In Pangbourne, Berkshire, there's not much in the way of integrated transport. You get off the train and you're on your own . . . For reasons too strange to go into, I wanted last Sunday to visit an animal sanctuary at Beale Park, which I'd been told was a couple of miles from the village.
Just outside the railway station, I saw a bus stop, but this was a country bus stop. I don't know why these don't just have a boxing glove attached, one that springs out and bashes you in the face every time you look at the timetable secured below, because although you're primed for disappointment, it's always worse than you bargained for.
This one listed the weekday services from Pangbourne station (not many), then the Saturday services (even fewer), and left you to conclude that there were none at all on Sunday. So I then performed an act symptomatic of true desperation. I called Talking Yellow Pages on my mobile, and asked for taxi numbers in the Pangbourne area. I called the number given, and a man answered in a surprised tone: "Hello?" "Are you a taxi service?" I asked. "Yeaarss," he said, guardedly. "In the Pangbourne area?" "Pangbourne!" exclaimed the man in amused astonishment.
I had by now walked into the heart of the village, where a receptionist in a hotel said that taxis in Pangbourne had been known, but never on Sunday. She gave me a number for a Reading company. I called it, and a minicab controller said: "Beale Park? That'll be £14 because we're coming from Reading, OK?" He had that tone of not being able to believe his luck which always makes a customer feel uncomfortable.
I waited for the car outside the Swan Inn, which is where the journey in Three Men in a Boat comes to its bathetic end. That was written in 1889. What struck me about the place in 2003 was how all 20 places in the car park were taken up within two minutes of midday opening. As the sun beat down, and I lolled on a grass verge watching huge, sparkling four-wheel drives rolling past the manicured gardens of Pangbourne, I was reminded of the week I spent without a car in LA for a travel feature. I had banked on using the LA metro system, but this turned out to have only two lines, and was the product of a car-conditioned mindset to the extent that the trains ran alongside the roads, stopping with the cars at every red light. At one point, I was strolling through Beverly Hills and a cop car had tracked me for half a minute, which made me think it might actually be illegal to walk in Beverly Hills.
The taxi came eventually, and Beale Park turned out to be one minute outside Pangbourne. The driver, while gratefully accepting my £14, ventured that it might be a bit too much. And he was right.