Why every writer should travel on public transport

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Image: Pixabay

 

Respectable looking elderly lady to her husband.

‘… Shaggy the Sheep. What do they mean Shaggy the Sheep?’

‘Shaggy the Sheep. I never did like that name anyway.’

She pauses. ‘No, no. I mean, if someone called you a sheep shagger …’

 

***

 

‘… You visiting then?’

‘Yes, study.’

‘Oh, you’re studying – at the University?’

He points up the hill. ‘Yes, from Kuwait.’

‘You should go up there to the museum.’

Blank look.

‘Up there – the museum.’ Points to a building that isn’t the museum.

‘I meet my brother.’

‘Right, well, you should take him to the museum – it’s free.’

‘Free?’

‘Yeah, free. And go to Primark. They do the best clothes in Primark.’

 

***

 

‘… Traffic, eh.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. What we need, we need to fly, man. Those roads, those bridges – you seen them in America?’

‘The ones on pillars?’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. They fly over the roads – like PHEWW!’ Demonstrates with his hand.

‘We need those.’

‘Yeah. It’s like Back to the Future, man.’

 

***

 

‘… You know the Cullens then. You know Liam Cullen?’

‘Yeah.’

‘And Nige Cullen.’

‘Yeah. Yeah. All live up Southmead way, dun’t they?’

‘And Jordan and Phil and Trev?’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

‘Twats, the lot of them.’

*********************************

All genuine conversations overheard on a single bus journey across Bristol – 2/3/16.

And they say the Brits are reserved …

 

 

27 thoughts on “Why every writer should travel on public transport

    1. Things is, people tend to talk quite loudly unaware (or not caring) the rest of us can hear what they’re saying. Did witness a full blown, expletive-filled row on a bus once between a woman and her partner, over the heads of their four young children – that was depressing.

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  1. It is the same for waiting tables. So many conversations overheard while filling tea glasses. Just yesterday I heard a man talking about a coworker who apparently was ‘lazy as hell’ to which the other man replied ‘no it’s not that he is lazy, his wife left him for a woman. He has a lot on his plate right now.’ From there are the beginnings of thick plots.

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    1. Interesting, isn’t it? And as you say, a great trigger for a story. Amazing what people will say (loudly) in a public space. I was in a doctor’s waiting room a few weeks ago and found out that one woman’s husband was ver y hard to live with – forgetful, bad tempered, untidy, very ill – and she was basically waiting for him to die. Extraordinary.

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      1. No shame and where I work it is mostly men doing the talking. Who ever said women have issues with gossiping?

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      1. Basking, there’s nothing wrong with that! Good on your other half — to coin a phrase, the horse rocked! Just so’s I can bask too, the drummer in the 70s band I was in did some of the props for Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer video, another Aardman classic!

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      2. They’ve had – and still do have – some astonishing props people. Best in the business. Other half told me the chicken sequence in Sledgehammer (animated by Nick Park) was shot with real chicken carcasses which – under the lights -stank to high heaven by the end. Lovely 😦

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    1. No, no – she was absolutely genuine. And, I think a little … eccentric. She did say rather brusquely to the poor, bewildered man ‘yeah, you really need English lessons,’ which I thought was a bit harsh!

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  2. When I was in college, our student fees provided for free public transportation on any bus in Austin. I used to ride the buses a lot more than I really needed to. I don’t recall ever hearing a lot of conversations like these, but if it had been a film, there would have been plenty of shots of me gazing pensively out the window as the city rolled by.

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    1. Yes, a lot of that goes on too! It was a very chatty day, to be fair. The bus was moving very slowly (Bristol’s traffic being atrocious) and there was a sense of people becoming twitchy, trapped on a bus, passing the time.
      And the bus attracts a lot of … eccentrics. Twitchers, shufflers, mumblers, drunks, out and out voice-in-the-head-hearers, so you do see an above average number of interesting behaviours. And of course, I’m sitting with my head down, scribbling into my notebook all the while.
      I knew a woman who lived in the States for a while, who told me the only people in the US who use public transport are drunks and folk with mental health problems. Clearly she was wrong 🙂

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      1. Outside of the biggest cities (NY, Chicago, etc) the only people who use public transport are those who don’t have cars. And most cities aren’t sufficiently covered to begin with, which is why cars are a necessity for most people. (This was all a huge, post-WWII capitalist plot to start pumping out cars instead of tanks and planes, if you ask me). I would love to live somewhere where I could ride buses or trams or subways everyday. I love it!

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      2. I suppose the car is an emblem of personal freedom – and as you say, vehicle production was a postwar way to support industry. It’s unsustainable, though, so it will be interesting to see how the culture changes over the coming decades – as it surely must.
        There will be no more gas guzzling cars when there is no gas left to guzzle. We may not see those days, but our kids will and I’m truly hoping the car companies embrace new technoligies well before the last drop of oil is burned.
        Hydrogen is the way forward, I’m hoping. And returning to ocean liners rather than flying, though what they’ll be powered by I have no idea 🙂

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  3. Yep, buses are a great place for inspiration. I find McDonald’s too is a place of some interesting conversation, especially after 9.

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    1. Haha! I bet it is. Never been in one that late, but I’m sure there must be a ton of stuff going on and not all of it nice. Really, though, this is what Dickens and Victor Hugo were doing in their day – they walked the streets of London and Paris, visiting the seamier districts. We hang out on buses and in fast food restaurants. 🙂

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