My Ode To The Megabus
The Debrief: Travelling to Edinburgh on the Megabus sleeper this year? Here's what to expect.
Illustration by Joey Pasko
The romance of travel is not dead; it’s just lying under a walnut veneer on an overnight coach, using a croissant as a pillow and praying it doesn’t need to use the toilet.
If, like the thousands of others, you too will be making your way up to Edinburgh for the festival this summer then allow me to take you by the sleeve and guide you through the unfettered, maroon polyester, long-life chocolate muffin joy that is the MegaBus Gold. You heard me; gold. This is no average Megabus, my friends. This little beauty is a lie-down, bunks-only, overnight sleeper coach that goes from London Victoria to Edinburgh for the knock down price of - in my case - £78.50. You lie down in London at 10pm and wake up in Edinburgh in time for a dawn breakfast. And so, in the name of journalistic integrity, public service and freelance spendthriftery I decided to pack my fold-up limbs onto the double decker beast and report back.
Arriving at Victoria Coach Station at 9.30pm is always a pleasure, never a chore. The pigeons pecking at fag butts outside, the overwhelming smell of a hard day’s baking at the Upper Crust, the £1.20 brick-sized flapjacks and entire families sleeping on assorted laundry bag luggage. As soon as the doors to the forecourt open, we all rush towards the maroon behemoth of a coach before us. Call me a child of the 1990s, but I still find it amazing that all I need is to show an email, on my phone, to a man in a high vis waistcoat, to be allowed to board an eight hour bus. But, once I’ve shown the driver my e-ticket, I’m handed - wait for it - a bottle of water and a truly amazing chocolate muffin wrapped in plastic. I say amazing because I’m pretty sure I could hand that muffin down to my grandchildren and it would still be edible. I don’t eat it, of course. I’ve had far too many fillings to start pecking through a chocolate muffin before bedtime.
Megabus seem to have a policy of putting single women on the lower deck of the bus and men or couples (oh yes, there are double bunks) upstairs. We’ve got quite the girl gang going down here; there’s an American traveller in a tie-dye crepe dress who seems to have attached all her belongings to her waist with a climbing carabiner; there’s a woman with a hiking rucksack and heavy walking boots; there’s a young girl who’s brought her own sleeping bag and immediately gets into bed and starts playing on her phone (which is, incidentally, enclosed in a cat case). She must do this a lot, I think. I’m in the midst of a professional. Once we’ve all shuffled our small bags (all major luggage is stored in the hold, of course) and hidden our somewhat flavoursome plimsolls at the end of the bed, I’m quite excited about this all-woman M1 sleepover. Until, that is, a man in grey slacks and a fleece gets in and takes the bed directly above our still-empty double bunk. Still, I think, I’ve slept in closer proximity to strange men than this. And he looks quiet.
Let me just pause for a second here to talk about the MegaBus Gold decor. Hot damn, do those guys know what to do with 140 square metres of wood-effect veneer. The walls, the sink, the toilet door, the staircase, the panel running behind the bunks - all are absolutely smothered in the sort of nut-effect panelling that makes this feel like one of James Bonds little runarounds. Or a Toby Carvery. I love it. We are also each given a thin, maroon, polyester blanket that quickly becomes so furiously static that it clings to every inch of my body like a vacuum pack. I feel like I’m being smothered in my old school jumper. It’s lovely.
Just before we set off, I notice that the double bunk, which on one half has no bed above it at all and therefore looks far less claustrophobic than my current bed, has been left empty. Any chance I could swap, I ask the driver quietly? He looks around, winks conspiratorially and whispers in a thick Scottish accent 'Just wait until we get moving and nobody’ll notice'. Glory be.
In my new bunk I have a full four metre horizon and room for my rucksack. As we start to roll out through London I chance a peek out of the window. The next time I see buildings, I think, we’ll be in Edinburgh. I then plug my phone into the very handy sockets beside each bed and embark on the glorious under-blanket dance of taking your bra off, lying down, on a moving coach. By god, but I love taking my bra off. I’d choose taking my bra off over a facial or Indian head massage every day. When I worked in an office I’d often take my bra off, sitting on my bike, as I waited for the lights to change from red to green.
I am also the only person, I am proud to say, who brought a full pair of men’s baby blue cotton pyjamas onto the MegaBus Gold and, by god, I’m going to wear them. Getting changed under my small maroon blanket into the sort of nightwear usually the reserve of elderly men in the renal ward of a local hospital may well have made me look like a pervert, but by that stage, I hardly cared. It was time to turn my phone onto airplane mode and close my eyes.
Now, sleeping in front of people is one of the most intimate, most vulnerable things that we as mammals can do. I’ve no doubt that as some sort of throw back to our pre-civilised lives we are both drawn to, and weary of, sleeping in a pack. Once I nod off, anyone could pretty much frisk me down to my fillings and I wouldn’t notice. But my fellow MegaBus Gold passengers are clearly right-minded, honest people because when I rouse, occasionally, in the night, everybody is out cold. No snoring, thank god. No disturbing phone lights blinking in the gloom. Just the soporiphic roll and hum of a coach engine beneath my back and the giant hairy toe of the man in the bunk above me lolling in mid-air. I wonder what’s happening upstairs; what happened to the dozen people I saw lugging their wash bags and travel pillows up the walnut dash staircase to the upper deck. Talking of travel pillows, by this stage of proceedings I’m using both my small MegaBus Gold pillow and the muffin to sleep on and it’s all surprisingly comfortable.
I must have slept for nearly eight hours on that double decker behemoth because as I wake, we are turning the huge corner than denotes a motorway junction. I briefly look out of the window and see green hills and rooftops in the distance. We’re in Scotland. We’ve crossed a border, hundreds of miles and I slept through the whole thing. In a few minutes the lights come on and the driver - his voice a perfect Scottish mix of gravel and treacle, announces that it will soon be time to disembark. I suddenly realise that I am still in my pale blue XL pyjamas and start frantically wriggling into jeans and underwear like a maggot on a fishing line.
As we climb out of our overnight ride, the driver gives each of us a wonderful parting gift; a never-stale foil fresh croissant shovelled out of a cardboard box behind yet another maroon polyester curtain and a small carton of juice. I feel like I’m being sent out to primary school for the first time. I glance around at my fellow passengers; the students, the hikers, the men in shirts heading to a somewhat unlikely interview; the MegaBus professional with her rolled up sleeping bag. Everyone looks surprisingly fresh-faced. Someone’s even drinking out of the walnut effect water fountain.
And so, at 6am I’m in Edinburgh New Town. No changing, no hauling bags across wind-blown platforms, no travel sickness; just an eight hour doze and a couple of chocolate muffin souvenirs. I feel wonderful. I feel excited. I feel, in fact, MegaBus golden. And I didn’t even have to piss on a moving bus.
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