Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bus Therapy

Have you a moment to join with me in praise of the much-celebrated London bus?
Not for its iconic status (remember its appearance at the Beijing Olympics?), nor for its comprehensive coverage of the city, not even for its reliable service.
No, I want to praise the London bus for something quite different . . . for its therapeutic value.

I'm sure you'd agree that, unlike the tube, the bus seems to foster old fashioned qualities such as consideration and curiosity. People speak to each other on the bus. Seated side-by-side with a stranger, your attention captured by the activity outside the window, there is a curious sense of intimacy. Strictly speaking, I don't know whether the word 'intimate' could be applied to this story. But it certainly demonstrates the power of bus therapy.

I was feeling tired, slightly irritable and rather frazzled. It had been a demanding week. I'd not the slightest desire to travel to the City, and a profusion of roadworks meant that the journey would take longer than usual. With considerable reluctance, I scrambled aboard the bus and lowered myself into the first available seat.

My mind was far away until it was penetrated by a distinctive aroma. Taking a cautious look sideways, I saw, seated beside me, a small, elderly tramp . . . a very hairy and somewhat aromatic tramp!
Did I look as though I was in need of some conversation?
Perhaps. My fellow traveller, who clearly knew all about bus therapy, was willing to rise to the occasion.
"Do you like buses?" he demanded.
I was a little taken aback. Nonetheless, civility being part of the ethos of bus travel, I assured him that I did.
This reply gave my companion the green light to wax lyrical on a favourite topic. There was little he didn't know about the London bus. He could identify every model and, with one marked exception, thought highly of them all.
The solitary exception was the new Roadmaster, not yet launched on the public, but in the process of being heavily promoted by the Mayor . . . and
clearly well scrutinised by my new friend.
"There's going to be a strike in a fortnight," said the tramp firmly.

I was startled, I'd no idea that a bus strike was in the offing.
"A bus strike?" I queried.
"Not a bus strike," said the tramp dismissively, "I'm going on strike."
I tried not to look surprised.
"I'm going on strike," he continued, "to get rid of the Mayor. Can't stand the fellow. A strike should do the trick."

It didn't seem the moment to enquire how a solitary striking tramp could remove Boris Johnson from office. Instead, I plumped for looking supportive.
A few moments later, arriving at a bus stop, my new-found friend caught sight of another vehicle on a route that he needed to follow.
"That's my bus!" he exclaimed, leaping to his feet.
And, with a jaunty wave, he had gone, leaving nothing behind but an unforgetable memory . . . and a distinctive aroma!

As for me, no longer irritable or frazzled, I sat there chuckling quietly for the rest of the journey.
Do you see what I mean?
As an ideal form of therapy to counter any stress or anxiety, may I recommend the reliable prescription of one London bus per day?