The Continuing Dull Diary of Last Week
Wednesday: Got up too late to meet Krystal and Derby at the British Museum (thank god, had enough seminars in there/at the museum tavern while at uni to last me a lifetime of damn Egyptian mummies and olde englyshe caskets), and rolled into Seven Dials at the crack of three pm to meet up for shopping and... erm... walking and sipping coffee. No fucking at all. (theatre joke, okay?)
It was freezing brass monkeys, and I had to wait forty minutes at Seven Dials so the whole afternoon involved lots of racing about the West End - tea in Neal's Yard, snacks in Chinatown, wandering through Soho, Golden Lion Square, Bond Street, Selfridge's, Marble Arch ... all very normal, although I have to wonder how come since I moved out of reach of a London Underground station, I've spent more time in central London than any point since I lived there?
Ah yes, the touristical fun and games started when I tried to board a bus at Marble Arch. I had cheap tickets to see Bombay Dreams (which troubled my brain exactly as much as watching an opera did, fact fans) in Victoria, and needed to get there fast. It's over a year since Derby moved Oop North from London, so I was trying to look all hard-nosed London local, by charging up to the third bus stop without checking the schedules, and hopping straight onto the first bus that came along. Mistake. Seems that Mayor Ken has introduced bus token stands, so that in congested areas, you pay your money to a machine, then simply wave a slip of a ticket on the actual bus. Didn't tell me about it, though, didya, Ken? Even though I pay #1600 a year in council tax, ya bastige.
Red-faced, I suffered the indignity of bus-driver-rudeness, getting off the bus again and watching it speed away, and most gallingly of all, German Tourist pleasantly showing me how to work the token machine. Sigh.
Next bus was a Routemaster, so I brushed off the shame, left the German vandalising the token machine (hah!) and thought I'd be able to regain my Thirteen Years in the Inner City Local's Demeanour.
You know the answer already, don't you?
Two minutes into the journey, having fought weary battles, red in tooth and claw, to gain seats on the bus, I looked up at the route map on the wall. Wrong bus.
Cue every single person on the bus telling me how to get off and get a bus to Victoria. This is London. This is wrong. People in cities this big don't talk to each other. They're not helpful. As Quiet Writer put it the other day, long spells in big cities breeds disconnection of the strongest sort. Come to London, where we ignore you because We Prefer It That Way. You don't chat on the bus!
Red faced and more like a tourist than ever, I fought my way over the help-offering throngs to get to the exit. Routemaster buses have an open platform at the back, meaning you can jump on and off any time the bus slows down (except if you're paraplegic of course, when you can only fall off, no jumping on there for you). Only this is no bloody use to you if the bus is speeding around the Hyde Park Corner junction, in the middle of eight lanes of traffic all doing 40mph at the time. And leaving by the exit lane diametrically opposite to the one you want. Lovely traditional West Indian bus conductor did his best to cheer me up by encouraging me in a hysterically-pitched scream to jump off and dart amongst the traffic via a strip of dirty grass verge every time we skimmed a traffic island at breakneck speed. I was nearly crying as I protested that I would break my neck because of the breakneckingness of it all. Eventually, my cowardice meant we ended up back at Marble Arch, and having to walk for half an hour to cross back over Hyde Park Corner. The fascination for the entire lower deck was palpable, all craned their necks to see my crestfallen trudging as we got off, still brassily debating how I should best have managed the transfer to a Victoria-bound bus. Glad I lightened their day. But by now I don't think I'm going to shed the feeling of being a tourist in my own city.
One hundred yards from the next bus stop, three Routemasters heading swiftly towards Victoria skim past us. At exactly the right moment, Derby whips out a hand and leaps onto the passenger platform of the last one. She screams encouragement at me. I leap.
Mid-leap, I begin The Wail. The one that the widows in Palestine do on telly. The heart rending "NOoooOOOOoooOoooooOOOOOOOooooooOOOOOooooooo" that makes every single head on the lower and upper decks turn to see me miss the platform and land in the gutter.
Derby keeps my nerve up by uttering encouraging whooping and screaming noises as the bus pulls away, accelerating. She's joined in this by one or two amused London commuters on the seats nearest the doors. I run.
I can run. I just can't be gainly about it. Or fast. Or successful. I was always the one who gave up in the hundred yard dash at school, and not only came last but walked the last half, whingeing noisily. But now, I ran. It was like Chariots of Fire and a heart attack, crossed.
As the bus got to the stop, I was a mere thirty yards away. The lower deck roared to the driver to wait, as one, I swear. Panting, sweating, wheezing, I hurled myself towards the platform. Derby did some celebratory whooping.
And I desperately tried to control my raging redfaced gulps, groans and unfit gasps as I oozed past faceless solicitor type forty something blokes. All of whom were giggling.
Updated: Wednesday, 25 February 2004 9:18 PM GMT
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