Bus Stop II - Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
For all the second-hand excitement of The Burning Bus Saga, it was not the most interesting thing to happen during that very cold morning at the bus stop. Within the curiousness of the situation, I got chatting to the young woman sat next to me who was also a prospective passenger of the troubled S3 to Oxford. In our abundant Englishness, we exchanged a polite word about the weather. Within the space of a minute, she told me that in this cold her left foot always gets much colder than her right one. I considered this for a second with a nod and a thoughtful expression, but I couldn't relate. I didn't tell her this, but I have always had excellent circulation.
In between short bursts of her Snapgramming her Instafriends on Tweetchat, the conversation moved onto hands. No one here knows me, I thought. I'm going to throw a pebble into The Lake of Surrealism just to see what happens.
"Imagine if you were an alien," I said. "And you came to inhabit a human's body. How weird would it be to see hands for the first time."
She considered this for a second and looked at hers. She was unfazed. "I have hands like my dad. But smaller and without the hair."
I took out T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone from my backpack that I'd bought while I was staying on the Dumfries House estate in East Ayrshire. I'd found it in a charity bookcase in the local Tesco. Any book is a bargain for £1, but this one has proved its weight in gold. Some of the description is just sublime. It's a 1984 paperback edition and rather unassuming in its well-read tattiness, but it's provided hours and hours of entertainment. I urge you to read it if you haven't already.
I read a page or two and then went back several pages to re-read a passage from the previous chapter. Wart and Kay join Robin Hood and his gang of outlaws on a mission to rescue some locals who have been captured by the "Anthropophagi", a group of cannibalistic creatures whose arms and legs and heads don't follow conventional rules and look rather fearsome as a result. The two young boys go with Robin Hood's band of Merry Men in a quest to save their friends. The group's silent approach through dense forest is one of the most exhilarating passages of literature I've ever read so I decided to share my enthusiasm for it and read a passage to the young woman sat next to me. I was careful to choose aline that captured my imagination the most and this was what I read to her:
"In the night mystery a hundred men breathed on every side of Wart, like the surge of our own blood which we can hear when we are writing or reading into the late and lonely hours. They were in the dark and stilly womb of night."
"Imagine being so quiet that you can actually hear your own blood coursing through your veins. I don't think I've ever been that quiet," I said. And this was perhaps the last thing I said to her, because a moment later a friend of hers came to wait at the bus stop and he spoke of things rooted in The Here and Now and in accordance with established and accepted patterns of communication, rather than matters that would light a fire in the imagination - a fire, I hasten to add, that was perhaps not too dissimilar to the one that was at that moment engulfing our unseen bus.