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Published: December 5th 2015
Now, you wouldn't normally think a bus journey would warrant a mention of its own; normally, neither would I, but ....
The bus service between Melbourne and Adelaide is operated by Firefly. We booked our tickets through Greyhound and couldn't quite figure out why they didn't do the route themselves as they seemed to go everywhere else in Australia but they reassured us that the Firefly buses were just as good if not, perhaps, slightly better as it would be possible for us to watch films on the Firefly bus. Jolly good.
As we arrived to board the bus the driver, Emil, had us form an orderly queue and produce the relevant paperwork (the Greyhound drivers were much more relaxed and welcoming). One by one we were permitted to approach him for his scrutiny and our luggage was inspected before loading; one person's guitar proved to be a problem and she was sent to the back of the queue. A mother and small baby were seated near us; we groaned inwardly anticipating a night interspersed with baby screams. Eventually the almost full bus left the station and Emil stressed that we must all sit in our allocated seats as he had more pick-ups to do and time was passing. He said he would run through operational details once he was fully loaded. OK, so far, so normal.
We made several stops in the outskirts of Melbourne where more of the ethnic minorities seemed to live. We could see Emil having an animated discussion with one potential passenger about the size or weight of a box she was hoping to transport. Eventually, a set of scales was produced (yes, really), a small crowd formed, some money changed hands and the box was loaded. Emil was becoming even grumpier. He almost had a meltdown when one passenger could not sit in her seat because someone else was using it and Emil had to resolve the issue. Eventually, with a fully loaded bus, we were almost ready to commence the long haul.
We had been disappointed to discover that the bus did not have wifi, as the Greyhound buses did. Oh well, at least I could read and Steve could watch a film, though we could see no evidence of a screen for him to do this on, or ear-phones or even a socket for an ear-phone. One thing the bus did have in abundance though, was RULES. This was apparently a new bus (so why no wifi?) and Emil ran through all the RULES he intended to implement to keep it sparkling. No hot food or drink, no drinks in cans, don't drop anything on the carpets, take care with the fixtures, don't move around unnecessarily, don't breathe unless you have to (slight exaggeration on the last one .....). Oh my. We couldn't actually hear all the RULES because the four women (including the one with the baby) in the row directly in front of us spoke constantly and loudly throughout in a language that involved high-pitched whistle-type noises, or were they just to get the attention of the almost deaf member of their group sitting the farthest away? Anyway, their lack of attention irritated Emil even more and, I have to say, was beginning to grate just a little on my nerves too. Emil threw the bus into gear, set off at break-neck speed to make up the time he had lost sorting out seats and luggage and inserted the film into the DVD player to drown us all out.
The film turned out to be not something we would normally watch. Unfortunately, there was no choice in the matter because it was shown on a screen at the front of the bus and the sound was at a volume the passengers at the back could hear. Sadly, it was still not loud enough for those of us closer to the front to drown out the inane chatter of the women in front of us, who now began to fidget as well. I anticipated Emil having a nervous breakdown before the end of the trip.
We stopped at 11.30 pm for a pitstop. Emil told us that another of the RULES was that if you weren't back on the bus when he was ready to set off he would just leave you there. He planned to stop again at 3.30 am but would not wake any sleeping passengers for that stop, which was fair enough. I made sure to keep Emil in my sights throughout the pitstop so as not to be left behind but secretly hoped that the four ladies in front of us would lose track of the time. No such luck. The fully loaded bus set off again about midnight, the lights were dimmed, seats were reclined and people began to nod off. Not the four ladies in front of us though. They were obviously operating in a different time zone as it seemed all their friends and family were awake and ready for a chat and their mobile phones began to ring (had they never heard of silent mode?), loud conversations took place and were, of course, repeated to the other members of the group. The baby, who was being breast fed, contributed slurping noises and grizzly gurgles, and was passed around to members of the group for back-patting and burping. I had initially mentioned to Steve that the group was loud and animated; by this stage I was irritably asking him if they would ever go quiet (as if it was his fault) and my futile attempts to show my displeasure (a plaintive 'ssshhhhh' in their general direction) went unheeded. By the time of the 3.30 am pitstop in Tentonara, having been through Ballarat and Arrarat, I was seriously considering eating cigarettes in order to calm my nerves.
During the nicotine break I met a lady from Hull, though she had left there aged five and looked about fifty now so there wasn't much we could talk about there, and a young woman who regularly did the trip on the night bus and had come across the group in front of us before. She had spent one night seated in front of them with her hair entwined in the fingers of the woman behind, which rendered her completely immobile for the rest of the trip and almost bald by the end of it. As we were preparing to set off again, I noticed the group was still in the toilet area doing a baby change. Everyone else, including Emil, was back on the bus. Go, I silently pleaded to Emil, implement one of your wonderful RULES and leave them behind, go now! But he waited, refused to let one back on with a cup of coffee (she should have listened to the RULES) and she made the rest of us on the bus wait until she finished it. Aaaarggghhh.
The rest of the journey continued in the same vein. At one stage I put my cagoule on back to front, not that it was raining on the bus or I was cold or anything, but so that I could put the hood over my face to block them out. I took the hood off at one point, just so that I could breathe, to discover that one of the ladies had taken it upon herself to close my half of the window curtain. My half! I whisked it open with a flourish, paying no heed to Emil's RULES, and prepared myself for Curtain-Gate. The lady glanced behind, took one look at my resolute face and decided against any further action, which was quite wise.
By the time we arrived in Adelaide 10 hours and a time difference later, I had progressed from 'ssshhhh' to 'please be quiet' to 'do they ever stop talking?' to 'SHUT THE F**K UP!' and I was glad to escape them. Never again Direfly ...
(Our two days in Adelaide on this occasion was reduced to one so I'll roll Adelaide experiences together with our next visit.)
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