What follows are a few fragments of stories from journeys I have taken over the last few months when my blogging has been less than regular.
The 59 bus
When I’m feeling lazy, I get the 59 bus to work. It’s at least 15 minutes longer than getting a bus and then a Tube and then another Tube, which is the quickest way of getting to work, but it is very relaxing.
One morning, I was sitting on the bus, with my headphones on and my book open, radiating “don’t talk to me” vibes, when a woman in her twenties sat next to me. I moved my bag so she’d have enough space to sit next to me. She thanked me. She was a bit more effusive in her thanks than was necessary for what I had done. After a minute of two, she stood up and went for a walk around the bus. When she came back, she sat down in another seat. I’m not sure she realised it was a different seat.
Every few minutes she would get up and have a walk around the bus. Then, suddenly, she fell flat on her face. She said loudly, “I’m sorry for the fuss. I’m a little drunk.” Most of the passengers reacted well, getting out of their seats, helping her onto her feet, offering her water, but a middle-aged bald man in a suit who was standing in the middle of the bus (who sounded sober) (and incredibly camp) announced to the bus “She’s probably on drugs too.” No one reacted.
This was all just a preface to the main drama of the bus journey. As we were crossing Waterloo bridge, the bus stopped very suddenly in the middle of the street. There was a scream behind me and a bang in front of me. A toddler who’d been standing up on her seat in front of me was thrown to the floor when the bus had stopped. This was the source of the bang. After an eerie pause, the child bellowed and started crying volcanically loudly. Her mother cuddled and comforted her. It was clear the child was ok, but also clear that she’d had such a scare that she wasn’t going to stop crying any time soon.
The scream from behind me had come from the young drunk woman. Apparently she knew she was the one who had caused the bus to stop so suddenly. The driver charged down the bus to make sure we were all uninjured. He saw that we were ok and told us that the bus’s emergency brake had been activated because someone had forced open the back door while the bus was moving. No one was accused of opening the door, but it was clear that the drunk woman was commonly believed to be the culprit.
The driver started driving again. The toddler continued to bawl thunderously and the drunk women started crying too apologising profusely to the child’s mother and screaming at the bus driver that it was wrong that the bus had stopped so suddenly that the child had been thrown to the ground.
The camp bald man in a suit also started shouting at the driver, telling him that this was political correctness gone mad and the liberal nanny state reaching into all our lives and that we don’t need to be treated like babies and if a junkie wanted to open a door on a moving bus then she should be allowed to fall into moving traffic and there was no need for that to affect everyone else on the bus.
I think everyone was alright in the end. Life in London is non-stop drama. And men who wear suits are dicks.
Flying to Dublin
In September, I was flying to Dublin on a Friday morning for a close friend’s wedding.
Being me, I couldn’t just travel the night before and minimise drama. I ended up having to get up at 4:00 am for a 2:00 pm wedding.
I walked to the bottom of the hill and got the 118 bus to Brixton station and then the Victoria Line Tube to Tottenham Hale and then the train to Stansted. I arrived in Stansted about an hour before I was due to fly and presumed I would have plenty of time as I had already checked in and didn’t have any bags. I was, almost, wrong.
Security took forever to get through. First of all, I was interrogated about my fidget spinner. Of course I have a fidget spinner. Of course I do. I am a slave to every millennial youth trend that there is. And my fidget spinner just happens to be a metallic one that looks very weapon-y. The guard eventually allowed me to take it on the plane after putting it through the machine twice.
Then I managed to set off the alarm on the metal detector. I didn’t know what it could be. Maybe my nipple piercings? I wouldn’t want to remove those in the security line in Stansted. They put me into the body scanner and discovered that it was my right foot setting the alarm off. They made me take off my right sock and send that through the scanner. Seriously. And the guard got me to go back into the body scanner and I no longer triggered the alarm. This made no sense. It was just an ordinary Penney’s sock.
I made it, with both socks, both nipple piercings and my fidget spinner, just in time for my flight. Having already taken a bus, a Tube, a train and a flight, I still had to get to the wedding. I got the AirCoach bus to the city centre of Dublin and then a Luas (tram) to Tallaght and finally a taxi to the little church in the Dublin mountains where the lovely wedding was taking place.
I clearly wasn’t going to take a seventh type of transport that day. Wrong! I was. After the ceremony, a friend dropped me off at the hotel I was staying at that night so I could freshen up before the reception and so I could leave my backpack. I’d got up early that morning, so it’s possible that I had a little lie down and almost fell asleep and had to have a shower to wake myself up. I then had to run around Naas, looking for sellotape to wrap the present because I obviously hadn’t done that while I was still in London. I bought sellotape in SuperValu and leaned on a trolley to wrap the present. I slipped the roll of tape in my pocket and hailed a taxi.
The wedding was in a golf club/country estate. There were two main buildings, one was signposted as “Wedding Venue” and the other as “Hotel”. The gate to the “Wedding Venue” was closed, but the taxi driver told me he knew another way. He drove around for a few minutes and then we pulled up outside a beautiful old building that was eerily quiet and clearly deserted. I went inside and could see stacks of chairs and piles of plates and boxes of glasses, but there was no wedding here. The taxi driver drove me to the hotel and left me there.
I asked in the hotel for directions to the wedding and they told me it was in the Wedding Venue and not in the hotel. I told them about where I’d been and the nice bar tender told me that I’d been in the right building but I’d gone in the staff entrance and the wedding was at the other side of the building. She said it was a bit of a walk and she’d give me a lift over. And so, after a day in which I’d been in two buses, a Tube, a train, a plane, a tram, a friend’s rental car and two taxis, I climbed on board my final mode of transport for the day, a golf buggy.
I’d never been on a golf buggy before. It’s fun, though I can’t say it’s a smooth ride. And then, about halfway between the hotel and the wedding venue, we got a flat tyre. I didn’t know golf buggies could get flat tyres. The bar tender drove on regardless, one of the bumpiest experiences of my life. I made it to the reception between the starter and the main course. It wasn’t a big enough wedding for me to sneak into, so I just bombasted it out and I think it was ok.
It was a lovely wedding, by the way.
Flying to Cork and Buying a Suit
Shortly before my dad passed away, I was flying home to Cork from Heathrow Airport.
I was just walking through the ticket turnstile at Heathrow Tube Station when I felt a tug at my suitcase and I lost my grip on it and it fell to the floor. The woman behind me had timed her maneouvre perfectly. In the time it took me to reach for my bag, I stood still, effectively keeping the ticket gate open. In that same moment, she and her two small children leapt over my suitcase and got into the airport without paying for their Tube journey.
I had to admire her. I can quite easily imagine me getting myself into a situation where I could afford to pay for a flight when booking it but by the time it came round to actually taking the flight, I wouldn’t have enough money to pay for the Tube to get to the airport. And I certainly wouldn’t have the nimbleness and the sense of timing required to trip up someone else’s suitcase at exactly the right time to get through the barriers for free, let alone to be able to do that with two small children in tow.
Once on board the plane, I heard the most disturbing announcement I think I’ve ever heard a pilot make. He said, “Don’t worry if you hear different noises than usual on today’s flight. One of the engines isn’t working, so we have to re-charge it.” What? Every passenger on the plane looked around to see if we’d heard him right. It was too late for us to do anything. The doors were shut and the pilot was revving up. Luckily, we got to Cork safely, regardless of how many engines were working.
There was one day between my dad’s death and the funeral. I didn’t have a suit to wear.
But surely it would be fine. Cork is a relatively big place. I’d be able to find something.
Well, yes. Except that the day in question was also the day when Cork was being battered by Hurricane Ophelia, the wildest storm to hit Ireland in generations. I needed to get a suit, but the internet was full of videos of roofs flying off schools. Large parts of Cork were without electricity. In fact, when people were visiting us to pay respects that day, as my dad’s body was laid out in our sitting room, many people also brought their mobile phones and chargers and asked if they could plug them in, as our street was one of the few in Ballincollig with electricity.
My brother rang some of the “big men’s” clothes shops in Cork to see if any were open. Only one (of the three possibilities) answered. They said that they were open, but they didn’t sound fully awake when my brother spoke to them so we didn’t really believe.
We had to believe though. I couldn’t carry my dad’s coffin wearing jeans and a stripey t-shirt.
My sister is a brave driver and we sat behind the wheel of the car at a moment when the wind seemed to have calmed down a little. We’re only about a five-mile drive to the centre of Cork. We drove in via what is known as the Straight Road. Almost immediately, a car passed us and flashed its lights and we came to some tape, apparently sealing off the road. A massive tree had been felled in front of us. Luckily, the tape only stretched about three quarters of the way across the road and we were able to get round it.
What followed was a post-apocalyptic journey. There weren’t many cars on the road and no one was driving where they were supposed to be. All along the Straight Road, tall trees had been felled. Little mini tornados of twigs and leaves swirled around on the ground. Bruised and battered trees still stood but all looked like they were about to fall. We gave up on the road and we mounted the footpath and drove into town very slowly and very illegally. A tree did not fall on us and we came to no harm.
When we reached the city centre, everything was locked up and the city was mainly in darkness. Every shop we passed was closed. We pulled up outside the shop who had answered their phone that morning. We didn’t have much hope. And then, miraculously, the automatic door slid open in front of me, like the Red Sea before Moses. I would be able to get a funeral suit!
We drove home via the Model Farm Road, which is narrower and (obviously) twistier than the Straight Road, so it might be thought of as more dangerous, but I figured it would be more sheltered and that there were fewer tall trees along it, so it could be argued that it was more hurricane-friendly. And it was fine, until the very end, when a massive tree blocked our way. Luckily, this was after the turn off for the back road into Ballincollig, so we did eventually get home, with a suit and with an unscarred car in the middle of a hurricane.
The weather continued to be weird. The funeral was on a bright sunny day and by the time I was flying back to England, there was another storm blowing. Storm Brian was gusting across the runway of Cork Airport as we waited to take off. The pilot announced that we would wait until it died down a bit before taking off. Forty minutes later, still on the runway, the wind was still just as bad. The pilot decided to risk it and as we were taking off, I could feel the plane being lifted and pulled and pushed by the wind. I was convinced I was going to die. This isn’t how I wanted to die, I thought. I was reading one of Terry Pratchett’s lesser books. Couldn’t I die with Proust or Tolstoy in my hand? Or if I had to die with a Pratchett, couldn’t it at least be one of the better ones like Small Gods or Wyrd Sisters and not bloody Eric?
I didn’t die. It was fine.