Things What I Learnt on the Bus


“Do you mind if I put my hands there?”

Oh God. I’ve just sat down on the bus and someone is talking to me. I look round at the woman behind, who is leaning forward holding the back of the seat next to me.

“I like putting my hands on the seat in front. Lots of people don’t like it.”

Her face is inches from mine. There’s a massive yellow spot between her eyebrows that I’ll spend the rest of the journey trying not to look at.

“I’ve got autism.” she explains.

“That’s ok,” I say, relaxing, “I work with lots of people who have Aspergers and Autism.”

“People don’t understand. It’s like if I say ‘I don’t like’-” she looks me up and down, considering. Oh God, which flaw is she going to pick out? “Like if I say, ‘I don’t like bobblehats, so I don’t like you!'”

Phew.

“But I don’t mean it though, I was just saying it.”

“That’s ok.”

“I always carry my bag with me, to stop people sitting next to me. If they touch my bag, it’s like they’re touching me.”

She does have a very large bag.

Just then, a woman gets on and sits next to the bag.

“Do you mind not touching my bag!” she order the woman, “I don’t like people touching my bag.”

A townie student turns round and grins.

“No, that’s ok,” says the woman.

I take this opportunity to get my book out. I’m reading Orlando by Virginia Woolf. The only book of her’s I can stand to read more than a page of. Even so, it’s taken me a week to read 20 pages.

She leans over again. “People always say stuff about me, I’m fed up of it. What do you think?”

“I think that’s very rude of them,” I say.

A few minutes later, she starts to get off.

“I don’t want anyone touching me,” she warns as she stands up, “move out of the way! Go on, move!”

Giggly female students start to act up.

She swings round to face them.

“What did you say? Don’t talk about me behind my back!”

We’re all getting off now.

“You shouldn’t talk to her like that,” says an angry chav in a tracksuit as the girls file past. “My brother’s like her and you shouldn’t mess with them.”

The girls giggle. “What a heroin addict too?”

“You fucking rich bitches, I hate the way you posh bitches treat people. Jog on!”

They pile, giggling, off the bus.

It’s not hard to pick a side. University students are supposed to be more tolerant and sensitive than their uneducated counterparts. They’re not. They’re often worse.

Wonderful, Wonderful!


George’s Stag Do, Saturday 23rd

10:00

Kung Fu is driving me, Esther and Lisa to B&Q to fetch some pebbles for Lisa’s newly denuded back garden (aka Devo’s shit’n’go). We have spent the week crippling ourselves by digging up the turf and dumping it behind her outhouse so Devo can no longer use the back garden as his personal cesspit (correction: so he can use it as his personal cesspit, but so the cess doesn’t cling obstinately to unruly grass stalks and freakishly giant weeds).

As I daydream away, Lisa and Esther heave sacks of rock onto the trolley, like a post-feminist poster. The composition is ruined by Esther spitting;

“Why don’t you help instead of standing there, you lily livered girl!”

I’ve always wished that I had a trigger word to turn me into a man, like Marty McFly and his ‘chicken’-related freakouts. After today, it seems that ‘lily livered’ works pretty well.
Before I know what I’m doing, I’m slinging sacks of rocks around like a past-it Desperate Dan.

“Don’t break them, you idiot,” says Esther as I hurl them into the trolley.
“Put them in properly,” says Kung Fu, who never, ever, tells anyone what to do.

I don’t mind admitting I was scared, and I began rearrange the sacks, my red cheeks lighting my progress like mood-indicating LEDs set to ‘schadenfreude.’

“Whoopsy, I did a boo-boo!”

12:00

Met Harvey and his Japanese wife Eiko at Sheffield train station.

They have had to fly the 9,650 miles (fact!) from Singapore to Bradford to get a Pakistani visa, in his ‘country of origin’. On first glance, I thought Harvey was even more full of himself than usual; second glance told me it was merely his white afro, grown to four times the usual size.

This is the man who customarily told me to “sort yourself out,” when my first pubic attempts at a wayward teenage hairstyle got beyond the regulated ‘no. 3 all over’.

Ha, how the mighty have fallen. And how silky their curls are.

“You don’t have to have big hair to be a scientist, but it helps!”

We take brunch at Millennium Gallery, as a squadron of cadets and their officers march past.

“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you,” I deadpan, “we turned into a police state while you were away. Sorry.”

I like the way that sounds. I bet it’s really cool and sexy having all your civil liberties disavowed.

“I went on a school trip to the DMZ,” said Eiko, unfazed, “my friend fell over and when she looked up, a whole North Korean regiment had their assault rifles trained on her.”
I have nothing to compete with this. I consider saying that I threw half a snowball onto the roof of an unoccupied police car when I was 13. No, that won’t cut it.

I remember the burning question that I wanted to ask Harvey at 3am on some insomniac night months ago.
“You know how you came to the UK when you were 11, but we weren’t friends until we were 15, who was your BFF before me?”
“Mark Dour” he says, naming an odd semi-midget who had the unfortunate quality of being instantly forgettable.

“Aha!” I say, with the glee of someone who’s just found out that their lover’s exes are all dweebs.

“Anyone else?”

“Well after him, I didn’t have any friends for a year.”

My glee turns to concern. Not for Harvey, mind: nobody wants to hear that their partner/BFF was undateable now do they?

Harvey and Eiko are travelling from the sublime to the ridiculous, aka Tokyo to Swansea (via Asia, Europe and South America). Harvey has been applying to do a PhD in something theoretical and poncey, and Swansea is the only place that’ll have him (“we’re not travelling to the US,” Harvey says, “coz they rejected me…”).

“The interview went really well,” he tells me, “and after a tour of the university, one of the professors took me aside.

‘You know what,’ he whispered, taking in the theoretical physics department in one gesture, ‘I don’t believe any of this nonsense!’

17:00 to Buddha-knows-when

Zeugma: ‘a figure of speech in which two or more parts of a sentence are joined with a single common verb or noun.’

In Zeugma’s restaurant, London Road, I am a figure of fun corralled between two or more manly dads.

It’s time for my regular social experiment: passing as a man. I pull my shirtsleeves down over my girly bracelets and lower my voice.

To the right of me is Demi’s dad, Paul, a skinhead scouser with a soft underbelly. Sitting across the table is George’s dad, looking like a jolly, gelled mafiosa. His catchphrase of “wonderful, wonderful,” (with the emphasis on the ‘wonder’) regularly punctuates the alcoholic fug throughout the night.

We are swapping stories of money and what it does to people.

George’s dad, Tony, has the rich baritone of a self-made man.

He tells us he was holidaying near San Marino in a hotel ‘full of stunningly beautiful Russian girls who refused to smile.’

They were the children of oiligarchs, bred with no manners, ‘pushing past me on the ladder up to the diving board,’ and generally being well-dressed arseholes.

“It’s sham capitalism,” I say, warming up. Tony’s eyes say ‘I’m listening’, but I haven’t thought what to say next.
“Erm, Communism failed and now there’s money floating about. No-one knows what to do with it coz they’ve never had it, so the mafia came and took over.” I think that makes sense.

“Wonderful, wonderful,” Tony says.

A minute later, listeners are whisked away to a Peugeot car dealer in Liverpool, who Tony says inherited a dealership from a man with connections with local warlords.

The previous owner used to leave a car parked on the forecourt with keys in the ignition. In the morning, it would always be back there, traces of blood and black market stains removed. The new dealer refused to carry on this habit, and had 4 cars smashed up; the police told him to put the car back on the forecourt…

That’s nothing, Demi’s dad Paul says, I was asked for protection money from a child in a multistory carpark.

‘Gimme a tenner and I’ll look after your car,’ the boy says.
‘S’alright, I’ve got a Rottweiler in the back,’ I tell him.
‘But can it put out a fire?’ the scrote says, eyes twinkling. I gave him a tenner for the cheek.”
“Wonderful, wonderful,” Tony says.

“How are you doing, stuck in the corner?” George asks when we meet in the toilets.
“Fine,” I say, quite pleased with my manly performance.
“I told Paul that one of my cousins here was gay,” he tells me, “and he leans forward and says ‘Is it ‘im?’ pointing in your direction.”
Bollocks.

Oh well, at least I can get drunk. In the Riverside, I bump into Tony in the toilets and ask if he’s merry yet.
Inexorably,” he replies and I give my jackal’s laugh, echoing off the porcelain. I bet if I ask him in another hour or so, he’ll say “Indubitably,” or some such Wodehousian alliteration. Tony’s sidekick is Alan, an old friend. He has the elastic face of a joker and together they giggle and ogle like a pair of twentysomethings.

We move on to Harlequins, a pub mislaid somewhere round the corner from the Riverside.

Mancunian Del and me are charged with dragging George, the paralytic stag, there. We take our eyes off him for a second, and he is suddenly riding a bike. Chained 3 feet off the floor on a fence. He does a wheelie and nearly cracks his head open.

“Come on,” we say, and drag him across the dual carriageway.
“I think it’s down here,” I say and we wander down a dark street. After a minute, George snorts in disgust,
“You don’t know where you’re fucking going,” he shouts, “I’m going back to the pub” and he legs it into the darkness.

My confusion is confounded by the sudden voice of God.
GO AWAY! YOU’RE DRUNK!” God says, with the disappointed nasal authority of a train announcement.
“What the fuck is that?” Del whimpers.
GET OUT OF THE ROAD!” the voice demands, and I try to locate the source.
Halfway up a dark block of flats, the blue death-glow of a huge flatscreen TV flickers in the gloom of an unlit room, casting shadows into the street. It stands to reason that the anally retentive voice of God could boom from the low rent recesses of a Sheffield hovel.
GO AWAY, YOU’RE DRUNK! GO AWAY…NOW!!!”

This is too much.
We get the hell out of the road and the neighbourhood (and that’s a Zeugma…).

“PUT THE LIGHT DOWN AND GO AWAY!”

Harlequins is where the night starts to blur for me. At one point, Alan starts flicking the thick head of a pint of stout onto the even thicker head of a local, and I flee outside. Alan is just cheeky enough to point to me if the bruiser asked who did it…

In the cooling air of a Kelham Island backstreet, Tony tells me he used to live near here with the baby George, and the whump of the forges used to make it impossible to open the windows in summer.
“That’s the sound that industrial bands like Cabaret Voltaire tried to emulate,” I tell him.
“Oh, very good” he says, memory fusing with retrospective knowledge, “Wonderful, wonderful.”

If only everyone I spoke to thought the same.

As the booze bodycount rises, the group is stripped down to a hard core of 5 or so. Back at George’s American Psycho apartment, we chatter into the night like 33rpm girls .

Ah, this is it, true friendship; the sort that can outlast a million drunken megalomaniac impulses. In the words of Michael Jackson, with friends like these

“It don’t matter if you’re black or white,

Or a lily livered boy of questionable sexuality.”

I shit you not!


Friday 27th 

Esther is convinced that the besieged President of Syria is actually the Lemur King of Madagascar. Every time he comes on TV she giggles, and even when the revolution reaches its climax and he faces a firing squad of rebels, she’ll still giggle and say “Zee Fooosa is coming”.

Saturday 28th

Jumble sale haul: one pair of black leather gloves; one mustard suit jacket; one blue marl Cotton Traders shirt; one 1960s copy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, complete with 1980s Halifax Building Society bookmark on page 100.

"the brave new world of shoulderpads"

Experience gained: jumble sales require more than one free hand, and more logic than a hangover allows.

Observations:

(1) I am scared of Christians. As I waited in line for my decaff coffee at the jumble sale, I glanced sideways and noticed with horror a primary school wall full of  posters asking “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO THANK GOD FOR?”

I would have liked to have though it was meant in the sense of “Oh no, what did you have to go and do that for!?”, but sadly not. Each diligent tweenie had answered with the same unimaginative combo of parents, pets and Playstations. I have the same feeling for god botherers as I do for spiders- If I know one is in the same room as me, one of us has to leave.

(2) People are stupid. Like when you want to overtake someone and they do a big song and dance about stopping, oh so helpful, so you are forced to say thankyou despite the fact that you were about to just walk past them. Yeah, thanks for making life harder for both of us, and demanding that I congratulate you for the privilege. Fuck you and your feeble logic.

(3) Be careful what you wish for. Following last week’s revelations about my desire for animal molestation, I nearly got shat on by a heron. There I was stood in Endcliffe Park minding my own, when a gallon of shit rained down from the trees-

"It's raining hen?"

…and I looked up to see a feathery grey arse and an oversized beak 50 feet above me, the smug bastard. If only I had stood a bit to the side, I would have been showered in the stuff. Dammit, I always miss out.

"you pillock!"


Boring and Ugly Crimbo Special: 1st Anniversary!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


22nd December

I’m not sure I’m getting the point of The News. I’m sure it’s meant to be sad and gritty, but all I can think about is clothes and how good people look when they die young.

The Stephen Lawrence enquiry has revealed some great 90s clothes collected as evidence. With a 90s revival nearing the end, I am still in love with the clothes I would have been wearing back then had I been cool.

What an outfit! Jazzy jacket, sparkly cardi, pink polo shirt and high waisted acid-wash jeans. When I look round today and see all these draw-string grey tracky bottoms, v neck t shirts and silly bobble hats, I despair. Think about it people- do you really want to die dressed head-to-toe in Primark?

 

24th December

A relationship is a relay team, and each couple passes on their own make of baton. Ours is misery and irritation. All last night and this morning, Esther has had the full blown grumps.

“What’s the point? Christmas day is just like any other- we’ll get up, eat till we’re sick, walk the dogs, watch TV and go to sleep”

The thing is, when I think about it, that’s true. Coz Esther doesn’t work, this isn’t a holiday or a treat for her. It’s just another day.I cling onto hope when Weasel and Kung Fu, Esther’s parents, ring up and invite us for coffee.

Surely she won’t dare ruin their day too?

Of course she will- that’s her sacred role in the sisterhood.

We go for Eggnog Lattes in Starbucks with them and Lisa. Weasel has promised to buy a winter hat for Esther. She gets out the brochure for her to choose from.

Weasel- “Choose your top 4 from here”

“I don’t want one” she petulates (this should be a word- I’ve written it, so now it is)

A look of weary resignation flits across Weasels face. Lisa rolls her eyes.

“Give it here then” Esther chides, snatching the leaflet from Kung Fu’s hand, and without seeming to look, scrawls numbers next to  pictures.

“You didn’t even look at that!” says Lisa in horror

“Yes I did; white’s the best colour, so I chose the whitest then numbered down from there”.

We are clearly dealing with a genius here, for whom simple tasks like this are odious and best treated with contempt. She is Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon in foreshortened female form.

"Whosoever invented this should be flayed alive!"

Well you know what, now it’s time for my go with the bastard baton. It always changes from red to green in my hand though- from misanthropy to jealousy when passed from a middle to an only child. a week ago we paid £15 for the runtiest tree we could find. It leans over drunkenly like my erection.

Now, on Christmas Eve, the trees that were for sale at the bottom of our road have been abandoned. Lisa and Dom can take their pick, and choose one 3 times the size of ours, for free! In what universe are the poor allowed to triumph over the rich with such smugness? What’s the point of having ostentatious spending, if other people are going to get the same stuff for free??

I know I should be thinking “It warms the cockles of my heart to see the Tiny Tim’s of the world smiling”

But instead it’s “I want a tree that big! Maybe I should have two trees, then I’ll win!” Winning in my mind is a vague concept, something to do with the unhindered accumulation of stuff. I guess it comes from the entitlement of being the golden child backed into a corner by a real world full of grasping hands.

Suffice to say, when we both got home we had snapped the baton in half and carved each others faces with it.

Esther- “I’m not going to wrap your presents…”

Me- “Why not?”

Esther- “Coz I hate wrapping presents. I can’t be bothered”

Me- “Well, we can put them in plastic bags at least…?”

Esther- “I can do what I like. You can do what you like”

She stomps upstairs for a snooze.

“Don’t go to sleep” I call after her plaintively

“Why not?”

“Erm, because we can go and watch Christmas TV…?”

“I’m bored of TV”

“We can…tidy up?”

This isn’t going to work. She grunts and disappears. Why can’t I think of anything to do anymore? My excitement is draining away. What’s the point of anything?

I trudge upstairs to bed.

TO BE CONTINUED…

What’s Polish for Devo?


Devo has become obsessed with an Alsatian called Pogo that he meets in the park. Their friendship dynamic involves Devo annoying the hell out of Pogo, and then Pogo knocking him to the ground and making him cower.

Pogo’s owner is a para-military-looking Polish man.
Yesterday, Devo headbutted the man in the balls so hard that he fell to his knees.
“It’s ok, he is too small to make me hard” he reassured Lisa and Esther in broken English.
They presumed this was a bad translation.
The girls were on their own, and the Polish man asked to meet them at 12 the next day. Presuming it was for the dog’s sake, they agreed.
The next day, Lisa has forgotten and at 1pm she sets off to the park with Dom. As they near the entrance, she seems the fed up Polish man looking up and down the road. As he spots her, and them Dom, he quickly turns and disappears up the road.

How can you tell between being friendly and consenting to marriage, Lisa thinks.

Yesterday, we met up again with the Pole. He seems to have accepted that he cannot take any of us. He called Goldie “the queen mother” because she is old and slow and dignified. If you could see her you would know this is a stroke of genius.

"Biscuit please"

He suddenly goes marching off into the woods “You smell that? That is wild garlic”. He marches to a bunch of leaves, pulls one up, and sniffs. “Not this” he says and marches off again. Finally he has found the garlic. He offers me some to smell.

Why do we not learn this stuff at school? We are like urban foxes who only know how to hang out by the Subway bins. We are rubbish at being wild.

It is both scary and exciting the way that Europeans do everything you wish you could but are trained not to as a good, upstanding Englishperson. Balls to that. I want to act like a big kid, sniffing plants and forcing poetry into mundanity. I am on the bus and a boy next to me has his right leg resting on his left knee (I’m sure there’s a word for this).

His foot is pointed towards me, inches from my knee. His shoe looks fucking massive. Dammit, my size 11s are feeling inadequate for once. I want to mirror his position and press my sole to his and compare sizes. I almost do it, but chicken out.

Is it normal to want to strike up a conversation with bigfoot? Is it normal to feel drawn to giants and want to ask exactly how high?

At some stage Esther and Lisa are going to have to find a new park, because they can no longer scurry past anonymously if there is someone who expects them to chat like normal functional adults. The stuttering snippets of convo so far are the outer limit of their capabilities, not the precursor to casual friendship that mr Polish man expects.

Such is the life of a social phobe.

Esther and me walk Devo and Goldie today. We always keep Devo on a lead until we are safely on the big field where he can harass other dogs and chase sticks rather than eating small children and biting bottoms.

As we unleash him, he gallops across the field and stops in his tracks. He’s smelled something nice. He throws himself on the grass and begins to furiously rub himself again and again.

Oh God, he’s found some duck shit, we think.

Dogs seem to love having greasy, stinky duck faeces on their necks. Eau de toilette indeed.

I start to walk over to stop him, and he ignores my shouts and claps and writhes in ecstasy on this patch of ground.

As I come up to him, I see a lump of flesh. It is round and pink with bits of fur stuck in it. It is the top half of a rat. And it stinks of rancid cheese, quite like my bottom does.

“Get away from it” I shout “you filthy fucker”

I chase him off it and the stench worsens. Esther and me gag, and throw sticks in all directions to make him forget about it.

On the way back, Esther runs ahead and makes Dom run a bath for the little filth hound. His coat is put straight in the bin. Meat and cheese are off the menu for today.

Why can’t animals ever finish off their dinners? It’s rude to leave stuff on your plate. It’s like if you sacrifice your child to God, and when you climb up the temple steps you realise that only the arms and head have been bitten off. “My baby was not a gingerbread man” you shout. It’s just not right.

"Go ahead, make my day!"

 

A Very Moving Story


I am currently moving house, from a very shabby student house to a slightly less shabby one. Just down the road. On a slightly smaller hill. Which I haven’t actually seen yet (more about this later).

Suffice to say that Esther has made me give away tho thirds of my belongings and I am in mourning. Except all my black clothes are in the Age UK collection van on the way to the HQ, so I am wearing normal clothes and looking miserable.

Here is the solemn body count:

  1. 15 black bags of clothes
  2. 4 boxes of records (farewell Duran, Spandau, Wham, early Beatles and late Bowie).
  3. My priceless collection of The Face and ID magazine from the 90s (which Esther isn’t even impressed that I threw away “They’re just rubbish. You shouldn’t keep rubbish”)
  4. Countless accessories and shoes and things that are neither one thing nor another but are just nice to have around.

Sob.

Next week I shall be back with more exciting tales of boredom and ugliness.

 

"Toodlepip my faithful friends, I'll never forget you."

 

Sheffield Shit-kickers


In the last 2 days I have witnessed male anger from unexpected sources, manifested on or at the number 88 bus.

"You eat the last Werther's and I'll fuck you up, kidda"

Yesterday, I was waiting at the busstop outside Republic (with window displays to slit your wrists to). An 82 came along. Then an 88. I didn’t want to rub shins with ruffians (the curse of long legs on buses built by midgets), so I opted for the 82.

A sweet old grandad type was at the front of the queue for the 88. The bus driver seemed to not want to open the door.

“OPEN THE FUCKING DOORS YOU PRICK!” he yelled, his surprisingly loud voice echoing down the street.

Thank God I chose this bus, I thought. Even the innocent are corrupted on Stagecoach.

Today, I had to brave an 82 packed with schoolkids on their way to freedom. I had to stand next to a jolly rasta who kept me entertained by singing a medley of reggae hits with little or no tune to get in the way of my enjoyment. After some of the kids had got off, he took his massive beanied head and went and found a seat near the back. Bear in mind that they are sat at opposite ends of the bus.

“Bus stops at Arundel Gate” called the driver in his calm FYI voice.

“YA FUCKIN WHAT MAN??!!!” tuneless rasta bellows

“The bus stops on Arundel Gate”

“WATDAFUCK MAN? IT SAID ECCLESFIELD ON DA FRONT MAN! YOU GOIN ECCLESFIELD MON!”

“No, just to Arundel Gate. It says that on the front”

“WATDAFUCKMON?? IT SAID ECCLESFIELD ALRIGHT?! YOU JUST HAVE CHANGED IT MAN COZ I GOT IN IT AND IT SAID ECCLESFIELD AND I IS GOING TO ECCLESFIELD MAN”

“No, we stop at Arundel Gate”

“SHUT YA FUCKIN FACE MAN! SHUT YA BUM (!!)”

“you should look at what it says before you get on”

“DON’T YOU TELL ME WHAT TO DO, JUST FUCKIN DRIVE MAN, YOU’RE A BAD DRIVER AND I DONT GIVE A SHIT WHAT YOU SAY!”

“I’m just telling you that this bus is not going to Ecclesfield…” etc etc ad nauseum

An old lady pushed her way to the front. ‘Shouting like that, it’s disgusting!” she mumbled

“Shut ya face woman get back to——(couldn’t hear this bit despite straining but it was rather discouraging)”

So let’s hear it for Sheffield Buses- the last rampart of neanderthal man…here’s an informative slideshow of Sheffield buses with a tasteful soundtrack of Ellie ‘flash in the pan’ Goulding: