(Journey to the Heart of Darkness)
A sense of uneasiness was first aroused when I noticed that I had been standing waiting for the bus for nearly an hour. So engrossed was I reading my work manual on common errors in user interface design that the time just magically flew by, as I’m sure you can imagine. Still, there comes a point where a fellow starts to wonder if it mightn’t be nice to hurry the show along, actually get home, have a spot of dinner, and so on. For me that point comes when it starts to rain. However, there were possible explanatory factors. It was, after all, the first day of the St. Giles’ fair, an annual event of extraordinary magnificence whereby a huge and stately stretch of historic central Oxford is given over for a couple of nights to flashing lights, dodgy food and rides of questionable safety run by gangs of thieving squinty-eyed pikeys. This obviously causes certain upheavals for traffic flow around the town, so I was in (relatively) forgiving and understanding mood when the number 6 finally lurched into sight around a corner of hot-dog-and-nougat vans. This, I thought, must be the reason it has taken an hour for the bus to travel the 500 metres from the station to here.
As it turns out, I was only half right. There was another factor, which quickly became apparent, which was that the bus driver was a semi-coherent newly-arrived Russian immigrant woman with no idea of the geography of Oxford, how to drive, or what buses are. There were many and varied high-points to this Ride of Terror. There were, for example, the comical looks on the faces of people waiting at bus stops along the roadside as we sailed by, oblivious to their outraged cries. There was the rather exciting moment when, swinging round a corner with delirious abandon, we ‘clonked’ a bollard. But the absolute high-point was when we drove up completely the wrong road, went round a roundabout the wrong way and ended up stuck in a three-way dead end at the bottom of Jericho with no way out but to reverse painfully slowly for about ten minutes back up the road while a long line of confused and outraged traffic behind us followed suit. Now the famous red flagships of the Oxford Bus Company are many things; spacious, accommodating… red. One thing they are not, and I can tell you this now, is manouverable.
The end of the journey afforded one final bit of fun. By this point I had realised that the captain our captain had little understanding of or patience for such trivial notions as ringing the bell, or what ‘bus stops’ mean. So there was a certain bizarre satisfaction in the moment when, as the bus careered past our stop, my fellow passengers and I rose to our feet and cried out, with one voice: “What the FUCK??!!!”
Please don’t think that I am in any way biased against women drivers, or for that matter Russians, immigrants or the mentally ill. Or even mentally ill Russian immigrant women bus drivers. No, my quarrel is with the employers. This may be pickiness on my part, but I would have thought that at some point in their training courses, the good chaps at the Oxford Bus Company might have seen fit to include such topics as ‘Driving’, or ‘Buses: What They Are And How They Work’ and so on and so forth. Still, what the hell do I know? Well, I know one thing: driving from one side of Oxford – Oxford! Not Mexico City or the Russian Steppe, Oxford!! – should not take two hours.