We still had nothing for breakfast when we woke up in Newcastle the next morning. At 7-ish, we went out once more looking hopefully for a Tesco that was open, and this time we found it. By the time we’d bought stuff and got back to the youth hostel and were ready to leave, it was just past 8. We had a bus to catch at 8.30, and the bus stand was a good 25 minute walk away. We rushed… And made it, but only just.
We arrived in York at 11.30 on a lovely Monday morning. We had missed the Tour de France by just a day, but York was still festive. There were hordes of tourists out with cameras slung around their necks and the sun was obligingly doing its bit to add to the festivities. We walked and wandered and roamed and lingered and took photos and even had ourselves a cup of afternoon tea and coffee. Rajashree was thrilled because we found Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and a sweet shop that was just magical on its own merit. I tried liquorice and decided the kids wouldn’t like it, but I also went into every chocolate shop I saw and ended up buying two dark chocolate frogs for the kids.
There was this little toy train thingy that took people around York. I wasn’t in the least bit tempted to get in it, but it was worth a quick photo.
Then the driver called out to me, “Do it again. I wasn’t smiling.” What can you do when people and friendly and cheeky and sweet like that? I took another one.
As an aside, I was on a bus and munching on an apple. When I was done, I glanced about for a trash can – most of the long distance coaches have one. I didn’t see one, so I went to check with the driver. You know what he said, as I walked up to him brandishing the thoroughly eaten apple core? “No thanks. I just had lunch.” (Or words to that effect.) People were cheeky like that all over the place. It was nice.
Around 4.30 p.m., we decided it was time to find our way to Helmsley, where we were booked in the youth hostel for two nights. By 5 p.m. we had found our way back to the bus stand… Only to discover that we had missed the last bus to Helmsley by a few minutes!
What to do? We frantically rushed in to the railway station behind the bus stand to find other routes to Helmsley. To no avail. The bus information counter closed at 5. There were timetables available, but when we finally found the ones we wanted and deciphered them, they only said we were out of luck. The last bus to Helmsley from anywhere had either already gone, or would have gone by the time we reached its junction on some connecting bus that was yet to arrive.
What to do?
“Let’s call the Youth Hostel,” I suggested. “They should be able to tell us how to get to Helmsley from York at 5.30 on a Sunday afternoon.”
Of course I didn’t have the youth hostel number on the sheaf of printouts that I’d brought along. If Amit had been with me, he would have certainly had it. If he had been with me and I hadn’t had it, I would have certainly got an earful. But me? I was blase. Phone numbers can be easily found on the internet.
Or can they?
Both our phones were being quite erratic. At that moment, my phone was working to make and receive calls, but Internet was not working. Thankfully, Internet was working on Rajashree’s phone (but, oddly enough, she couldn’t make calls). She found the YHA number online and I called them, rapidly eroding the meager balance on my pay-as-you-go prepaid card. The Youth Hostel guy said, take the train to Scarborough then take a bus in Pickering direction, then get off at Helmsley. Unfortunately, though, this was not exactly the Youth Hostel at Helmsley that I was speaking to, it was a Youth Hostel helpline, I gathered. They were only getting information off the net – from google maps, quite likely. So they had generic information, like distances and journey times, but they didn’t have the sort of information that a local would know. Like, for example, what time there would be a train to Scarborough from York, and what time the last bus from Scarborough towards Pickering would leave, and whether or not the former would get us to Scarborough in time to get on board the latter. Today.
Before I could finish this intriguing conversation, a bus arrived. Rajashree went to question the driver, while I listened with one ear on the phone and the other on the bus driver. He said that the bus would go to Pickering. Hearing a familiar name (the guy on the phone was saying Pickering only seconds earlier) I was all for getting on the bus and going as far as it would take us. The chap on the phone had said that getting to Scarborough would take 49 minutes and the bus to Pickering would take an hour and a half. If we had a bus that would get us directly to Pickering, it sounded like a good idea. However, the driver of the bus was kind enough to make a call (these buses have a phone on board), at the end of which he told us that by the time we reached Pickering, we would have missed (by about five minutes) the last bus from Pickering towards Helmsley. So basically, by about 7 p.m. we would be stranded at Pickering, a mere 10 miles from Helmsley. Too far to walk.
Taxi? I asked, tentatively. The driver shook his head and said it would be very expensive, but he couldn’t venture a guess as to how expensive it might turn out to be.
Rajashree was all set to spend the night in York. I pointed out that we had no bookings and that we might have to sleep in the railway station. We both hesitated, unsure whether to jump on to the bus that had waited so patiently through all this, or to step back and take our chances in York.
I had just decided that we should go and asked the driver for tickets and was still reeling from shock at the prospect of shelling out £8.80 just to get to an unknown destination with no real prospect of getting to our reserved hostel tonight, when things took a really unexpected turn (as they often do, I find).
A young woman stepped up and said, “Look, if you don’t mind, I can drop you to Helmsley. It’s a lot closer from here. Going to Pickering is really out of the way.”
Well, we were just completely amazed. Of course we accepted, and with alacrity. What was even more amazing was that this woman lived nearby, and she told the driver to give us tickets to her stop, which turned out to be only £2 each!
Of course it was incredibly sweet of anyone to go out of their way to help us, but I thought perhaps she was going that way anyway and it wouldn’t be too far for her, maybe a ten minute drive or something. Helmsley is only 27 miles from York, so it’s not exactly far, and we were going to go part way on this bus. But the truth was quite extraordinary.
Rachel, a very pretty young woman, was an actress just back from a five week stint in the US. She lived with her boyfriend in Birmingham (or somewhere) and was coming home to meet her parents after a gap of several months, I gathered. When she reached home, with us in tow, her parents came out to meet us, and it emerged that there was a big dinner planned, which now, of course, Rachel would miss entirely. “Keep some nice food for me,” she said cheerfully to her mother as she opened her car.
It was no ten minute drive either. It took a full 45 minutes one way and it was almost exactly 7 when we reached. Helmsley was way out in the countryside, along a long, deserted, curvy, up and down country road. The route had signposts all along, but I kept the navigation on as well (which was actually working!), so that when we reached Helmsley we would have no trouble finding the place. Navigation worked well and was certainly helpful at one place where there were no signposts, but Helmsley itself offered little opportunity to get lost. It was basically one main road, one square, one church and a few very pretty little houses.
What can you do when someone is so nice to you and goes so far out of their way to help? In what way can you thank them or repay the kindness? Rajashree wondered if we should offer to pay, but I felt that would not be right. Such spontaneous acts of kindness cannot be measured in mere money. Rachel herself explained that it was no trouble at all and that she understood what it was like to be in a spot of bother while traveling. She told us how she had suddenly been stranded when her friend lost her mobile phone and wallet at a bar in New York City, and how a stranger found it and kept it and returned it to them. I understood… She was paying it forward. The best way to thank the world for such random acts of kindness is for us to pay it forward too, whenever we can.
We chatted all along the way to Helmsley and Rajashree spared no effort in building up my celebrity status as an author. So it didn’t seem too presumptuous to offer one of my books to Rachel at the end and she was happy to accept the one on adoption. It wasn’t enough of a thank you for helping us out of a tight spot, but it was better than nothing.
All through the drama, Rajashree and I kept thinking of what our respective husbands would have to say when we eventually told them all of this. Of course, it was entirely our fault for not having checked the bus schedule when we reached York in the morning. It was also stupid of me to not have the numbers on hand – though at least we easily found that out online. But all that drama could have been avoided by just checking the bus schedule as soon as we got in. You’d think I would know better.
On the other hand though, if Ihad done that, it would have made for a very bland and boring travel experience, don’t you think? And I would never have met such a lovely person or come away with such a strong reinforcement of my generally rose-coloured-spectacles view of the world.