I do not believe it!
I’m sat here, covered in flour after being batted back and to like a ball in a five hour round of tennis. Round of tennis? Match? Set? Game? Bah! Anyway, I digress.
For years, possibly centuries it seems that long, the local councils around here – and transport corporations (as they were known before they all became private bus companies) – have been building secret subterranean tunnels. Tunnels to speed up travel between towns and cities. Not like the existing underground railway systems that are dotted about, but something rather clever, if it would work.
After all these millennia of planning, the work was completed, in secret, last week, and today was the day that a select group of specially selected guests were asked to take part in the trial maiden voyage.
And yours truly was one of those lucky winners.
I had my instructions to meet at a railway station in Liverpool at 8:50am this morning. Not a minute earlier, not a minute later.
Have you ever tried to get somewhere at exactly the time you have to be there? Not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination – especially as you aren’t allowed to be early. However, I managed it with aplomb.
As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by two men in black with dark hats and sunglasses. A tall one, and a short one.
“Come with us, Tom.” Short said. Long gestured for me to follow Short. I was led out of the train station and into an awaiting stretched limo. Four other groups also arrived at the same time – each consisting of a normal person and two men in black.
An elderly lady with a full shopping bag smiled at me. She was escorted by Round and Bulky. A smartly-dressed young man with a fringe that would give anyone’s a run for their money was flanked by Spotty and Muscles. A sinister looking older gent wearing a long trench coat and sporting a fine dark moustache just above his lip was led to the limo by Lanky and Smiler, and a librarian-headmistress-type woman with pointed spectacles and hair tied up into a tight bun was with Thor and Boyband Member.
A woman in black then graced out of the limo as she couldn’t step as her pencil skirt was too tight. She looked like the boss, as she had a clipboard.
“Allo” Pencilskirt said, in a French accent. (I’ll not continue with the French accent from now on!) “Welcome to Consortium Travel, the new, economic, and fastest, cleanest and safest way to travel… ever!” She was very proud. “You have been specially selected to be our first passengers! Well done!”
At that, a trio of three more people, still dressed in black, and playing musical instruments that looked (and sounded) similar to kazoos appeared. They were playing some kind of version of Rule Britannia, and were promptly ushered away when they’d finished.
A quick flash of light revealed the presence of a photographer, and he too was escorted away by Thor and Spotty.
“I will be your travel guide.” Pencilskirt announced. “Quickly now, into the car. The pod leaves at oh nine twenty-one hours.” She slid back into the car, and was followed quickly by the elderly lady, headmistress, fringe, me and the sinister man.
We were then sped through the streets of Liverpool, somehow avoiding the jams of rush hour traffic, and arrived in the middle of a field at 09:05. We were at some kind of bus stop.
Pencilskirt ushered us all out of the limo, and asked that we stood in line at the bus stop, on the white concrete surface. Once we were all in position, the ground shook, and we were lowered to some kind of (pretty impressive looking) rail terminal. In front of us, our carriage was in.
Well, more of a white oval pod, without windows, but it was there.
“Please, enter!” Pencilskirt batted her clipboard in the direction of an oval shaped door in the side.
We all made our way in, and the interior was quite similar to a bus, with three rows of seats on one side – the side opposite the door. They all faced the same way, and they had those bars on them that buses have.
I sat next to the elderly lady on the front seat. She had nowhere to put her shopping bag, but there was plenty of room in front of her, so she placed it on the floor. Behind us sat headmistress and fringe, with Pencilskirt and the sinister man taking up the back seat.
“Sit and relax!” Pencilskirt announced. “One minute until the first official launch! We are now in Liverpool, and in twelve minutes we will be in Blaenau Ffestiniog, in Wales.”
We sat and waited. And true enough, when the minute was up we felt the pod vibrate. We gently shuddered forward. And then felt our stomachs fling to our backs as we were catapulted forwards at great speeds along this (hopefully tested!) underground tunnel.
About five minutes into the ‘journey’ we jolted backwards – suddenly, once again -and a bag of flour launched itself out of the old lady’s shopping bag and flew with some vigour into the front of the pod. It exploded on impact with an almighty ‘poompf!’, just as we jolted forwards for a second time.
“Me flour!” bellowed the old lady.
I couldn’t help but laugh as we were all covered in this white powdery dust. I looked behind, and fringe had what looked like a ledge full of the stuff on his forehead. He smirked when he told me that all he could see on my face was my eyes. Headmistress couldn’t see a thing as she had to wipe away the flour from her glasses, but she too was tittering. The sinister man at the back and Pencilskirt, although dusted, weren’t as badly affected as the rest of us. The sinister man didn’t flinch. Pencilskirt muttered something in French as she was scribbling away on her clipboard.
When the dust settled, we realised that we’d stopped moving.
Pencilskirt stood and walked to the front of the pod. She lifted a telephone receiver, and wiped and then blew away the flour.
“Allo!” She said, in French. “Can you confirm we are in Blaenau Ffestiniog?”, in English this time.
“Ah” we heard her say. The elderly lady glanced sideways toward me and whispered “Not looking good, is it?” I had to laugh again as this dear old lady looked a picture with flour dripping out of her white hair, with finger marks smeared across her cheeks as she’d tried, rather unsuccessfully, to clear the flour from her face. She looked at my cardigan and then back at my dots for eyes. “When you get home, you’ll have to give that a rinse through.” she said, being as helpful as she could.
“Here,” Headmistress said to both the old lady and me, “have a wet wipe.”
“Where?” we heard Pencilskirt shout. “Milford Haven!?! We’ve overshot by 130 miles!”
I checked the time. It was now 9.35am, and we’d travelled all the way to South Wales in literally almost the blink of an eye. We couldn’t see it, as we were in a windowless pod, and underground, but we did feel like we’d been travelling with some pelt.
“I must apologise,” Pencilskirt actually started to look comical now as well, as one side of her was white with flour, the other untouched. She was looking a little stressed. She went on: “We’ve had a bit of a technical hitch. We will return to Liverpool, and postpone this trial run until a later date. You all will be invited to attend again.”
We all just looked at each other, not one of us uttered a thing.
“Please, sit back, and enjoy the home journey back to Liverpool.”
And as the saying goes, ‘famous last words’. We spent the next five hours or so being flung the length and breadth of the country at breakneck speeds.
10:02 we’d overshot Liverpool and ended up in Aberdeen.
10:27 we’d overshot Liverpool again on the way back, and ended up in Exeter.
10:50 we were in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
11:15 – Salisbury. 11:35 – Glasgow. 12:10 Southampton. 12:30 Edinburgh. 12:55 London. 13:27 Dundee. 13:49 Ipswich. 14:15 Blaenau Ffestiniog (we all cheered when we arrived there – even the sinister man!) and at 14:47, dizzy and slightly dehydrated, we finally got back to Liverpool. Well, under the field somewhere outside of Liverpool, but that was near enough.
Due to all of the friction caused by all of the exertion (apparently these pods are designed for only four journeys a day) it had gotten rather hot. Fringe now looked more like a matted Cousin Itt, and we could all feel the flour starting to bake on us. The sinister man summed it up when he said “We’re lucky that the eggs, butter and sugar didn’t hurl themselves at the wall as well, or we could have all become like sultanas in a giant cake mix.”
We mustered a laugh, but were shattered.
Pencilskirt helped us all out of the pod, and up to the limo. She got in first, with none of the grace from earlier, and we all clambered in after her.
Very kindly, the firm drove us all home, after making arrangements for our own vehicles to be picked up and shipped home also.
And that brings us to now.
I still can’t get this flour off completely, but it’s going gradually. I’m getting over it now, but like I said at the beginning… I do not believe it! You couldn’t make it up.
I don’t think I’ll be going next time, though. I think I’d rather be stuck in traffic.
(From the archives)