COLUMN: March 8, 2012

I WAS miles away from the nice old lady at the bus stop. Strictly speaking, I was about 30 feet away from the bus stop. After all, I have been unable to show my face at the actual bus stop since “The 5p Incident,” which I detailed some weeks ago.

Nevertheless, I was not paying full attention to my surroundings. I was checking every so often to see if my bus was coming, but mostly I was being annoyed by my phone.

“It’s your bus, love,” said the elderly lady. “You nearly missed it.” And, so doing, she was sure she had paid the debt she felt she owed me.

That was from the day we first met, about a year ago. “Don’t go in there,” she begged me, blocking my way to the bus shelter. “It’s full of bullets.”

“Whu-what?” I asked.

“They’ve left a load of bullets in there,” she said. “This place is getting worse and worse.”

“What?” I thought. “This is Woolton, not Baltimore. We don’t have gangs, we have a cinema and artisan cheese shop. When you go to the off-licence, the kids outside harass you to buy a bottle of red Chateauneuf-du-pape, ideally 2007.”

Gingerly, I approached the shelter. She was right. A couple of dozen live bullets were scattered around the floor and on the seats among a couple of empty beer bottles. It was chilling, intimidating. The message was clear. This was a gang which just didn’t care.

“We have to phone the police,” said the woman. I agreed. We stood looking at each other for a while. “You mean me, don’t you?” I said. “Yes,” she said.

I dialled 999 and described the scene. The operator said she would send a patrol car straight away. Then I called my colleagues on the newsdesk to tell them about my scoop. Then I turned to reassure the woman that the authorities were on their way to make the area safe. She was not there. She was peering into the gutter. “God bless us, there are a couple here, too.”

I walked over and inspected the bullets she had found. They were rather flat, as if a bus had driven over them. Yes, I thought, very flat. And very plasticky. Very obviously plasticky.

I dialled 999 again. “This is a bit embarrassing…” I started. I was too late, and 30 seconds later the patrol car arrived. I do not know if you have ever seen two police officers try to contain their laughter, but it is not edifying.

“Ah, well,” said the woman, as the police drove off. “Better to be safe, eh?”

“Yes,” I said, through gritted teeth, looking forward to explaining my self to the newsdesk.

I saw her again a couple of weeks ago. On that day, I decided, for a bit of excitement, to get a different bus, one which would take me to South Liverpool Parkway. From there I would get the train to the station near my office. I appreciate this does not sound very exciting, but my standards are quite low.

When I arrived at the ticket office, I was one of only two customers and there were two clerks. The other passenger, a woman, asked for a single to Moorfields. “£2.60,” said her clerk.

“A single to Moorfields,” I requested. “£2.75,” said my clerk. I thought that was a bit rum, but had I complained there was a risk that the woman would have to pay out another 15p. Burned by the baffling injustice, I resolved not to get the train again.

Which brings me back to last week. “It’s your bus, love,” said the elderly woman. “You nearly missed it.” It was the bus to the station.

For some reason she had remembered the bus I had caught on the previous occasion and, understandably, assumed that was my usual bus.

I had a choice: get the wrong bus, or have to explain to somebody that I only got that bus to bring some excitement to my grim existence, thereby disappointing her on several levels.

I bit the bullet, so to speak. I got the wrong bus. It cost me an extra £2.75. And I was late for work.

I have decided to change my bus stop. Sometimes you just can’t go back. Or within 30 feet of back.

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