Category Archives: Public Transport

Romance in the rain

Tuesday morning, 20 November 2012.  In one hand I hold a blue umbrella to stop the pouring rain from drenching me.  In the other I hold a cup of hot coffee.  My green handbag hangs over my left shoulder.  As I approach the shops opposite my tube station, I see a man dressed in a dark suit walking towards me.  We pass each other about twice a week.   I smile and nod as a greeting.  He does the same, though he always says something which I presume to be hello or good morning.  With my earphones in I can never be sure.   This morning our regular pattern is abruptly altered as he stops and gestures for me to join him under the awning of the sushi restaurant.

Sheltered from the rain, he takes the umbrella from my hand so I can remove my earphones with my one free hand.  I smile, to ease him.  I sense what’s coming.

Me:  Jeez, it’s really pouring down, isn’t it?

Him:  Yep, though at least it’s not as cold as it was yesterday.

Me:  True.

Neither of us can acknowledge that there’s an oddness to us standing here talking, but we both know it.

Him:  Um, I’ve wanted to talk to you because I see you all the time and I just think you seem really nice.  (He makes a nervous coughing sound to clear his throat).  I was wondering if you’d like to go for a drink some time?

Me:  Oh thank you.  But I have a boyfriend  . . .

Him:  Oh, sorry, I just thought that as I’ve never seen you with anyone you must be single  . . .

Me (suddenly compelled to provide unnecessary detail about my fictitious boyfriend):   He lives in Chiswick, so we only see each other on weekends.

Him:  Ah, okay.  Well I’m going to give you my phone number anyway, just in case your situation changes (he so doesn’t believe me).  I’ve already written it down as I planned on giving it to you the next time we saw each other.

I laugh and he smiles at me as he hands me a piece of paper.  We both know I don’t have a boyfriend.   He’s attractive, well-spoken and well-dressed.  What’s making me hesitate?

Me (still semi-laughing):  Okay … but it won’t be before Christmas.

Him (smiling broadly):  The new year’s good for me.  I’m James, by the way.

Me:  Simone.  And I better head to work or I’ll be late!

Him:  I’m so glad I spoke to you.  Enjoy your day.

He hands me back my umbrella and we head our separate ways.  I look at the piece of paper with his name and number.  I don’t know if I’ll get in contact and am pleased that my pre-Christmas embargo means I don’t have to think about it for a while.  All I have to worry about for the time being is when I’ll next run in to him on the way to the tube.  From now until the new year, I’ll commence every working day with mild anxiety, speckled with the twice-weekly awkward encounter.  Marvellous.

Bewitching burlesque and badly behaved boys

Saturday night, Leicester Square tube, London.  The tightly wedged crowd shuffles slowly towards the exit, barely able to move.  Two parallel staircases lead us out, but the left has come to a complete standstill.  It’s crammed with people but none are able to move forward or backward.  A metal rail divides the right and left staircase.  In front of me, a young man swings his legs over the bar and nimbly leaps to the other side which is slightly less crowded.  In my silver sequined butterfly dress and high heels I inelegantly squat under the bar.  It may be ungraceful but it prevents me from flashing the world.  When we reach the top of the stairs I see the cause of the traffic jam. 

An extremely obese woman has fallen and is struggling to get up.  She’s blocking the left staircase and preventing the flow of people from exiting.  A man with her is trying to help, but most of the crowd is angry at the holdup or fascinated by her size.  I hear a group of guys laughing and jeering “Look at the fat bitch!” “You’re a fucking heifer!!”  I instinctively look at them, irritated and saddened by their scorn and lack of empathy.  The loudest of the trio, a scrawny lad from the underclass, smiles at me “Hey sexy.  Where are you off to tonight then?” I keep walking.  It would please me to see all three of them fall down the stairs and break their necks.

In a few minutes my mood is lifted as I see my friends waiting for me outside the burlesque club we’re attending.  I mellow further when I see the velvet chaise longues inside and am handed a glass of champagne.  In a chandelier lit room I take a seat on a leather wing back chair.  The depressing riff-raff of central London are far away.  I’m content and ready for a good night, though I can’t fully shake the image of the woman on the staircase.  She’ll be feeling low for the whole evening and the experience will linger with her.  I make an effort to put the memory aside so I can enjoy myself.

The DJ

The DJ

The array of breathtaking performances varies from beautiful and seductive to skilled and funny.  I embrace the merriment, laughing and singing when required, though I’m not as much of a vocal “woo-hooer” or wolf-whistler as my exuberant friends.  I reach my happy peak in the second half of the evening when we all move downstairs to a private room.  The music is perfect and I blissfully move to it, the overwhelming heat causing my hair to stick to the back of my neck.  My friends chat to the Hostess and other people they know and I continue dancing.  The DJ smiles at me, clearly understanding that I approve of his work and we exchange a brief simulated dance from across his sound booth.  Earlier in the evening he’d been playing music on gramophones but he’s moved on to more modern equipment and I love it.

The hours pass quickly and it’s time to leave.  Hit suddenly by the drunk, drugged and disorderly sights and sounds of Leicester Square, my happiness goes down a notch.  As I descend the stairs to the tube I think of the woman on the staircase and feel a pang.    I had a wonderful and thoroughly entertaining evening but her memory of the night won’t be pleasant.  I know that the men taunting her won’t have broken their necks but I hope they’ve had a terrible evening (preferably involving a beating) and wake with massive hangovers.  It’s the least I can wish for.

A time to spit and a time to swallow

Sunday morning, the rain hasn’t stopped all night.  I’ve boiled the kettle and am now sitting down with a comforting cup of hot coffee.  I’m wrapped in a thick dressing gown.  The day ahead is mine and it will be full of indulgences.  I switch on the TV and prepare for E4 to pleasure me for the next few hours.  My black coffee is now cool enough to drink so I take a mouthful.  I feel something in my mouth and freeze … what the hell is it?  I drop my jaw and allow both the liquid and “thing” to drop onto the plate that’s holding my toast.  I stare at the now soggy toast and see the “thing” sitting on top of the raspberry jam.  A slug.  A Big. Fat. Slug.  I thank God I didn’t chew.  I close my jaw and sit, stunned and disgusted. 

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I returned home and opened the back door to let some air through the house.  When we went downstairs into the kitchen this morning a little trail of four slugs had trooped through from the garden.  Three were on the floor and one was on the kitchen bench.  We threw them back into the garden (my boyfriend refusing to kill any living thing, unless he’s eating it).  Clearly an ambitious slug had sought out the closest source of water and promptly trotted (slid) himself into the kettle.  I can’t imagine he was best-pleased when I switched it on …

This slug “incident” happened in 2004.

Returning to the present day, 23 October 2012.  This morning I was standing on the tube in my favourite spot (by the open window where I can delude myself into thinking I’m getting some “fresh” London air).  As part of my daily routine, I have a “keep-cup” cup of coffee.  I take a mouthful and feel stuff.  I freeze … what is it?!  My instinct is to spit it out, but I’m in a train carriage.  Social appropriateness is as ingrained as breathing.  I close my eyes and swallow, my stomach lurching and my gag reflex putting up a fight.  I know the “stuff” is only coffee granules that haven’t been filtered by the plunger.  It can’t be anything else.  It can’t be a slug … I watched the water pour in.  Since “the incident” I always watch the water pour in.

The “stuff” is swallowed.  This is no “incident” and I should now be back to listening to my music and mentally preparing for the day ahead.  But instead I clench my jaw and battle the phobia that rises.  Coffee is my drug of choice, my one true addiction (placing ibuprofen and alcohol in second and third place – though all three are often co-dependant on each other).  I cannot become phobic about coffee.  I love coffee.  I need coffee.  I assure myself that the chances of pouring a slug into my cup once were incredibly low; twice is ludicrously improbable.  But I will buy a new cafetière tonight.  Another new cafetière.  That slug has cost me a lot of money in the past eight years.

Trains, planes and buses

Some of you have been asking about my trips and I apologise if I’ve not provided enough detail.  I confess that I find listening to the travels of others criminally dull, though I’ve always thought this was a universal feeling and that we pretend to be interested to conform to social etiquette. When I was part of the online dating world I dismissed profiles that included gushing prose about travelling through fear of a boring first date.  I’m not saying travelling itself is dull … but hearing about it is.

I also find writing about travelling tedious, so I’m trying to keep it to a minimum.  In a nutshell, I’ve been trooping all over the country since I arrived, visiting old friends and being introduced to new ones.  In fact, not counting the 10,500 mile flight to get here, I’ve covered 12,000 miles in three months.  My next big trip is to China.  If anything monumental happens I’ll let you know!

Anyway, all that said, I will provide the details of one particular travelling experience in today’s post … (hypocrisy, thy name is Simone).

“Trains, planes and buses”

Jolimont Station, Canberra.  The bus arrives from Sydney and collects the Canberra load to continue through to Melbourne, though I’ll be alighting in Albury.  The driver who’s driven the leg from Sydney hands-over to the next driver, filling him in about the passengers and various stop-off points.  It’s peculiar to see that the new driver’s flustered and confused by the information.  He’s unnervingly jumpy as I hand over my bag.  His eyes dart erratically from his clipboard, to my bag and to the bus as he tells me I’m in seat 13B.

I discover that 13B is at the very back, within touching distance of the toilet which reeks of urine.  As I take my window-seat, a passenger curtly informs me that this seat has already been allocated to her and I’m to take the aisle seat.  It transpires that approximately ten seats have been double-booked by the driver and I begin to doubt his competence.

My faith is further reduced when we stall twice while exiting the bus-bay.  The driver responds to our groans. “Sorry! Sorry everyone! I don’t know what’s going on here. I’ll have it going in a sec”.  Silently we sit while he clumsily turns the engine and jolts the bus forward.  We kangaroo-hop and stall again.  Within fifteen minutes, before we’re even out of Canberra, we’ve stalled eight times – including in the middle of a roundabout and an intersection.  The nervous passengers murmur that the bus didn’t stall once on the journey from Sydney to Canberra which means the problem lies with the new driver, not the vehicle.  There’s a distinct edginess to the atmosphere.

We enter Wagga and stop on a steep hill at a set of traffic lights.  The lights turn green … and the bus stalls.  It stalls again.  And again. It stalls seven times, each time rolling further back down the hill to the nervous gasps from the passengers.  The tension is palpable. The cars behind the bus have to reverse and move out of the way.  Finally someone cracks.

Man (shouting):  Open the doors!

From my position at the back of the bus, I can’t hear the driver’s response.

Man (shouting, more aggressively):  Open the fuckin’ doors, and let me off!!

The doors open and the man leaves, shouting a lot of obscenities on his way.  The remaining passengers (including me) cast worried looks at each other; we’re still on the hill at the traffic lights, though we’ve rolled back quite a distance.  I consider getting a hotel room for the night and another bus tomorrow, but get distracted when I see the driver get a man from the street to start the bus for him!  To understand what’s happening I move to a seat behind the driver who babbles frantically to those near him.  Whenever the bus starts he has to keep moving in third gear as he’s unable to get into first or second.  He’s clearly mentally unstable (drugs?) and refuses to contact his Head Office because he’s only been in the job for three weeks.

The passengers out of earshot have no idea what’s going on and are becoming increasingly irate.  The driver’s so nervous he can barely function and, to my horror, hands me his microphone.

Driver:  Do me a favour and let them know what’s going on, will ya love? I need to concentrate on what I’m doing.

I reject the microphone but stand in the middle of the aisle like a tour guide and, with embarrassment, explain the situation with the gears and that we’ll get help when we reach Albury.  I can’t quite believe this is happening and I’m desperate for the journey to end.

For the remaining stress-filled two hours the driver (“Tony”) asks me which turn-offs to take because I’m “familiar with the route” (I was – seventeen years ago!).  As we finally pull into the bus depot, he compliments me and asks for my phone number – making it one of the strangest bus trips of my life.  I tell Tony that my British mobile doesn’t work here.  Of course he’s seen me texting for the entire journey, but I’m too frazzled to care.