I had barely arrived at the bus stop before an old lady approached me and began to talk to me about her cat. This seems to be what old ladies at bus stops do, or at least the old ladies at bus stops in Billingham anyway. I used to travel this bus route on a daily basis for a year, and rarely would a week go by without an old lady talking to me about her cat.
I’m convinced that some of these old ladies don’t actually ever get on any buses; they just wonder over to their local bus stop of a morning if the weather’s nice, to spend a few hours chatting (generally about their cats). They have seemingly researched all the bus numbers and time tables, but I don’t think they’ve done this for the conventional reason; I think they’ve armed themselves with this knowledge purely as a means of providing them with a suitable conversation opener. All they have to do is wait for a moment of weakness from someone, such as a glance at the time table, a puzzled look, or a person quietly musing about when their next bus is due, and they’ll be straight in there. They’ll give you the information you were looking for, but you’ll get it at a price, that price being a litany of superfluous trivia about an old lady’s cat.
Being blind, I am perfect prey for these old ladies. As soon as I approach the bus stop, they are on to me. They want to help me apparently, but I know their game. “Which bus are you wanting?” they ask, affecting interest. I tell them. “O dear, you’ve just missed one”, they gleefully inform me, “which means you’ve got plenty of time to listen to a couple of anecdotes about our cats”.
“oh, I haven’t seen you at this bus stop for a while” said today’s old lady. I explained to her that I now live close to where I work and so generally I don’t need to make the bus journey any more. “Oh, OK”, she said, and then, without a moment’s pause, began, “Well, you’ll remember my cat bobby of course”. This was not a question; it was a statement. She seemed to have no doubt in her mind that I would remember her cat Bobby, and that I would obviously be looking forward to receiving an update on him. Incidentally, if you should find yourself in a similar situation to the one I’m describing, here is some advice that you would be wise to heed (take note, I am not a novice in this matter): do not ask questions, or offer thoughts; just let the cat-talk wash over you while you think about something more interesting, and believe me, thinking of something more interesting will not be a challenge. The old bus stop cat ladies are not interested in your opinions; they simply see you as a transient passive recipient for their cat anecdotes. If you half listen to what their saying and simply smile, nod or frown depending on the nature of their tale, then you should get away relatively mentally unscathed.
I hope you are not going to be disappointed by my exclusion of the old lady’s cat update. I was not really listening. It had something to do with a trip to the vets, but I’m assuming by the lady’s tone that the cat survived this experience, which is a pitty because this means she’ll have future cat anecdotes to impart. If you are interested to hear the story though, then I’m sure you’ll be enlightened if you hang around the bus stop opposite Asda in Billingham. Just go up to the old ladies congregating around the bus stop and ask if any of them are the owner of Bobby the cat. You’re bound to find her. Perhaps if Dave Gorman still reads this blog (because he definitely used to) then he may take it as a challenge to find this lady. Going around the country to track down characters that he reads about in blogs is the kind of thing he would probably do. I would advise him to put this particular episode somewhere in the middle of his book; it’s hardly the big opener or grand finale.
During the woman’s lengthy disquisition on her cat, my bus pulled up.
“Well, it was good seeing you again, and thanks for telling me about Bobby. Give him my best”, I said as I moved towards the bus. “Oh yes, I’ll tell him you were asking after him” replied the old lady, without a trace of humour in her voice.
“I’m glad to see you’re still doing well” she said as I reached the front of the bus queue, “we were wondering what had happened to you”. “Well don’t worry, I’m fine, as you can see I’m not dead”, I heartily responded as I stepped on to the bus. And fell face first on to the ground. I had my accordion with me, as well as my laptop and other stuff for work, and I had forgotten how much weight I was carrying. In my haste to get away from the old cat lady, I made a clumsy step on to the bus. As I stepped up my bags slipped. I tried to straighten my bags and somehow got my cane caught in between my legs. The cane tripped me up and the combine weight of my bags sent me down.
I tried to rise as gracefully as possible, then turned to face where I had just come from and shouted, “Don’t tell Bobby about this. I wouldn’t want to become a figure of fun amongst the cat community”. I thought a bit of humour might alleviate people’s concerns, but all it seemed to do was cause confusion and further concern among the passengers, especially the passengers behind me who had just heard me shout something about cats in their faces. The woman had probably already gone, running home to tell Bobby the good news that I was still alive. The passengers probably assumed that I had knocked my head during the fall, and that I’d started spouting nonsense about cats in my semi-concussed state.
As I settled in to my seat, I began to chuckle to myself. This probably helped confirm people’s suspicions about my sanity. The reason for my chuckling however was due to me imagining the irony of the situation, had my fall been fatal and resulted in my death. It would have been a pretty ironic way to die. I had just pronounced with a grin on my face to the old cat lady, “as you can see I’m not dead”. I then promptly fell face first on to the ground. Had this fall resulted in the end of my life, these haunting words would have been my last.
“Can you tell us what happened just before he fell please madam?” the policeman would enquire of the old cat lady, who would have been sighted as a key witness.
“He said … he said … as you can see I’m not dead. Then he fell on the ground, dead”.
“Haha .. ahem. Well, thank you Madam. We will be in touch if we require your further assistance in this matter. Thank you, you’re free to leave”.
“Thank you inspector. But before I leave, you’ll want to be hearing about Bobby of course. Well he’s been to the vet, just for a checkup you understand, and …”.
Obviously I didn’t die, as you’ve presumably realised, given that I’m writing this blog. So I suppose the incident was a bit of a none-story really. If I had died then this blog post would have been much more exciting, because there would have actually been something of note to have told you. But I wouldn’t have been able to have written the blog had I actually died, so I’m in a no-win situation with this post. Still, this blog entry could have been a lot worse; at least you didn’t have to read all about Bobby the cat and his trip to the vet.
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