There… And Back Again!

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Sometimes I long for the closeted private sanctuary of my own car as I travel about. But, then again, I have no confidence in my own ability to focus sufficiently to drive a car – too away with the fairies most of the time.

My abortive attempts at driving were given up after about eight lessons and a near miss… I took a wrong turn down a country lane on a foggy autumn afternoon and my instructor innocently remarked:

It’s a good job no one saw us – they’d think we were up to no good!”

This served to send me into a fit of hysterical giggling as I drove across (literally across) an unexpected roundabout and my endeavour to become a capable driver ended…

On the other hand, I would miss the weirdly prophetic bus tickets we have here – just look at some of the code words used – as good as any deck of Tarot cards! “Write” is the one that appeared when I was feeling particularly low – I took this as Universe encouragement. “Elbow” – when I was troubled by a nagging pain in, yes, my elbow which spurred me on to visit my doctor for a steroid injection which cured it. “Mouse”… I’m still waiting…

Plus the fact you hear such extraordinary snippets of conversation. My favourites from the past week or so – on the same journey, actually – involved a girl, sitting behind me, talking loudly on her mobile to a friend:

“… and I said ‘Really? It counts as one of your five a day? I didn’t even know it was a vegetable!’ She said ‘Well of course potatoes are vegetables! What did you think they were?’”

To which this girl had replied: “Oh I just thought they were these like starchy things that grew in the ground…”

I was quite glad she was sitting behind me actually, so she couldn’t see the look on my face…

The next snippet – an older lady got on the bus with her wheeled walker and noticed a friend seated over the way. They obviously hadn’t seen each other and the friend listened attentively as she ran through her catalogue of ills. Her next statement made me snort with laughter that I quickly had to disguise as a not-terribly convincing cough…

I’m not going back to that care home though! I can’t be doing with it, all that fighting!”

Her friend leaned forward:

Whatever do you mean?”

You can’t get a minute’s peace – they’re always fighting over the darts on the telly and it’s not just the men!”

That sounds dreadful,” her friend replied, clearly shocked.

Oh I know, I can’t get along with it, not when I’m having chemo as well! Ruby knocked Doris down them little steps! I’m going to ask my grand daughter if she can get me moved…”

At this point, somewhat reluctantly, I must confess, I had to get off the bus as it was my stop; but for the rest of the day I was plagued with questions in my head … did the girl get over her surprise about the nature of potatoes, or was she further traumatised when she encountered something like rhubarb… grown like a vegetable but treated like a fruit…? Should I perhaps watch darts to see if I could understand how the game could induce such rage? Was Doris ever revenged upon Ruby for tipping her down the stairs?

Would the care home in question be a possible future residence for my mother…

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A Train … And Some Rain.

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I had an interesting day last week. Alex had an audition for an advert, so I went along to keep him company. The casting agency was based in Manchester, so I must admit to a certain curiosity about revisiting my old university stomping ground, especially since I haven’t been back in twenty-something years.

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The day dawned bright and early, a beautiful morning, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Alex had efficiently booked the train tickets online, brushing aside my feeble protests about maybe walking… so we boarded the 9.45 am train for Manchester.

It’ll rain, as soon as we get past the Pennines,” I predicted confidently.

Alex clearly didn’t believe me, as we sped through cities and across moors. Trains make me vaguely anxious, but I behaved well enough, and indeed, quite enjoyed myself, as it’s a long time since I’ve been anywhere further north than Asda…

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We alighted in Manchester Oxford Street station, and my usually reasonable sense of direction deserted me. It’s changed a lot as a city, but I still had an anxious feeling as the sky began to cloud over.

We found the casting agency and as Alex began to get ready, I chatted amiably to the receptionist:

Yes, we haven’t had rain for about ten days now!” she chirped happily. I replied darkly:

Oh, just you wait… it knows I’m here…”

And sure enough, just as Alex came out to get changed, it began to rain. We said goodbye, and as my foot hit the street outside it began to rain in earnest, a million tiny slaps of funny-tasting water all across my face… head… body… feet…

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Yep. We’d dressed for summer, light trousers, t-shirts, no coats or jumpers, and b y some bizarre twist I’d forgotten to change out of my gardening shoes, which a re canvas. With a hole in the sole. Of course.

It rained like it meant it. Manchester knew I was there and did its very best to try and drown me. It reached such a point, we had to dive into a nearby shop for Alex to purchase to umbrellas, while I dripped and muttered in the corner like a madwoman. Feet squelching like demented squids, we continued our tour…

I was surprised and saddened to see that my old hall of residence is under heavy repair, perhaps condemned, a wise decision in light of the Grenfell tragedy. The pub I used to drink in had, by contrast, gone completely upmarket.

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I was quite glad to reach the train station, for although we’d enjoyed a pleasant dinner, I was ready to leave. A thriving city, with a great vibe – but not for me. Too many memories.

As soon as we get past Stockport the sun’ll come out!” I prophesied confidently to Alex. And do you know what? It did!

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Jesus In A Dustsheet…

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When I was younger I had the good fortune to visit several countries on holiday with my mother – I have fond memories of all of these, but perhaps the country that made the most lasting impression was Israel.

My mother, her friend and myself stayed in a hotel in Tel Aviv. We’d done the whole tourist trail thing, wandered through the ancient streets of Jerusalem (the Arab Quarter too, after curfew, but that’s a story for another time… ) walked the Mea Shearim, followed the Stations of the Cross, floated in the Dead Sea, marvelled at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and paid a respectful visit to the Temple Wall.

It was our last evening before we left for home so we had enjoyed a meal out at a local restaurant and were just sauntering slowly back to the hotel. A commotion across the road drew my attention – a young man, dishevelled, thin, tanned ribs showing, wearing nothing but a pair of underpants, was struggling to remove the cover from a car.

Long blond hair flapped about his face and he paused to rub one slender hand through his full beard, swaying so alarmingly that a passing elderly couple stopped to help him. He clasped his hands together and thanked the couple, so I would assume, as I was still watching from across the road.

My mother and her friend looked back to see where I was, and knowing that I had been deeply moved by my visit to places like Jesus’ tomb and Bethlehem, were watching me with amusement. The older couple, feeling that they had helped this poor man by removing the cover from his car, began to walk away.

However. The young man began to wrap the dust sheet around himself, in the style of biblical robes, draped across one shoulder and between his legs like a loincloth. You all know what I thought…

Mum! Look! Could it… shouldn’t we help him?! What if… what if… it’s Him?!”

By this time, the young man had gathered his makeshift robes about himself and reeled off down the street, stopping every so often to peer earnestly into the faces of other people, hands outstretched imploringly…

Well. My mother and her friend fell about laughing … and upon reflection, as an adult, I can see that he was probably just some stoned hippy bloke begging for busfare. Or something.

But I was quite a devout child and even though my belief system nowadays is more of the Omnist variety, I still can’t help wondering… what if…

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The Bus!

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I have decided to afford The Bus the dignity of two capitals, since as well as being a convenient mode of transport (I don’t drive – away with the fairies too often to be a reliable driver… ) it is a never-ending source of amusement and material.

For example, the classic two men in conversation:

You’ll NEVER guess who I saw the other day!!” said in tones of great excitement.

His friend, catching the enthusiasm:

Ooh! Who! Who?!”

Ohh…you don’t wanna know…”

This little exchange left me in tears of silent laughter.

This next snippet has to be my favourite though. My partner and I were returning from town and overheard a phone conversation between a man and his mother.

Mum, I went in Aldi and I bought one of them things… you know… them grill things… like a sandwich toaster but a grill… oh you know… that man… a George Formby grill!!”

Well. Of course that set me off, but my partner has the same ability that Alex has inherited – the power to remain stony-faced while I collapse like a giggling idiot.

I was dying to ask did it perhaps let him know his pork chops were done with a quick burst of “When I’m Cleaning Windows”? Or warn of imminent immolation with a sharp blast of “Leaning On A Lamp Post”…

I don’t know if this system is used on other transport networks, but our Buses employ a system of code words printed on the ticket to show they are valid on that particular day. I always check the word of the day and find infinite amusement in the choices, which can be anything from “frying pan” to “fluffy”.

Some days I find the words to be peculiarly apt, like a travelling oracle… look…

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Bus Journeys

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I am one of life’s unfortunates who never learned to drive. I had lessons at 17 with an instructor who looked somewhat like a 70’s snooker player, but I didn’t have the mentality that enabled me to do more than look where I’m going, press pedals and be aware of other road users. My driving lessons came to an end when one foggy afternoon I took a wrong turn down a country lane and the instructor said:

I hope nobody sees us, they could get the wrong idea…”

I promptly collapsed into giggles, nearly crashed the car and thus ended my driving career.

Since then, I have been completely reliant on public transport, which on the whole is reasonable, although I have learned to carry plenty of tissues and plastic bags. On the other hand, there have been times when I long for the comfort of a car, the confidence and smugness that a car bestows on you, as you roll smoothly past a queue of miserable wet people waiting patiently in the rain like sodden newspapers… I had one particular week where every other bus journey, some child threw up… I have learned to sit at least two seats away from children. One day, I was fortunate enough to witness a natural phenomena: a father had been kind enough to take his children swimming – I deduced this from their conversation. I smiled politely at the family whilst keeping a wary eye on the youngest son, who was strangely quiet. Then – he went from white to green in a matter of seconds. In a matter of seconds I was amazed, amused, then appalled as said child produced a copious amount of vomit, quite out of proportion to his size…

Told you ya shouldn’t a had ‘em crisps!” his sister gloated.

I murmured sympathetically and handed over tissues to the embarrassed father…

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Unfortunately, my propensity for inappropriate laughter has shown no signs of leaving me as I get older… Bus journeys are the worst as you have no means of rapid exit either… On my route home, there is a poor old man that I see unfailingly every week on a certain day. He has a habit… a habit of clearing his throat loudly and disconcertingly, and one day as he was making him way to a seat, the bus lurched, he grabbed the seat in from of me and: “HmmHMMMhm!!” about four inches from my face. That was it. I snorted, gulped, wheezed and shook with silent giggles. I was with my youngest son who has the same tendency for the giggles, but as an actor, he is able to return to straight-faced immobility in a second, leaving me choking and spluttering like a walrus.

I see this poor old man every week, and as he shuffles past me, the doubtful look he gives me is enough to start the tidal wave of unstoppable, unforgivable mirth.

I’m so sorry. If you’re ever on a bus and you see a strange woman festooned with plastic bags, clutching tissues and snuffling with laughter, it’s probably me… sorry…

All photos were taken by my son!