Waiting for the 42. 9.30am.

I arrived at the bus stop muttering a sort of to-do list to myself. ‘Grange Road, toothbrush, stop off at M’s, get the pdfs up, chase R, flyer copy, email A…’ I found a perch in the shade and sipped on my iced coffee; it was already a baking hot day.

A high, needling voice penetrated my thoughts. I looked up and discovered it was coming from a man in a navy polo shirt and tracksuit bottoms, standing totally erect and facing away from me. He was talking to himself too, quite loudly.

‘And will they take any action? No, of course not, because the world is unfair. The system is weighted against the ordinary person, and people like him – this isn’t to do with race or creed, it’s just a travesty, the authorities aren’t bothered. How would you feel if it were you? But that’s just it because people don’t stop to think, they’re all brainwashed…’

I took a closer look at the man. He had combed his hair but not washed it in a while. He had a reused plastic bag full of newspapers by his feet, and wore fairly smart shoes. He was staring straight out in front of him, eyes wide open, and was speaking as if he were addressing a crowd but was clearly alone. I looked around at the other people at the bus stop. A couple of women directly behind the man were sharing a silent laugh at his expense. They were facing the same way as him, as were the people behind them: it suddenly seemed to me that they, all together, formed a sort of military unit or performance troupe with this proud but possibly unhinged man at their head. I began to feel that, sitting off to one side, I was somehow out of line.

A woman ran past us, shouting to herself about a bus that hadn’t stopped for her.

As her shouts receded, the doors of the nearby Coop supermarket slid open to reveal another woman, standing in the food-to-go aisle and clutching a sandwich high in the air. ‘They’ve all got mayo in!’ she wailed, to herself. The doors slid shut again, like theatre curtains.

‘… There’s no justice in the world,’ said the man.

When the sun is shining

Waiting for the 35. 10.30am.

It was a glorious summer morning and I was hanging around the bus stop, sipping a takeaway coffee and watching the lady who runs our local laundromat clean her shop window. She had a small bucket of soapy water, a window brush, a squeegee, an old sock (for resting the squeegee on) and a wooden step-ladder splattered in red paint.

The lady dipped the window brush into the bucket, climbed up onto the ladder, soaped down the left side of the window, climbed back down, put the brush in the bucket, picked up the squeegee from its resting place, got back up onto the ladder, squeegeed over the soapy glass to get a clean finish, got back down, and put the squeegee onto the sock. Then she moved the ladder a little to the right and repeated the procedure for the right side of the window. The window had yellow vinyl lettering stuck onto its interior side, spelling out the name of the laundromat, but some of the letters had come off over the years.

I asked the lady how often she cleaned the window. She looked down from her ladder and said, ‘Whenever it looks dirty. It’s very easy to do with this brush, much better than with a cloth, which leaves marks.’

I love low-tech solutions. Sometimes all you need is a simple brush and a good system. Anyway, having asked my question I decided to let her get on with her task. But just as I was walking away she added, ‘When the sun is shining you can see the dirt more clearly so it’s good to clean then.’

There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.


Waiting for the 59. 6pm.

Just behind the bus stop a man and a woman were standing side by side, stock-still, looking out on to the street.

The woman said, without turning her head, ‘Gloria was saying to me, “I think you’ve lost weight!”, and then when I took off my jacket she was saying, “Ah no, you haven’t actually.”‘

‘Charming.’ The man began scrolling through messages on his phone.

The woman continued to face forward. ‘My parents used to tell me I was fat when I was growing up. When my mother said it I cried. When my father said it I cried like a baby.’

This seemed to me to be quite a profound thing to confess, especially to someone who wasn’t really listening. I guess sometimes we just have to share what’s in our heart.

Does it make any difference to you that the man and woman were both police officers, in full uniform (padded shirt and trousers, hi-vis jackets, reinforced boots, helmets, puffy gloves)? They were standing by the bus stop as part of their evening patrol.

They were so still. They reminded me of a set of IKEA salt and pepper pots – round and sort of earthen.

Guest post: I believe you

Please welcome our first guest post, from fellow bus-enthusiast AlisonBeckMusic, about something that definitely doesn’t happen every day…


C10. 7.45pm. Front seat on the left, directly behind the luggage rack.

I was on the final leg of my journey home from an expensive (or successful, depending on how you look at it) shopping trip to Covent Garden.

After a little while, we stopped at Surrey Quays and there was a small flurry of good-natured activity as a middle-aged cockney woman and assorted adult relatives got on the bus, chatting animatedly.

Our heroine – let’s call her Mrs Wall – was the ring-leader of the gang, making sure her pals all got a seat, checking they were OK. Then her phone rang. After a moment she yelped, ‘Oh my days!’

At first I wasn’t listening, honestly. I was knackered, and busy worrying about all the money I’d spent that afternoon. And I was thinking about The Dress that I’d seen. The Dress to End All Dresses. The rarity – an incredibly glamorous frock that covered up all my fat-person lumpy bits and actually made me feel really good. (A nice touch was that it was a size 14 and they’d put it in the ‘extra large’ section – thanks a lot, guys.) The Dress that I couldn’t buy because I’m a struggling musician and it cost £199.

Anyway. So I was feeling really rather glum when I heard our heroine cry out in dramatic tones, ‘Did you say eleven thousand pounds?’

Well! You can bet my ears pricked up at that.

Of course, everyone pretended they weren’t listening in the slightest (this is London after all). But pairs of ears were pricking up all over that bus, I absolutely guarantee you.

Mrs Wall was saying, ‘I don’t – I literally – I don’t – I don’t know what to say!’ You could hear the dawning hope in her voice as she started to believe this was actually happening.

It became apparent that somebody had won money on the National Lottery and was calling to tell her the news.

She said, ‘Of course I believe you! When you tell me something, I believe you. You don’t lie.’

I started making a mental list of what I would spend £11,000 on. Starting with The Dress, followed swiftly by my scary tax bill and a holiday somewhere warm, sun-drenched and exotic. Mmmm…

Back with Mrs Wall, the conversation was taking an intriguing turn as I heard her say, ‘We’ll just have to find a way of seeing the funny side of this.’ Huh?

Then (darkly), ‘I can picture Theresa’s face. I can see it now.’ Was it the face of a much-disliked sister-in-law winning heaps of money that she very likely wasn’t going to share with Mrs Wall? Ho hum.

As the bus was reaching my stop, I started gathering my shopping bags. Mrs Wall was still on the phone, and now it was getting a bit surreal, frankly: ‘I believe you. I’d believe you even if you told me there was a dog on the electoral register.’

I glanced furtively at her as I was getting off the bus. Her shining eyes were so bright they could have lit up half of South London.

I really hope she gets her hands on that £11,000.

If you have a bus story you’d like to share, please get in touch in the comments section or on Twitter.


3. 11am. Bottom deck, at the back on the left.

As the bus glided to a stop I looked out of the window. The most gorgeous sight: a class of primary school children, in starched navy uniforms and gleaming white socks, lined up along a sun-kissed brick wall. Their teacher got on and asked the driver whether there was space for everyone – ‘there are twenty-nine pupils altogether,’ she explained. The driver must have nodded because a minute or so later the children started filing on in pairs. They were instructed to find seats on the top deck. Up they went, holding hands and chattering. Their smiling heads bobbed as they walked; en masse they reminded me strongly of a field of daffodils dancing in a breeze.

All the grown-up passengers on the bus watched them as they went. I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t the only one who, as well as melting in the cuteness of the moment, silently counted the children, just to make sure.


Pertaining to the 178. 9pm. Outside my local Chinese takeaway.

I had spent a week in India celebrating the wedding of one of my oldest friends. I had had 6 hours of sleep in two nights, then travelled by every mode other than bus for just over 15 hours. I hauled my dusty suitcase back to my local neighbourhood and staggered into the Chinese takeaway for a duck fried rice. This was now rapidly cooling in my shoulder bag.

A man stopped me at the traffic lights and asked me for a cigarette. He was Ugandan and had lived in the UK since the 1980s. Apparently he was a tribal chief, but hadn’t been home for decades because the Ugandan president had a price on his head (something to do with an assassination attempt – the bullet missed by an inch – no biggie). He now works for the Metropolitan Police, scanning for online child pornography.

We jousted for several minutes about Uganda’s appalling anti-gay laws. Then I noticed that he was wearing an Arriva fleece (non-Londoners, Arriva is the company that runs the city’s bus network). Letting my takeaway get even colder I risked asking, ‘Why are you wearing a bus company fleece?’

‘Oh, my girlfriend is a bus driver!’

Now we were getting somewhere. ‘Which route does she drive?’

‘The 178. In fact, do you know how I met her? I fell asleep on her bus!’ When the driver had discovered him at the end of her route she had asked him where he needed to get to. He lived in Croydon so she took him to his doorstep and so began an accidental but life-affirming relationship. Apparently she is a half-Indian, half-Malawian stunner who stands several inches taller than her man. When I asked him whether the height difference was a challenge he said, puffing out his chest, ‘A challenge? No, I am always the king!’

Who knows what life will throw at us? Next time something doesn’t go according to plan in your life, enjoy the idea that out of the mishap could come something crazy and beautiful.


Page 68. 9am. Halfway down.

This is not my usual sort of post, but I could not resist sharing with you this extract from Marilynne Robinson’s 1980 novel Housekeeping (which I have been reading on the 59):

‘Lucille and I still doubted that Sylvie would stay. She resembled our mother, and besides that, she seldom removed her coat, and every story she told had to do with a train or a bus station. But not till then did we dream that we might be taken from her. I imagined myself feigning sleep while Sylvie brushed my short brown hair into long golden ringlets, dropping each one carefully on the pillow. I imagined her seizing my hands and pulling me after her in a wild waltz down the hall, through the kitchen, through the orchard, the night moonless and I in my nightgown, almost asleep. Just when the water in the orchard had begun to rush from us and toward us and to leap against the trunks of trees and plash against our ankles, an old man in a black robe would step from behind a tree and take me by the hand – Sylvie too stricken to weep and I too startled to resist. Such a separation, I imagined, could indeed lead to loneliness intense enough to make one conspicuous in bus stations. I occurred to me that most people in bus stations would be conspicuous if it were not for the numbers of others there who would otherwise be conspicuous in the same way. Sylvie, at that moment, would hardly be noticed in a bus station.’


35. 6pm. Top deck, on the right, about halfway down.

I sat down next to a man in his forties who was watching a nature documentary on his smartphone. The narrative voiceover was in a highly unnatural style that we hear all the time now, with stressed syllables getting three times the emphasis they need. I caught the words ‘Alex has been investigating the behaviour of these birds in their natural habitat…’ before the man noticed I had sat down and began fast-forwarding the video, perhaps out of embarrassment that he had been caught watching a bird documentary on the bus.

He stopped just near the end of the documentary, and I heard the following glorious words which I thought were appropriate for today (apologies to any non-Londoners – this will fill you in):

‘The question is, of course… just how… did that crowdo it?’

Fish out of water

59. 9.30am. In the aisle, overwhelmed by Tube regulars.

Tube strike day. I won’t comment on whether or not it was a ‘total disaster’ or ‘really not a big deal’. Enough opinions have been aired on the internet already. All I will say is that my usual 59 route was severely and comically disrupted by the throngs of Tube travellers venturing aboveground, in some cases apparently for the first time.

Three overheard gems:

1. Two women in glamorous office-wear, wedged in together and speaking nose to nose. One to the other: ‘I really don’t understand. Why are they running it from Victoria to Seven Sisters and not coming to Brixton? I mean, what’s so special about Seven Sisters that they had to miss out Brixton? Did they think we would kick off more down here?’

2. A middle-aged woman who had nabbed a seat, speaking on her mobile phone: ‘I’m just ringing to let you know that I’m on a bus – on account of the strike, which is affecting the Underground – and we’ve just been told it’s terminating early. At Aldwych. I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do when I get to Aldwych’ (waves away her neighbour who helpfully suggests some other bus routes before adding that the woman could just wait for another 59 which would surely follow close behind) ‘I really have no idea what I’m going to do. But I just thought I’d let you know anyway.’

3. A very large and imposing man standing near the driver, glaring balefully at the squashy sea of people who weren’t moving down the bus effectively enough. He didn’t actually ask anyone to move down, but after a few minutes of glaring he leaned over to the driver and whined, as if to a form teacher, ‘Driver, no one is moving down the bus and I can’t get through.’ Mister, on the buses we try to actually talk to each other. Give it a go!

Apparently the river ferries were free today until 10am. Perhaps tomorrow that might work for some of you. Have fun anyway…

In the game

137. 10pm. Top deck, on the left, near the front.

The man next to me was wearing a smart black coat and a slick haircut. His leather laptop bag was wedged between us. He was flicking through news stories on a smartphone with the thumb of his right hand while holding a BlackBerry to his ear with his left hand. He was bantering with what I guessed was a male friend.

‘Right. Look up to the row of balconies…

‘Where are you looking, you fool?

‘Yes you’re there! You’re looking at the end of the street, right?

‘Look up! It’s the third window along – is the light on?

‘OK good.

‘No, it’s not my room, it’s Kyle’s…’

He gave me a few moments to try to work out why on earth his friend was searching for Kyle’s room (on some street somewhere else in Clapham) while he deftly switched over on his smartphone from the news stories to a football game app.

‘Yup, so… are you going to order me a drink? I’ll be there in seven minutes.

‘Ha. Can you order me a lager that’s as close to 4% as possible? I think they do an Amstell in there.

‘Shut your mouth!’ His eyes were twinkling. ‘If you do I’ll throw it in your face.’

There’s something peculiarly loving about the way men verbally abuse their friends. The players in the miniature football game were standing around waiting for an instruction.

‘Look, I’ve had more drinks since you’ve been away than… I just have to rein it in if I’m going to get to bed before midnight.

‘Well it doesn’t matter anyway.’

He smiled warmly. ‘I may have had a cigarette. I’ll see you in a minute.’

He let in a goal, switched off the app and got off the bus at Clapham Junction.

I did slightly wonder whether this was an illicit rendezvous that Kyle was not supposed to know about. So I’ve changed his name, I hope that’s OK.