185. 6pm. Top deck, on the left, halfway down.
I had just got on the bus at Vauxhall, having arrived there on the Underground. I was tired, and felt grateful that I could grab a seat upstairs. Downstairs sounded rather hectic… more so than usual… and the bus wasn’t moving. After a minute, it became clear why.
Passenger (let’s call him Scrooge): ‘I already have a one-day bus pass, why do I have to pay again?’
Driver: ‘It’s expired. It was for yesterday. See here?’
Scrooge (raising his voice): ‘No, it’s 24 hours, and I got it at 10 last night so it’s still valid.’
Driver (through PA): ‘This bus will be held here indefinitely, while we await the police.’
Everyone started updating Facebook statuses on their phones. Some people decided to get off the bus to try another. Others, including me, stayed on – everything passes after a while, and anyway the drama downstairs was getting more interesting. A series of men tried to intervene, very much in the vein of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future:
Scrooge: ‘Look, I have a job, you’re stopping me from going to my job!’
Ghost of London commerce: ‘Hey, mister, we have jobs too, you’re stopping us from going to them – that’s like 100 people you’re slowing down right now. Stop wasting our time! Just pay for the ticket or get off the bus!’
Scrooge (starting to whine): ‘But I have a pass, it’s 24 hours! It’s not my fault…’
Ghost of London pride: ‘Big man like yourself, causing all this inconvenience to all these people over two quid, making such a fuss. You should be ashamed of yourself.’
Scrooge: ‘But it’s not fair, I have this pass – look, driver! – why should I pay twice?’
Ghost of London pragmatism: ‘Do you know what, this has gone on long enough. I’ll pay for your ticket if it’ll get us moving.’
Other ghosts: ‘Me too!’ ‘Yeah, I’ll pay!’ ‘Let’s get going!’
Scrooge: ‘That’s not the point, I have the money, it’s a question of right and wrong. I am a working man!’
Unfortunately for Scrooge, he was wrong: a one-day bus pass lasts until 4.30am the next morning, not 24 hours. Eventually he paid for another ticket and we set off south.
When I arrived home I looked up bus tickets and passes online, to discover that the paper one-day bus pass isn’t actually in circulation any more, and hasn’t been for a while. It’s all done on Oyster now.