Readers may not know that there is a guaranteed way of getting to the centre of any maze. If you turn consistently left or consistently right at every junction, you will eventually get to the middle, though perhaps later than those who adopt an intuitive rather than scientific approach to the challenge. And, if you reverse the process, you will eventually find your way out. The relevance of this information will become clear shortly.
We had gone to Andover Station with the hope of going to Heathrow by train to Woking and then by Rail Air Link. (The Rail Air link is neither on a rail nor in the air, but in a coach.) When we arrived at the station, there was bad news. Three buses were waiting outside the ticket office; that number of buses at a station does not mean there are lots of rail passengers waiting to get on to a bus. It means there are no trains.
Engineering works at Basingstoke had taken their toll of the week-end timetable and our journey to Heathrow Terminal 1, conceived on the twin premises of environmental concern and a fully integrated public transport system, was threatened. We thought of driving all the way, remembered the cost of parking at Heathrow and climbed on board the bus.
There are many ways of getting from Andover Station to the A303. You can go up the Avenue and turn left or right into Weyhill Road. You can go down to Charlton Road and turn left or right.
It soon became clear that the bus driver was a follower of the Maze School when it comes to navigational theory.
The driver went down to the Charlton Road and to the Folly Roundabout. At the roundabout, he turned left to Cricklade College and took us all the way up the one-way system to St Mary’s Church; then down the hill; then left to the bus station; then on to the dual carriageway; and then left towards the Waitrose Carpark and down a cul de sac.
Charitably, I thought he must have been a train driver put into a bus, and therefore not used to having to plan his route. But no, he was a bus driver. As we reversed by Naturally Yours, I moved up to the front of the bus and asked if he would like some help. Turning left at every turning might eventually lead to the eastbound A303, but not before he ran out of petrol.
This initiative had the tacit support of my fellow travellers, whose curiosity had turned to alarm.
If this was the trouble he had getting out of Andover on to the A303, how would he cope with the roundabouts in Basingstoke and find the station? I got him pointing east on the A303 and returned to the Times crossword. He got to Basingstoke station without any further help, but by then we were behind schedule. We filled up with passengers from Basingstoke, without telling them that the driver was easily disoriented. We waited and waited. But the bus driver was enjoying a cigarette and we had to wait until the nicotine was firmly in the bloodstream before we could resume.
Yes, we caught our plane; but no, this was not public transport’s finest hour.