Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Number 52

What is it about the bus pass that amuses people so? Everyone of a certain age is entitled to one - even the Queen and Des O'Connor. I couldn't wait to get mine. I applied well before reaching my glorious 60th.

'Can't 'ave one yet' said the dragoness behind the desk at the local council office. 'Why ever not?' I enquired. ' 'cos you aint old enough' she barked. 'You say the sweetest things you little minx' said I. 'no' she said 'your birfday aint 'til next week'. I realised that I had misunderstood her, and mumbled something about not wishing to waste a single days' travel when I am old enough. I am therefore submitting my request in good time. Anyway, she reluctantly stamped my application and said she would be in touch - a notion which I did not entirely relish.

A couple of days after my birthday it duly arrived - resplendent in its' little yellow plastic folder- proof for all to that I was now a senior citizen.

Bus timetables are tricky chaps. Each different company has a different method of confusing one, and wrinklies such as me do not always have a youngster in tow to decipher them. That's probably why you qualify at 60 years of age' not 65 as you would expect. At least you still retain at least some of your marbles. To make matters worse, times are quoted in new money. If my bus is due at 15.49 I have to remind myself that this actually about 10 to 3 - give or take a minute. That assumes of course that it turns up on time or at all! The other day the bus was there but driver didn't show up. So I just sat there with half a dozen or so other bemused oldies wondering when we would start our adventure on the Sussex Coaster to Brighton.

The highlight of my week, sad as it may seem, is my trip to the Five Ashes Inn every Monday lunchtime. Well, I say lunchtime, it's actually a whole day out. I trot down to the town at about10 to catch the number 98. This takes me to Hailsham where I have to wait ages for my connection, and as a rule I spend three quarters of an hour or so reading my book in Costa Coffee. Hard to believe that Hailsham was considered by those Italian masters of the cappuccino to be sufficiently sophisticated to warrant one of their splendid emporia!

The number 52 eventually lumbers up North Street to the relief of waiting hoard. It hisses to a halt and does a polite courtesy to allow the less nimble amongst us to step rather than climb aboard. Invariably, they are almost knocked off their feet by half a dozen or so ambassadors from Hailsham Secondary Modern, or Haisham Community College as it rather grandly calls itself nowadays. I'm often the only free-rider to attempt the stairs. When I do so I usually perch myself on the front off-side seat to avail myself of the best possible view of the world below.

Half an hour later I stagger down the steps as the hostelry looms into sight, hanging on for dear life as the bus lurches and bumps itself to a halt in a determined effort to throw me to the bottom.

What goes on inside the Ashes is a story all of it's own, and will no doubt be the subject of further ramblings some time in the future.

The number 52 which collects me for my journey home is the same bus which deposited me there earlier day, having driven on to Tunbridge Wells, turned round and aimed itself back in the general direction of Eastbourne. The other day a driver joked that should he carry me on a future occasion he'd park up at the pub, come in and simply miss out the bit to TW and back! Well, he thought it was a joked anyway. Another who has chauffeured me on several occasions, suggested I give him the number of the pub so he could ring up when he rounds Mayfield roundabout and tell me to finish my pint!

One of the joys of bus travel is that you get to listen to other peoples conversations. I say joy - having to hear about Hilda's hip or Fred's flatulence is not actually much fun. Anyway, the other day I wasn't able to get a front seat because both left and right where already occupied. On one seat sat a lady, probably in her early 40s, with straw coloured hair somewhat in-appropriately tied back in a pony tail, wearing a pink and white polka dot dress and sandals with white ankle socks. To her right sat a bloke of similar age wearing jeans with creases down the front, a tee shirt bearing the legend 'West Life European Tour '98' and a baseball cap pulled down so tight that his ears stuck out. He wore a look of permanent amazement on his chubby round face. At first it wasn't apparent that they were together. Until that was, as we were travelling through the Sussex countryside, she blurted out in the most wonderful estuary English 'Nice view from up 'ere'.

There was total silence for a minute or two broken by the guy who looked at her and said 'yer'.
Some time passed then suddenly she said ''cos its 'igh up 'ere'.
Another mile went by before her friend acknowledged her observation. Clearly he was thinking of something witty to say. 'yer' he said.
'Victoria Beckham aint never seen nuffink like this' she said.
Once again there was an agonising wait for a response. I watched his expressions changing as he searched for something to say.
'Cos she goes everywhere by car and she can't see over the 'edgerows of course'.
A while later we arrived at the traffic lights at the top of Mutton Hall Hill in Heathfield. Polka dot was screwing up her eyes and seemed to be studying the finger post at the junction.
'What's 7 from 16?'she asked.
'erm -8 .... no, 9'
'There you are then' she said .
'There you are what?' asked baseball cap.
' Eastbourne to 'ailsham. This mornin' you asked 'ow far it was. 9 miles.
Baseball cap was clearly baffled.
'ow d'ya work that out?'
'It says on the sign Eastbourne 16, 'ailsham 7. 7 from 16 is 9. get it?'.
A short while later we approached the busy crossroads in Hailsham Road. We were greeted by major roadworks and gridlocked traffic. To our left, rowdy youths staggering around outside the Prince of Wales some what worse for the demon drink and kicking up a hell of a din. To our left a road drill was adding to the cacophony and hammering away like a demented woodpecker.

'Lovely 'ouse over ther' she said . 'It's called chimleys'.
Why's that babe' he asked
' 'cos of it's chimleys of course'
Our bloke studies the rooftop for a while and then with a look of confusion on his face says ' but it 'aint got no chimleys babe'.
'Must 'ave central 'eatin' then' said she.
A moment or two passed and then with a massive grin on his face he chuckled 'then it should have been called Radiators!'.

The noise outside in the street reached a new high and was joined by an orchestra of car horns.

'Look' she said. 'It's got double glazing. It must be very peaceful'
Just another day on the 52!


  1. We were that couple

  2. What an interesting observation of life in general. It was a quaint English story about a culture so far away. I loved the story.



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