We get together wearing ski-suits and old rucksacks on our backs, stuffed with a sheet and a piece of stout string attached. We find a field and lie down in one of a number of classic formations. It's like free-fall but without the falling. The picture below is our recent triumph. Never before have we managed a 13 person formation.
I digress from the tale I was planning to tell you. There I was standing in Slobbering-under-the-Bed's high street. I was wearing my flame-retardant underpants. Safety first I say. Who knows when you might have a quite amazingly hot curry?
Out of the darkness (there are still no working streetlamps), came a old style red London bus. This, I thought, is somewhat odd. Slobbering isn't anywhere near London, and, even there, this type of bus was retired five or more years ago.
Also, like most things about my home town, it's own native buses run routes no one would want. Well, no one who didn't need quite a lot of help in the noggin department would want. There are so many pointless routes, of which these are my favourites:
- SW1 - Open topped tourist bus that does a complete circuit of Slobbering's fine sewage works.
- SB1N - School night service. Runs from midnight to six in the morning. The SB1 daytime service was cancelled because picking up and setting down all those schoolchildren was making the service run late.
- TC2 - A circular route with only one stop. The other was closed because the local residents complained about the noise of the bus. You can board at the town centre and after a journey of nearly an hour, disembark at the town centre. It's very popular amongst folk who believe they are going to be re-incarnated as goldfish.
"One and a ha'penny sir"
I rummaged in my pocket for some pre-decimalisation currency. Pounds, shillings and pence. Love it. Bound to have something prior to 1971 in my pocket. Whilst I was searching, I made idle conversation, "Aren't you a little out of your way here?"
"No, sir, not at all. We've always run this route. Same route since 1959. All weathers."
"I've never seen this bus before," I said, sense of curiosity somewhat a tingling.
"You've probably not been ready. Not quite in the right frame of mind. Now where would sir like to go?"
I found the money and handed it over. "I'm not sure. Can I ask where this bus goes?"
"Surely you should have done so before you got on and bought a ticket? Sir is now committed to his journey."
I looked off of the open back of the bus, but there was nothing but grey. I sat down next to one of the other passengers. "Can I come along for the ride and decide later where I am going?" I asked the conductor.
"If sir wishes, then you may." There was a hollow, far away tone to his voice.
I spoke to the chap I sat next to. "Hi, how are you doing? I'm iDifficult. Where does this bus go?"
"Are you one of Henry's men too?", he said.
I recognised the voice. "Haven't we met before?"
"Yes, I think we did. In your wooden hut. I was on my mower. Went back through the tunnel and a Frenchman got me with his fiendish weapon," he opened his coat to reveal a French loaf protruding from a seeping hole in his chest. "We routed them Frenchies though." he added proudly, "Made 'em sit upstairs too we did."
This it has to be said, was something of a conversation stopper. I didn't much fancy looking at the unnatural hole in the mans chest, so I turned the other way. The girl on the other side didn't have much of a neck and the top of her head was unusually flat. "Suicide," said the man with the bread. "Jumped off something, stupid thing to do if you ask me."
"Nobody did ask you. Paralytic-in-the-Wardrobe's Pier," she said sadly by way of an explanation, "the tide was out."
The penny dropped and I yelled, "Excuse me. Mr Conductor. I need to get off this bus. I'm not dead!"
"If you take up extreme sports, sir can expect to die occasionally," said the conductor calmly. He had very deep-set eyes and somewhat hollow cheeks. He looked like he could really do with a visit to the Euthanasia.
"I'm not dead. Anyhow you said extreme sports?"
"Sky diving. As I said, sir can expect to die occasionally."
"I do Ground-diving. I was never more than six inches off the ground. No one has ever died doing Ground-diving. Although, admittedly, Alfred had a pretty close miss with a combine harvester last Tuesday."
The conductor looked me up and down. Then down and up for good measure. He took my wrist and felt it with his cold boney hand. He looked crestfallen. "Bugger," he said under his breath. "Can I see your ticket please?"
"You only just sold it to me."
"TICKET INSPECTION!" he shouted.
Reluctantly I held out the ticket. "Well, that's a first," and then more slowly, "I seem to have sold sir a return."