I OCCASIONALLY have to travel by bus. It is possible I have already mentioned this in a previous column. By “occasionally”, I mean twice a day. It would be insane to travel by bus once a day, unless you wanted to go progressively further from home.
Unfortunately there was a bus strike. Now, I am all for the right of workers to withdraw labour in the event of a dispute, but this one affected me, and that is not on. Being forced to make alternative arrangements is easily the worst thing that can befall me because it just increases the number of events that could turn out badly.
But this bus strike was special, because it coincided with my local train station being out of action for three weeks. And the next nearest station was 20 minutes away. By bus. I can only assume that there had been an unusually productive meeting of the Inconveniencing Bainbridge Society (IBS, appropriately enough).
I don’t have a car, taxis were going to be as rare as taxis during a bus strike, and there were no lifts on offer. I had only one option left – Shanks’s pony. I was going to have to walk four and a half miles from home to my office.
“Flipping buses, eh?” he said. “I’ve been waiting for ages.”
The poor man, I thought. “Oh, no, sorry! They’re on strike,” I said. “I’m walking to work because they’re off.”
He thanked me, and I went to go, when he said, “Hang on, is it all the operators?”
“No,” I said. “Just the one on this route.” At which point he explained that another bus would be along soon, operated by a different firm, and that would take me to a mile from my office.
This was a sort of victory, I thought. “When does it come?”
“Oh, in about five or 10 minutes.”
I did a tiny airpunch, and the man started to tell me the story of his life, with a level of detail that meant I now know more about his life than my own. Sometimes he would stop and ask me to explain my own poor life choices. It was like watching a very long episode of This Is Your Life, with no celebrities I had heard of, while occasionally experiencing a Chinese burn.
It was the longest 10 minutes I had ever spent in anybody’s company, and I sneaked a look at my watch. It had actually been 30 minutes. “Um, what time did you say that bus was due?” I asked.
“Ooh, any minute,” he said.
“No, lad,” he said. “It stops up there, up the hill. But sometimes it comes past this way and if you put your hand out sometimes the driver stops for you.”
“Excuse me,” I said, and ran back up the hill, to the bus stop I had apparently ignored earlier. The bus had been there 20 minutes previously, at roughly the time the old man had indicated.
Then I trudged back, past the old man, who is probably still there for all I care, and onwards to work, now at least half an hour late.
And about 30 minutes away from the office – precisely the time I had spent at the bus not-stop – the skies became a putty grey and parted to empty several swimming pools on me, and not especially gradually. I had no coat as it was sunny when I left.
And then, as I approached my office, dripping like a sponge, I saw a bus, run by a non-striking operator, which stops about five minutes’ walk from my home, and which it had not occurred to me I could catch.