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Writing & taking the bus

Sometimes I drive to work.  Suited.  Heeled.  Perfumed.  The quiet hum of Radio 4.  My thoughts.  The world outside observable but remote.  Bar a little traffic, an uninterrupted journey from doorstep to boarding school: from one world of privilege to another.

On other days, like today, I take the bus.  Jeans.  An old sweatshirt.  A bag bursting with books and laptop.  I take the 7.34 from Shinfield to Reading to meet my writing buddy, Helen.  At first, there’s only standing room.  It’s the school bus.  The commuter bus.  Windows breath-steamed.  Small boys with pillow-tusseled hair, pale-faced, dirty-fingernailed, shoe laces and ties loose, top-buttons undone – the day not yet begun.  Grown men in suits sit with their eyes glued to their mobiles, their mouths and tongues shift with concentration: they’re playing games.  Girls, eyes mascara-black, hair chemical-straight, clutch files and whisper and compare their nail polish.

The bus swings and lurches and rattles through the traffic. Red lights.  A Tesco lorry turns in the road.  With each stop, more bodies stumble into the gangway.  ‘Move right to the back,’ the hoarse voice of the conductor.

I find a seat at the back and watch.