Arriving home from a jolly night, or should I say, jolly evening out (I can’t party like I used too) in the buzzing culture capital that is Reading, I have the opening line to ‘Night boat to Cairo’ by Madness, on perpetual send in my head, only with altered lyrics. And take it from me, that opening the front door at 10pm & singing ‘Night bus to Tilehurst’ at full volume, does not impress a wife.
As I have previously mentioned, rail is my number one mode of public transport. But if you appreciate people watching, you cannot beat traveling on the bus. One of the perks to living in Reading, is that it has quite a good bus service, with modern, clean, electric/bio-fuel buses, that surprisingly run on time, considering the congestion. And the bus company do in fact run a night bus to Tilehurst. Known as the ‘Big Purple One’ (colour coded buses & routes you see), the Number 17 passes roughly east to west through the town, from The Three Tuns in Wokingham Road to The Watertower (formerly The Bear) in Tilehurst with 32 stops & although I have never attempted it, there is a pub crawl along the route with probably as more pubs than stops. Reading is proudly a modern, multi-cultural town & taking the bus, is like attending a United Nations summit. In fact, what a great idea – you could do away with expensive venues for grand political gatherings & make use of a double-decker bus instead. What’s better, is that you could make them all drink beer on the way. Just imagine how cooperative they would all be when they are busting for the loo. “Do you agree to stop bombing your neighbour?” “Oui, oui, I promise. Now just stop the bus, I am burstin’ for un pipi”. The world’s problems could be solved overnight. But then again, it could all kick-off again at the kebab wagon.
But for sheer comedic value, you can’t beat traveling on the bus from 10pm onwards though. It’s the time when decent, suit-wearing everyday folk, emerge from the pub completely rat-arsed after nipping in for a ‘swift half’ after work, only to realise that they now need to get home & don’t have enough money for a taxi. As they attempt to hold on to a pole for dear life in the middle of the bus, you can see them trying to convince themselves, that they are fine & not drunk in the slightest. But, there is also another type of person on the night bus. The nocturnal sort who only ventures out into public under the cover of darkness. You may know recognise them – often male, pale complexion, rough shaven, metal-framed 1970’s NHS glasses worn at a jaunty angle, about 6 foot tall, weighing in at about 20 stones, possessing a vague resemblance to the farmer from ‘Shaun the Sheep’. And when you are hanging to a flimsy plastic strap at the front of the bus, wondering if the driver is/was a rally driver, whilst trying to think of anything except of how full your bladder is, this is the passenger who thinks staring is a legitimate hobby. The problem is, once you notice them staring, you just have to keep checking – every 2 to 3 seconds. You might casually survey the other people around, nodding your head, pretending to hum an imaginary tune. You also might look down, then opposite, perhaps gazing into the sweaty armpit of the person next to you, trying to resist the urge to look at ‘the starer’. And while you contemplate if he wants you as a new play thing, he stands up & careens down the bus towards you. Instead of making a run for it, you freeze & hold your breath (he has hygiene issues) as he lurches past & off the bus. When the doors close & you exhale, you realise he was probably just staring at the ‘next stop is…’ sign behind your head.
To draw this drivel to a close, if I may offer you to ‘pull up a sandbag’ (a military expression used when an ex-squaddie starts to boringly waffle on about their army adventures which usually start with ‘Did I tell you about the time I…’ or something similar). During my military days in Berlin, I remember often catching the night bus back to Spandau (the N47 or N49 possibly?) as I had missed the last U-Bahn (underground) train. The problem was that the night bus would take ages & the urge to nod-off was quite overwhelming. To combat onboard drug use, the bus had pale blue lighting which would produce an eerie haze inside. Suddenly waking up, in the blue fog, to be confronted by someone sporting a number of piercings & a grand mohican, or a person dressed in gothic attire, in the seat opposite, at 4am, can be quite surreal & something that still wakes me up at night. Quite understandably the German bus companies didn’t take too kindly to people using their buses as a mobile hotel, so if you failed to wake up in time, it was quite usual to be woken up rather abruptly & ‘assisted’ off the warm bus, by a chubby, mustachioed female bus driver, at the end of the line. Take it from me, sleeping on the bench at the turning circle in Spandau forest, surrounded by Grune-pigs, the wild boar that roam the area, is not to be recommended.