Saturday, February 12, 2011

On The Buses II – Dawn of the Damp

(continued from On The Buses I – A Brief History of Time

It is raining, the car is in the garage and I have an unexpected day of forced idleness. 

In a spirit of new found freedom I set out for the Brighton Marina for a bit of shopping at Asda (damn it and it’s Wal-Mart family - but then again it is handy) and possibly a spot of lunch at Wetherspoons.

The bus arrives and in a spirit of re-kindled youth I sit on top at the front.

There is a bit of metal or maybe a small stone in the hand rail that stretches across the front window. During our more violent cornering  this irritant rattles along the tube with a rattling noise. Outside the Art College (or Brighton University if you insist on accuracy) we manage a high speed left and right turn and the trapped rattler makes a return journey left to righ and then right to left again - kind of satisfying in a rattly sort of way.

“It’s Bi.”

The voice behind me was quite insistent. This is Brighton and we are in St James’s Street so naturally I assume we are talking about sexual preferences. But the word ‘it’ is so politically incorrect that I am slightly confused – surely ‘he’ or ‘she’ would be  more appropriate. Maybe he is just being bitchy about someone of indeterminate proclivities. A second thought comes into my head, Brighton’s gay community don’t use buses on rainy Thursday mornings, they are all tucked up at work or something… I then feel that my stereotyping of this section of our community has inadvertently exposed some prejudicial thinking and led me into a minefield of sexual politics. And then I look around and think it is quite possible that the old chap with the slightly greasy grey hair, anorak, brown shoes and plastic shopping bag sitting in the other front seat could be gay and…

I am jerked back to the here and now “No it’s not, it’s buses."

"Au contraire" says the first voice (actually it doesn't, but it so easily could have that in my rerun of the conversation I could swear it did) "The plural of words ending in ‘us’ is ‘i’. Like cactus, which are cacti… so it's bi”

It seems I am eavesdropping a conversation about semantics and feel I have been saved from castigation by my internal thought police.

I am swept back to school in a brief moment of déjà vu. How many times have I heard this conversation, right down to using  ‘cactus/cacti’ as the example? Of course usually it is the other way round. The plural of cactus is mentioned and then someone says, that that the plural of bus must be bi and everyone chuckles and tries to find other, more absurd examples… but this conversation has reversed the process. The traditional structure is lost – can we rely on nothing in this new, big society?

The first voice should have been nasal and whiny as befits a pedant-on-the-bus, but once again stereotyping is inappropriate as the voice is in fact quite sombre and would be good for reading bad news on the wireless.

“…and dice is plural, one dice is called a die.” it continued.

“No it’s not.” interjected the second voice which had that accent which may be Sussex or may be south London or somewhere in between “One die is called a die, two of them are called dice…”

"That’s what I said." retorted the newsreader.

“No, you said once dice was called a die.” Rejoined Mr In-Between.

“Well, it is…”

“Oh forget it, the point is that it would only be ‘bi’ if the root of bus was Latin.”

“It’s a 7.”

“What’s a 7?”

“The route of this bus…” This is an attempt at humour to let the pressure out of the dice dispute.

“And the root of bus is omnibus…” said  Mr In-Between ignoring the attempt at reconciliation, and then added quite brilliantly “…which comes from Yorkshire.”

I expected the newsreader to contest this, but he countered with a stunning left hook “No, that’s charabanc, omnibus is Lancashire.”

“Well, whatever it’s not Latin.” They seemed to agree on this. Incorrectly as it happens.

“And um.” Said the newsreader after a moments pause.

I considered the ways in which we fill awkward spaces with meaningless sounds to bridge a void or relieve some uncomfortable situation, but once again I was sideswiped.

“You know, like referendum. Two of them should be referenda.”

“Sadly not.” reposted Mr In Between. “I was watching QI on”  and he mentioned some cable channel no one in their right mind should be able to remember “only last night and Stephen Fry said that the plural of referendum was referendums.”

“Well, what does he know.” Said the newsreader rather stupidly.

“Quite a lot actually, my sister sat next to him once.” And then after a suitable pause, while the two of them considered the elevated status bestowed upon the sister by virutue of such close proximity to Mr Fry he added “it’s something to do with referendum being a gerund and gerunds don’t have plurals…” he faded off unsure exactly where he was going with this.

We finally get to the marina and I do my shopping, and repair to Wetherspoons. The food and beer are average, but the faux-holiday circumstances make up for any disappointment. I read the Argus and note that Mr In-Between’s sister’s friend, Stephen Fry has been awarded an honorary honour of some sort by Brighton University, or maybe it was Sussex, or maybe the Art College.

On the bus back into town I once again sit at the front on the top. There is a big bloke sitting in the other front seat. I deduce that this guy does not use buses very much, if he did he would have taken advantage of the extra three inches of legroom allocated to the seat I am sitting in.

We get back to Kemp Town and the traffic snarls up. “Fuck.” Says Mr Big. We stay snarled up and more “fucks” and “bloody hells” escape into the damp air.

There are several police people and traffic wardens at various junctions directing traffic away from the sea front. “Fucking old bill” intones Mr Big. “Community police, that’s a laugh. Bunch of midget lesbians…”

My earlier suspicions are confirmed as, for the first time, Mr Big directs a comment directly at me. “I never use the fucking bus, but my daughter said it would be quick and easy and I’ve got a train to catch.” I turn round and recognise the face of the actor who plays Detective Inspector Bastard in the long-running TV series Rozzers

Generally it is sensible not to join in these essentially one-way conversations, but I am happy that I am with an bona-fide actor and not a proven psychopath and worst thing likely to befall me is being roughly luvvied to death by an invective against the police. So I respond that I too am new to the buses of Sussex and we growl softly at each other, railing against the slings and arrows of just about everything.
Mr Big, or DI Bastard as I am now thinking of him, attacks his mobile and starts making apologies to someone for his expected absence at a film preview he is supposed to be attending later this very day in London. The party at the other end says something that engenders the response “Bloody old bill, always going over the bloody top…”
Artist's impression of DI Bastard on the dog and bone
The call ends and he turns to me and says that the police have shot someone on the seafront and have closed Brighton. “Bastards.”

We have started moving again and with an obtuse logic he leaps up and heads for the stairs casting his parting words over his shoulder “How long will it take to walk to the station?” He does not wait for a reply and is last seen following the bus on foot. Not really his day. Bon chance DI Bastard.

Bastard's Last Case
And so my future is laid out before me. When I am 60 I will get a bus pass and ride around the country talking bollocks with (almost) complete strangers. Perfect.

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