Tuesday, 4 June 2013

How to stop a bus in the rain


Summer is making a (very) belated appearance in Edinburgh this week, but all of us who live here know that the only thing that truly unites Scots as a country is a healthy pessimism about the weather.  The Picts did not tattoo themselves with red paint to match their sunburns; they painted themselves with blue because it tones so nicely with the national complexion.  Highlanders are the only people I have ever seen who can hide in a bucket of skimmed milk.

We embrace warm weather with an enthusiasm little short of insanity because we know in our hearts it isn’t going to last.  However, what this means is that we are really, really good at rain...because we get lots of practice.  We have skills, whether for maintaining a water-tight integrity at all times or for complete and utter, sodden denial.  And if skills and the good offices of Mr MacIntosh fail us, we have attitude.

 I saw a recent demonstration of this during the last monsoon when I watched a man walk along the side of the bus, smiting it with his umbrella.  It was difficult to determine who he was remonstrating with:  the bus, the rain, or God for sending the rain.  

A few moments later a woman stepped daintily into the road and walked up the street at the bus, flourishing her umbrella and having at the number 29 like Errol Flynn in drag. The bus driver did the unheard of and opened his doors between bus stops, either in admiration, or because he did not wish to have to explain squashed septuagenerian on his paintwork.

In any case, tilting at windmills (or buses), is a noble hobby for one’s advancing years.  I consider this woman a role model, unlike the very small, very elderly woman who sat down next to me at a stop during a subsequent downpour.  Her plastic rain-bonnet should have been a clue--Don Quixote would never wear a shower cap in the rain (though Sancho Panza might...). The rain was sluicing into the shelter, but we had to wait for the driver to come back from having a pee before we could get on the bus.  Evidently we could not be left on the bus, lest we hot wire it and drive to Morocco.

’Well, everyone has to go, I suppose’ she said sighing.  ’And at least he’s not doing it in the street.  They do, you know.  Pee everywhere. There’s no decency nowadays.’ 

Settling like a broody hen on her perch, she took an iced bun out of her shopping bag, took a bite and chewed meditatively, licking the icing sparkling in the whiskers on her upper lip before replacing the bun in its bag.

’No decency’, she continued.  ’Like my neighbour.  She’s only young...but she’s no better than she should be.  Men in and out of her flat at all hours and I’m sure it’s for money, otherwise they wouldn't be so quick.  Her on the other side told me there’s a sauna in there as well.’  She paused before saying the word ’sauna’, lowering her voice conspiratorially.  

It occurred to me to wonder how the neighbour knew there was a sauna--had she noticed men coming out demonstrably cleaner than they went in? Or pinker? 

’But that’s not the worst,’ she said.  ’Not the worst at all.  I went away to my cousin in Broughty Ferry for the weekend and what do you think I found when I came back? ’

I cannot imagine, I said, entirely truthfully. 

There was another pause, for dramatic effect. ’She only went and hung her washing on my bit of the line!’  

She looked at me closely, as if to gauge the effect of her shocking revelation.  ’ Those sheets could have seen almost anything. '

She paused. 

 ‘That girl's a whore,’  she declared matter-of-factly.  ’But we all love her wee dog, so that’s alright,’ she added, smiling sweetly and reaching for her bun.