Wednesday, 13 October 2004

long-distance bus journeys with the damned

At 10.55 my bus arrived. I boarded. There were some free seats near the front, so I sat down, blew up my little pillow and made myself comfortable. As I settled myself down I became aware of an odd smell emanating from the front of the bus. Several fellow passengers were clearly also aware of it, and one or two were looking at me suspiciously. I shuffled my feet and got out my book.

On the other side of the aisle, three or four rows to the front of me was a woman I mentally labelled as a new-age type, from the way she was dressed. Soon after the bus pulled out she mentioned the strange smell to the hostess, who made vague reassuring noises and moved on.

The man in the seat in front of me started some rather robust bantering with the hostess - she was from Yorkshire and he was from Lancashire - and then asked for a cup of coffee, which she brought him. He then started rustling in a plastic bag, presumably for something to eat.

The smell became worse.

As we pulled in to Bristol bus station, the New-Age Lady suddenly jumped out of her seat and ran towards the back of the bus, screaming "he's got KIPPERS in there!".

General uproar, chaos and confabulation.

The hostess tried to part the man from his kippers, pointing out that the smell was causing quite a few other passengers distress.

He protested that they were lovely kippers and he'd bought them only that morning, fresh, from Sainsbury's in Swansea.

The driver became involved. The bus would not leave Bristol until the kippers, lovely or not, went underneath in the luggage storage.

Kipper Man held out. The other passengers started to become restive. We had flights to catch.

Eventually he gave in ... the kippers were bagged up and put in with the luggage. New-Age Lady refused to return to her seat and was re-housed near the back of the bus. Kipper Man spent the rest of the journey grumbling and emanating less specific smells that were still startling in their intensity.

At Reading, at about 1 am, the bus pulled in to the stop - a gyro outside a deserted supermarket. Four people with reserved seats were waiting to get on. Kipper Man was travelling on a stand-by ticket, so he had to leave the bus and wait for the next one, to make space for them. Before they got on, the hostess disinfected his seat and the floor around it.

As we pulled out of Reading, he was left standing beside the bus-stop, holding only his bag of kippers, lonely in the night air.

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