Too Much of A Good Thing

The worst part of going home is always the journey there.  Our own journey today is a fairly modest one, but add together the several hours spent kicking our heels between hotel check-out and taxi pick-up, forty five minutes en-taxi, three hours at the airport IF the flight is on time (note that is a big ‘if’) four and a half hours in an airborne Pringles tube, an hour standing around the wrong carousel waiting for a suitcase that is already on its way to Addis Ababa, followed by an hour’s drive once we have managed to find the car (which, as if by magic, never appears to be where we left it) and it all adds up to a proper old pain in the butt.  Add in the stress factor – Will the airport be hot and packed, will the flight be delayed, will the taxi driver attempt to kill us all? – and the return journey really has very little to recommend it.

The ultimate destination is, of course, home and getting there means mounds of laundry, shopping and the dreaded return to work.  I love my work, but none-the-less, working with the knowledge that ‘Yesterday at this time I was drinking an ice cold beer in a beachfront tavern’ is not always productive.  There is no place like home, but there is quite often, somewhere else you would rather be.  Whilst it is perfectly possible to get too much of a good thing, it is a whole lot easier to get too much of a bad one.  One short snatch of ‘Lady in Red’* is enough to ruin anybody’s day.  A short snatch of ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ can ruin a whole Christmas.  I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever had too much of being on holiday, but I have very often had a hatful of getting back home again.

So, I’m writing this in the bar, cradling my one small pre-journey beer of the day, popping salted peanuts and wondering how long I would have to stay here until it really did feel like too much of a good thing?  Before the call of home became too loud?  Perhaps I have an in-built need to decorate that I am not currently aware of.  Maybe I have a suppressed need to grapple with the day-to-day logistics of matching net income with gross outgoings.  Maybe I have a natural disposition towards self-harm (or D.I.Y and Gardening as most people call it).  Maybe a week is just enough.   Although, if I’m honest, I would very much like to reserve my decision until I’ve had a second one.

Anyway, there you have it.  I will (unlike most of my country it seems) be back to normal next week.  I cannot promise that my posts will be any more considered, any more logical or, indeed any more amusing, but – and here’s the big thing – there will only be three of them.  I do hope that’s a good thing.

*Chris de bloody Burgh

…And I will, of course, also be able to settle down to read some of your own blogs – I can never have too much of that…

Becoming More Greek

Today is the last full day of the holiday and, whilst I have written every day, I realise that what I have written is in no way an informative travelogue.  I doubt very much that you will want to know where I am (Crete actually) or what I have done whilst I have been here (bugger all if truth be told) but none-the-less I feel that there are a few things I can tell you that you might be able to lock away for future reference.

We have been coming to the Greek Islands – more usually smaller examples than this one, but somebody made us an offer we couldn’t refuse – for more than thirty years, and it generally takes us about twenty four hours in the country before we ourselves begin to become more Greek. 

The Greek Islands are Beautiful (with a capital ‘B’) but always slightly scruffy – almost unfinished.  The Greek people are by nature incredibly friendly and accommodating.  Nothing is too much trouble: they will say ‘Yes’ even if they know that they will not be able to deliver.  The phrase you will encounter most frequently is ‘Yes, of course.  No problem.’  Everything operates in Greek Time.  Greek Time passes very slowly.  Fifteen minutes in Greek time can seem like two hours – and usually is.  In fact if you are told that something will be ready in fifteen minutes, that time is not measured from now, but from some future time of the other persons choosing – and you will never know  what that time is.  Anyway, what’s spoiling?  It will take you (neurotic Anglo-Saxon) a little while to adjust to this, but quite quickly you will come to realise how right they are.  Adjust yourself to Greek Time and everything becomes much easier.  There is always time for one more beer.

Because it is so hot, the Greek people generally have their main meal much later into the evening.  There is no Fast Food here and you will almost certainly not find anybody in a hurry to take your money after you’ve eaten – although they will be very quick to fill up your ouzo.  Life is far too short to fret.  The world would be a much better place if we all became a little more Greek.

So, you’ve got here and you’ve adjusted your body clock, what else is there that you could possibly need to know?  Maybe you should consider the enjoyment there is to be gleaned from a Greek shower.  Generally hand held, you may or may not get hot water when you turn it on.  Either way, you will not have it by the time you turn it off.  It’s good for the skin I think…

…So today is our last day in this beautiful place and what I am most reluctant to accept is how quickly I will become English again on touch-down at the airport.  I can feel the angst and neurosis rising in me just thinking about it.  I will immediately expect things to be done when promised and in a time scale that I can, at least, understand.  I will once again get used to the fact that, by and large, nobody wants to make you happy unless they are paid to do so; that generally people do not smile, that most things are far too much trouble, and I really hope that I can hang on to Greek Time for just that little bit longer, but then I find myself staring at my watch.  Doesn’t this taxi driver know I’ve got a plane to catch?

A Brief Examination of the Male Psyche through the Medium of the Public Urinal

I have the vague suspicion that I may have been, to some extent, here before.  If certain parts of today’s rambling leaves you with a distinct sense of déjà vu (literal translation ‘Well, that book was a complete waste of money’) I can only apologise and hope that you might, never-the-less find sufficient in the other bits to provide a few minutes of entertainment and (dare I say it?) education.

There is a point, when temporary uncertainty flashes through the male brain, at which the sight of a urinal comes as a great relief: you are in the right room.  I am of an age when a wordless icon on a toilet door does not necessarily cut it for me, but unless the world – or its physiology – has changed far more than I imagined, you can relax when you see the little porcelain stall, you don’t get them in a ladies lavatory.  The world is, however, changing – gender neutrality is the new black – and in the interests of all concerned, I feel it important that everyone understands the rules…

Let us begin with the typical four stall wall, running from the hinge side of the door – thus hidden when the door is opened – to a corner in the room.  When a man faces four empty stalls, he never uses the first one, near the door, as he would feel too vulnerable.  Nor does he use the corner one, as he feels too trapped.  He will always use stall two or three, and as vulnerability usually trumps entrapment, that will put him at stall three, just away from the corner.  Now, the most important of all male toilet rules comes into force: you never stand immediately alongside anybody unless there is no proper alternative.  So, the next person into the loo must now use stall number one, nearest to the door.  Enter gent number three.  He has to stand next to somebody, but he does not have to stand between two, so he goes to the corner.  Enter male number four.  He has to use stall number two.  He cannot just walk out, although he is tempted (the embarrassment factor would be just too high) so he takes his place.  This routine never varies.  Look straight forward.  NEVER speak!

‘So,’ I hear you thinking out loud, ‘you are on holiday, why on Earth are you so occupied with urinals?  Is there something you should be telling us?’  Well, no, but here’s the thing, I have just used the toilet at the bar of the hotel for the first time and there, squeezed between the door and the corner, are just two urinals and I am all at sea etiquette-wise because – this is a bar after all – somebody is almost certain to follow me in and I need to know what they are likely to do.  The space is small.  If I go for stall number one, will the newcomer squeeze past me to get to stall number two?  If that is the prospective scenario, then I must go to stall number two myself to prevent such an embarrassing situation arising, but who – other than Jack Horner – heads to the corner out of choice?  Bravado is required.  I go to the corner and when the next person enters I allow them to believe that the person at stall one has left whilst I was ‘mid-mission’, aware immediately that this will ultimately require me to ‘finish first’ and squeeze my way out past them.

Man number two duly enters, appraises the situation instantly, and prepares to use the only toilet cubicle in the room instead of the urinal, until he realises that it has a frosted glass door.  Somehow he feels more exposed behind this than at a urinal and quietly withdraws and waits patiently in the corridor outside.

It is good to know that a certain order remains in all things…


Two of my deepest held holiday loves, gin & tonic on the twilight balcony and The Times Cryptic Crossword combine to ensure that I spend many hours staring at a half empty grid and a page of clues that make far less sense than they’re meant to.  I don’t (yet) resort to the method of an old friend who, when in difficulty, would make up answers – and sometimes words – and if the mood took him, new clues to indicate that his answers were, after all, correct.  He took great delight in leaving the newspaper, open at the finished crossword, for all to see.  It gave him great delight to think that some poor, beaten soul might turn to his completed grid to help them complete their own, only to discover that the answer to 13 Down was ‘SKRIBLIB’ the clue to which, unlike his/her own copy was ‘Sound made by tongueless frog’.

I love a day on the sunbed, be-booked and all music’d up, and I love the sea, but I do not like a combination of the two.  A day on the beach is, for me, as bad as it gets on holiday.  (I lie: I once spent a sunbed day next to somebody who played Chris de Burgh all day on a tiny, tinny speaker that actually made my teeth itch.  I think I may have tried to drown myself that day.)  However, I am one of two, and the other one of two loves a day on the beach, so off to the beach we schlepped.  Our beach of the day was a tiny cove, semi-submerged for part of the day (there is a certain frisson to lying on a sunbed as the waves lap ever higher up the legs) and accessed by a five minute scramble across and down a rocky hillside.  It was so inaccessible that I was amazed to be charged €8 for the hire of the beds and to be offered a food and drink menu shortly after we decamped.  How did they get the drinks down without the ice melting?  How did the cream in the doughnut (‘Extra special fresh’) not turn to cheese?  How, in God’s name, had a man of my own age got the bloody sunbeds down there in the first place?  Had they parachuted them in under the parasols?  They didn’t have a toilet though which, at least in part, may well explain the warmness of the sea.

I don’t like sand in ‘stuff’: personal ‘below stairs’ equipment, shoes, teeth and most particularly sun cream.  What can be worse than a liberal application of factor 30 over an enormous portion of beach?  Skin does not burn, it is sanded off.  My wife says that it makes her skin ‘feel alive’.  I try to explain that it is only because she has almost entirely removed her dermis, exposing raw, tingling nerves underneath, but to little avail.

She is currently enjoying the last few rays of the dying sun beside the pool whilst I am enjoying the last few watery gin dregs before the ice completely melts and discovering that, today, 13 Down might well just be ‘SQURROX’*.

*Word stolen from the inestimable Mr Milligan.


We like a nice walk in the holiday morning, she-who-deserves-much-better and me.  Just a potter, you understand, shorts and flip-flops rather than boots and rucksacks, but it’s always good to get your ten thousand steps in before the first morning beer.  Holiday rules are, of course, somewhat more flexible than domestic regulations, and the first beer of the day normally arrives about two minutes after I notice that somebody else has already got one.

Walks here fall into two categories: uneven and rocky coastal paths that lead, via treacherous coves and cliffs, precisely nowhere, and rocky mountain paths that lead to the same place – only higher up.  When we get to the terminal point of the-middle-of-nowhere we turn around and try to remember where we came from.  (I mean that in the physical sense, rather than the metaphysical – although ‘What the f*ck are we doing here?’ has crossed my mind from time to time.)  I’m not sure what it is about cliff tops that always leads me to the edge, but whatever it is, I wish it wouldn’t quite frankly.  The conviction that I just might be the first man to actually fly is not an easy one to shake off.  It’s the last thing I would do (quite literally) of course.

On our little treks we have encountered many different types of indigenous flora and fauna (often scaly and mostly with many, or no, legs).  I recall with startling clarity having to catch a lady who had a bit of a fainting episode as she tried to alert me to the fact that there was a fist-sized spider crawling up the back of my shirt.  Unfortunately her swoon brought her into closer proximity to the meaty arachnid and it was uncertain which one of us (and I include the spider) felt the most uncomfortable at this stage.  In the end she swiped the beast away with her handbag and we parted with smiles and waves, but no words, as she did not understand English and I did not understand terrified screaming.

On another occasion a friend managed to collect a Praying Mantis of quite alarming proportions and was most put-out because I couldn’t stop laughing at how much it looked like Jiminy Cricket perched on his shoulder (although it was, in his mind, more the size of Long John Silver’s parrot).  He had the last laugh on that occasion though, as later in the holiday my wife and I managed to acquire a cicada under our fridge which started calling for companionship at a volume which, in James Bond films, would have brought down aircraft.  Nor did it want to leave.  In the end it took offence to a liberal spraying with anti-perspirant and made a dash for the door which, thankfully, was open.  I think of him (Her?  I always think as noisy things as male.)  every time I hear cicadas in the trees – which is probably why we don’t walk in the evenings…

Now and Then

As one of my great reader-friends would say, ‘Here’s the haps’.  I have been on holiday for a few days – apologies for lack of comments, likes etc during that time – and I decided to write my blog, as normal, but from the beach.  In fact, I wrote six short posts, none of them with any particular point or direction, and each of them took about as long to write as I think they will take to read – and for that I apologise.  However, whatever their shortcomings, I have decided to publish them exactly as written over the space of the next six days.  I hope you will forgive me…

In keeping with my normal routine, by the time you read this, ‘now’ will be ‘then’ – I almost always allow myself at least a week from writing to publishing which does, on occasion, allow the world to overtake me, but also allows me something of an airbag against the possibility of saying something so crass that it does not belong even in my blog.  I do read this stuff, so believe me, I feel your pain.  Anyway, in the ‘now’ as I write, I am on holiday and hoping to maintain my bloggy routine from a sunbed with a beer and sunglasses dark enough to ensure that nobody knows what I am really looking at.

It is hot here: the sky is cloudless blue and the sun has forced the world into a protective haze of factor 30, ice and alcohol.  While some gamely undertake listless lengths of the now tepid pool, most fill the moments between one bar closing and the next one opening by reading.  The only conversation a gentle murmur of weather appraisal: cooler tomorrow apparently, less breeze and, yes, get some peanuts while you’re there if you can.

The bodies around the watery margins are a glorious salmagundi of the human form.  Some inordinately proud of such flesh as they can decently expose, strut and flex in the sun whilst others, less certain, cover themselves in loose fitting T-shirts and huddle in the shade of sun umbrellas that require the attentions of at least four weight lifters to erect.  It is a strange example of the human psyche that only those who really should never wear a pair of Speedos, do. 

It is the same sun that turns some of us a glorious brown and the rest of us salmon red: that means that the more ripped amongst us appear sickeningly fit whilst the rest of us adopt the appearance of peeled beetroot.  Being of the beetroot persuasion myself, I generally smear myself in more cream that the average profiterole and, in an attempt to prevent curdling, head for the shade of a bar.

We are approaching the hour when the pool empties and everybody heads for shade and food, leaving a single child in a unicorn inflatable, obliviously spinning round and splashing to their own tune.  Life for them is long, but still not a moment to be wasted, whilst those of us with precious little of it left stare at the sky and wonder ‘Why?’  The main problem at times such as this is that inspiration does not lie in the majesty of the infinite, but in the man trying – unsuccessfully as it goes – to clamber aboard a pool-bound inflatable in the very middle of an otherwise empty pool.  It lies in the diminutive elderly grandma who has decided to join the muscled youths for a game of volleyball.  Possibly local, she clearly speaks a different language than the boys, but they all laugh in the same one.  I pause in the hope that she might be better than them all, but she isn’t.  She is, none-the-less, fully included: a triumph of human spirit and a restoration of faith, and it cheered me up no end. 

Now, if I can just find some inspiration…

Everything I Know About Politics (In 500 Words – Providing I Pad it Out A Little Bit)

Here is my understanding: politics is a spectrum and at opposing ends there is Communism and there is Nazism and the thing is… they are exactly the same.  (I have the uneasy feeling that I may have peaked too soon here, as that is pretty much where my understanding ends, but I’ll plod on anyway: understanding is very over-rated in my opinion.)  So, now I think about it, politics is not a spectrum at all, it is a circle.  Whichever direction you take, clockwise or anti-clockwise, if you keep on going and refuse to listen for long enough, you end up in the same place: a totalitarian nightmare.  It is so weird that the far right so detests the far left (and vice versa) when they are both fighting for the same thing: disenfranchisement for the majority, vast riches and ungoverned power for the tiny elite.  Both of these systems thrive on corruption and function only because those that rule are completely divorced from those they rule over.

It strikes me that these despotic leaderships can only successfully function when the area over which they rule is vast – Russia and China – and probably explains why the Third Reich in Germany were so focussed on the kind of expansion that, eventually (and thankfully) proved to be its downfall.  The benefit of magnitude is that things can be hidden.  We can only scratch at the surface of what goes on in China, and Putin’s claim to be protecting the world from Ukranian Nazis rings exceedingly hollow when he is at the head of a State that behaves in such a manner.  In such a State that the rest of the world is treated with disdain whilst the home population is treated with contempt.  Such contempt that they never get to hear about it.

So, here we are, the rest of the world, arranged at various compass points around our political circle.  We have a single collective aim: to try to stop every other tinpot dictator from making his way towards the extreme end of the circle (except, of course, circles don’t have ends and if somebody stops you going round to the right, there will always be someone to help you make progress round to the left – unlike the M25, of course, in which case progress in any direction is generally impossible) and to do this, we have the Leaders of the Free World.  Let’s look, we have Joe Biden in America, a man who looks so confused it has to be an act and whose greatest asset is that he is not Donald Trump.  In the UK we had (until yesterday) Boris, and tomorrow will have who-knows-who to stumble through the next two years prior to an ignominious defeat either in a party coup or a general election.  And in France we have a man whose main aim in life is to become Napoleon – if only he could remember which way he needs to turn.

Do not panic fellow Earthlings, there is definitely a way out.  Let’s all start building a rocket before the buggers blow us up.

The Sun Machine is Coming Down…

Photo by Sebastian Ervi on

Having recently spent a weekend at a music festival, I have a few questions which I would like you to consider.  Please feel free to write your answers on a postcard (neatly please) and then do anything you like with them as long as it is not illegal and doesn’t block the sewer.  Now, the sun shone, but in the middle of a large municipal park, it was windy and cold.  I was wearing my customary six layers and, if I’m honest, wishing I’d brought a seventh.  I was regretting the skinny jeans only because I couldn’t wear anything underneath them.  Other than pants, obviously.  What kind of festival do you think it was?  So, there I was, swaddled but still cold, sitting on the floor next to my wife who was wrapped in a very fetching picnic blanket, contemplating setting fire to my shoes for warmth, whilst large sections of the world milled around me in T-shirts and shorts.  They did not look cold.  They drank cider and chatted happily without the slightest hint of shivering and I was forced to wonder, do tattoos keep you warm?  I don’t have any, because I know that my sallow dermis would flare up post-needle and my precious artwork would wind up looking like an amorphous coloured scab, but I can’t help but wonder if I might be warmer with some.  Also, my beard is not long enough to plait.  I wonder if that might be a factor.

We had our bags searched as we went in and we were forced to empty our water bottles as the keepers of the gate were clearly unable to discern whether they contained water, gin or vodka by smell alone and they obviously wanted us to purchase both of the latter inside.  Water was, as I believe it must be, freely available inside from a single stand pipe cunningly concealed at the rear of the toilet area.  I didn’t try any.  Clearly the noses that could not separate water from gin could also not separate tobacco from dope because the air was so thick with it that I was transported right back to the Rolling Stones in the seventies.  I think that it was encouraged because twenty thousand people with the munchies ensured that the only queues longer than those for the evil-smelling portaloos were those for the various food stalls around the place.  More chips, burgers and sausages than you could shake a stick at – not that you would be allowed in with a stick unless, of course, you dressed it up as a giant joint – but my wife craved a salad.  I tried to explain that she wasn’t likely to find one, but I dutifully traipsed around with her for some hours whilst she searched and, glory be, in the end she had a burger the same as everyone else.  Do burgers keep you warm?  No, they don’t.

There were no rows and no fights.  There were huge smiles and laughter everywhere.  Everybody watched the bands; stood in one another’s way; stood on one another’s feet, apologised and then did it again; smoked what by the end of the day had started to smell like old tyres; drank more pints of cider than there are apple trees; spilled more pints of ciders down trousers than there are pairs of trousers; apologised and then did it again; ate total crap and, whether dressed for the Arctic or The Bahamas, had a great weekend.  Is it just that we are all overjoyed to be getting back to some kind of normal, or is it just that everybody’s been waiting the whole winter to get the tattoos back out?  As things stand, they have to be cheaper than central heating. 

‘…and we’re going to have a party’ (Memory of a Free Festival – David Bowie)


After a period of extensive research and reflection, I have reached the painful conclusion that I do have the tendency to bang on a bit.  When I write these posts I generally start with just one thing to say, but soon find myself meandering through about ten others before stuttering to a halt somewhere around a thousand words, which I know is far too many, but it’s just where the guillotine tends to fall.  It is the point at which the ideas run out and the denouement, however tenuous, clatters into place.

It’s not in my nature to use one pithy phrase when an inordinately long and convoluted sentence will do just as well: to fully explore the possibilities raised by a single conundrum when I can blithely skim over a dozen more.  Still waters may run deep, but I have an almost unrivalled variety of shallows to explore.  I see myself skimming a stone across a pond: each time the stone bounces, it slips across the very surface of a subject, but it creates a series of ripples that spread out until they mingle with those caused by each previous and each subsequent skip.  It is the intermingling that forms the weft and warp of these little crocheted bedspreads I concoct.  I do not have the brain power to dissect and discuss: I am very much a superficial glance man.  I am very much aware that when my stone breaks the surface, it will sink without a trace.

So, going forward, I have a plan to start lobbing single pebbles into the pond, so that I might simply trace the few concentric ripples they produce.  As long as I don’t get distracted, I should be able to cut myself off at a more appropriate word count, and all before the stone disappears into the gloop at the bottom between the mysterious half-tennis ball and what may once have been a frog.  It might not work:  I’ve been writing to my accustomed length for decades now and generally things resolve themselves in their own good time.  My main concern is that although this new, shortened format might well produce posts that are more linear, more straight-forward and easier to read, they might also be a lot less me.

However, from what I’ve read elsewhere, overlong (as well as badly written and meandering) posts get skipped through and forgotten.  I feel supremely confident that by cutting the sheer volume of crap I bombard you with, I will retain far more readers, and my access to vitamins and money-making opportunities will thus multiply exponentially – even as the hyperbole diminishes.  In short, I am certain you will agree, the less of me the better.  Which brings me to the nub of my current dilemma: it means that I have to get to the point in half the time I currently take and, if I’m completely honest, by the time I have reached five hundred words, I have seldom even the vaguest idea of what that might be.  With five or six interwoven themes tangling into some kind or Gordian Knot of bollocks, my crux can sneak up on me without me even seeing it coming.  I don’t even have to look for it.  But if I have to limit myself to a single notion, one solitary thread, I will have to approach each post with a fixed idea of where it is about to go and where it has to end, and if I’m completely honest it…  oh bugger!

A Little Fiction – My Mistake

Photo by Longxiang Qian on

The bus was empty, but I knew as soon as I saw him climb aboard, that he would choose to sit beside me.  He smelled like a dump in summer and something of which he appeared completely unaware, was moving around under his coat.  He tried to release a smile, but it merely flitted across his face like a leer in a convent and as he sat, he turned his entire body towards me as though his head had become fused to his shoulders.  He licked his lips revealing teeth the colour of teak.  He had eyes like midnight and breath like petrol, his hair sat atop his head like a hat, threadbare, unkempt and matted like a cat that could no longer clean itself, undisturbed since sleep.  He pulled a slightly threadbare fur coat tight around his shoulders, just failing to cover the lace neckline of the nightdress he wore beneath it, in an overt attempt to create a small space between us.  In his hand he carried a small stuffed toy: a penguin I think, it was hard to tell.  His stare forced me to look away and casting my eyes down I noticed that his shoes were several sizes too big for his feet, that one sole flapped loosely, mouth-like, allowing fleeting glimpses of an un-socked foot as he moved his toes rhythmically, as if they were accompanying a song in his head.

I had seen him before walking around the town, unhurried and unbothered by both drunken youths and bored policemen, and I ‘knew’ his story in my head, his name and everything about him.  His name, I concluded, was Geoffrey and he had a St John in there somewhere.  His surname was double-barrelled, probably featuring a double ‘f’.  He was definitely aristocratic, devoted to his mother who had died unexpectedly – probably from Lassa Fever or something equally romantic – leaving him alone, vulnerable and, eventually, here on the upper deck of a midnight bus with me.  A mental breakdown between then and now I surmised, life in an institution surrounded by his mother’s furs and nightclothes, and his own childhood toys, but nobody to care when he wasn’t there at night.  Nobody to worry.

I offered him a mint which he took with thin, elegant but grubby hands and a nod of thanks.  His nails were long and grimy, but elegantly filed into shape.  It seemed strange that he should take such care over the shape of his nails, but show no concern over the filth that had accumulated behind and around them.  I wondered if he cared for anything else in his life or whether this was the last thing he refused to let go.  I noticed that he had worn a ring until recently, the mark still palely traced across his finger, and wondered if it had been stolen from him or whether he had sold it to buy… what?  He didn’t smell of booze or cigarettes, just decay.  He wore nothing that could have been even approximately new and I remembered that when I had seen him around the town centre in the past he had often worn long, white satin evening gloves, the kind that are only ever otherwise seen on overdressed women at the opera or by the murderer in an Agatha Christie mystery.  Where were they now?  Had they been taken with the ring?

The bus slowed to a halt and he half-turned his body so that he faced the curved mirror that allowed a view of the bus’s doors below.  He seemed fixated on the doors, but they did not open.  I guessed the stop was one of those where the driver had to stop – do they call them ‘timing points’? – but I wasn’t sure: I had never travelled the route before.  I would normally have got a taxi home, but it was a warm night so I had started to walk, unaware of the rainclouds developing in the darkness above my head.  I was sheltering in a bus stop when the bus came along so I jumped on and asked the driver where would be the best place to get off.  I won’t pretend that his first answer was altogether helpful, but eventually we found somewhere acceptable so I paid the fare and took a seat upstairs that was, as far as I could tell, out of his view and beyond any unwelcome conversation, where I sat, happily disengaged, until my ‘companion’ stumbled into his seat. 

Eventually,  after I’m not certain how long, maybe two or three minutes, the bus sighed, juddered into gear and pulled away from the kerb, and my companion dragged his attention away from the mirror.  I felt a sudden pressure to speak, but I am the king of the non-committal nod.  I have perfected the shy smile and slight eyebrow twitch to such a degree that I seldom find it necessary to actually engage anybody in conversation.  It wasn’t going to work here though, was it?  I knew I had to speak, but how to start?  “You know, you really could do with a bath,” was honest, but not entirely tactful.  “Excuse me, but is your name Geoffrey?” might lead him to think that I was confusing him with somebody else – I had no real basis whatsoever on which to assume that it really was his name.  How do you start a conversation with a smelly, old man upstairs on a midnight bus that is not open to misinterpretation?  “What’s a smelly old man like you doing on a shitty old bus like this and why, in God’s name, did you choose to sit next to me, putting me in this insidious position?” was probably not going to cut it.  In the end, societal cowardice dictated my subsequent strategy.  “Excuse me,” I muttered, half rising.  “I think this is my stop.”

And it was then that I caught the unmistakable glint of reflected light from the knife blade as I felt it nestle uncomfortably against my side.  I felt shocked at first, not by the action, but my reaction to it.  I knew that I would not be unable to lunge past him and all that I could remember thinking was, “How has he kept that blade so shiny when he can’t even wash his bloody hands?” but I felt it unwise to enquire.  I sat down heavily.  Should I shout out for the driver who, without question, would not put himself in danger to help me?  Strangely calm, I wondered whether this was how it was all going to end for me, on the top deck of a bus with a smelly old tramp, when a sudden realisation hit me, that he probably felt he was just protecting himself, that he himself had felt threatened by something that I had said or done.  I raised my arms, palms open, as I believe it is done, and opened my mouth to speak, but he merely lifted one grimy finger to his lips and shushed quietly.  “Money, phone and watch,” was all he said.