171. 8.30am. Bottom deck, at the back on the left.
I see these three little girls a lot on my way to work. They are sisters, and usually dressed in complementary shades of purple and pink. They are all under the age of ten, and accompanied by one parent – a white mum in a tracksuit or an Afro-Caribbean dad in a tracksuit, invariably looking exhausted and a little bored.
It was coming up to Christmas, and the girls bounded onto the bus, followed by Tired Dad, chirping away like little birds. They squeezed onto a double seat and the sight of them, fluffy smiling heads bobbing up and down, was enough to melt most hearts on the bus. Tired Dad sat a little way behind, playing Snake on his mobile phone.
As more of their friends boarded the bus, the girls became increasingly excited, and finally one of them – I think the eldest – decided that they should do a run-through of their school Nativity song. Off they went, a merry gang of them, at the tops of their voices, ‘Jesus! Mary! Joseph too! / In a manger! Yes it’s true!…’ It was cold outside but on the 171 it was definitely Christmas.
Tired Dad didn’t look up. He really was very good at Snake.
A few days later I saw the girls again, this time with Tired Mum. They were having a gripe at each other and it took me a few moments to work out why: they had just one pair of gloves between them.
If you’re thinking about what Christmas charity concert to go to this year (and there are lots to choose from in this fine city) please consider the Choir With No Name’s Union Chapel bonanza. It’s huge fun and an excellent cause.