A bus drove past me the other day as I was walking home. Normally I pay little heed to buses as I am a car driver now and public transport no longer holds any enthusiasm or purpose to my life. But for some reason my eyes ran lazily amongst its incumbents: the usual far away glances looked right through me to whatever middle distance thoughts they were having, while others were busy with their phones or were listening to iPods or playing games on their tablets; a far cry, thinks I, from the days when I used to run with the buses.
Then I spotted something that hadn’t changed one bit from the old days; a part of life that’s hung on by its finger nails before the curtains of modern life finally sweep it aside. It was a simple sight and one that I was very used to when I was young. It was two old ladies, heads inclined towards one another, and deep in conversation--- loud conversation--- and probably, if memory serves me, about theirs, their neighbours and their husbands ailments.
It was the sight of the two old ladies--- engrossed as they were in what little old ladies have been engrossed in since time began--- that brought a long forgotten memory crashing back through the mists of time; a memory of a bus journey I took in the summer of 1980 between Solihull and Kings Heath.
It was a pleasant enough day; the sun shone through the windows and gave the bus a gentle warmth. There were probably only twenty people all told, spread lazily throughout its interior. The bus stopped just outside the small market town of Shirley in the West Midlands, the doors hissed open and two old ladies got on, they showed their pension bus passes, the driver nodded to them, waited until they were seated and pulled away from the kerb.
Nothing unusual there, I hear you say, all was normal, nothing untoward was happening, everything was as it should be. That was until the first one--- the shorter and more bolshie of the two--- spoke up in the loud tones of the old and slightly deaf.
“So how’s your Norman’s asteroids?” she began: no one paid much attention.
“Awful” her more upright friend replied “Can’t stop the bugger’s bleeding” Slowly I turned to look at the back of their heads.
“What creams he using?” enquired short and dumpy.
“He’s gone past creams deary; doctor’s put him on them suppositories”
“How’s he getting on with them?” she asked as she popped a mint imperial into her mouth and offered her friend the pack.
“Not very well, he’s havin’ a devil of a job with ‘em” she replied as she took one and handed the pack back.
All the usual sites and activities of a small town on a sunny Saturday afternoon had just evaporated for me as I became more intrigued by these two old ladies and their talk of ailments. I smiled gently to myself and edged a little closer to hear more about her husband’s problems. It was then that I noticed another passenger was trying to get my attention; I looked towards him but kept my ears locked onto the two old ladies. He was miming the word ‘Asteroids?’ with a quizzical look. I mimed back ‘I think she means haemorrhoids’. He nodded theatrically with realisation before leaning a little closer himself so as not to miss another second of this most entertaining tête-à-tête.
“So why is he off the cream? Wasn’t it working?” continued short and dumpy
“Well it was working up to a point but the Doctor had to take him off it; he was getting confused”
“What d’you mean?” We both leant in closer
“You know what my Norman’s like without his glasses first thing in the morning...”
We leant in closer still
“Well, last week he got up and went to put his cream on, only he picks up the wrong tube by mistake”
“What did he pick up?”
“Deep heat” she says. We both went: ‘Ooooo!’ in unison
Unperturbed and unaware of her new audience, short and dumpy went on.
“Well didn’t you stop him?”
“You know how fast my Norman is once he sets his mind to it; turns out he’d had a particularly heavy bleed during the night so he thought he’d slap more than normal on” Short and dumpy winced, we all squirmed about looking like a convention of lemon suckers.
“How bad was it?”
“At one point I thought we were going to have to call the fire brigade to put his bum out!”
The assembled lemon suckers acted with accord.
“Dear God alive” short and dumpy sighed “he must’ve put a fair dollop on. What did you do in the end?”
“Nothing else we could do; had to take him up the A&E, and they referred him to the burns unit as by this point his bum was beginning to peel. Anyway, it wasn’t the easiest of journeys, at first the taxi driver refused to take him”
“Why, because he’d got deep heat up his bum?”
“No because he was sitting in a bucket of cold water and ice cubes and was causing a disturbance of the peace with the neighbours.”
It’s fair to say by this point pretty much all of the bus had stopped what they were doing and were hanging on the two old ladies every word. Even a skin head couple at the back---who up until now had been carving terms of endearment to each other onto the bus seats---had stopped misspelling their graffiti to listen; all of which the two old ladies were still blissfully unaware of, and as the bus rolled on sedately, so did their conversation.
“So once the nurse had sorted him out the doctor was called to take a look at his piles. He said the cream was doing no good and he put him on suppositories, then we came home.”
“And you say he’s not getting on with them?”
“Not a bit; having the devil’s own job getting them to stay in!”
“Well” she started, as we all began to move in surreptitiously, like international spies. “he read the instructions and they said to bend forward, place the bullet shaped suppository against the anal opening and gently insert” there was a pause then she carried on “didn’t say anything about the damned thing popping back out again once he stood up”
By this point the bus had come to a stop--- not at a designated bus shelter, but along a country lane---the air brakes went off and the drivers little peak capped face appeared from his cab; he obviously didn’t want to miss a single second of this conversation.
“What happened then?”
“As I’ve always said, my Norman may be old but he’s always been proud of the power of his bowel movements; reckons he has the Arnold Schwarzenegger of bum muscles”
“So it popped back out again?”
“Oh if it had just ‘popped’ out there would’ve been no problem. But we’re talking about Norman’s supersonic bum here; and what with his bum being as powerful as it is the damned thing came out like a bullet from a Magnum .45 and took out three photos from the sideboard”
“Never” short and dumpy replied. Her friend nodded with finality
“Two of the frames were part of a set, and the man from the framing shop said we’ll never get the impact dent out from the photo of my mother”
“Oh and that was such a lovely picture of your mother with all her old work mates at that spot welders reunion. So what happened then?”
“He got another one out and tried again”
“Did it work?”
“No, same problem, only this time he’d moved to his left and when this one came out it hit my old Dad’s antique piano!”
Her friend winced, as did we all: “Much damage?” she asked
“Never be able to use the middle ‘C’ key again”
“Didn’t he come and ask for your help?”
“No, he had another three cracks at it before consulting me: the first removed the lampshade from the ceiling, the second hit the light switch on the wall, plunging him momentarily into darkness, and the third...well that was the worst of all; that’s what got the *RSPB and Police involved”
By this point, it is fair to say that nothing else mattered in the lives of all the passengers on board the 165 to Kings Heath from Solihull. The world could spin off it axis, the universe could implode and Moscow could release its nuclear arsenal and no one would be even the slightest bit interested. All that mattered to everyone on that bus, on that particular warm and pleasantly sunny summer’s day afternoon was Norman, his suppositories and his Kalashnikov backside.
“The Police and the RSPB? What brought the Police and RSPB to your door?”
Our note books came out; no one was going to get this bit wrong, we all felt that this was going to be pivotal to the re telling of our story later on in the pub that night.
“Well, as you may recall, last Thursday night was very warm and as a result we had our front room windows open and Norman was, by this point, reloading his fifth suppository and his bum was facing the open window. It’s fair to say that this last one went the same way as the others and flew like a rocket from his backside and out of the window, exploding a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker from our Cherry tree”
“No!!” gasped short and dumpy as all our pencil leads snapped in surprise
“Scouts honour” she said raising her hand, making the girl guides salute by mistake
“But how did that involve the Police and RSPB?”
“Turns out that one of them bird spotter’s was outside on a moonlit walk--- had heard the bird and tracked it down to our cherry tree--- he’d just fixed his binoculars on the bird when Norman’s suppository took it out. He called the police and told them that a man had shot a bird out of a tree and judging by how the bird exploded he must’ve had a high power snipers rifle: he’d apparently added that seeing as he’d done his national service and knew a lot about these things they should proceed with extreme caution”
Outside the bus, even nature had stopped what it was up to and was listening in as this incredible story unfolded.
“So within ten minutes, the whole street was cordoned off, the S.W.A.T. team was in place and the SAS were on standby. Of course me and Norman had no idea what was going on outside and it was while I was reading the instructions from the packet and Norman was half way through inserting his sixth suppository of the night that the bedroom door caved in and the room was suddenly swarming with police officers wearing heavy duty body armour and machine guns with pistols aimed at us”
Short and dumpy gasped; we held our breath and nature blinked in anticipation.
“What happened then?” she asked, even though she, like the rest of us all had a pretty good idea.
“Well Norman’s backside went off, shooting a special issue Sig P220 from a SWAT officer’s hand, and then all hell broke loose: gun’s were blazing, ornaments flew everywhere, the lampshades danced to the gun fire, the curtains were smoking with cordite, my hot water bottle was shredded and the whole room will need a complete re papering; but amazingly no one got hurt”
The whole bus fell into an awed silence. Short and dumpy was the first to regain control and she asked: “How did it get sorted out in the end?”
“Well eventually Norman was released, but not until he’d spent a very uncomfortable night in the cells, made a full statement and forensics had done an autopsy on the woodpecker and found minute traces of Hydrocortisone Acetate Suppository in the bird”
“Well I never” said short and dumpy “so how’s your Norman dealing with the bleeding piles now?”
“Well he had another incident with the suppositories---this time in the broom cupboard where he couldn’t damage the local wildlife---when it shot out again he tripped the electricity box. So he struck a match to see what he was doing with his next one, got a little too close to his backside, the flame set fire to the hairs on his bum and within three seconds they’d all been singed off and the flame had cauterised his haemorrhoids stopping the bleeding”
Well , what can I tell you, the whole bus simply erupted into applause, we even stood up to give them a standing ovation; forgetting that the two old ladies were still blissfully unaware of the fact that we were all listening in. They turned at the raucous sounds in genuine shock but we carried on in our appreciation of their entertainment in its purist form. I swear if we’d had flowers they would have been presented to them.
I’ve since spent many an hour on trains or sitting in motorway cafes listening to other people’s conversations, and although some have been genuinely entertaining and indeed enlightening, nothing has ever come close to what those ladies did for our Saturday afternoon. Ladies, your were one offs; the genuine article and great story tellers.
God bless y’
*For my readers from outside of the UK, the RSPB stands for Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
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