A few weeks ago I went to Liverpool to visit my friend, Anna. Anyone who knows me well knows I don’t travel well, but curiously I travel better on coaches than trains. This is helpful, considering they’re a tonne cheaper (because of how shit they are).
Sadly, the coach from London Victoria to Liverpool Central is SIX HOURS LONG. But I tried to be positive. I can take my sketchpad and a book, I thought, and have six hours of glorious ‘me time’ and productivity in contemplative silence. Lovely.
I booked the coach in early May, and by the time the journey actually came around in June the whole country was in the midst of a fairly extreme heatwave. Victoria Coach station resembled a shanty town and stank of body odour, breakfast burgers and pigeon shit. I had to endure this for over an hour because if you want a seat at the front you have to fucking fight for it. And if I don’t sit at the front there’s a very real possibility of vomiting all over everything.
The coach was miraculously only running half an hour late and I was first on board. Result. I got my teacher’s-pet seat right at the front and sat there smugly while everyone clambered to find peasant seats at the back. I put my handbag on the vacant seat next to me and armed myself with a fishy sandwich in an attempt to reserve some personal space for the next six hours.
Then, karma found me in the form of a middle aged Swiss lady.
She asked if she could sit next to me as she too liked the front. This could have been worse, I thought, as she was not stinky or enormous. She smiled like a lunatic and thanked me about four times as I moved my bag. She seemed nice so I felt bad that I reeked of tuna.
As we set off through Central London, she struck up a conversation about the sights and asked me questions about London. Her English was better than mine, and I discovered she was Swiss and just visiting the UK for the summer because she was a teacher on school break.
We talked about all sorts! Our jobs, the British monarchy, the new royal sprog, London architecture, fashion, driving etiquette, the differences between Swiss and British schools, food and manners, etc.
I thought she was nice, and interesting! But after about an hour and a half, I’d had enough of talking and wanted to get on with my productivity plan, so I tried to bring the conversation to a natural close. She didn’t seem to pick up on this though, and whenever there was a vague silence she would quickly strike up something- anything– to keep the conversation moving. This went on for another 30 minutes.
In the end I just got a book out. I know this is unforgivably rude and I felt like a monster. I needn’t have though, as she didn’t seem to pick up on this social cue. She just fucking carried on. At first I just chatted back and then in the silences returned to looking at my book, but this seemed to fuel the chatting fire.
Eventually, every time she started saying something, I did that thing where you move your head very slowly to face them but keeping your eyes on the page before finally dragging your attention away with narrowed eyes and an exasperated expression.
The book alone wasn’t working. In the end, after two hours of talking, I pointed at the book and said, “I’m going to read for a bit now.” She said, “yes, yes, no problem…one more thing and then I’ll leave you alone,” and she launched into another full blown 20 minute talk about a particularly troublesome child she teaches back in Switzerland.
WHAT IS THIS? I’M READING. IN WHAT WORLD IS THAT NOT A SOLITARY ACTIVITY?!
I had to cut her off in the middle and point at the book again. I no longer gave a shit about being rude. I pointed at the book, said, “I’m going to read now,” and she laughed and laughed and then finally stopped. It was getting a bit weird.
I got through a blissful three pages before I got a tap on the shoulder and a smart phone thrust in front of me so I could go be shown all the pictures of the wild flowers that grow in her garden.
Now I just want to kill her. After ten or so pictures I tried to nip it in the bud and said, “I’m going to have a little sleep now.” Same shit happened again. She accepted this for a couple of minutes before tapping me on the shoulder and asking me a question about my heritage or showing me something on her phone.
To cut an already long story short, this went on. And on. And on. It didn’t seem to matter what I did. Sleeping, listening to music and reading had absolutely no effect on her whatsoever.
At one point, I had headphones in, with my eyes closed and my book ON MY FACE for good measure. And even that didn’t fucking work.
Six hours. SIX FUCKING HOURS, on a roasting hot coach, I was talking to this woman for. By the end I was texting everyone I knew for advice. I mean, what do you do when this happens?! It’s the most un-British thing I’ve ever encountered and I longed for the stony silence of the tube, where everyone knows to avoid eye contact and never EVER speak to anyone unless you’re on fire or having a stroke.
Sadly, my shitty friends didn’t bother to offer me any advice through their laughter and just marvelled at my ongoing misfortune and blamed me for getting on the ‘scumfuck coach’ in the first place.
They may have had a point.