Riding in buses with people

I commute to work by bus every day. I take a ten-minute walk to my stop, hop on my favoured ride, and sit among the good and the great, the quiet and the noisy. Usually I catch up on texting my friends or family, or I read my book. Sometimes I sit and listen. Other times I just sit.

Last week, the American President paid an official state visit to these shores. Barack and Michelle Obama were welcomed by both Queen Elizabeth II and British Prime Minister, David Cameron. In the midst of the pomp and ceremony and formality, David and Barack went to visit a south London school to play table tennis. And to meet the schoolchildren. Apparently the area was a no-go zone for most of the day, as security measures ensured the safety of the two highly competitive table tennis players.

The day after this school visit, which was splashed across all national and international media, I travelled on the bus with a bunch of schoolchildren who were clearly part-time political commentators.

“You know they went to that school, yeah? They chose that school, right, because them kids, yeah, they’s well bad, right? So they went to that school to make them good, innit?”

I hope they were successful.

So these are the things I observe as I ride in buses with people:

1. Some people bash everyone’s heads with their bags as they walk up or down the aisle of the bus. It looks like they have either a small washing machine, or an old-fashioned television set in the bags they carry on their shoulders and, systematically, they will bash the head of each person sitting on an aisle seat on their route. I am not sure how many points you get for a whole row of commuters, but there must be some high-fiving happening somewhere.

2. Some people like to take up two seats on the their own. They will sit on one seat and their bag on the other. (See above.)

3. Some people who travel with their friends or partners or spouses, love to speak loudly and sometimes to argue. I sat on the bus once listening to a young couple argue for forty minutes about the same subject. When eventually I got to my stop, I was tempted to say, “For goodness sake, do the freaking exam tomorrow. He has a point – you’ve got nothing to lose.”

4. Some commuters are very British. And others aren’t. One morning, as I walked up the stairs to the upper deck of the bus, I heard a young man seated at the back of the bus having a conversation on his cell phone. Clearly, he didn’t need a phone; I think his friend would have heard him from Edinburgh. He finished his conversation, and then began to strike up a conversation with the guy who had sat down beside him. I thought it was an entirely one-way conversation because all I heard was the young guy, at the same number of decibels as his phone conversation, tell his neighbour about what had happened on the bus the night before. After a polite pause, his new friend said to him, “Would you mind calming down, please?”

5. Some people don’t mind having inappropriate conversations that everyone on the bus can hear. One evening, I was joined by a chubby and jovial young man who came to sit next to me. He was already having a conversation on his cell phone, which he continued at full voice for the entire journey. As hard as I tried to concentrate on reading my book, I couldn’t focus for the incessant yabbering from my neighbour. My book was much more interesting than the fact that he argued with his partner for three hours on Monday night because, as he was ironing, he forgot to tell her when Glee came on television.

6. Some people are fruit murderers. The other day, I sat near a guy who wasn’t so much eating an apple, as beating it to death between his tongue and the roof of his mouth. Loudly.

Despite how it may sound, I do love travelling to work by bus. I have a scenic walk along the docks, the river and then a treed walkway to my bus stop. And it is fun getting to know some familiar faces who catch the bus at the same time as I do. Once I’m on the bus, I make sure I don’t forget to look up at the regular sights that we pass, like the occasional uninterrupted view of the River Thames, and the view of Tower Bridge. Mostly I sit there and feel thankful for my job and for this opportunity to live in London.

On the odd occasion – and thankfully this doesn’t happen too often – the journey can be quite different. Once, I planned an entire tantrum in my mind. I had no intention of acting on it, but the process of imagining turned out to be just what I needed. Let me explain …

One day a few weeks ago, I’d had a really full and busy day at work, and I got on the bus feeling quite tired and wearing the hair-shirt of grumpiness. I was trying, unsuccessfully, to send a text message to my husband; traffic was bad; our bus sat in one of the railway tunnels for ages; a young couple was arguing non-stop and a Spanish couple were shouting at each other (I don’t think they were arguing, just trying to get themselves heard above the arguers). In my mind, I imagined the following: flinging my head dramatically into my lap, grabbing my hair with both hands and doing a screen-worthy “aaaargghhhhh!” Once that had got everyone’s attention, I imagined myself storming down the aisle – telling the young couple to “sort this out, one way or the other, for the love of London!”. (I actually thought that.) As I stormed down the aisle, I would also be bashing everyone’s heads with my bag – not on purpose, but just because I had a big bag over my shoulder – and swearing like a pirate at the bus driver for the traffic, before demanding he let me off the bus.

It felt quite satisfying to imagine that drama in my mind, until I remembered that that very morning, I had prayed that God would use me to extend His kingdom in whatever I did that day. Major fail. That made me smile and it loosened the grumpy shirt that I’d been wearing. I breathed deeply, I tried to remember the true meaning of tolerance and chuckled as I stepped off the bus, quietly, at the next stop. I didn’t even touch my hair.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Walking Through History

I have walked through a couple of centuries of history during the past week. Venturing along some cobbled walkways that featured in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and sipping wine in the Devil’s Tavern, I feel well and truly steeped in years gone by. Oh, if walls could talk.

Now, if I were a brilliant writer in the league of my friend, Kate Shrewsday,  I would recreate some of the history I walked through and keep you rapt throughout the journey. Sadly I’m not, so I will describe my experience of the places, share some photos with you and leave you to follow the links to find out more.  This city is truly amazing.

Last week, I went with a friend to a gorgeous little tea shop in Shad Thames, called the Tea Pod. To get there, we walked from our homes to the south side of the River Thames and walked through an area known as Butler’s Wharf and through to an ancient, cobbled walkway known as Shad Thames.

I didn’t have my camera with me, so on Sunday my husband and I retraced those steps so I could capture the image that took my breath away, as we rounded Butler’s Wharf. It is the image that reminds me that – and why – I live in London; this awful, compelling, fearsome, exciting, culturally-rich, historically-steeped, embracing, cold and infuriatingly beautiful city that I currently call home:

We walked along the edge of the Thames before taking a left turn at the Design Museum, which brought us to this, the beginning of the walkway known as Shad Thames:

Despite the modern shop fronts and the ever present sight of a Starbucks at the end of the lane, you can imagine little urchin pickpockets running around, helping themselves to the spoils of the rich. In the delightful Tea Pod, there is a sign that cautions patrons to beware of ill-motivated people who lurk the streets and help themselves to others’ property. Or words to that effect. While I know they don’t mean tax-collectors, they could just as well have written: “Beware of pickpockets. This is Oliver Twist country.”

The Shad Thames ends at this point:

This is the view of Tower Bridge if you were to drive or walk across it:

Walking back south along the river, we came across this community of barges, which I understand is the natural habitat of several local celebrities. We watched for a while, but none of them emerged from their hide-aways. I did, however, dream a little and imagine the romantic life of a boat-dweller in the city. Pretty cold, but I can’t imagine a more authentic view anywhere else in London:

You don’t need to worry with public transport, or walking:

On Friday night, we went to a public house that is known to be the oldest riverside pub in the UK. The Prospect of Whitby, on the banks of the River Thames in Wapping (almost exactly opposite the area we live in), dates back to 1520. Looking at it from our side of the river, you can see that it has defied development and modern architecture; the contemporary buildings on either side, with their straight lines (up and down like a s**thouse door, to quote a famous author) accentuate the wobbly, off-centre facade that characterises this ancient pub:

Known originally as The Devil’s Tavern, it developed a reputation as a meeting place for villains and smugglers, cut-throats and “footpads” (thieves that prey on victims while they walk). The hanging post stands ominously on the beach in front of the pub as a stark reminder of the public end that such criminals met some centuries before:

The interior of the pub is warm and cosy, and it is filled with nooks and crannies, broad walls and dark wood surfaces everywhere: 

An upstairs wall bears a wooden plaque, bedecked with the names of monarchs who have reigned on this island since the pub has been open; such history leaves me breathless.

So I’ve added a few more digits to my pedometer over the past week, I’ve walked in the steps of smugglers, villains, pickpockets and kings, and I’ve thankfully not been accosted by footpads or cut-throats. My fascination with this ancient, modern city never wanes.

Sunshine signing off for today!