Monday, 20 June 2011
Class War on The Number 19 Bus
I hate Monday lunchtimes.
I do the family shopping on my day off on Fridays, so that when Monday rolls around, we've run out of bread devoured over the weekend. Thus I can't make my sandwiches for lunch as I do for the rest of the working week.
So on Mondays I have to use my lunch hour to bus it over to Islington and buy a lunch.
Islington for those who don't know it, is a very mixed inner-city borough of London. Tony Blair bought a house there before moving into the Prime Minister's residence at Number 10 Downing Street. There are plenty of grand houses, but also lots of social housing and high-rise estates.
Yesterday I got on the bus and had to squeeze my way past 3 push-chairs which were the size of 2CVs. I've brought up twins, with both a double buggy and when that broke, two singles. The buggy (ies) were always folded up every time we mounted the bus, no matter how involved that became trying to ensure two kids were safely on board. So I do get a tad irritated when I see push-chairs that either haven't been, or simply can't be folded up. Irritation I keep to myself. There seemed to be about 5 mothers on the bus with their kids, evidently middle-class to hear them talk. I assumed a play group had just finished for the morning.
As we crawled towards another bus stop, I was transfixed by a woman waiting there. She removed her lit cigarette and bent down to stub it out on the pavement, presumably so as to relight it later. She did it so protractedly I thought she was going to miss the bus. Something about her laborious manner struck me as slightly compulsive behaviour and I fancied that she was an addict of some sort. Maybe she was simply addicted to cigarettes, rather than anything harder. She wore a set of pearls, though of what quality I couldn't tell, but she didn't give the impression of being ravaged by a destructive habit. It was just that curious desperation to preserve the cigarette that set my spidey senses tingling.
I turned my gaze elsewhere when she got on the bus, since I missed what must have happened next. She must have asked the mothers to move the buggies which were blocking two empty seats, so that she could sit down. For when my gaze returned, she was involved in a 'discussion' with two of the mothers. The usual 'you don't have children you don't understand' type of thing was trotted out by way of justification, when there was no way they could have known whether she'd ever been a mother or not. 'Do you expect us to walk the 5 miles to the child minder?' was a verbatim line I heard offered up as argument.
Suddenly one of the mother's male partners launched into her space and gesticulated wildly at her, raising his voice. She replied in turn, though she made no motions with her hands back at him. He called her a disgrace, challenged her to call the police if she felt threatened. When he returned to his berth, she carried on with the two mothers within her range. He sprang up again as she darted off at the next bus stop which happened also to be my own.
So there you have it. No one emerges from this set-to with any credit really. Middle class mums who did blockade the seats on a bus however unwittingly. A man who used his physical presence to bully and intimidate, albeit in the defence of his partner whom he saw as being challenged. And the cigarette woman who I just intuited before she got on the bus, was full of bristling contrariness. I don't know how she asked the buggies to be removed, of if she moved them herself. In themselves, neither would have been that provocative a gesture. But presumably once sat down, she made a throwaway comment that prompted a rebuttal from one of the mums. But that it blew up, that she was at the centre of a confrontation, really didn't strike me as surprising, due to one casual detail I noticed about her.
She could have bitten her tongue like I did. Equally she is entitled to air her opinion, but then you have to ask yourself what outcome you expect by doing so.
I just found the whole thing predictable and dispiriting. It right put me off my lunch.
I have to organise my Sundays to somehow get some fresh bread in.