Bus Diary circa 1981
With Belinda it was a different story. For about six months I used to read my morning paper, do the crossword – well, about five words – occasionally with the help of the conductor, and gaze at this extraordinarily slim young woman who would look to neither right nor left but read massive Victorian novels invariably in Penguin edition (perhaps no one else publishes them, but I hadn’t thought about it at the time) extremely fast. So I am a little surprised, though pleased, when one particularly harassed morning as I am gathering my numerous belongings and trying for once not to be last off the bus, she smiles and says ‘Hallo’ in a very understanding tone of voice. Ever polite, I say ‘Hallo’ and, noticing her large bag filled to the brim with half-size exercise books, I say in a tone of Archimedean deduction, ‘Oh, you’re a teacher, too.’ I give away my profession in the process, but why be secretive? I even go on to tell her more, that I teach the nation’s cream, the Advanced Level candidates, their native tongue and literature. And immediately a link is wrought.
Since those few tentative words, we have discussed some of those novels – though in a somewhat perfunctory way as I haven’t read most of them. Now she is busy with Paul Theroux, whom I haven’t yet had time to face. We’ve also talked about the pleasures and pains of living in bedsits in Ealing, with the ubiquitous Polish landlord. Being of Polish origins myself, I feel I should know something about this – I even married the nephew of one of this breed of businessmen, and live in the flat of another one now! And of course, we talk about the vagaries of the English Education System, something no one seems to understand, so its discussability begins to assume Kafkaesque proportions. I invited her to supper over half term so we could continue our chats without any bus stop constraints but she chose to escape this smokeless zone for another, nearer to the real green fields.
32 years later
I did meet Belinda again, quite by accident, about 15 years ago in Ealing. She looked just the same and we even discussed what books she was reading. I must admit I am now quite a fan of Paul Theroux, especially his journeys around Africa, as I myself am now quite the expert having been twice, 9 days each time! More of that some other time.
But Belinda did have a profound influence on my own reading habits, and i too began to read novels by the same author in one go, as it were. But although I have enjoyed some of Dickens, (Martin Chuzzlewit is my favourite,) I have always found I need a big rest between each of his novels. and I have never had the desire to reread any of them!