I'm a non-driver in a country where that counts as a disability. As such, like the elderly, the mentally ill, the "quare", I rely on the taxis and buses that Belfast provides, when I'm not out wearing down the bouncing soles of my Dr. Martens. Never had a problem with a taxi. On the one occasion that a taxi turned up late it was because a series of bomb scares had closed most of the major roads. Which is a pretty tidy excuse. They also provide me with valuable local insights; I now know which of the local bars are "Cougar-towns" and that "If you cant get a woman in there you don't want a woman!" Useful stuff for a man visiting his wife in hospital! So I'm ashamed to say that I made one of these delightful and informative men cry last week.
I was visiting my counsellor in Ards hospital which is about ten miles outside of Belfast and in the country. ( I say the country but it has a big fuck-off shopping centre in the middle of it!) In the cab the driver starts prattling merrily away and, apropos of nothing, asks "Is it the missus you're visiting in hospital?" And I, equally unexpectedly, blurted out "No I'm afraid she died a month ago. I'm going to see my counsellor."
It hung in the air for a moment and then came a volley of sobbed apologies from the rear-view mirror followed by a sustained and clearly very difficult silence. I began to feel very bad. Clearly of the two of us he was the better man. He was being cheerful and friendly in what is, after all, a "people" industry. Whereas I had effectively exploited my wife's death for fifteen minutes peace and quiet. And while the Month's mind was still a very recent event and jangled all manner of things up in me, there was no need for it. My only consolation is that this is itself a very Kelly Mullan train of thought!
Bus drivers though...pricks. To a man. Even if that man is a woman and sometimes, Belfast, it's hard to tell and that's not because your bus-drivers are well known for their teasing androgyny! A Belfast bus is an ouroboros - it often looks as if its back-end is driving!
Yesterday I got on a bus from the centre of town. My usual bus of choice, the 4A, author* of such amusing puns as "Time for another 4A into town" etc, was not available. I chanced my arm and went for the number 18. I was fairly certain that I had been on it before and that it had at least approximately in the direction that I wanted to but to be honest, and I know it's not very P.C., all buses look the same to me. I asked the driver "Excuse me, does this bus go to Ballyhackamore?". The driver gave me a brief, dry eye-bath and emitted a non-committal grunt. I tried again. "Excuse me, where does this bus go?" He actually rolled his eyes! I don't think I've ever seen anyone do that in real life. And then he said to me something that no bus driver, even the studded leather gauntlet wearing ones in South London, have ever said to me. He said:
"This is the number 18 bus. Do you not know where the number 18 bus goes?"
I was so surprised by this that I actually laughed. "No," I said. What I didn't say was "Have you checked the accent mate? I'm not from round here and I don't know the number 18 bus route but what has become clear through your evasive passive-aggression is that neither do you!"
That's what I didn't say. What I did say was "Does it go to North road?" He agreed that it did and Kasch and I lumbered up the stairs where I fumed silently for the length of the journey home, much to Kasch's delight.
*obviously I am the author of these puns.