Public transport bedevils us all. My close, personal friend Inky Inkermann tells a gloomsome tale in his latest post about fear and loathing on the chemin de fer. And rippling sportsboy Kev Musgrove oft-times finds himself becalmed in a sea of bustickets and nacho napkins on the 34D to Ancoats. For myself, public transport remains a distant memory, some of it sweet and nostalgic, some of it vile-smelling and with bright green flies stuck to it. There was, for example, a wonderful bus of the Thames Valley Traction Company that used to ply its trade from Broad Street, Reading, to Sonning Halt. The 44A. No longer. The evil that is Arriva has taken over that floribund route and now steams along the Old Bath Road, the passengers gaping dolefully through the begrimed windows, screaming inwardly as the feckless driver takes the Thicket Roundabout whilst lighting a fag. But I digress. I shall not be taking a bus in the foreseeable future, for which I am heartily glad. Taking a train is punishment enough, particularly with this loathsome new Virgin rule that allows any type of prole and pleb to sit in First Class if there are no seats left in steerage. It really is beyond reason. They quote Health and Safety! How dare they? They say that the companionways must be kept clear at all times in case of fire, fundamentalist bombing attacks or a sudden rush to the buffet car for an Intercity Sizzler. Two weeks ago, en route to the glorious Thames Valley from Paddington, I was obliged to sit next to a man in polyester who read a low-life tabloid very slowly, his finger tracing the line of text. "Did he stink of drink?" asked an aunt later. No, he did not, and for that I was sorry. I find the stink of drink reassuring and humbling. I also find it galvanising and motivating. There is nothing like the stink of drink to get me moving. No, he stank of Hall's Mentholyptus, which was depressing and deflating on several levels.
I am suddenly laid low, and feel bored and distracted at the thought of more linking and bolding. Forgive me if I revert to type (a pun, and quite a good one) for the rest of this discourse.
Two bus journeys of my youth stick in my mind. Once, I was travelling from Hendon to Kilburn (West Hendon, Staples Corner, Cricklewood Broadway, Kilburn High Road - the 32, I think) and the Conductress was most drole. She assumed the role of an air stewardess, and told us we were welcome aboard the 32 Edgware to Kilburn High Road. "It's a Routemaster 1254, and we will be travelling at a speed of 12 miles an hour, contraflow at Brondesbury allowing. I have asked the pilot for his height and position, and he tells me he is 5 foot 10 and sitting down. The weather in Cricklewood is reported as being mild, with balmy breezes blowing in from Pinner". We gave her a round of applause and she curtsied and told us it was her last day on the buses as she had taken a clerical position at Brent Town Hall.
Some years earlier, in Liverpool, I was queuing with six others for the 99 (Penny Lane to Gillmoss), when four young men gave us a small cardboard box each. Inside was a bread roll, made with green food colouring, filled with beetroot, a blue cake and a pink cocktail Sobranie. They said "that's your lunch". It was extraordinary, but it was Bill Harpe. I wonder what happened to Bill, and his wife, Wendy? Goodness, they were clever. Richard De Dominici is doing something similar with his latest installation, but the Harpes were better. They made the food themselves.