Public transport is a mine of potential for adventure. For witnessing the real life carnage that is your town. Wherever you live. The cream of society gather together to travel in unison along pre-planned routes. Sometimes there’s a diversion along the way that half of the passengers aren’t aware of, and there’s unrest. A brave soul will venture to the plastic partition and quietly question the driver. What’s happening? Are you still going up Golden Smithies Lane? Can I just get off here? They’ll return to their seat, unsatisfied. Strangers will watch it play out and begin to crane their necks, eager to hear the news. He’s not stopping, everybody’s got 5 more minutes on their journey. Oh dear. Chaos. Ten people pull their phones out and ring work. They’re gonna be late. This is just the beginning of the fun.
The real fun starts with the characters. Take my bus to work for example. In a village called Brampton there gets on a bearded fella with cheap stretchy denim jeans and no belt. Into these jeans he tucks a John Cena or The Undertaker WWE t-shirt. He wears a tight sweaty cap, and a leather bum bag. An actual leather bum bag. He wears this to work. He’s about 40. I’m not judging him, far from it, but on those days when life’s getting me down I can look at that guy and think, ‘at least I’m not you.’
There’s this big fella who makes a habit of taking seats next to people, unfolding his Metro newspaper (that’s a whole other benefit to public transport, that paper. Quality publication) as wide as he can and then edging his massive arse further back into whoever he’s chosen to sit beside. Crushing them against the window. Blocking half of their view with the paper. Once, that happened to me. I never let it happen again. He got some well aimed elbows to the ribs for the whole trip. Don’t suffer fools gladly me, cocker.
There’s the two nerds at the back. Playing a loud game of one upmanship over how many maxed out characters they’ve levelled up on World of Warcraft. There’s the woman who demanded a window seat from a stranger, and got it. The unlucky in love southerner (‘She ended it because I wouldn’t sleep with her on the first date.’) who eyeballs every pretty young thing that clambers aboard. You don’t have to read his biography to know he falls in love twenty times a day. There’s the guy who sat next to me checking semi-naked men out on a local dating website at 7:15am. My personal favourite of the profiles he looked at was ‘Mr Well Hung’ from Doncaster. He looked like the kind of guy you could take home to your mum. These are just the people whose stories I’m reasonably well versed with because they choose to tell the whole bus on a daily basis, not even a slither of self awareness between the bunch of them.
I’m no different. I’m the kind of bloke you hate. I turn my music up full blast because I want you to know how cool my taste in audio pleasures is. I want you to recognise an obscure track and give me a nod of approval. I’m the one who drums onto his knees with his fingers because I want you to see that I’m rythmically blessed. That reminds me, I once saw a fella actually air guitaring to himself at the back of the bus. None of that subtle finger movement. We’re talking full blown thrashing. Why would you not want to witness that?
These are just small examples from a single bus that runs a single route in a single town at a specific time. Imagine the delights that are happening at the same time on a thousand other buses. The laughing maniac punching himself in the face in Chesterfield. The Barbie doll girl with the caked-in-makeup face using her own knockers as a chin rest in Halifax. The identical middle aged twins with the piggy laughs and matching jumpers in Grimsby. These are the people you miss out on when you’re trundling along in your self imposed solitary confinement, driving to wherever. These are the individually wrapped, funsize bites of entertainment that you’re denying yourself.
You, Mr or Mrs Car-Driver, your television is the road. In your soap opera the red lights do battle with your patience. You try to figure out what the hell that tenuous personalised license plate in front of you could mean. Radio One is the soundtrack. Your thoughts are the narrator. And you’re spending almost £1.50 a litre for the privilege. And you look at me with some sort of pity when I inform you that I never bothered learning to drive, like I’m a Children in Need video appeal for those less privileged than yourself. I wouldn’t worry yourself there, kiddo. I’m good where I am. This shoe-less urchin would rather mingle with the others. Get down and dirty in the place where the magic happens. So no, don’t pity me and my lack of driving skill. I’m over the chuffing moon with my lot. How many of the drivers among you will ever in your lifetime, have the opprtunity to say “there’s a Cockney midget down at the front of my bus,”? In Barnsley? It happened to me once, I thought all of my Christmasses had come at once. I didn’t shut up about it for days. That’s the kind of stuff that dreams are made of.
These are my inspiration in my writing life. These are my muses. These are the people that fascinate me. I’m not interested really in the mafia don, or the career criminal when I tell my stories. I enjoy reading about them, for sure, but when I write I want to tell the stories of the man you pass in the street without so much as a blink in his direction. I want to make his reality so bizarre that you can’t help but laugh. These characters on my bus make me proud. They’re the under educated. They’re the underdog. They swear and drink and smoke. They lack as much self awareness as well as they do personal hygiene. But by Lucifer’s beard they’re entertaining, and they’re what make climbing aboard the peasant wagon the pleasure that it is.
Ryan Bracha is the Barnsley-based best selling author of Strangers are Just Friends you Haven’t Killed Yet, and Tomorrow’s Chip Paper. His latest work, Bogies, and other tales of love, lust, drugs and grandad porn, is released on Sunday 1st December, and is a collection of stories about mad, bad, and downright bizarre characters in the North of England. He has a wife, two cats, and no driving license.