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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sitting doing nothing

I make twenty bus journeys a week to work. That’s four a day, five days a week, totalling approximately 1000 minutes or 16.50 hours sitting doing nothing in order to get to work. Some days it’s early morning travel and late afternoon returning in the rush hour traffic. On a Thursday it’s midday travel to work and travelling home at night with a bus load of excitable semi dressed and semi pissed young folk heading into Nottingham to go clubbing and on a Sunday it’s a leisurely ride at 9am and a chance to pop for a pint after work when I finish at 6pm. Monday and Tuesday is my ‘weekend’ off.

Occasionally I will read whilst travelling but mostly I just people watch and mutter into my new recorder so that I can remember everything and amuse you readers. There are many more sights, sounds  and smells than I can fit into this blog post today but here are a few of the highlights of some of my recent journeys to and from work.

When it is still dark in the morning the interior strip lights of the Barton bus into town reflect in the front window of the bus and look like ghostly antennae stretching out into the darkness. It is like the vehicle is morphing into a giant ant on wheels. Outside the street lights glow bright orange and the tinny rattle and whir of the momentum of the bus travelling at an average of forty miles an hour sounds to the half awake me like someone is tapping wire coat hangers on the roof of the bus.

The Broadmarsh bus station.

Not an enormous amount happens on the route from my village to the main bus station in Nottingham. It is when I get the Indigo bus from the Broadmarsh bus station to Beeston that things become interesting. At the bus station itself I often see slumped individuals attempting to sleep sitting up on the cold metal benches and I wonder if they have actually been there all night and why. Some look lost and desperately trying to get a rest, some look like they have spent the night on the town and are feeling queasy and very hung over as they wait numbly for a bus home. Others are surrounded by personal belongings and travel bags and a black lady I saw at 7am one Wednesday morning was sitting encircled and hemmed in by over thirty items of luggage. The missing twenty-nine owners of this mass of pink and purple luggage were still nowhere to be seen as my bus left the station.

On a Sunday morning I occasionally witness some of the dodgier elements of society doing their edgy street-wise lope through the bus station. Most are be-hooded, gold teethed, gaunt individuals accompanied either by their trophy dogs, tattooed trophy girlfriends or slopping a can of Stella over themselves en route to the 24hour Booze Is Us store. I often score some class A drugs off them, pat their cute doggy whilst commenting on the similarity of the bling they are all sporting, even the dog. They have kindly invited me round to their gaff for High Tea and muffins (laced with crack cocaine) at my convenience. I feel we could all be good friends if we tried.
On weekday evenings the bus station is busy with commuters intending to travel by bus and from time to time I witness near death experiences of the travellers who race between the platforms in an attempt to get the ‘just leaving’ National Express to Luton, London or Brighton. As they frantically wave their arms and shout their frustrations at the departing bus they also neglect to see another speedily departing bus that violently hisses as it suddenly slams its brakes on to avoid crushing them. Thankfully I’ve yet to see a collision of human and speeding metal. Thankfully.

En route to Beeston.

This is where the fun starts. Often on public transport one gets a percentage of people, men and women, who have no perception that they can be heard on their mobile phones going on and on about nothing. I’ve heard quite intimate arguments going off with the speaker noisily remonstrating with the listener about the sexual and social failures of their relationship, so much so, that the entire bus load of travellers should (in an ideal world) stand up en mass and tell the odious speaker to “Shut the f**k up!”

Then there was the man on a quiet Sunday morning journey who got on the bus and no sooner had he sat down than he was on his mobile and chit chatting to all of his lovely mates about his night out on the town, his binge drinking antics, his sexual conquests, the fights he got involved in and football. I kid you not when I say that every second word was a variation on the expletive – fuck. This diatribe of fuck this, fucking that, the fucker who fucked up the game etc was appalling. It was as if he couldn’t speak without swearing and this went on for a good fifteen minutes until I got off in Beeston. When he wasn’t saying the F word he interlaced his chats with other niceties such as “couldn’t be arsed” and “it was shit”.  As I was getting off the bus I caught a glimpse of this potato faced  verbally challenged thug re-arranging his dangly bits with an exploratory hand groping down his baggy trousers. Charming.

Once upon a journey, there was the terribly thin old man, with long silvery hair, dressed in a tatty overcoat and Russian hat who stood all through my bus journey and stared vacantly ahead of himself. There were plenty of vacant seats. He just chose to stand and at one point in the journey he moved to some other seats and stood behind those with his scrawny hands  holding tight around the top of the seat next to the back of some woman’s head.
Recently, a scruffy late middle-aged man in a shiny track suit and blue woolly hat got on near the Market Place in town. He had long grey/black greasy hair, the gritty repose of the constantly agitated, deep facial wrinkles and stunk of cigarette smoke as he abruptly pulled open the rectangular window above my seat and went storming off to the back of the bus. A few minutes later I thought that I heard the sound of an escaped snake some short distance behind me. I was about to ring the RSPCA when I realised that this bloke was liberally spraying himself with Lynx. The sickly sweet odour of men’s deodorant drifted down the bus and I think he must have used the whole can given the density of the smell. If I was a fly I would have been spinning my last gasping death throws on the bus gangway.

"For God's sake!!

Obviously it isn’t all men that travel on buses and the other night, as I took my journey home by the University of Nottingham and the professional tennis centre, a group of young tennis players got on the bus. This group included three strapping lads loaded down with large sports bags and two rather attractive young blonde women wearing tennis attire. The girls in the tiny white tennis skirts were possibly Ukrainian and their startlingly white knickers possibly from Next. Myself and a few shy and retiring fellows like myself regularly got flashed at all the way back to Nottingham.

Beeston has a large Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian population and often for the short ten minute bus ride between the Chinese supermarket on Beeston High Street and the Dunkirk area west of the University the bus fills up with polite Asian travellers and their many orange plastic bags of food. They always brighten up my journey as they seem to be very happy are always laughing amongst themselves. I like them so much I feel almost obliged to give them all a friendly wave  as they  gather their full to bursting bags together, giggle, get off the bus and head off in the opposite direction.

The Indigo bus from Nottingham travels past the QMC (Queen’s Medical Centre) and the massive Nottingham University campus and during term time there are a lot of students who use the bus service and the other day I got rather worried about any student’s eating habits. The reason is simple. En route I saw many a ‘eatstudent’ sign in the windows of the student accommodation areas and later on, on University Boulevard, a garish orange hand-made sign saying ‘Students wanted ‘ and a mobile phone number to ring. Do we have a Sweeney Todd of Nottingham I wonder?

Lastly, I would love to mention the lady bus driver I had the other day. She was pleasantry personified and when she wasn’t coughing her – fifty a day – cough whilst driving she addressed all her passengers joining or leaving the bus as Angel, Sweetheart or Darling. “Where are you going angel?” A return sweetheart?” “How’re you then darling?” Everyone on the bus was smiling at her dialogue.

That makes up for the sometimes gross fellow travellers I have to put with. Oh, did I mention the bloke two seats behind me on Friday making those constant snorting snot noises  to the point where I felt sick? No? Well... And then there was the time two dogs started fighting mid-aisle and owners just laughed and I got off the bus for fear of my legs being savaged. Not forgetting the weird young couple in front of me on a journey into Nottingham near Christmas that fought, bickered ,wrestled and fondled each other and he behaved like a baby and bully almost simultaneously.


khushi said...

Some rides!! Great narrative!

Phil Lowe said...

Thanks Khushi. Some rides indeed.

Gailsman said...

Oh what I miss not having to use public transport. What fun you have with all the many passengers on the many busses you go on. Your story would make an amusing stand up comedy routine a la Victoria Wood.

Jean said...

Very colourful characters you meet on your travels - enough to put you off your breakfast.

It's interesting about the F-word. I do enjoy not hearing it when we are in France and it's nice not to have it jarring on my nerves all the time. When we are travelling back from holiday we usually encounter it first at a motorway services where the Brits are filling up their cars.

I sometimes think we have become so rude and bad mannered in the UK. Must be my age. High spirits and boistrousnous is one thing but a total disregard for the comfort of fellow passengers is just ignorant.

Good grief, I'm sounding like my mother again.

Nick B. said...

Did you ever see the Jasper Carrott sketch Nutter On The Bus (Why does the nutter always sit next to me)?

A very gritty and true-to-life observation of bus travel around Nottingham. These days my only bus trips are into the City on NCT 12 or 48 as it's impractical and expensive to take the car into town. Early evenings tend to be reasonably quiet but the 1120PM and 1205AM 48's are very loud on a Friday and Saturday. 48's used to get the occasional cannabis smoker at the back upstairs - on one occasion, thanks to the recirculating air I felt quite high by the time I reached Queens Drive!

Ken Devine said...

Well written, funny and informative. It makes me want to jump on a bus.

Cheeky banner:) Best not jump on a bus just yet.