Waiting for the 35. 10.30am.
It was a glorious summer morning and I was hanging around the bus stop, sipping a takeaway coffee and watching the lady who runs our local laundromat clean her shop window. She had a small bucket of soapy water, a window brush, a squeegee, an old sock (for resting the squeegee on) and a wooden step-ladder splattered in red paint.
The lady dipped the window brush into the bucket, climbed up onto the ladder, soaped down the left side of the window, climbed back down, put the brush in the bucket, picked up the squeegee from its resting place, got back up onto the ladder, squeegeed over the soapy glass to get a clean finish, got back down, and put the squeegee onto the sock. Then she moved the ladder a little to the right and repeated the procedure for the right side of the window. The window had yellow vinyl lettering stuck onto its interior side, spelling out the name of the laundromat, but some of the letters had come off over the years.
I asked the lady how often she cleaned the window. She looked down from her ladder and said, ‘Whenever it looks dirty. It’s very easy to do with this brush, much better than with a cloth, which leaves marks.’
I love low-tech solutions. Sometimes all you need is a simple brush and a good system. Anyway, having asked my question I decided to let her get on with her task. But just as I was walking away she added, ‘When the sun is shining you can see the dirt more clearly so it’s good to clean then.’
There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.
Waiting for the 59. 6pm.
Just behind the bus stop a man and a woman were standing side by side, stock-still, looking out on to the street.
The woman said, without turning her head, ‘Gloria was saying to me, “I think you’ve lost weight!”, and then when I took off my jacket she was saying, “Ah no, you haven’t actually.”‘
‘Charming.’ The man began scrolling through messages on his phone.
The woman continued to face forward. ‘My parents used to tell me I was fat when I was growing up. When my mother said it I cried. When my father said it I cried like a baby.’
This seemed to me to be quite a profound thing to confess, especially to someone who wasn’t really listening. I guess sometimes we just have to share what’s in our heart.
Does it make any difference to you that the man and woman were both police officers, in full uniform (padded shirt and trousers, hi-vis jackets, reinforced boots, helmets, puffy gloves)? They were standing by the bus stop as part of their evening patrol.
They were so still. They reminded me of a set of IKEA salt and pepper pots – round and sort of earthen.
109. 11am. Top deck, on the left near the front.
Overheard behind me: a family tucking in to various funpacks of crisps – a boy, a girl and a mother.
Boy: [Licks salt off crisp, then eats naked crisp. Repeats for all crisps.]
Girl: Mum, why is he licking all the salt off first?
Mother: Maybe he just likes the salt darling.
Girl: But…? Why can’t he have the salt and the crisp, together?
Perhaps we have here a little person who prefers not to take the rough with the smooth.
12. 10pm. Top deck, near the front on the right.
A group of men came up onto the top deck and made their way, swaying and singing, to the back. They must have been in their fifties or sixties, all in navy suits with little gold pins stuck to their lapels. An old boys’ reunion, I surmised. They were on their way home from a fancy dinner, and recalled the evening’s events to one another very loudly for the duration of their journey. The rest of us couldn’t help but hear their conversation; we were engulfed in it. There was much belly-laughing. Every once in a while one of the men teetered towards the front of the deck to check they hadn’t missed their stop, and then teetered, chortling, back again.
They really were very loud. The thing is, I didn’t find it annoying. And it made me wonder that I didn’t. If they had been white, with cut-glass accents, all the old-boy stereotypes would have slotted in easily, and I probably would have been irritated by this bunch of moneyed toffs/Tories/wanker-bankers/[insert insult here]. But they were black, with accents from West Africa, so the convenient negative associations just weren’t available. But West Africa must have its share of moneyed old-boy networks, just like everywhere else. And anyway, a group of inebriated white men wearing matching suits doesn’t have to be a symbol of privilege and exclusivity; it might just be a group of friends who go back a long way and like dressing up. Perhaps we Londoners have bought into class stereotypes to a degree that is no longer helpful or relevant?
Hmm, hmm. This encounter was like a Rubix cube of class, race, gender and common sense. My eventual thought, as the group poured out of the bus at Camberwell Green, was that it was definitely possible to overthink these things. Moral of the story: noisy men on buses are a little annoying, whatever the cut of their jib.