The train is delayed. Not one of those straight up ‘the train is delayed for an hour’ situations but one of those creeping ones where it starts with 10 minutes and gets progressively extended as you approach your destination. I have arranged to meet my ex-workmates for lunch within an hour of getting off the train and so I am getting progressively more annoyed every time the delay gets extended. The train arrives at Euston. I hurry out, up the ramp, across the concourse. The family in front of me are moving slowly. I’m instantly back in London-mode, weaving around people and hurrying. I cross Euston station and head for the corner by the church where I know I can get the 91 bus to the Strand. The ex-workmates ask if I want them to order for me. I order masala dosa.
I run to catch the approaching 91 bus, but it pulls out just as I make it to the bus stop. I can see another bus coming. This one goes to Aldwych not the Strand but I calculate that it will be quicker to get this and walk than wait for the next 91. I get on the bus. We are behind a road sweeper and the traffic is terrible. We chug down Kingsway. Then at the next bus stop I see one of those school parties of very cute multicultural children in high visibility vests, about 60 of them. This is a London sight that usually warms the cockles of my heart. No cockle-warming today. The bus pulls over and they all shuffle on, marshalled by a strict teacher ‘No talking!’ This takes some time. Then the road narrows into one lane of traffic, road works. I’m imagining my dosa getting cold and my annoyed ex-colleagues. I start to develop an eye twitch. Eventually we get to Aldwych. I leap off the bus and start jogging, pulling my suitcase along as I go. I’m wearing a big fake fur coat and it’s a few degrees warmer in London than in Glasgow and so I am instantly too hot.
A man waves a leaflet at me ‘Excuse me, excuse me, Can I ask you about your hair?’
I look at him with an exasperated face and make this noise, ‘Pfffft.’
Two days later at a conference on ‘Mobile Urbanisms’ I will enjoy a talk by Richard Dennis on the ‘architecture of hurry’ (a quote from Howards End) and the speeding up of late Nineteenth Century London. He describes how:
‘the consequences of acceleration have been congestion, gridlock or a practical slowing-down: more ‘haste’ leads to less ‘speed’, and the psychological consequences of ‘hurry’ undermine expectations of enhanced productivity and efficiency.’
Following on from going to see the show ‘Love Letters to the Public Transport System‘ at the Edinburgh Festival, I’ve been thinking about encounters on public transport. In my experience of London, these encounters are usually on buses because you don’t talk to strangers on the tube, a basic courtesy offered to the people you are squashed against, often misread as unfriendliness. This tendency to talk to people on the bus has followed me to Glasgow, hence the Gary Glasgow scenario outlined below. Thinking about these bus chats again has coincided with getting a new computer (all the better for blogging with, a computer with a functioning battery). I’ve been going through old files and finding little snippets of these encounters, plus encounters I was next to but not part of. Here are a few. Combined they make a love letter to London of sorts. I am yet to master the buses of Glasgow but am contemplating a trip to B&Q at Drumchapel, so let’s see…
We are on the 43, me and the lady. She is from Sierra Leone. She is on her way to pick up her grandson. Her grandson is three and goes to a nursery in West London. Like me, she prefers to travel by bus. She opens a tube of barbecue Pringles and offers me some, I take a couple. She left Sierra Leone because of the war. She has been here for thirty years. She has raised three children in London, they are a policeman, a doctor and a lawyer. She passes me the photos. But she misses home, and now that the situation there has improved she is preparing to go back. She gives me a tester of some Imperial Leather shower gel, they were giving it away in Safeways. She disembarks at the Angel.
A boy and a man sit next to each other on the W7 in the bus station at Finsbury Park.
The man nervously asks ‘How are Tinkerbell and Spice?’.
‘Fine’ says the boy.
‘Have you got a favourite?’ says the man.
The boy deliberately traces a circle on the bus window in front of him. He adds two dots for eyes and a smile, with his finger.
‘No’ says the boy, ‘I haven’t got a favourite.’
There is a pause.
‘Do you want to see how you draw a shark properly?’ says the boy
‘Yes’ says the man.
[boy draws shark on the bus window]
‘That’s great!’ chuckles the man. ‘That’s really good!’
I’m waiting for the 134 in Camden. There is a loud bang. I jump. Someone’s tyre, not a gunshot. The old woman with the hearing aid laughs.
‘My fridge freezer does that all the time. I’m used to it.’
‘Isn’t that … alarming?’ I venture.
‘Maybe you should get a new one?’, another woman chips in.
‘Oh no, we’ve had it since the beginning. It’s a fridge freezer. But it does give other people a fright when they come round.’
‘You do have to wonder though’, she continues, ‘whether to turn it off when you go on holiday.’
‘Going anywhere nice?’
‘Ireland, to stay with my sister.’
‘Just for a week. She lives by the sea and I’ve got bad circulation. And the airports these days, you have to take your shoes off. A week’s long enough for me. I’m a townie.’
The man is tall and thin and is wearing grey. He has big eyes that make babies stare at him and sideburns now often commented on, thanks to the success of Olympic cyclist Bradley Wiggins. He is staying in a flat for a few days but every time he leaves the flat or attempts to find his way back, he gets lost. He is staring at a map. He walks in a circle and returns to the map. This happens four times. A child scoots towards the man. The child is approximately 4 years old and is wearing a helmet, modelled on that of the police. ‘Are you lost?’ asks the child.
‘A bit’, says the man. ‘Are you?’
‘No, I know where I am.’
The child scoots away.