Sensor Sensibility


I KNEW it was going to be a difficult journey when I slapped my bus pass card on the sensor and the green light did not come on.

The bus driver looked at me as if it were my fault, as if my actual hobby were annoying bus drivers and that day I had chosen him as a target. I might as well have addressed him in French.

I missed those glorious times, when having a pass meant that I was able to waft past the people paying for tickets and snaffle the best seats, like Rihanna or the late Sir David Frost would if they had to catch the 86.

Now we have to queue to place our cards on a sensor and wait until the computer inside the ticket machine stops chatting with his mates over the internet – no doubt plotting the downfall of the human race through the use of automated checkouts – then umms and ahhs, and finally lets us through.

“I’ll try it again,” I said to the bus driver. “I’ve only just renewed it in that newsagent’s down there, it should be fine.”

The bus driver appeared pained by having to listen to so much of my life story but nevertheless acquiesced, and I plonked the card back on the sensor. This time the computer inside had come off its tea break and the green light finally flashed.

The driver waved me through, clearly angered that somehow I had gamed the system, and I went to find a seat.

Of course, all the decent seats were grabbed in this post-convenience world, and I had to take one of the weirdo rear-facing seats.

I have no idea why bus designers decided that they would have little nooks of facing seats over the wheel arch. Maybe they were trying to capture the corporate mini-conference market.

In any case, I sat down, took out my copy of Bus Driver Annoyer Monthly, and noted that I was sitting opposite a young woman with rollers roughly the size of those hay bales you see in farmland down the M6.

It appeared she was taking a long time to compose a selfie, until I realised the phone I thought she was holding was a compact and she was actually doing her make-up.

I started wondering why it was that some women do their make-up on public transport. It’s not that I object in principle – although you would never see me having a shave on the bus – but in practice it must be difficult. And this woman was sitting over the wheel arch. One pothole and she would look like The Joker in The Dark Knight.

I need not have worried, for her phone rang, and she paused her cosmetic activity to answer it. The call was clearly from a young suitor, for her demeanour went from calm to animated very quickly.

She chuckled, then said, loudly, so that everybody on the quiet bus could hear, “If you talk to me again I will stab you,” and she ended the conversation.

I am paraphrasing, of course. In reality, she scattered f-words on the sentence like rice at a wedding. They got in everywhere, even between syllables. It was almost poetic.

The ferocity of her promise made the middle-aged woman sitting next to her edge away. But she resumed making up her face as if nothing had happened.

Her suitor rang again. Calmly, if loudly, she informed him that she would personally cut him in such a way that it would reduce his marital value sharply. Then she carried on with her make-up. The woman sitting next to her edged away further. The rest of the bus passengers were on pins.

Her suitor rang a third time. This time she was no-nonsense. “I’m gonna get my cousins to cut your fingers off and shove them down your f*****g throat,” she trilled.

The passengers suppressed a gasp, the woman next to her was now so far away that only one buttock was on the seat. But, of course, I have no poker face.

“What?” she said to me.

I weighed up the situation. This woman’s first response to adversity was to consider the use of a knife. This woman had cousins. Worst of all, this woman was hard enough to put on make-up on the bus.

I had only one option. “Je ne comprends pas,” I said. And thus I still have the fingers to type this column.

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