An old schoolfriend of mine lives in Beckton, east London, and I spent the evening at his flat. We caught up on crucial news and played Human Fall Flat, a game I impulse-bought in Seoul after watching some people on Korean television playing it, and laughing a lot.
We laughed a lot too. It’s very silly.
I made the mistake of heading home at the post-pub and post-gig rush hour of half eleven. My tube from Stratford was full of drunk Foo Fighters fans wearing Foo Fighters t-shirts. They had been to see the Foo Fighters.
One worse-for-wear fan was shouting at his friend about the World Cup, much to the wider carriage’s delight.
“I tell you mate, you just need to believe. They’re gonna do it, it’s something you cannot deny.”
“England aren’t going to win the world cup mate, they’re shit”.
“They’re not shit, they’re… quite good”.
Quite good was half shouted, half slurred. It was a call to arms, a line in the sand. But then, the Peter-esque denial.
“I didn’t say they were gonna, just that they could”.
Stressed and sober in the packed underground, I gambled for the five to midnight train from London Bridge, and promptly missed it. I couldn’t face the thought of heading back onto the tube, so took an empty train to Tulse Hill to figure things out from there.
Tulse Hill was livelier than expected. Noise and desperation leaked from the Railway pub, with three twentysomething women and two men in their fifties lit up on the closing time dancefloor. The cafe next door was closed, but open, with people drinking bottled beer and paying vague attention to the football highlights on the big screen.
I walked to the bus stop. “Which bus do you want to know about?” asked a man surrounded by sturdy and bulging plastic bags, spotting me squinting at the timetable. “Oh, any of them,” I lied. “I’m just curious what goes from here”.
The man was in his late forties or early fifties. He had long, slightly receding black hair, had a large paunch and was wearing a dirty tracksuit. He asked me more directly which bus I wanted, and I told him the truth.
“The P13, now there’s a bus,” he responded. “The devil’s own bus. Did you know it used to come all the way from Canada Water?”
I did not.
“And the 108, know about that one?”
I did! It goes through the Blackwall Tunnel. One of my horses in Zelda is named after it, though not by me.
“Stratford to Lewisham. A crazy, crazy bus. And did you know there’s a bus that goes all the way from Morden to Croydon?”
I did not, but it wasn’t the sort of thing I was surprised to hear.
I tried to respond in kind, like a non-sporty man in a pub being made to talk about how the trouble with Arsenal is that they try to walk it in. My gambit: “Have you heard of the X26?”
“The X26? What’s that?”
“It’s an airport bus. It goes all the way from Croydon to Heathrow Airport. It’s completely mental.”
“No, Heathrow. I think Gatwick would be out of TFL’s juristriction”. Shit. Too much.
“Gatwick would make more sense from Croydon though right”.
“It’s definitely Heathrow.”
“Oh. That’s crazy”.
I had run out of bus chat. I asked him the time. Eleven forty. He meant 12:40.
“I think I’ll try and get the next train”, I said, and walked back to the station, past the Railway and its five dancers and two dozen drinkers.
I stood in the doorway of the deserted, unstaffed station, and gazed back at the bus stop, just in time to see the P13 arrive and three bags of belongings be dragged onto the devil’s bus.