Bryn :: A “Thing” About Buses

I have a “thing” about buses.  I don’t think the “thing” is a phobia. I just think it is an inherent distrust of them. I much prefer trains.  I think the “thing” goes back to my youth in Northern Ireland. The local bus company, Ulsterbus, had a fleet of buses called Goldliners. These were the top end of the bus market, yet they had carpet on the walls. Hard, wiry carpet that would scratch your cheek should you have the temerity to drop off. Not even a nice shagpile.

Condensation on the bus window niffed too.  It would obscure your view of life beyond the bus and should you try and wipe it off with your sleeve then you would be accompanied by a damp and musty odour for the rest of the day  (I had five sisters, it was rare for me to find it necessary to carry a tissue, one of them would always have a bulge under the wrist of their jumper that I could borrow. Why it never once occurred to one of them to call my bluff by replacing the tissue with a ping pong ball is beyond me).

Ulsterbuses also had a feeling of insecurity associated with them, they were “targets”.  When you approached Belfast city centre, the bus would pull up at the security barrier and on would stroll a security officer.  Thumbs tucked into his waistcoat, eyeballing everyone and checking behind every seat; the Irish terrorist being well known for getting on a bus and putting his bomb at his feet so he can deny all knowledge.

The back row got special treatment; the Irish terrorist also being well known for his penchant for the back of the bus.  The guard would lean over and check under the seats in an exaggerated fashion before turning and retreating down the bus, allowing us to continue our journey. Smug smiles on the faces of the terrorists sitting at the front with bombs stuffed up their jumpers.

There were always plenty of riots in Northern Ireland, and Ulsterbuses played their part.  A typical riot had three levels of intensity measured by…

The number of petrol bombs thrown,
The number of plastic bullets fired, and
The number of Ulsterbuses rolled over and set on fire.

A riot in which a single plastic bullet was fired was deemed more serious than one in which hundreds of petrol bombs were thrown (we retained glass milk bottles in Ulster long after the rest of the country had gone plastic  because the possibility of the poor, innocent rioter covering themselves in burning fuel is much higher with tetrapak).  Similarly, one rolled and incinerated Ulsterbus is sufficient to make the number of plastic bullets fired irrelevant and indicate the mother of all riots.  No self-respecting rioter would set fire to an upright bus.  There had to be the obligatory ‘rolling the bus over and subsequent cheer’ scene for the press. Multiple rolled over and burnt out Ulsterbuses represented meltdown of society and the imminent arrival of Kate Adie.

To seal my “thing” about buses, my arrival in Glasgow was tarnished by a bus driver. I was 18, scared and burdened with baggage.  I knew I had to get a 57A to the Uni to pick up my accommodation keys. After a false start (I tried to get on the 57A going in the wrong direction), my bus came along.  I lumped all my bags on board, pulled out my £20 note and asked for a single to the Uni.  35p.  Exact fare only. Fury ran through my bones. I unloaded, slowly, and took advantage of a sympathetic taxi driver, who could not have been more helpful.

In my years in Southampton I don’t ever call taking a bus and last year, when the trains were off due to the wrong type of snow (the cold sort that comes down in flakes), I walked six miles to work rather than risk the bus.

However, I have recovered! I love a bus!! In the last two days I have been on two buses and nearly a third!! All these occurrences happened in part of Glasgow known as “The South Side”, the part of Glasgow which lies south of the river.  Half the city in fact.  On both occasions I was bewildered about how to get home and up popped a bus. On the first occasion, I was at the Palace of Art in Bellahouston Park and on the second I was at the Southern General Hospital.  The Bellahouston one was best of all because it helpfully said “Glasgow” on the front and gave the correct change.  I boarded with gay abandon.

The hospital one said Govan on the front which, as it was on the way to town, I boarded with gay trepidation.  When we got to Govan, I had the choice of the subway or a further bus.  I chose the bus. I asked the driver for a single to Glasgow. He looked at me as if I was mad.  “The subway’s half the price and about two hours faster.  You will need a piece (sandwich) and a can of juice on this bus.” I wilted in the face of his arguments and sloped off to get the Subway.

Can’t wait for my next bus trip.  I have a “thing” about them.

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