Column: June 29, 2011

MARGARET THATCHER once said that a man over the age of 30 who travelled to work on a bus was a failure. Mind you, she also said, “The Poll Tax – that’s definitely a vote winner, Denis,” so perhaps she wasn’t always the best judge.

Nevertheless, I will not be labelled a failure by the former Prime Minister just because I get the bus to work. For all she knows, I am an eccentric millionaire who is getting the bus to “keep it real”. Or perhaps I am doing it for a bet.

The fact is, if anybody is going to label me a “bus failure”, it is not going to be a shrill right-wing baroness who kept giving Kenneth Clarke jobs. It is going to be me, through my own actions.

For I normally take a pride in being a model bus passenger. I give up my seat for old and pregnant women. I don’t sit with my knees at ten-to-two. I have the John Cage composition 4’33” as my ringtone. If the bus were filled with clones of me, it would be a harmonious form of transport, if a little weird.

So when I failed to live up to my high bus standards last week, I was in the top two of people disappointed by my actions. The other will be revealed later.

I was sitting on the back seat after a long day of doing whatever it is that I do all day. It was warm, because I was sitting near the engine, and it is summer, and I was wearing sunglasses. My head leant against the window, the cool, cool window. And the suspension was rocking me gently, like an infant on her mother’s lap. In effect, the Number 74 was giving me what I can only describe as a lovely cuddle.

I am ashamed to say I succumbed. My eyelids drooped shut and I slept the sleep of the sleepy. This would never have happened to me years ago, but one of the double-edged advantages of barrelling headlong closer and closer to the grave has been the discovery of an ability to fall asleep absolutely anywhere: armchairs, trains, forward- planning meetings. And now buses. I must have been asleep 20 minutes when I woke with a start, judging by the last stop I remember.

But the first thing I saw when I awoke was the horrified face of the young French woman sitting opposite me.

At this point, we must imagine what must have gone through the mind of the French woman.

“Zut alors et sacre bleu,” she would have thought.

“There is an Englishman in his late thirties sitting opposite me, wearing sunglasses. Consequently, I cannot see his eyes.

“But that is by the by. The important thing is that he is staring right at me, his slack jaw is lolling and . . . is . . . is that? Yes, yes, it is. He is drooling.”

Now come back into my mind. I was thinking: “This probably looks very bad.”

I removed my sunglasses, wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, and looked out of the window. “Thank goodness. I get off next stop,” I thought. I turned back. She was still staring at me, a look of revulsion with, perhaps, a touch of pity in there.

The bus moved off, and I gathered my belongings. But as I was about to stand, the French woman did, too, with her French woman friend. We were all getting off at the same stop.

As we alighted, they started walking down the same hill as me, but I was behind them.
I decided that in order to reassure her I would speed up and pass them.

“Zut alors,” she apparently thought. “The drooling Englishman is following me. Is this what passes for romance in England? I will speed up to avoid him.”

So now I was effectively racing a strange French woman down a hill in order to reassure her that I was not a pervert. I doubt my status has been any lower.

I never thought I would ever have to concede that Mrs Thatcher was right.

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