John McCullagh February 25, 2006
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I used that half-hour wisely, diligently studying the contents of my ready-reckoner card. In the end I felt confident that I had memorised a small section of it, and was familiar with the names of most stops – if not their location. I was ready to face the customer.

Meridith Lane, return!’

WHAT?? I thought.  I don’t remember seeing THAT name!!  I stalled.

‘How much is that?’ I faltered.

‘You’re the conductor. 

You tell me!’

I consulted my all-knowing smart card.

I couldn’t find a Meredith Lane – much less a Meredith Lane Return!

‘You’ll have to give me a clue?’ I begged. 

He was unmoved.

‘Twenty pence?’  .. I delivered this squeak in a cowed and chastened voice.

It was roughly the average fare I’d read during that half-hour.

‘TWENTY PENCE!!’ he roared,

seeking support for his indignation from the impassive passengers. Not one stirred.

‘All right. Ten pence to you …’ I mumbled, in a whisper.

I’d been searching hurriedly – and suddenly I came upon a Meredith Lane.

‘NO! Fifteen pence. Look! I’ve found it!’ and I showed him the card.

I was so relieved I was laughing like a child.

‘But that’s from Margate. Not from here!’ he insisted.

‘But we’re in Margate!‘ I insisted triumphantly!

Suddenly the impassive passengers came alive. They were smiling, some laughing, some elbowing their neighbours to listen to the mad Irishman.

I’d simply forgotten that as the bus moved, I’d have to adjust my interpretation of the dumb card in my left hand.

An easy mistake to make, I felt. Why all the laughter?

Some smart card this! I thought.

‘So where are we now?’ I whispered, in a begging tone.

‘You don’t know WHERE YOU ARE??

You’re in charge of this bus and you don’t know WHERE YOU ARE??’

I ignored him and turned to a seated female passenger.

‘Excuse me, madam. Please could you tell me where I am?’

She shrunk back against the window as if burnt with a hot poker.

‘Please don’t touch me!’ she begged, her hands raised in self-protection!

‘You’re … you’re .. on this bus!’  she cried!

As if THAT was an answer!

To make matters worse, this particular bus continually described a circuitous route so that by the time I’d got used to being in Ramsgate, I was back in Margate.

There was nothing else for it.

I decided that ALL passengers on this bus travelled free of charge the whole first day.

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