Thursday, August 19, 2010

The #526 to Ilfracombe

There’s been a heat-wave here for the last five days and somewhere in the middle of last night, a chilly wind blew through the city and I finally got some proper sleep. I woke up with Karma Police stuck in my head and so after I’d made packed lunches and dropped off the children I pulled out Ok Computer from our Radiohead section and took it out in the car with me while I ran some errands.

One day I’m going to make a list of songs that make me want to curl up in a ball. Songs that are so good I can’t move; songs that are so good I want to pull my hair out or lie in a dark room on the floor. Karma Police would be on that list, especially if it had been warmed up by the five tracks before it. It was the middle of track six and I was driving through the city centre when I saw the #526 to Ilfracombe headed towards me on the other side of the road and I felt a sudden urge to weep. According to Google maps, that bus, like me, is about 4,700 miles away from home where it’s spending its retirement shunting tourists around Victoria, the last city before Canada hits the Pacific. It was only me who noticed that the #526 was not at home as I sat facing it at traffic lights blinking back my tears. It was only me who noticed the peeling red paint and I thought about the things that it must have seen while it weathered the British coastline on its regular route. School kids fighting for the back seat, old ladies with fat legs shouting their news to the bus driver, parents with steaming soggy bags of fish and chips on their way home to the family for dinner. That bus would have seen best-friend-fights and lovers-fights and fist-fights. It would have seen giggling children and sandy children and had ice-cream dripped all over its seats. It would have seen kisses hello and kisses goodbye and first kisses with butterfly-churning stomachs. Because that’s what happens on busses back home and as I sat there thinking all that, Thom Yorke sang “For a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself” and I loved that song just a little bit more.

The traffic lights changed and the song passed and the moment passed and I pulled myself together without curling into a ball or lying on the floor in a dark room. But now I can’t decide whether the #526 is better off trundling through the streets of Victoria, camera toting tourists aboard, or whether it would have been better off crushed into a small square and packed off for recycling, red flaky paint chips blowing in the gusty Devonshire wind.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Shoplifters of the World

It was the late 70’s and we had Canadians staying with us. Arthur and Ella were, at least to my 8-year-old eyes, ancient. They had frizzy white hair, crazy accents and liked to dress in full Cape Breton McDonald tartan outfits complete with kilts and yellow pompomed berets. Yes, both of them. At 8, I thought this was pretty cool, but it’s only now that I can look back and imagine the horror my mother must have felt when they accompanied her to the local Birmingham supermarket for our weekly grocery shopping trip.

Arthur and Ella were fascinated by the fact that my mum brought shopping bags from home with her so that she didn’t have to pay for new ones. They were even more fascinated when she informed them that the check-out ladies didn’t pack your groceries for you here, but that you had to pack them yourselves- an idea as completely foreign to North American’s at the time as packing them was foreign to Brits.

So it was with full tartan attire and minds stuffed with quaint notions of packing your own groceries in your own bags that Arthur and Ella crossed the threshold of Sainsbury’s with my mum, my brother and me. We went about our normal shop; methodically up and down each aisle picking items only from the shopping list. We started in fruits & vegetables, continued through tins, jams, tissues, cleaning powders, baking, breads the deli and ended in the extensive alcohol section, where my mother noticed that there had been no sign whatsoever of the Canadians the whole time we’d been there. We combed back through the store with quizzical expressions on our faces as we scanned for the sight of bright red and yellow tartan but our search turned up nothing. It was then that we were approached by a worried looking man in a suit- the store manager who seemed to know my mum's name. We were led to a security office behind the check-out counters where a disgraced Arthur and Ella sat in their tartan kilts and pompomed berets. Not fully understanding what my mother had meant by ‘putting the groceries in your bag’, they’d been apprehended by security putting a bottle of whisky into Ella’s handbag.

Now this is one of my weirdest early memories and I’m sure my mother never thought she’d be fast-talking Arthur and Ella out of a shoplifting charge. But most of all I like to think about Sainsbury’s manager that day, and how he would have received a call saying that there were some old people in tartan skirts who’d just pocketed a bottle of booze in aisle 11. And that they were wearing matching pompom hats.