A Bus Journey - There and Back


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A Bus Journey - There and Back



It’s 31st October - Halloween. 



The start of a long day commences with the shrill alarm clock screeching in my ear at 6.30 am. Makes mental note to change that setting from ‘Screaming Banshee’ to ‘Annoying Bee’. 


I can’t have my wake-up alarm set to ‘music mode’ as my brain rejects music as a ‘wake-up’ call and tends to make it part of whatever dream I am having at the time. 


Instead of rousing me gently from my sleep, it floats me away into a deeper REM state. 


I remember one time I woke up with the remnant of a dream still in my head. I was under the sea surrounded by multi-coloured coral and fish with Ringo Starr’s ‘In an Octopuses Garden With You’ ringing in my ears and finding myself late for work.


Washed out

I know I need to force myself to drag my dead-weight of a body out from under the voluminous duvet. But the bed is so warm and smells like toast - I just want to sink back in and stay there, but very reluctantly I peel myself away from the fluffy Egyptian Cotton cocoon.


Bed hair

I try to push through the unruly bed hair that is my ‘crowning glory’. However, my fingers get entangled in the ginger nest-like explosion which looks like it was built by a large teenage Crane that had been forced into it's construction and wasn't totally happy with his situation and had just wanted to hang around the Pool.


Still dark

Tweaking the blinds, I see it’s still pitch black outside. Each day I leave home in the dark, leaving behind the Ecru painted walls of my apartment and going to sit for all the daylight hours in a Beige painted office with the blinds closed - then getting home in the darkness - back to the Ecru walls. All the colour feels washed out of my life.



I can feel my body’s Vitamin A, D and E evaporating through my skin as I stand under the florescent bathroom light, brushing my teeth. 


The bathroom mirror (I hate mirrors) shows my ‘winter’ skin that is pallid and dry. The subcutaneous fat layer however, is doing really well. 


Jowls and waistline getting thicker and thicker. Fat stockpiled over the last few months through comfort eating (consisting mainly of chocolate, creamy curries and more chocolate).


We all need Shelter

It was a trudge to get to work today. I nearly froze my toes off waiting for the bus this morning. The bus shelters are no longer shelters - they are ‘shelves’. One wall and a roof too high for any serious cover from the elements is not a shelter - so not fit for purpose. 


The bus companies seem to be more concerned about preventing some poor homeless person using its shelters and forgetting customers need shelter too. The money they spend on adding bars and knobbles to seats so it can't be used as a bed could be used to house people. 

Just madness!


Journey In

The bus was thankfully warm when it finally arrived. The windows were all closed to shut out the cold. The window condensation was running across the window ledge and down the walls, Blackened by the dirt on the windows and pooling along the edge of the bus floor.


Road Works

The bus route this morning has been diverted to accommodate the only growth industry there seems to be in this city - road works. 


I swear that the city councils and utility companies wait until the most inconvenient times to dig up road surfaces. I imagine joint committee meetings deciding which roads would be the most disruptive to dig up and bring the road system of the city to a standstill for the longest period of time.


Paperless Office

Finally arrive at the office. The day is relentlessly busy. Churning out paperwork, emails and phone calls (smile when you speak – people can hear it). Not exactly physically strenuous but wearing a person out mentally through alternating sheer boredom and brain-crushing stress. Repetitive, constant, mind–numbingly boring interspersed with frequent periods of manic panic busy-ness. 


What happened to the ‘paperless office’ we were promised in the 1980’s? They can make fabric invisible to radar, regrow damaged spines and find water on Mars, but like a cure for the Common Cold, the paperless office eludes even the most inventive of minds.


Anyway after 10 hours of emails, phone calls, printer disassembly and reassembly, calls to the I.T. Department (surely one of the levels of Hell and/or Purgatory depending on what end of the phone you are on). The ‘Can I have those annual reports in 15 minutes for a meeting I didn’t tell you about’, ‘smile like you mean it’ all day, I was bone-tired. 

If I had a sleeping bag with me, I would just curl up under the desk for the night.


Journey Home

Bundled up like an Artic Mummy, I drag my protesting bulk through the shivery darkness to the bus stop for the return journey. 

Waited – no bus

Waited – no bus

Waited – no bus…

There is supposed to be a bus every 15 minutes, but I have been waiting over an hour by this time. Cold is seeping into my bones and ligaments. The timetable seem to be of no use at all except maybe as something to read or to burn to keep warm by.


Are they running?

Sometimes you get to the point when you have been waiting so long for a bus that you start thinking - ‘Are they running? What if there’s been an accident?’ ‘Should I walk or wait a bit longer?’ and you dither for a bit longer, then you decide – stuff it, walking it is.


So, I set off down towards the next bus stop outside the supermarket, opposite the pub, where I can still get my normal bus if it turns up, but I can also get an alternative bus. The other bus has a more meandering route and takes longer, but if that turned up first I’ll be happy to get on it. At least I would be out the now biting cold. 


Murphy's Law (also known as Sod's Law)

Of course, Murphy’s Law comes in to play and half way between bus stops, my (empty) bus sails right passed me. Thumbing its invisible nose, miming ‘nyaw nyaw nyaw’ at me from its rear window. Its exhaust blowing petrol fumed farts in my direction.

Expletives abounded under my breath as I continue trudging down the road mentally kicking myself in the backside. 


Not in Use

When I finally get to the next bus stop, I find a paper sign shoved in a clear plastic bag has been hastily duct-taped to the bus stop post. In thick black felt pen it declares – ‘This bus stop is not in use until further notice - please go to next bus stop. Apologies blah, blah access not available due to more road works blah, blah, blah’


I sigh heavily, wondering how long it is going to take me to get home. I don’t have enough money to get a taxi and it's too far to walk.

So I am now completely fed up and with much teeth chattering, I pull my coat as tight as I can to me and walk to the next bus stop.


Gnarly Group

A small but gnarly-looking group of people are standing around the bus stop like a frozen Wiccan Maypole group made up of people at various stages of agitation and frostbite. 

I would guess the level of agitation had a mathematic ratio equivalent to the length of wait versus the drastically reducing body core temperature of each person. I could hear them muttering as I approached and actually witnessing the turning from bus-waiting customers into a possible lynch mob for the next poor bus driver.


Bad Boy Watcha Gonna Do?

I am livid! Positively livid! First the car, now the bus, might jump a taxi – yer, yer okay – L8rs’ says the bald guy into his mobile phone. ’This is doin’ my head in!’ He says snapping his phone shut and shoving it into his coat pocket as if bagging a struggling rabbit.


He has the appearance of a tough nut from a London ‘bad boys’ TV show – shaved head, ‘tan-tastiqued’ to well-done barbecue sausage level. Wearing the ‘uniform’ of a black open collar shirt, black chinos and ‘polished to a glow’ black shoes. 


Adding to this ensemble is a thick gold neck chain (which could probably pay for a student nurse’s tuition and accommodation fees for a year), a sovereign ring and big ‘divers’ watch – cushty! 


Why do they want a ‘divers’ watch? Is that in case they go to ‘sleep with the fishes’ and need to see how many feet underwater they are and an illuminous dial to count down their last seconds at the bottom of the boating lake? 


The nearest he will ever get to using it for it's actual purpose is at the local gym/solarium/pool/dining complex when he’s power swimming his way up and down the pool, knocking frilly capped grandmas sedately doing the breast stroke out of the way, whilst trying to impress some emaciated, micro-bikinied, ‘tansational’ female. 


She, lounging at the side with an expresso and a fashion magazine, waiting for her ‘hot stones’ massage appointment to roll round.(not in the pool of course – can’t look ‘cool’ with chlorine soaked hair)



A couple of girls in their very early twenties, or maybe younger (I can’t tell sometimes) totter up, adding to the throng. 

One is dressed in pink ©Betty Boop print pyjamas, with a small pink velvet bomber jacket thrown over the top. Her long blonde hair ravelled up in huge plastic foam curlers (de rigeur look for ‘pre night-out’ shopping in town). On her feet are a pair of Ug boots that look like they are made from the feet of a very angry. very large Yeti.


(The anger is moot because if I were a Yeti and someone stole my feet - I'd be bloody angry too!)


All I keep thinking is ‘her poor kidneys!’ and that she should get a proper coat on or she’ll freeze to death. More and more I sound like my mother!


'Betty' drags a small ‘hot pink’ coloured case on wheels behind her, looking worried to death. She clutches hold of the long handle as if the case has the Hope diamond inside. I wonder if it holds her Halloween outfit. 



Her friend, who makes it clear during their conversation that she thinks dressing up for Halloween is ‘naff’, is diametrically opposed in look. 


Dressed in black shorts with a silver leopard skin print motif, over thick black woolly tights. On her feet, a pair of black suede pointy shoes adorned with big silver and purple buckles.


She had a plain black boob tube top with an ‘organ freezing' black Bolero styled leather jacket over the top. 


Her eyes are thickly edged with kohl. On her head was a ‘fro-styled' black wig which sparkled slightly in the street lights. I couldn't work out if it was because of the frost now settling on the ground, or if the wig had a light spray of glitter.

The wig seemed at a complete odds with the rest of the post-punk outfit she wore, but each to their own - and oddly, it seemed to work.


At least she was looking forward to their up and coming night out, unlike her worried friend. 


Crisis? What crisis?

‘Betty’ was having a mini crisis over whether she had brought enough makeup, or the right outfits (she had brought several in case someone had the same outfit) - if ‘Mike’ was going to turn up. She said she felt sick, she did not want to go - no she had to go in case ‘Mike’ is there babble, babble, fret, fret as she chewed at her plastic nails.

‘Kohl’ just rolled her eyes in a total ‘OMG I couldn’t give a flying fig’ look that only close friends can give each other without causing offence and tells her to ‘chillax’

There’ll be tears before bedtime I’m sure of that - Whose tears was an unknown factor.


Bus Arrives!

Finally - the bus arrives. 

Why do people always shout at the bus driver if the bus is late?

’Do you know how long I’ve been waiting? (As if he/she will know) 

Where’ve you been?’ (As if the driver is some errant school kid or wandering spouse or just decided to pull over and eat a kebab for twenty minutes rather than stick to a timetable that would get him home earlier)


What happened to the missing buses?’ I’m sure the driver would like to say something sarcastic like ‘They were abducted by aliens on the by-pass’ but they don’t because they have a *mortgage to pay. 


I’ve always thought of this as odd. After all - this driver turned up, they are doing their job. Shouldn’t the passengers be shouting at the bus company instead? Filling in a ‘How can we improve our service’ on-line form so it can be ignored officially rather than giving the besieged driver a rollicking.


Grumbling Pains

There were plenty of grumblings at the bus driver: 

This bus service is dreadful! Been waiting hours!’ And then: 

Does this bus go to the city centre?’ asks an overly inebriated young woman who had just run across the busy main road, shushing her boyfriend as she spoke to the driver. Her eye makeup was smudged and her white top and jeans splashed with orange - possibly from several of the cocktails she had imbibed. Some of her blond hair had fallen out of it's bun and whipped about her head in the bitter breeze.

You need the stop on the opposite side of the road love.’ said the driver.

Crap’ replied the girl, pulling her boyfriend off the bus by his dark denim jacket.

A muffled ‘Told you! You never listen to me! I think we should go home. Please let’s go home’ from the boyfriend as she pulls him with her as they try to cross the road again in front of the bus. She drags him across the busy road telling him to shurrup and stop being a ‘whiner’.

The driver shakes his head and sighs.



Can I get on with this?’ The driver is proffered an out-of-date train ticket held by a giggling, slightly built, but staggeringly drunk man, as he tries to steady himself by hanging on to the bus door frame. 

He has come to the end of his Halloween night early as his pockets are now empty. His skin appears to have a slight tinge of yellow (but that could be the lighting on the bus). 

He looks a lot older than he actually is. 


The driver lets him board the bus, saying to him: 

‘Okay, get on, but behave yourself. No bothering the rest of the passengers or throwing up’ for which the drunk guy appears as pleased as a kid in a sweet shop.

Fanks mate, fanksve’mush - Yura diamond!’ he slurred, giggling again. He thinks, in his inebriated state, that he has tricked the driver with the out of date rail ticket. 

The driver, says the guy is a ‘regular’ and it's safer to let him on the bus - or he would start weaving in and out of the busy road traffic asking people for bus fare.


The journey continues

We all eventually get on the bus and settle down for the rest of journey. The drunk chuckling to himself at the front of the bus.

A current of warm air permeated around my legs from the heating system, thawing them out. Bliss.

I was sitting near ‘Betty’ and ‘Kohl- Eyes’ listening to the chunnerings of ‘Betty’ - still panicking over her outfit – more eye rolling from her friend. 


Eggstra Eggstra!

Just as we get near to a small industrial park -‘BANG! BANG! BANG’!! 

A few teenagers were standing in the car park - throwing raw eggs at the bus. Egg yolk and shell splattered all over the windscreen. 'A bit late for ‘Mizzy Night’ I thought.


Everyone jumps with shock, but the bus driver doesn’t even flinch (kudos to the driver by the way) and just turns on the screen wash and wipers to clean off the mess as if it was all in a day’s work. He doesn’t even glance at them, but drives on shaking his head slightly.


Ghosts, Ghouls and Witches

The bus trundles on and I start to see children walking along the pavement as we weave our way slowly through the traffic. 

They’re all dressed as ghosts, ghouls, vampires and witches, holding on tightly to their ‘trick or treat’ mini plastic buckets. They are followed closely by their Mums or older siblings - some of them getting in to the Halloween spirit and dressing up also. 


Through the open window I can hear the squeals of joy from the children as they pirouette and dance and chase each other down the road, swinging their little buckets in their hands. 

Is there anything so joyous to watch as children enjoying themselves with such abandon?


Bus Change

We next stop further along the route at the cinema complex. I, ‘Betty,’ ‘Kohl', and ‘Tantasique’ guy alighted from the bus. I have come to like ‘Betty’ and ‘Kohl’ and now feel a bit sad I will never know if ‘Mike’ ever did turn up. They carry on their way, whilst I walk over to the crossroads to get the connecting bus home.


Disgruntled people at the new bus stop as well – ‘What has happened to the bus service today’?  ‘Been waiting 20 minutes already’, ‘It’s bloody freezing’ etc. going on.

I move to the back of the bus stop trying to shield myself from the wind when a bus pulls up and most people get on. 

Unfortunately – it’s not my bus.


A New Motley Crew

I and a couple of teenagers are left behind.  A boy and a girl - dressed for Halloween as a skeleton and a witch. Shop bought costumes, but pretty good ones. 

I guess from the icy atmosphere (which is nothing to do with the weather) and awkward body language between them, that this is a regretted first date or an ‘about to break up’ date. 


The Old Time Entertainer

I then notice there is also a guy dressed as an ‘old time’ entertainer. He has an expertly coiffured black hair and huge curled moustache, like a baddy from a Silent Movie. 


He is wearing a gold-coloured waistcoat, a white shirt with rolled up sleeves and black suit trousers. He has on a black bowler hat with a ‘keyboard’ motif around the middle – his bus pass sticking out of the hat band a la Mad Hatter. I half expected him to have a bow tie that lights up, but no (unless he’s taken it off). 


He is leaning against the bus stop. Maybe he had finished a party early or was gearing himself up for a later gig. He has a half empty bottle of orange Lucozade precariously dangling out of his trouser pocket and a large, battered sports bag with all his accoutrements in, lying next to him on the floor. His big black overcoat is thrown over the bag.


Out of the blue - he started singing ‘Oh what a crap public service’ to the tune of ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ loudly to us, but stopped and fell into a sulk when he saw he had no audience as we all fastidiously avoiding any eye contact with him. 


The second bus

By this time, I just want to get home, I have had enough of ‘quirky characters’ for one day. The 45 minute journey has taken 2 hours and I'm still not home yet - not a happy bunny.


My bus finally arrives, and everyone piles on, glad to be out of the now freezing and frosty air. 


I sit down and rub my shins with my hands to get a bit of warmth back into them.


The ’entertainer’ plonks himself down in the seat in front of me, his back to me - resigned to his anonymity. He pulls the bottle of Lucozade from his pocket and takes a slug of the contents. 


Whatever is in that bottle is definitely NOT just Lucozade! The smell is overpowering! The contents could be used to dull the shine on chrome! 


I feel a bit sorry for him now. I imagine to myself that he had a gig earlier and got himself drunk when it hadn’t gone too well. He had been ready to ‘cheer up’ the captive audience at the bus stop to build a bit of self-esteem, or maybe a bit of camaraderie - but no-one had been interested.


The Scream

The bus pootles off on its way into the icy darkness. I settle down and go to ‘switched off’ brain mode. Suddenly, there is a loud heavy ‘thud’ on the window right next to me. I look up and some guy dressed as ‘The Scream’ from that horror movie has thumped the window with his fake rubber hands and put his masked face right up to the window to try and scare me. 


Unfortunately for him, I am too tired and jaded by this time, I couldn’t have cared less if it had been the real ‘Scream’ at the window. So I just stare at him with a ‘meh’ look on my face. 


He is not happy with this reaction and starts churning himself up on the pavement for a second launch at the window. I just look him straight in his mask and yawn, giving him the ‘two fingered nose scratch salute’ as the bus picked up some speed, leaving him running alongside the bus for a few yards, impotent.


The ‘entertainer’ alights at the next stop outside an off licence. With a slight swaying, - two steps forward, one step back mode of walking - he makes his way towards the door to obtain a refill and an early night (I hope).


I eventually get to my stop and walk the last few hundred yards home.



Key in the lock, close door, coat off, shoes off, throwing my bag into the corner of the hallway. I go straight to the kitchen. 


I am met by a sink full of dishes and pans from the night before. 

Lovely! Welcome home’ I say to myself. 

I throw a pasta ready meal in the microwave. Then after changing into my ‘slob’ gear, I pour myself a cold glass of white wine - gulping down half whilst I tap my finger nails on the kitchen top waiting for the microwave to stop.


I swear if we had such a thing as Teleportation, someone would still press the ‘start’ button several times impatiently as it wouldn’t be fast enough. 


The microwave ‘pings’ - I burn myself (yet again) peeling the cover off the meal. I can’t be bothered putting the meal out onto a ‘proper plate’, so I grab the oven glove to rest the meal bowl on. I top up my wine and with both hands full - I flop in front of the TV. 

I grab the remote and press ‘on’ to find a Halloween episode of ‘Futurama’ showing.

I raise my glass to the TV ‘Happy Halloween guys’ I say and snuggle down with my big soft dressing gown wrapped around me and – cosily vegetate.


(*mini detour – the word ‘mortgage’ means ‘death pledge’. Makes you think, doesn’t it).


Kate McClelland


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Phillip Butler

The language and vocabulary of a specific topic can be learned through wordle games, which are entertaining and interesting. They work well for assessing students' knowledge in the classroom.


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