Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Public Transport: All Life Is Here

Many of you know I am a great advocate of public transport; even with all its faults and its falling far short of John Prescott's vision of a fully integrated transport system, I love it. Admittedly I would love it more if they didn't miss out buses, cancel trains and if they were as clean friendly and as efficient as they were in Amsterdam. What I haven't shared with you though is what great fun the bus and train can be for an ardent observer of life in all its forms.

I have a notebook in which I record the types of observations you have when someone says or does something funny that you know you will forget if you don't write it down. Flipping through its pages recently I couldn't help but smile as I recalled the details of some of my regular fellow passengers: for example the man with a pock marked face who always sits behind me.

I guess he must be one of those people who keep up a continuous internal dialogue with himself. Occasionally though, the dialogue escapes unbidden: in a deep nasal voice that's a cross between pub singer and finger-in-the-ear folk singer he bursts into short snatches of, what I think are, Sinatra classics. When he does this I get a waft of breath that leads me to suspect that he either regularly drinks heavily late into the night or has Tennant's Extra on his Shredded Wheat - either way, the result is not pleasant but is instructive. Between snatches of song he keeps up a cheery conversation but only shares brief glimpses of his otherwise internal dialogue so you suddenly get something like: "... no mate, completely trashed it...shadapoooooohh" (Frank Sinatra again). At first this was a little disconcerting but is actually quite entertaining now.

It is of course highly possible that the dialogue is not with himself but with the voices that sometimes accompany one of the major pyschoses. I'd like to think that we are enlightened enough for it not to matter - he seems happy enough and is obviously up to holding down a job; it just adds to life's richness.

My favourite character though doesn't actually get on the bus. There is a blind chap who does regularly catch it and many people seem to know him and help him at various stages: finding the seat or helping him off the bus when it stops in the middle of Oldham Street and not by the kerb as is sometimes the case. When he gets on the bus there is often an older lady - I couldn't guess how old she may be 40 or 80. She is tiny: well under 4 feet tall and has a smiley face as wrinkled as an old prune, something Mrs Pepperpot might look like after a life of smoking untipped Woodbines and eating fried food for almost every meal. It seems that she regularly leaves her house nearby, to see the blind chap across the road; then she sees him onto the bus until he is safely seated. She the alights - and here is why I love this vignette - she turns and waves to his oblivious departing form as the bus pulls away: priceless.

I do hope that we get the public transport system we deserve one day, there are more good reasons for it than I have time to list; but if for no other reason than that travelling together is a great social leveller - although not unknown, I think bus rage is less common than road rage.


70steen said...

Brilliant Crofty. How civilised is your bus!!! My train is a rugby scrum with frotting (fab word I had not heard before Mr Woppit used it)
Observing life, people and its rituals, is what keeps us learning and it does make you a more tolerant citizen (or less when you have just been elbowed by some 50 odd year old 6ft business man trying to get on the train before you, & I react either with a stilleto in the shin or very loudly 'How rude, you have no manners bully')........... just had a thought though I wonder if your actions on the bus are noted by someone aswell.... 'well there's this bloke on the bus and he is scribbling notes everyday. I wonder if he is a writer ??? or what.....??'

Tracey said...

I love to "people watch" as well! I recently took the girls up to stay with Jonathan and Wendy in Bucks and we commuted into London for the day... Wow! All sorts of people to watch :D

Crofty said...

70s: I never thought of that! I hope they think I'm an interesting and strangely attractive man - perhaps they do think I'm a famous writer on a research mission; though at that time in a morning they probably don't give a toss!
Tracey: You're right I bet London is brim full of interesting people.

Lisa said...

I think I've escorted that very same blind man down Market St. He used to work in a record shop just down from where I used to work.

I used to hide behind my book on the train, unless a certain gorgeous bloke got on, then I'd pretend to read whilst rolling my tongue back up off the floor!! I'd forgotten the perks of public transport. ;D

Crofty said...

I've just had to look up frotting and have had my eyes opened!
Another word I came across today (no smirking that isn't an intentional pun)was 'boskier'- used by Dylan Thomas in Under Milkwood. The two words seem vaguely related: a bosky place being where frotting might occur -other than on your train!