Waiting for my bus, near Waterloo. 8.30pm.
A 172 pulled up. I happened to be standing in the perfect spot, right in the heart of the bus shelter, so I found myself pleasingly aligned with the bus driver when the doors opened. The 172 wasn’t my ride so I stood well back as people bundled on with bags and hats and icy air. When the last person was safely on board, the driver closed the doors.
Just then, to my left, a woman came running down the road towards the bus. The driver saw her and gallantly re-opened the doors. He turned in his seat and saw me right across from him in the bus shelter. We watched each other, smiling – as the running woman passed right through our sight-line (arms in the air as though through a finishing line) to the 176 which had pulled up behind.
345. 3pm. Bottom deck, standing by the back doors.
Three old ladies, roughly the same shape and size, filed slowly past me and descended from the bus, plop, plop, plop like three perfectly round rosary beads through unhurried fingers.
149 towards London Bridge.
My favourite bus stop name in London – it makes me smile every time. So apt for the whole of this city really. Imagine it spoken aloud by the pre-recorded lady-voice.
‘Commercial Street / Worship Street’
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.