I have three particular friends on the bus. There’s Sophie, who’s thirteen and very clever; Belinda, who’s a little older than me, and extremely well read, judging by the volumes she gets through – or got through until we got acquainted – and John Martin – or Martin John – or something like that – who’s married and overworked and lectures in computers. John gets on first at the beginning of the route. I presume he kisses his wife goodbye, makes sure he has his hankie, his briefcase and umbrella, puts his hat on his head – first man in his early thirties I’ve ever known to wear a trilby, but then I’ve led a very sheltered life – and boards the sixty-five.
The notorious sixty-five. One route – two buses – if you’re lucky. If you’re not, then you wait at the hole – and if you’re me, you meet people. You use the usual ploys: Excuse me, what’s the time? … Oh dear, it’s frightfully late … Yes, how terribly kind of you, it is raining rather hard … What a smart umbrella … Oh, you’re married? Yes I am, too. And the friendship is forged on the anvil of frustration … the bus can take its time now. The only problem is, once you’ve discovered the person’s name, it doesn’t really do to forget it. (Now you understand the confusion about JM or MJ. I just can’t afford a faux pas or a gaffe at this stage in our relationship …) Bus journeys are a bit like cocktail parties: people insist on telling you very interesting things and just as they’re getting to the punchline or they’re warming to their theme, someone else gushes over them … I must introduce you, darling … or it’s their stop and they get off the bus. (All talk of cocktail parties is entirely hearsay – I’ve never actually been to one myself – shades of the sheltered life again.)
That’s how I met John, anyway, and since then I’ve heard lots of fascinating things about his work, his life, his wife and his interests – and he in turn has heard a good deal about me. So has most of the bus, I think, because very few people talk before eight-thirty, and my voice tends to carry over the tops of their newspapers.
i wrote the preceding paragraphs in about 1981, after my daughter Kasia was born and I was a stayathome mum!! This particular man holds a particular place in my memory, because after a while we got talking about mortgages and houses etc. Jacek and I had found it difficult to get a mortfage because we had no saving history – he’d just come from Poland, and I was used to spending any money I had! it had never occurred to me that one day I would need somewhere to live etc etc. Anyway, it soon transpiered that he was moving to Amsterdam with his wife for a year and needed someone to look after his house. it was perfect. We needed a house, he needed someone to live in his! What problems could there be? Well, there were two. insurmountable ones. His wife and my husband! They both said No, thank you. We will make other arrangements. And so it came to pass. john and Sue, I think her name was, moved to Amsterdam, and Jacek and I bought a derelict house in Ealing – but that’s another story!