The following transcript is written on the 10.30 Megabus journey from Manchester to London for my weekend teaching shifts at St.Martin’s College. It is suggested that Megabus alone has sustained the creative industries over the last few years. But for those crazy low fares comes a spiritual price. I hope that these notes will strike a chord with all you freelancers and anyone else unfortunate enough to be subjected to the budget coach service.
10:15 Shudehill Station, Manchester
Upon arrival with my backpack and Greggs coffee/sausage sandwich, my foolish optimism regarding my odds of having a double seat to myself is vanquished immediately. The restless queue of people bound for London represents humans in their purest form. There are worried and twitchy faces glancing nervously around the station, sensing threats from those who feel that seat 9b is going make a world of difference to that of 10a. In truth, the only seat I don’t want is the one that is adjacent to the miserable nook that serves as a toilet on these budget trauma trolleys.
10.32am Mega Bus, front aisle seat.
I dealt early, pouncing on the front seat, spying the opportunity to feel like I might breathe oxygen over the next five hours, not sweat. It also appeared that the girl next to me had a sense of personal hygiene. I cannot cope with another five hours of body odour or any other scent from the raft of stenches on these journeys.
I wonder if there will ever come a time where the seat coverings are anything but vomit inducing in their colour and design? I highly doubt it. Remember those nasty ones on 1980’s and early 1990’s buses with the brown, orange, yellow and black checkers? I try my best to look at my notebook and not the seat covering but it’s morbidly addictive and I eventually have to stop everything to focus on not throwing up.
11.21 More Motorway
The mobile phone behind me sounds like it has been hooked up to the fucking speakers on this bus. It’s volume and bass is ridiculous and I wheel round to see that the baboon who takes the call is unsurprisingly relentless in shouting his entire argument with whichever woman felt so desperate to take this wretch into her home, let alone her arms. He keeps this argument going for at least ten minutes with such gems as spelling out ‘ENOUGH’ phonetically, complete with corrections in his apparent termination of the relationship.
Three quarters of an hour of relative peace before I drop my drink bottle onto the floor. Before I can snatch it back up, it rolls down the big step and into the driver’s pen. He glances down, slightly perturbed but I dare not stoop for it incase it unsettles him enough to crash the vehicle. Nobody needs that.
The bottle rolls back towards me and lunge forward, unclasping my seatbelt in one motion then grabbing the bottle I withdraw myself from the driver’s peripheral vision before flopping back into my seat, bashing my ribs on the arm rest as I do so.
As if I wasn’t uncomfortable enough, the journey takes a turn for the worst as I now squirm as much as you can squirm when the passenger next to you falls into a deep enough sleep to lean against you. My tendency to put others first is exploited as I do not want to wake her, so I sit, cramped up with hamstrings screaming at me to stretch my legs whilst I make these notes and doodle away, trying to cast my mind forward to teaching later in London.
Respite as the stranger next to me sits forward, attempting that pathetic forward lean with the head rested on the chair in front at a 45-degree angle that any regular public traveler will be familiar with. Within seconds, one tiny misery is substituted with another as an unmistakable reek of urine wafts down from the tomb at the back of the coach. Many gag, I just slide down my seat in defeat, logging on my phone to write something masochistically humorous about it on Facebook. No amount of ‘likes’ will ease this dirge.
After a brief snooze, it’s back to note taking. It’s one of the altogether pathetic attempts a sleep that you nonetheless attempt, wrapping the curtain around you as a makeshift blanket, craning your neck and opening your mouth, all the Saharan sand grains entering your mouth and confiscating any notes of moisture in time for the wake up. I must capitalize and derive some positives from this traumatic raft crossing to the capital. The urchin behind me is shouting again, apparently back with his ex. How they could’ve broken up and made up in the duration of this journey is beyond me, I just shake my head and look at the time again. No way out.
I’m thinking backwards this time, to the worst coach spanking I have ever had to endure. Nine hours from Sofia, Bulgaria to Istanbul, Turkey. The only Brits on the journey, my friend and I were dealing with gritty hangovers from a local poison called ‘Raki.’ We had already slept through the morning ride and we only just made the evening one. The drivers switched over at 70mph on the motorway without even considering slowing down, leaving the wheel unattended for around four terrifying seconds, like something from Speed 2. It should comfort me now but frankly, it doesn’t. I look around the coach behind me and I wonder how many of these passengers are freelancers like me, attempting so save money at the cost of spiritual currency. Monks have tapped out of the fight to stay in society for reasons like this, I am certain of it.
The inevitable happens, just when I am about to drop my guard. I shift my position in order to get the blood flowing again and as I turn round momentarily, I catch the three person melee about three quarters way down the aisle as a mother cups the mouth of her son with her hand as he spews out whatever nutrients she selected in a sorry effort to prevent this. Of course she has saved the person in front but what the other two heroes thought they could achieve in darting out of their seats I do not know. It eventually calms down but the new devil is released into the already heavy environment, the unmistakable odour of child vomit.
The reek is making me nauseous. Thank god I wasn’t drinking last night or the man in the driving seat would be unfortunate enough to take my own projectile nasty and then we’d all be in trouble. The child is back to his action figures now, the misery forgotten, but the vomit/piss fusion that pollutes the carriage is the stuff of nightmares and the silence is no longer that of boredom, it has taken on a new aura of self pity.
None of the afore mentioned comes as a shock to me which is why I was on hand to make these notes. I hope that I find a use for them as this could be the start of a textbook on coach travel. The bastard three seats back continues to vocally abuse his girlfriend’s ear whilst the look on the driver’s face is one of acceptance and spiritual ascendancy. He has graduated beyond the woe that we all soak up right now. The bus is trundling into London, the smog outside a welcome replacement for this pilchard tin.