WAITING FOR THE NUMBER 31
What is it about waiting for a bus that makes you assess and analyse your life with toothpick detection? I am early for the 3:17. Not unbelievably, embarrassingly early, but early enough. Sensibly so. And yet, what is it about waiting for a bus that draws pity from passing cars? Like they know I've been stood up before I do.
I kick at a fallen leaf (not its fault, poor thing). I study the slats of the Vine Cottage roof with PhD intent, until a nervy face in the window warns me to back off. I smile at a small cross little girl who is sucking her thumb in the comfort of her mother's Fiat Volvo, but even she shakes her head, like she knows.
I hitch my bag a little higher and think murderous thoughts about the weatherman who claimed rain, but isn't that the sun snickering at me behind a pathetically spineless cloud? I am far too warmly dressed.
3:22. I whip my head around at every sound; every vehicle on God's earth sashays past me, some not even bothering with the up-and-down look of pity. They just move straight on to
reflected humiliation. Get a life! they seem to suggest. Get a car! Walk! Do something!
What is it about waiting for a bus that slows time right down to the wettest and thickest of crawls? In a small village that only contains a telephone booth library and a fish and chips, you stand out when you are stood up.
I grit my teeth. I breathe. I start to walk home, with dignity. I will not under any circumstances, run, even if... just if... that bus shows up now.
That bus is the number 31. I have a profound love/hate relationship with that bus. I love its very existence and I hate how infrequent its existence is. Once I miss the 3:17 there are no more buses until the next day and then there will be only three, at
10:07am 1:17pm 3:17pm
Here, in Little Shelford, we are at the mercy of a fateful decision. The number 31 is in danger of being scrapped. Not the bus itself, of course, just us being on the route. A sense of lethargy could easily prevail here, especially among those who have a car. I don’t drive. One reason among many: glaucoma.
According to last month’s bus survey, 66% of Little Shelfordians would use the bus if only it ran more frequently with only a paltry 11% being disinterested. Surely these are promising numbers? 37% long for a one-hourly service while 45% would be prepared to accept a two-hourly service. Anything would surely be better than the dust motes that gather while we wait like surly teenagers for the elusive 31?
You just want to shop! I hear you snigger. Yes, shopping in Cambridge is high on my list. Alongside the theatre, cinema, central library and my university classes… but also the nearer prospect of the clinic, shops, bank and library in Great Shelford. And in between those, the shadow of Addenbrooke’s which looms over my life. I have appointments at the hospital every few weeks of every month of every year. I spend hours waiting inside various departments of Addenbrooke’s - waiting extra hours because of a sparse bus service makes life untenable. My mother is wonderful, as are kind friends. But oh, to have a trustworthy independent travelling system close at hand.
Of course, the 31 does take the most extraordinarily long and arduous route – I sometimes feel as though I might end up in Oxford or Brighton or Timbuktoo… but that’s a small quibble.
Imagine a bus service that trundled by more frequently. No more embarrassing dithering outside the Sycamore, feigning nonchalance… it would feel like cakes falling from the sky, like summer all year round… most of all, it would feel like dignity.