Friday, April 28, 2006


Man has tattoos and headphones in, one earring, dozes, coat across his knees. Behind him man reads a newspaper, head tilted, worn leather jacket on his back and cropped hair. Behind him man chews gum, one headphone in, taps his fingers on his knee, leather jacket, arm rests over his bag. Behind him man reads newspaper, big features, like Shrek, looks pensive as he reads, biting his large top lip, squinting in the sun, dirty white trainers. Behind him, an empty seat.

The back bench, a man rises and walks down the aisle. Notices a pretty girl, and looks briefly. Then he turns back and looks for longer, staring, creepy. I can’t see if she’s looking at him. He turns to go downstairs and takes a final look as he leaves. Unashamed.

The bus is crawling along in traffic. The sun is shining outside. I’m still wearing my headphones, but my music stopped twenty minutes ago.

Wish you were here,



Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A conversation between strangers

A: ‘What did you say?’

B: ‘huh?’

A: ‘What?’

B: ‘What?’

A: ‘Are you talking to me?’

B: ‘No, I wasn’t’

A: ‘What?’

B: ‘What d’you say?’

(I wondered if I should turn round and translate for them)

A: ‘Are you talking to me?’

B: ‘no’

A: ‘Huh?’

B: ‘never mind’

A: ‘I just wondered if you were talking to me, cos I saw you staring at me.’

A. got up and cautiously walked down the aisle, looking around as if the whole top deck were conspiring against him, then disappeared downstairs.

Monday, April 24, 2006

On Sitting Near the Back

back bench illustration
A mid afternoon journey home. There were a few people scattered towards the front of the top deck, and I decided to sit near the back. It was a foolhardy decision but I was feeling confident, and there was still crisp copy of Metro news on a bench second from the back. I took it up and replaced it with myself, scanning the front cover as I settled. Next stop. A middle aged man was walking down the aisle, eyes fixed on the back row. He had a slightly chubby and scrunched up face, as if someone had reached in like a puppeteer and pulled the bridge of his nose half an inch into his head, drawing the cheek bones and eye sockets with it.
He sat down directly behind me. I knew what was coming. My previous excuses would be no good here. Fate.

A rustle of belongings, and I thought that if I caught him before he lit up I’d stand a better chance. But I couldn’t just accuse him; I needed to be coughing on the smoke to get the sympathy vote. I hesitated and the smoke wafted past. I half turned, and then back, no, yes, no, I would do it.

“Do you mind not smoking, mate?” A quick sideways glance at the no smoking signs.

As I opened my mouth he seemed to know what was coming, and his face dropped into an expression of self pity and sorrow. It was the look a beggar gives to the policeman who tries to move him on, or the drunk gives to the bar tender who refuses to serve him any more.

‘But it’s all I’ve got!’ the look said.

‘But I’ve gotta start ‘nuther shift!’ the man said.


And perhaps it was all he had. I had become the policeman, too concerned with rules and regulations and my own comfort to care about the plight of poor stranger trying to keep his head above the water. He got the sympathy vote, I lost it.

I looked at him again, ‘Well…I…’

So I stood up and mover down to the front of the bus. He muttered a few inaudible insults as I left. He had the back row on the bus, and his cigarette, and perhaps not much else, and who was I to take those from him?

Friday, April 21, 2006

43 - The Musical

I got my preferred seat, behind the stair-well, plenty of leg room. Across form me most of the benches were occupied by people sitting alone against the window. The left hand side of the bus was clearly the more popular side today. However, these lone travellers weren’t all travelling alone, as I realised when a rather overweight woman suddenly reached forward and started vigorously brushing the dense mouse brown hair of the boy in front. He wriggled and wrinkled his nose up with displeasure, but otherwise knew well enough to submit to this brief act of humiliation.

As we pulled in and out of bus-stops, the gaze of this single file of passengers moved as one down to the heads of those waiting to alight, and then back to some distant point a few degrees left of the road. Their synchronisation was such that I half expected them to suddenly burst into the chorus line of a musical number. ‘43 - The Musical’ it would be called. I’d go see it, at least.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Waiting at the bus-stop with me:

A lady in her early 70’s, grey curly hair and a warm smile on her face as she watches her grandson out of the corner of her eye. The young boy, perhaps 4 years old, sits next to her on the small bus-stop bench. He has a mischievous yet ultimately innocent face, anointed with freckles beneath a side parting of ginger-red hair. She has given up trying to keep his small hands clean of the bus-stop dirt and grime that they are so keen to explore. Now he lies sideways on the bench stomping his miniature Reeboks up the side of the shelter.

An older man, his ears and nose testimony to the rumour that they never stop growing, shelters beneath a Dick Tracy style over-coat. A fairly new flat-cap comfortably covers his white hair. I imagine the grin on his face as he unwrapped it on Christmas day, glad that his daughter-in-law had noticed the old one was wearing thin. A folded newspaper protrudes from his over-coat, stuffed sideways between the buttons, and he watches unswervingly for the arrival of the bus.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

On The Power Of Advertising

“Accessorise your underarms” suggested a deodorant advert on a passing bus. Before I could help myself I had in my head a picture of a chubby European woman with little pink butterfly clips and mini scrunchies dangling from her underarm hair. Thanks for that then.

I get slightly disturbed by the power of bus advertisers: in a newspaper or magazine I can chooses not to turn the pages; with television I can chooses not to turn it on; but there is little I can do about advertisements on passing busses. I am nothing but a pawn in their greed driven game. I know, I can choose not to buy their product, or whatever, but it’s harder to forget their irritating slogans, or avoid being subconsciously influenced by their alluring images. As a passing bus glides by my eyes are dragged with it, and inside I helplessly cry. An advert reaches out with its candy coated steel grip and heartlessly holds my gaze for seconds longer than I would want. The damage is done.

Monday, April 17, 2006

On being alone.

The top deck was empty, which made me feel strangely liberated. It’s like the feeling you get when you and the people you’re with are the only audience in a cinema – you can get up and do a little dance if you like and no one is there to be bothered by you. Normally when you’re sat on a bus there is bunch of stuff that you just can’t do. I’m not talking about stuff you’d want to do particularly, just dumb stuff like waving your arms around or making strange noises or skipping up the isle. But with no one about on top deck I was free to do these things. For perhaps one stop only I was free to do all sorts of crazy stuff that people just don’t do on public busses.

Of course, I just sat there like normal. But I enjoyed the brief liberty, knowing that if I’d wanted to run round a touch every no-smoking sign, I could have.

At the next stop someone else got on and came upstairs. They sat behind me and once again I was grounded by the ball and chain of social acceptability.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Part 3

We drove out of the back of the estate and almost immediately arrived at the extended airport – those roads and roundabouts that exist only because of the airport that they guide you around. The bus pulled into the station – the type with large diagonal bays, each with digital displays and sliding doors. No primary colours here.

The airport. I was there to meet family from a long haul flight and help them and their 27 bags onto the train. They could’ve managed without me, but it was nice to see them, and I like the airport. I spent most of the day there in the end, but that’s another story for another time, and another blog. And I didn’t even get the 43 bus home, so even more reason to finish my airport trilogy here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Part 2

Thanks to the flower carrying cyclist I was on to a good start to the day, and I was about to do something quite out of the ordinary: as I reached my usual bus-stop I crossed the road. Today I was riding to the airport, the beginning (and end) of the 43 bus route. As any commuter will know, travelling outside of the usual stretch is like stepping outside of yourself, of your boundaries. So often I had watched the bus disappear thorough the rain into this alien place, the bus a constant linking my world with that other world. Boarding the bus to the airport was like breaking the rules of time: going back beyond my birth to explore origins, but also going forwards beyond my death, because when time is a bus route there are two extremes, but both are a beginning, and both are an end.

Anyway, shortly the bus arrived at the local bus depot, where it waited for five minutes before leaving for the airport. The engine chugged away and sounded very much like my boiler. The depot is painted red and yellow, like a nursery, and I was grateful for it. It doesn’t look stylish or trendy, and it’s not ‘artistic’, but it speaks of simple hopes, and a small budget spent as well as it might be. It adds colour to the middle of a grey estate. After pulling away we passed a large brick church, the type with small windows and almost no architectural features. Outside the church was an oversized wooden notice board bearing only one well weathered advertisement that simply read ‘Line Dancing – every Monday and Wednesday’.

We zigzagged slowly through the estates, and it might have been a tour of council housing styles from the last 70 years: ‘If you’d like to look to our left, you’ll see some classic examples of the 1972-78 period, their design famously inspired by the ordinary office hole punch…’

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Part 1

The smell of damp cut grass met me as I left the house, a signpost to spring. A middle aged man cycled past wearing a red woolly hat and carrying a bunch of flowers, and my heart was warmed. He was almost certainly doing something Good, and although these kinds of things happen all the time they’re often done in private, and it’s easy to miss them. There’s such a divide between the private and the public and what is exposed is usually exposed for a reason. We insulate our private lives and hold out only choice parts for the world to see, and in that act of choosing some of the honesty and beauty is lost. And this is one way in which man and nature differ: nature does not care what you think of it, it does not agonise over what to hide and what to show, it just exists, and some is hidden and some can be seen, and the beauty that we see is not tainted by motives.

So perhaps that explains why I was moved by this cyclist with his flowers: it didn’t feel like he wanted particularly to show or to hide his actions, he was there, with his red hat and his bike and his flowers, doing what he was doing, and I was lucky enough to be walking to the 43 bus stop at the right time so see it.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Bus with a View

I was Reading an old Bill Bryson book on the way home, and I came across the following passage:
‘There is something awfully exhilarating about riding on the top of a double-decker. You can see into upstairs windows and peer down on the tops of people’s heads at bus stop-stops (and when they come up the stairs a moment later you can look at them with a knowing look that says: ‘I’ve just seen the top of your head’) and there’s the frisson of excitement that come with careering round a corner or roundabout on the brink of catastrophe. You get an entirely fresh perspective on the world’ (Bryson, Notes From A Small Island, 1995)

Well said Bill (except for the ‘frisson of excitement’ bit – that’s just going too far). I too look down on the tops of people’s heads, and we’re not the only ones. When I’m waiting to board I sometimes shoot a quick glace upwards to see four or five pairs of guilty eyes quickly resume more socially acceptable fixings, such as the back of the head in front. They’re surprised when I look up because usually people just stand there like zombies, or hunt for their buss pass, and the top deck observer is free to inspect dandruff and hope that big guy with sweat patches doesn’t come sit next to them.