Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Mummies on the Bus go chatter chatter chatter.

Yes, they do indeed, and here's a big thank you to them for providing me with lots of material to write about.

I've been commuting on the bus for the last year and it's been a far more inspiring experience than sitting in my car oblivious to anything but what is on the road in front of me. I've taken to making secretive little notes in a tiny red book, whipping it out and plonking down a few words to remind me of what I'm seeing, or hearing (or smelling on a few occasions), as a way of collecting ideas and material.

It's embarrassing to do this on the bus. People look at me, puzzled. Some are wary. I try not to be too obvious about it but sometimes forget my manners and stare. I only write in my little book if there is an empty seat next to me and no curious eyes to read over my shoulder. That might not be good for my health.

But it's a terrific place to pull in impressions and incidents. One of the pieces I wrote for the creative writing course I'm on started with looking at a rabble of teenage schoolboys on the bus, all trying to impress each other and the girls, swaggering around as 'big men', saying 'fuck' at every opportunity, but at the same time making fart jokes. I thought about how much simpler it was in the past when you were either a kid, or an adult, with none of this messing about in the middle and that lead on to a story that looked at growing up to adult responsibilities, and losing them again as we age.

I'm still looking for a way to use: the man wearing one of those joke baseball caps with drinking straws leading from attached beer-can to mouth, but who oddly had no drink installed; the woman who got on and asked if the bus went to X, was told yes, nodded her thanks and got off again; the driver who looks at everyone presenting a £10 note as if he wants to stab them through the eyes; the homes I'd always assumed were tiny bungalows but now see, from my higher viewpoint, as the top floors of four-storey buildings perching at the peak of a steep hill (a cliff?) that falls away from the road.

But best of all are the conversations. Whether it's caused by the increase in mobiles, reality TV, or a break-down in old-fashioned mores (who cares), people on the bus definitely talk more than they used to. They discuss the most personal and private events with no sign of embarrassment. Privacy is fast becoming an outdated concept. For those of us who want to write, this is a fantastic thing.

I've listened to an elderly man behind talking about his piles and getting folk-remedy recommendations. Two elderly ladies loudly and gleefully running through the scandal of a niece, the next-door neighbour and a broken promise. A couple sat and calmly debated whether they should continue with their affair; after he got off the bus at his stop, she got on her phone to a friend to denounce him as a wanker but a wanker with a big one and that's why she puts up with him. Teenagers will talk about anything.

So many stories…so little time. If you are stuck for inspiration, a trip on your local bus could be just what you need.

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