paying money to enter a Hieronymus Bosch painting

Life One of my least favourite pastimes is grumbling about local transport in Liverpool. There’s never enough buses on the routes I need and the experience of riding on them is like paying money to enter a Hieronymus Bosch painting on wheels with the screams of hell replaced by the sounds of 50 Cent being pumped from a mobile phone speaker (though that’s much the same thing).

No such problems in Stratford. Because there are (basically) no buses. On the one hand I should be very pleased that the town isn't jammed up with Stagecoaches oddly competing with one another for business, but I was still cursing when I looked at the timetables and noticed that the irregular timings of some of the services, many of which visited just three times in an hour, and all in the last half of that hour and even then not at times when you'd actually want them, like after six o’clock in the evening.

The trains are equally improbable: on the Wednesday, visiting Mary Arden’s Farm, I took the train to Wilmcote, one stop out of Stratford, about a ten minute ride. In that ad-hoc way you when you're on holiday, I checked the timetable when I got there to see when the next train back would be. 5 o’clock. It was 10 o’clock.

Stepping out of the station wondering whether there would be enough to do that afternoon, a friendly lady with a very nice car (who for image purposes looked like Emmerdale’s Patsy Kensit) asked if I was alright. Registering my surprise about the train service, I asked her if there was a quicker way back, a bus perhaps. She looked stunned by the suggestion, and wondered if I’d considered walking. I looked at my poor feet and they seemed to look back at me, throbbing with rage.

I'm such a city dweller. And I'll try not to complain about Merseytravel again.

The only way to get around then, if you don't drive, is either taxi of the City Sightseer red bus tour which is how I got back to the town centre after finishing at the farm. These are usually very good indeed, especially if there’s a live commentary. The best I've heard was in Belfast, were, once the guide had pointed out were all of the secret British listening posts were, went on to say some not very nice things about some of the not very nice people who lived in the province especially in relation to a recent bank robbery and I genuinely became fearful not just for his life but our own. History tour and thrill ride rolled into one.

Not this day. Instead, we were given earphones and asked to plug into the pre-recorded service and far from being a ‘tour’ this amounted to random facts about Shakespeare’s life interspersed with incongruous burst of musak, of the kind which you’d find on those cassettes that were given away with new hi-fi’s to show off what they could do. Said facts, read with bored indifference by an actor were generally interesting, if sometimes rather oblique. Passing through countryside, wind blasting me in the face (open top), after a burst of synthesiser, the actor piped up: “To your right are the Cotsworlds.” Pictured. And that was, I think that.

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