Reasons why I should just ignore everyone's needs

Okay, so it's a dark winter morning, and I'm on the bus. (Is she ever not? When does she sleep? How does she go to the toilet?) I'm loaded with my handbag and various bags of schoolbooks and marking. I look like I've left home for good, but I'm merely on the way to work.

The bus is crowded. Even though I could have done with a double seat to myself (because of the bags, because of the bags ... what were you thinking I meant?), I've had to squeeze in next to a woman who's in the window seat (Window Woman, from now on). She has that mad rabbit look in her eyes that belies someone who's anxious about where to get off the bus, and that means she's got to get past me at some point, but I have no other choice.

I will now present the rest of the disastrous narrative in a series of numbered points. It helps me to distance myself from distressing material.

1. As soon as I've sat down, Window Woman makes a slight movement towards me. I think it's because she's getting off. I'm nearest the bell. Honestly, some people. Why didn't she just say when I sat down? Still, my natural philanthropy takes over, and I stretch right over to press the bell for her which entails complicated rearrangement of myriad bags and lots of rustling and clutching of handles and huffing and puffing.
2. JUST as I'm about to press the bell, Window Woman catches on. She says, 'no, no, sorry, sorry, I no want off bus yet'. This tells me three things. She's not from England. She doesn't want to get off the bus yet. I look like a plonker.
3. I rearrange all my luggage and settle back into the seat. Then Window Woman taps me on the shoulder and asks, 'You know Blacklow Road? Need Blacklow Road.'

4. I think, yay! A chance to help someone to their destination, and this time, I know where the road is!

(A word of explanation, and a break from the numbered points which you may be finding annoying. There are many people, I am sure, still wandering around England aimlessly, looking for the right turning or the pub or the garage I assured them would be there. I am to lost foreigners what a large steak with sausage and egg would be to a vegan. Many times in my life I have confidently directed people to their destinations, then had to hide behind bushes or in shops when they come back the other way, looking puzzled and stressed. I should just say, 'Sorry, I don't know' if anyone asks me for help, and protect the general public that way, but the problem is, I always think, 'No, this time, I know I'm right', and it's always just as they move off, looking grateful, that I realise that, again, I wasn't, and that they're going to finish up in the river.)

5. So, adrenaline rushing as I realise I actually do know where Blacklow Road is, I nod effusively and forgive Window Woman for twitching and making me think she needed to get off. She needs help, and I do so love HELPING. 'Sure,' I say, putting on my 'I'm England's gift to foreigners' face. 'It's just a little further on. I'll press the bell for you when it's time.' She has on her 'I'm so grateful' face. My 'I'm England's gift to foreigners' face gets even more 'England's gift' than before.

5. We pass the bus stop before the one I think she needs. I'm cool. We're approaching a massive roundabout and road junction pretty fast, but I sure there's a bus stop right opposite Blacklow Road before we get to the junction. I ring the bell. 'All you need to do,' I say to Window Woman, smiling indulgently, 'is cross straight over the road when you get off the bus. It will be directly opposite the stop. You'll see a terribly busy roundabout and junction ahead of you, but you don't need to go that far.' She is looking so adoring, I'm wondering if I'm going to get a free holiday in a cheap Eastern European country soon.

6. There's a minor struggle involving the temporary loss of a couple of bags and a few Steinbeck essays while I turn sideways to let her get past and then rearrange myself into her old seat.

7. I am now Window Woman. As I watch ex-Window Woman making her way down the bus, I feel an inner glow of satisfaction. Yes! For once, I have directed someone right!

8. As ex-WW makes her way to the front of the bus, we pass Blacklow Road. No bus stop. We hit the massive roundabout and road junction. We sail past the massive roundabout and road junction. Ex-WW has trouble holding on as we swerve round. Then the bus stops. Seems I was wrong about where the stops were. Oh, hell.

9. I realise that, having shot so far past Blacklow Road, Ex-WW may not know where she's meant to go. Panicked, I get up and rush down the aisle, knocking passengers left, right and centre with my bag collection, and I tap her on the shoulder. She turns. I make various manic gestures about her having to make it back over the roundabout and junction and she nods uncertainly. I don't think she recognises any of my gestures from her 'Speak English in a Week' textbook. She looks unhappy. I don't think I'm going to get my holiday after all.

10. Point 10 should be the end of the whole sorry tale. But I'm afraid it isn't.

11. I turn round (not easy, considering the fact that I am masquerading as a hotel porter) to find that another woman, obviously thinking that me careering down the bus in a pother meant I was getting off, was overjoyed to find a seat vacated by two people at once, and has moved from her shared seat to that one. She, too, has several bags with her. And she is now Window Woman, a usurper. I am ex-Window Woman. The woman who's just got off (and is currently battling with the morning rush-hour to make her way to Blacklow Road and thinking, 'Was England the right choice for me?') is Window Woman Twice Removed.

12. I say to Usurper Window Woman, 'I'm sorry. I wasn't getting off. I was just helping that lady.' Fifty-nine other passengers stare at me, thinking, 'Well, you may have been helping her, but we all now have bruises and have lost our places in the newspaper what with all the distraction'.

13. Usurper WW is really embarrassed, and has no option but to try and squeeze up so I can sit down again. She's not exactly slim, and I won a competition in a fancy dress party once when I went as a barrel. Our joint collection of bags is rammed up against the seats in front of us. Our thighs are enjoying close fellowship. We exchange awkward smiles. At least, I think she is smiling. That may just be how she looks when she's crammed up against the side of the bus with no room to breathe.

14. Ironically, jammed in as we are, the bus ride is a lot more comfortable now. However suddenly the driver brakes or however many bumps in the road he goes over, UWW and I are lodged together so tightly that we feel nothing. We absorb all the shock together with the combined force of our bodies and bags. The only discomfort I'm in is thinking about Ex-WW, who is probably still, 10 minutes on, negotiating with supermarket lorries and nose-to-tail traffic to get across the roundabout. Shame. I quite fancied Romania in the spring.

15. We reach the bus station. UWW and I wait until everyone else has got off, then we gradually separate, coming apart like a pair of doughy sweet buns which came from the baker's attached, and I struggle down the bus's aisle with her behind me. As we get off, she gives me a big smile. We have shared a lot together this morning - embarrassment, discomfort, thigh cells - and it's only 7.45am.

16. As I walk the rest of the way to work, bags clocking against my shins, I send up a prayer for Ex-WW, who has perhaps by now got to Blacklow Road, with no help from me. I think: How good it is to be able to help one's fellow humans. Then I think: What a shame I always cock it up.


  1. Yay! A bus story! We all enjoy your travels much more than you do, I'm sure. I stole your numbered list technique for my next post, which will go up tomorrow. That's not considered plagiarism, is it?

  2. No, Lesley, it's not plagiarism, as long as you go the other way, from 15 to 1. I look forward to the post.

  3. Your regular fellow bus riders must be adjusted to your antics by now and should just go with the flow. I would be waiting each day in joyful anticipation.

  4. Please don't stop trying to help people... it brightens up my day reading about it. One day I hope to share a bus with you and watch your antics in fascination and awe!

  5. Thank you Fran, for making me chuckle. We should, of course, spare a kindly thought for Ex-WW, who may well be closer to her home country than Blacklow Road by now.

  6. First time visitor here...I loved this post, and I'm looking forward to poking around a bit more. You have a gift with words, to be able to make such a simple morning into such an entertaining story. Lovely.

  7. Sharon - you know, you may have a point. Perhaps that's why there are whisperings from them all as I get on the bus each morning.

  8. Battypip - I think I might have more success if I purposely set out to harm them. That way, things might work out better.

  9. Martin, your comment made me laugh. And then I felt guilty. Because you may well be right. Oops.

  10. J - it's kind of you to visit and to leave a comment. Glad you enjoyed the post. Do come back again.

  11. How glad I am that i don't travel on buses any more. This is not a Mrs Thatcher type piece of bragging, just that where we live now there are no buses. In all my bus travelling life I was always the one sat next to the mad woman teling me her life story. Sometimes I think she had bags but not always.

  12. Hahaha, Loved your bus tale and especially the fancy dress as a barrel quip. It reminded me that a friend of mine once went to a fancy dress party as a boil. She put on a lot of red lipstick had a mouthful of custard and ....need I say more ?
    Anna May Mangan

    ps: have linked to you on my site - hope that's OK ?

  13. You, my dear Fran, are the Daphne Du Maurier of public transportation, or perhaps, the Erica Jong of motor-buses. At any rate you have the ability to make your readers the WWs on the other side of aisle, which must be the width of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotation (lying flat.) However, I do think these motor-bus experiences should be gathered together and published as a book. The title might be: Memoirs of a WW Commando.If I might be so bold
    as to suggest a nom de plume: Daphne Jong.

  14. elizabethm - ah yes, the mad women and their life stories. Er. I think I'm too near that category to comment ....

  15. Anna May - the boil fancy dress story is thrillingly revolting. Of course I'm happy with the link. Thank you!

  16. Hm, Count. I don't know. I wonder whether my bus stories are only tolerated because they come every now and again rather than all at once. Just like UK buses, come to think of it. But thanks for your appreciation.

  17. The foreign exWW is most likely on a sleigh to China by now...and wondering where the heck that round-about is. Who knew Brit ladies could be soooo hilarious. As an American, I even learned a few new words---plonker and cock it up. Both of which I'm a bit hesitant to use in polite conversation as I think they'd raise a few eyebrows. Merry Christmas from across the pond!

  18. # 15 is especially hilarious, with quite a few memorable lines throughout."Shame. I quite fancied Romania in the spring." - that's a good one, and the idea of losing a few pearls of wisdom from Steinbeck at every jostle - very funny, Fran!

  19. Wow, this one has to be one of my new favorite bus tales. Although the one with you eating olives on the bus will always have a special place in my heart.

    Think I might fly to England just to ride a bus with you...

  20. Boomer Pie - I tend not to frequent China-bound sleighs so at least she'll be safe from mad English women.

  21. Thanks, Mark - you are very appreciative!

  22. Amanda - do come. I am sure that you and me on a bus would give me loads more material for the blog ...

  23. I never thought that riding on a bus could be so entertaining. I must do it more often.

    Have a great Christmas and New Year. I'm so pleased to have met your aquaintance in 2009.


  24. Bluestocking Mum - You have no idea! Bus travel is by far the most exciting way to get around the UK. So much happens. Happy Christmas to you, too, my writing holiday buddy ...


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