Yesterday, I set off to South London optimistically, still in my London honeymoon period. I glared at the rude car drivers who didn’t stop for me at Zebra crossings on my walk to the bus stop, then promptly forgave them because the driver behind grinned at me and the sun was shining. I put up with the slow traffic through Shepherds Bush and Fulham, cheerfully texting a friend that I loved London simply because I saw a Somali restaurant and that made me happy.
Had a lovely evening then got to the bus stop for my return home. The naff little countdown screen with a random selection of numbers and letters scrolling along the bottom didn’t seem to be working properly so I didn’t know whether or not I had time to pop into a takeaway for some food to go. Every 10-12 minutes, the timetable says. Naively provincial, I forget that timetables in London are a total lie. I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by six years in a town where buses (irritatingly) sit and wait until they’re running to schedule.
I wait. I wait. I’m starting to get impatient after ten minutes, especially when a different number bus comes up on the screen and then comes along itself. And goes. Another comes. Another goes. I look at the area bus map and start wondering if I can find an alternative route, but know that it’s a bit of a gamble. The connecting bus may also keep me waiting this long. I’ll stick it out I decide. I can’t even wait for a traffic light to change without repeatedly pushing the pedestrian button in a vain attempt to speed up the process, so this bus-waiting is really trying my patience. I pace up and down a bit. I check the bus stop for any evidence of an altered route or cancelled service. You waiting for the 295? I ask another person. She nods with resignation and quickly looks back to her mobile. I’d forgotten I was in London and that conversation with strangers is a bit taboo.
By this stage the crowd is growing and morale is sinking. But then, hoorah, a 295 pulls up over the road. It’s the end of the route so it should come to us soon. Everyone perks up. And sure enough, it pops up on our countdown screen. 295 – Ladbroke Grove- 5 minutes. In response, people shuffle forward in anticipation from their waiting spaces around the bus stop.
Hold on a minute, it’s just vanished off the screen. You are kidding me. I’ve been here half an hour in the sticks of Clapham Junction and now my long-awaited bus has vanished off the screen. A bloke hissingly sucks through his teeth with irritation and and kicks the pavement. In Oxford we’d all have been moaning together. Here we all have our music playing and inhabit this waiting world alone.
A young woman comes out of the station and, in an innocently taunting gesture, hails a cab and off she goes. She’s oblivious to the despising glares from the bus stop as we watch her with jealousy while we remain stuck. I mentally calculate the cab fare home. It’s out of my league.
Ten minutes later, it pops back on the screen: 295 – Ladbroke Grove – 5 minutes. Yeahhhhh rrrrright, says Big Mama, the only one to speak into the silence, dat’s if is telling da troof, maan. Hissing bloke sucks through his teeth again in quasi agreement. And lo behold! Not only is one now due in 5 minutes, but two are due in 5 minutes. I don’t need two in 5 minutes! I needed one half an hour ago. Stupid London Transport. Stupid South-Of-The-River. By the time I get home I could’ve flown to the Netherlands or done something more exciting than travelling from one borough to another.
It finally comes along and, in spite of the unspoken solidarity of corporate waiting and corporate irritation, it’s now a total free for all. No one wants to get left behind so all courtesy – if there was ever any to start with – goes out of the window. The fact that no one has made eye contact with the rest of the crowd, let alone actually spoken to them, makes it easier to view the others as identityless competitors. Easier to stick your elbows out and barge your way onto the bus.
Almost there now..?! texts Ness, the one who’d persuaded me to trek south of the river in the first place. Oh, ur never going to come again now are you? Bad South London.. : – (
Yep, bad South London. Ah well Ness, thanks for a fun evening anyway. On the positive note it was a first rocky step on the path of cultural reintegration. Having gone from an inspiring church service just an hour before, to waiting at a bus stop where each and every fruit of the Spirit was trampled underfoot, I can see that in London I’ll have a bit of a battle on my hands. What a year it’s going to be.