at London Euston and we visit Marks and Spencer's to get a sandwich for the journey back. After our purchases, we make our way to the concourse and wait for our train to come up with a platform, as we are waiting Mr UKBuses enquires what sandwich I have purchased, I notice that I have picked up the wrong sandwich, so I go back to Marks and Spencer's to exchange it whilst Mr UKBuses waits on the concourse. When I get back to Marks and Spencer's they inform me that they cannot exchange my sandwich as I have taken it off the premises, so angrily, I leave the shop and make my way back to the station concourse where Mr UKBuses is waiting for me and we board our 5.03pm Virgin train back to Birmingham. Before the train sets off, we both make a visit to the toilet before getting comfortable. Mr UKBuses starts to eat his sandwich, but I get the last laugh as I visit the shop for a replacement sandwich and come back with a hot bacon roll (Mr Tonks will be so proud), and after that is consumed we enjoy the ride stopping at Rugby, Coventry and Birmingham International before arriving back at Birmingham New Street. We take the short walk back to Birmingham Moor Street, with no one asking me for a cigarette this time, where we catch the train on a short journey to Birmingham Snow Hill where we change and catch the London Midland service to Stourbridge Junction. Upon arrival at Stourbridge Junction we change platforms to get "The Stourbridge Dodger", with Mr Tonks not seen (he must have been in the break room having a pot noodle). We make the three minute journey to Stourbridge Town and the driver of Black Diamond's Service 276A, kindly lets us on early, saving us a walk to take us back home, I go back home via the Lucky House Chinese takeaway for my now usual post-trip supper.

Despite the late problems with Stagecoach London Service 15, it was a good day out, which was all down to Mr UKBuses and his excellent plan once more, without his plans, the trips could not happen, Thanks Mr UKBuses.