Buses. They used to terrify me. Trains didn’t, planes didn’t, even boats didn’t. And cars were OK – unless you count that ‘new car’ smell that our Scirocco reeked of. I was always convinced it would make me chunder en route to grandmas. Of course, it rarely did but the thought of puking without a sink close by terrified me.
But buses. They have blighted many a memory. For some reason, getting the number 30 after work to North Hull Estate was acceptable. They didn’t come as often, but they were definitely a much calmer experience. Why? I have NO idea.
It wasn’t always so, however. Whilst the fear of the ‘new car’ smell dates back to the 80s, when of course we didn’t have iPhone apps to keep our minds off the fact that dad was teaching us new swear words on the M18 and terrifying lorry drivers were sneering at us, the fear of buses started in my late teens.
Aged 14, the highlight of the school day was getting on the top deck of the ‘2nd bus’ to greet the Longcroft lads with flour, water bottles and squashed vanilla slices smeared onto Dave’s (God rest his soul) regular seat (4th from the back, left hand side). It went on for a few weeks, it was heaps of fun and we proudly made school assembly headlines with a stern warning from East Yorkshire Motor Services.
So why it suddenly became a vehicle of doom is beyond me.
In fact, I don’t think I ever really truly imagined what would happen on the double deckers that dropped me on Greenwood rather than the mini buses that dropped me on Endike Lane. I just felt an inexplicable fear for getting on them. The fear of suddenly needing the loo, or being sick, or not being able to breathe – it was probably all mixed up in there somewhere.
So I avoided those double deckers whenever I could.
In my 30s, as a proper ‘grown up’ things had calmed down. I actually chose to ride on buses. I got rid of my car because I worked in town (we’re in Newcastle by this point) and I chose to ride on buses as a cheaper and faster option to being stuck nose to bumper in standstill traffic on the high street. And by this point, I was quite happily playing on iPhone apps to keep my mind off the new swear words that the bus driver was teaching me on the central motorway.
But one day it changed. I got on the bus, sat on the top deck and something wasn’t right. The bus was wobbling! Every time somebody else got on to pay, it seemed to sway like a boat in stormy waters. Christ. I looked around me, everyone was preoccupied with iPhone apps, headphones in, eating Gregg’s pasties. Why did nobody else notice?! Time to get on whatsapp. Or google. Or bloody Bingo bloody Rush (my excuse for my addiction to Bingo Rush is that it is a form of ‘mindfulness’).
Nope. It’s not working. The bus is still wobbling, I’m still full of dread and I am stuck on it. I considered standing up, moving downstairs where it might be safer but the engine revs and we’re off. A sharp 90 degree turn to get out of Haymarket bus station and I see Newcastle’s horizon shifting as quickly as the floor of my bedroom circa 1992 after three Diamond Whites and a Castaway.
This is not good.
So I sit there. Wondering whether to get off early. Wondering if I will be the only one who is saved. But feeling even more scared of looking like a total fruitcake, I sit tight. Well, at least I do until we approach the flyover. Anticipating the sharp bend in the road, the increased wobble of the ‘faulty’ vehicle and foreseeing a mangled mess of bus parts scattered on the road below, I decide that my life is worth more than my pride. I’m up out of my seat, down the stairs and gripping on to the handrail as close to the exit as possible. We make it over the flyover in one piece. There are no mangled bus parts and I still have several stops to go. I hang my head in shame, wait an agonising three stops and hope the other passengers assume I just don’t know the area very well. Then, I hop off the bus and run my short walk home to down a full bottle of Prosecco. Now the horizon really is wobbling.
I thought about this just the other day. Which I why I wanted to write about it. Because it seems crazy. It seems so far removed from where I am today it’s both comforting and a little bewildering on reflection. Comforting to know you can beat anxiety. Bewildering to think how crazy it sounds.
I drove over the flyover on Friday night, after watching the new Ab Fab movie, singing my heart out (badly) to Smells Like Teen Spirit. Perhaps that’s why 2016 is the year I re-discovered Nirvana and Ab Fab. Perhaps it’s because it takes me back to a time when life was less about toppling buses and more about food fights on buses. When, just prior to soaring hormones, awkward sex and the pressure of being ‘alternative’ hit, my heart was lighter (hard to imagine given my taste in music in the 90s).
So I’ve finally found my nirvana. And I can ride on any of the buses I choose. Next stop? Climbing on the waltzers, swimming below water or attempting to break dance on concrete. Back to the halcyon, carefree days of 1987*
*Disclaimer. The above reference is to 1987 as seen through the eyes of a child. My tainted brain is sadly anticipating the revival of the less carefree elements of 1980s Britain. But that topic doesn’t really make for a triumphant ‘mind over matter’ blog.