My first venture as a mystery shopper was clouded by
the realisation that to keep your identity secret was
perhaps difficult if you are one of 4 passengers on
However I tried to merge into the background.
So just before 4.45pm on a sunny afternoon in Hythe,
Kent (or it could have been Hythe, Cheshire bearing in
mind the required time before kick-off)I boarded the
Valley Express Rickshaw. [You were supposed to start
from Dymchurch Station and test the light railway
connection - ed]
What greeted me at the door was a shapely, smiling,
blonde. Now this is class I thought, as she introduced
herself as the driver, Louise.
Before I could suggest alternative routes via the
Channel tunnel she passed me over to two cheery
All-Sports shirts who explained that I was one of four
getting on. They had no list of names so couldn't tell
if I was entitled to be on, but said never mind.
They explained the seating arrangements which were
anywhere but the first three rows. Asked what I had to
do to sit in the "best seats" they replied in hushed
tones that these were for season-ticket holders. I
doffed my cap at the thought of such superior beings
and went and sat with the hoi-polloi.
With the addition of one more we set off five minutes
early in the opposite direction to the Valley, but
what the hell, Louise had put on her sun glasses, the
competition for her affections was not great and as we
cruised along the seashore in the sun at Sandgate, I
was planning my chat up lines.
This was replaced with realism quite quickly as we
went the long way around some of the grubbier parts of
Here we picked up another 11 people, half men , half
women and one not sure. No obvious colours and it
could have been the free Tescos bus going down for an
By this time my mind had moved off the possibility of
a tryst with Louise into matters financial. What had
Gordon Brown said earlier in the day? Universal free
bus travel for pensioners was here, so looking around
wondered whether Reg ("on the buses") Varney had
factored a lot of £5 refunds into his Valley expansion
Moving off on time at 5.00 and heading off in search
of the M20 led me to analyse the comfort factor of
what was to be my home for some hours.
It was a good quality coach, clean (until I had got
on), air-conditioned with interior lighting that
worked. The only downside was legroom. If you were
5'4" and came from the Chalfonts you'd have been ok,
but those with larger frames would have been reminded
of that Budget airline trip to Torremelinos.
As we went up the M20 we had sight of of one of those
endearingly British rituals called "Operation Stack".
This is when the happy burghers of Calais decide to
strike or have the day off and want it a bit quiet
they ask the British to help them. We do this by
allowing all the foreign non-taxpaying lorries of the
Eastern bloc to fill up the M20, we put porta loos out
for their convenience and we just tell all the local
residents to go on long diversions at great
inconvenience to themselves. Would the French do this
in return........I don't think so.
By this time we had reached the outskirts of Ashford
and at 5.30 we had hit "rush hour". Now rush hour in
Ashford needs at least 10 vehicles to cause gridlock
due to the traffic signal system at the one major
roundabout that Ashford possesses.The phasing of the
lights was so admired by Ken Livingstone that he
adopted the same system for Trafalgar Square.
As we crawled to the centre of town I wished that we
could have got "who ate all the pies" Prescott out of
his Jags on to the coach to see how his plan for
another 25,000 homes in Ashford might work in
Two stops in Ashford, one to almost fill the coach,
then another to pick up the season ticket holders, so
colours appeared in numbers for the first time.
The impression of going on a late night shopping trip
was increased as we moved back onto the motorway for
the long haul to the Valley. Subjects of conversation
were the price of sofas, what bargains were in
Exchange & Mart and the problems of Auntie Edith's
angina.Virgins on board
As the trip progressed it was clear we had quite a few
Valley virgins on board. One chap had not been to a
match for 50 years, another in his thirties had only
ever been to a football match once before in his life.
You could also tell it was different from the usual
supporters coach in that the food that appeared was
accompanied by napkins.
After two hours and within spitting distance of the
Valley the seats were not quite so comfy and Louise
had exercised her women's prerogative and chosen some
strange diversions as if trying to shake off an
imaginary coachful of Millwall supporters.
Another 30 minutes of crawl and inspection of a few
Makros and Worlds of Leather we arrived 2 hours and 30
minutes after leaving Hythe.
We got off right outside the short stroll through
Ransom Walk and were told on pain of death to be back
by 10.15. Sadly there was not time to visit the pub
before the start.
We then had the pleasure of seeing our lads stuff the
mighty Sperz and could look forward to a smiling
As you would expect the atmosphere was good going
back, but without the ecstasy you would have got on a
full supporters coach. But everyone expressed
themselves as well satisfied with the experience.
At 12.15am we reached our final destination and
thanked the very good driver for a safe journey.
So how do we rate the Rickshaw? Extremely good value
for money. Comfort, very good, although I would review
routes to try and cut half-hour off of journey times.
Clearly had brought new fans out of the woodwork, who
after last night's performance would come again.
Four final tips.
1. Ask for Louise
2. If you get on first go right down the back if you
are tall as more legroom there
3. If you are incontinent or like a few pints at
half-time this coach is not for you....there are no
bogs on board
4. To the Club...get a checking-in system or you will
have problems in future