Vintage cars, fire alarms and streets of gold – first published 13 September 2014

In mid September 2014 we were due to fly to Cologne. Commando was running   another marathon and I was looking forward to exploring a city I hadn’t visited since I was twenty. With just a week to go I hadn’t even begun to pack and time was running out.  In an epic piece of bad planning, our trip came after a shorter weekend than normal because of a change to my shift. Of course this meant a rather fraught but interesting week. 

13 September 2014

One of the things I really had to fit in this weekend was packing. Before that though Commando and I needed to go into town because we also needed to get a few odds and ends for the trip. One of the things I wanted to get was a map of Cologne. It’s been thirty odd years since I was last there after all. While Commando is running his marathon I will be walking round the city and the last thing I want is to get lost. Commando went off to the sports shop and I dashed into Waterstones to search for a map. The only one I could find came with a guide book but that was no hardship so I bought it. Great minds think alike and, when Commando and I met up in the Above Bar precinct, he’d bought the exact same map and guidebook in another branch of Waterstones on the High Street! Oh well better two than none I guess. Before we went home to the packing we took a short walk through the Parks.

Because of the shift swap it was back to work for me on Tuesday morning. A chilly walk was brightened by some cheery flowers in a garden on the way. When I turned onto the little path beside the fancy moorings the morning got even brighter when I was greeted by seven cygnets crowded on the edge of the walkway. Their parents were nowhere to be seen though and I had a momentary worry that something had happened to them and these were more orphans like the three at Mansbridge.

When I got to the office I discovered I was working on reception for the day. So there was all the normal madness of the phone calls and emails plus a ton of interviewees and random staff coming and going not to mention the post, the intercom and other assorted queries I didn’t know how to answer. Madness. By the time the day ended I was exhausted and hadn’t had time to even stop to eat. There had, however, been a great deal of running around, or so it seemed. The sun was setting as I crossed the Main Road and made my way home. Soon I’ll be coming home in the dark and probably going to work in the dark too.

My Wednesday walk to work set my mind at rest about the seven cygnets at least. When I came around the corner by the fancy moorings one adult swan was sitting in a ring of ripples preening, with the morning sun sparkling on the water beside him. Further on, by the moorings, mother swan and six cygnets began to swim towards me. When cygnet number seven popped up from behind a boat I breathed a sigh of relief. All present and correct.

Yet again it was a busy day. The same old questions about student passes, ticket prices and school journeys popped up with monotonous regularity. The call of the day was about lost property though. The caller, a woman, had a thick foreign accent and my heart leapt into my mouth when she said.
“I left baby on bus.”
“A baby?” I asked, wondering if I should be calling the police or maybe social services.
“Baby Sofia,” I thought she said.
“Baby Sofia?”
“No Sofia, sofa, baby sofa. Is black.”
“A sofa?” This was getting stranger and stranger. How would someone even get a sofa on a bus? Still at least it wasn’t a baby, or at least I didn’t think so. “A sofa? The kind you sit on? How big was this sofa?”
“Is little, baby sofa. Is black.”

I rang control to ask if anyone had left a sofa on the number 76.
“A sofa?” The controller said, “how would you get a sofa on a bus and, if you did, how would you forget it?”
“Apparently it’s a baby sofa. I thought it was a baby at first,” I said.
“It wouldn’t be the first baby that’s been left on a bus,” he said. “Happens all the time. We haven’t had any sofas or babies handed in though you’ll have to give them the lost property number to call tomorrow in case it turns up.”
Is there anything people don’t leave on buses I wonder?

Friday was a bit of an odd day from the outset. Things took a turn for the bizarre when I saw a rather lovely old Morris Minor as I walked through the industrial estate. Someone had obviously spent a lot of time and money restoring it but the really strange thing about it were the L plates front and back. My own experience of learning to drive in a fancy modern car with the luxury of power steering and brand new clutch and then trying to drive poor old Mattie Matiz has taught me that old cars are not easy to drive. Still, I suppose if the learner can drive the Morris Minor they will probably be able to drive anything. Personally, I’d be afraid to damage it.

Things got even more strange later that morning. We normally have a fire alarm test on a Friday morning at a set time. We’re all expecting it even if it can be a bit noisy when you’re on the phone. About a quarter of an hour before the normal test and without the announcement that usually precedes it, the fire alarm started to go off. For a moment we all looked at each other in a slightly puzzled way. Had someone forgotten to make the announcement?

When the alarm didn’t stop we realised this was the real thing so everyone abandoned their desks and those who were on calls apologised and cut off. We grabbed our high vis jackets and everyone trotted down the stairs and out of the building. There was a head count to make sure everyone was present and correct, but the alarm just kept on ringing.

After a while it became pretty obvious there was no real fire and some of the managers went inside to try to turn the alarm off. There was quite a kerfuffle going on because they couldn’t stop it. Apparently, an elderly man who had been visiting the building earlier had mistaken the fire alarm button for the building exit switch. In an effort to open the door he’d pushed it so hard he’d actually broken the alarm button which was why no one could turn it off. He’d been seen sheepishly walking out of the gate just as we all came pouring out of the building.

Eventually they did manage to stop the wailing alarm and we went back to the normal routine of calls and emails. As impromptu fire drills go it went without a hitch. It goes to show we can all evacuate the building quite quickly when we have to and we all know what to do and where to go. I’m not sure about the repair bill though.

For the next few weeks I am doing the early shift on Saturdays. This is mainly to help Jess out. Dave normally starts at seven along with his girlfriend Sabrina but Dave left last week and Sabrina couldn’t get in until half past seven with no lift. This left a gap to be filled until the new person starts and is trained. It’s a gap I am filling.

All this meant a five o’clock start for me this morning. It is not my favourite time of day. Getting out of bed in the dark was tough. I ate my breakfast looking out of the gym doors at the slowly lightening sky with bleary eyes. When I left the house it was twilight. The world was quiet with hardly a light in a window or a car on the road. Suddenly, being up so early didn’t seem as bad.

Walking towards Monks Walk I could see a pink tinge to the edges of the clouds. A quick detour took me to the gate overlooking the college playing fields and the sky between the trees was worth the extra steps. Pink and purple clouds over a misty morning field is well worth getting out of bed early for. It made me wonder why I don’t do it more often. Then again, I do like my sleep. After I’d taken my picture I hurried along, hoping there would still be pink clouds by the time I got to the river. Sadly, there weren’t but the hazy blue morning river could hardly be called a disappointment.

Being alone in the office for the first half hour was eerie. There was literally no one else in the building and even the phones were quiet at first. Of course quiet phones were never going to continue long and, by the time Sabrina arrived, the calls were coming thick and fast. As usual recently, they were mostly queries and complaints about school buses or scholar passes. Panicked parents are not the easiest people in the world to deal with especially when they know deep down it’s their own fault for leaving everything so late.

There were two notable cases for me. The first a lady who wanted to know about a diversion and the nearest stop she could catch a bus. She started off by talking about her friend visiting from a village outside Plymouth and neglected to mention she wasn’t actually in Devon herself. Consequently I spent a confusing few minutes talking to one of the Plymouth controllers about a diversion that was actually in Bristol. Luckily the controller saw the funny side and the lady was most apologetic for leading me astray. She’d assumed I was in Bristol and would know she was too. Unfortunately I forgot to turn my telepathic powers on before I took the call. The controller in Bristol thought the whole thing was hilarious.

The second case wasn’t really funny at all. This was actually an email from a very disgruntled man. He was objecting to a bus stop outside his house in the strongest terms. The fact that the bus stop was there long before he bought his house was irrelevant in his opinion. When he moved in there was only ever one bus every two hours, now there is a fifteen minute service. Most people would actually see this as a plus point but not Mr Condescending. He wanted it stopped right away because it disturbed his peace and the people waiting for buses weren’t to his liking either. They were too common, too loud and they were devaluing his property for which he wanted compensation. The fact that the transport commission and the local council have approved all route changes seems to have escaped him. Grrr.

At least the early start meant an early finish too and I was out of the office at five with the weekend ahead of me. There wasn’t too much time to rest though because, after a coffee and a little sit down, I had to March up the Big Hill for a few essentials like dinner. Being rather tired I decided on one of those curry in a box things from Sainsbury’s. As these things go they’re rather good and, best of all, just have to be bunged in the oven for half an hour more or less. Calorie wise they’re not bad either as a two person meal feeds all three of us.

The day started with a dawn sky and ended with a dusk one. As I walked out of the supermarket and into the village precinct the shadows were long and golden. The sun was low in the sky, the reds were disappearing from my surroundings and slowly appearing in the sky above. The high clouds, still untouched by gold looked as if they’d been painted. By the time I’d made it almost to the bottom of the Little Hill the light was fading fast and it felt as if I’d come full circle on the day.

So now I have a guide book and map to look at. Hopefully I will be able to plan a good route to walk while Commando is running. Tomorrow I’ll be off to London en route for Cologne. Whether there will be wifi anywhere along the way remains to be seen. I will, of course, have my trusty phone and iPad with me and will be taking lots of pictures and making notes so I can tell you all about it when I get back. Keep your fingers crossed for Commando on his marathon and for me not to get lost. See you when I get back.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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