My Ride on the 26, by Mat Woolfenden

It takes an hour.  Can you imagine an hour on the bus?  As a veteran of the journey I certainly do not drink that final coffee at half past four pm.  Instead I am stood at the urinal shaking out the last dangerous drop of betrayal.  A flick and a flick. I have seen them, the casualties, the men in their desperation climbing the big window on the bus, and hanging it, all skin at the little high window on a bus, riding hills at forty miles an hour, the urine streaking like a formula one jet engine thing.

But how did I get to this drama?  I need to tell my bus journey from the beginning.  You know I never used to worry about ‘taking a piss.’ Like a worm in the mind, it creeps up on a schedule.  Before you know or comprehend you have that twitch, bladder condition, the hospital sheets and amputation at the hands of the surgeon general.

Mine is a famous bus journey.  I’m not too proud to tell it as it is.  Like the no.11 bus in London that takes you past the palace and past Big Ben, my no 26 bus climbs up and down over the Yorkshire Moors.  I believe in ‘Bus Magazine’ the ride peaks at number six or seven in the all time chart of pleasure.  I mean nothing compared to those bloodhounds across America but it does include a castle, an abbey, the Harry Potter train seen out of the window; green stuff and a blue sea we call the North Ocean or the sea, check Wikipedia/google satellites.

I don’t suppose even many of those ordinary folk understand how important I am when I approach that first bus stop at 7.47am.  I don’t look like a guy who catches the bus ordinarily.  I have the appearance of a property owner, maybe a public speaker catching a bus possibly at a stretch due to my deeply held political convictions on the fuel economies and the children of our world.

They are all standing around the bus stop – and are like children.  There is the waitress, early fifties, cute in her lipsticks, and the black pinny spoiled only by long black trousers.  She ignores me, she understands how I am a top predator of the top deck.  She couldn’t trust herself upstairs with me in the eye-line.

There’s the mad woman also, and her mother on their weekly journey for play therapy.  Often I see them after their roll in the ball pond, dishevelled in the hair and features.  And also briefly I mention the crowd, the fog, the plague of twirlies in their common beige.  Not like real people.  They catch the bus mainly for the window experience, and we know many of them are baby-boomers or fascists of the previous era serving out their last moments before electrocution and burial.  Otherwise, there’s always a couple of fellows with ‘crap jobs’ sat upstairs, and fairly often drunks, and drunks, and drunks and also criminals catch my bus.  Naturally they sit upstairs.  If they are very criminal they sit on the back seat and ruin my journey when I am thinking I might have to speak in public or not open the window.

The return bus, the bus after work has on occasion been more tricky.  You have to understand this is the last bus back from the town with the Abbey and 65,000 pubs, and that everybody on the bus including all the old lady criminals is completely drunk.  One of my most horrific experiences included a time when on a crowded bus of eighty people, a soldier in normal and civilian clothes, and drunk and possessing a most frightening baritone Yorkshire, sexy husky accent, he whipped from his backpack an enormous sound system and proceeded to ‘entertain’ the bus with so-called popular tunes and disco hits.  I could hardly read my crossword.  Even the bus was singing.  Probably you understand this was a kind of public disorder, a civil offence, and I was smiling really happy inside when the driver pulled over and climbed the stairs in his white shirt and badge and belly.

‘Turn it off,’ he said, ‘no music on’t bus.’

I nodded my head only a little bit and smiled at the bus driver, my people, at last dignity and manners, civility, silence restored.

But then another man, who looked ordinary and not delinquent, he stood and said from his seat over the way, not even on the back seat, he stood, he said:

‘Fuck off and drive the bus.  Mind your own business.’

The whole top deck cheered.  I stopped smiling and I cheered.  Later I accompanied Kylie Minogue’s Spinning Around as my karaoke choice among the folk.  It was the most dreadful endurance for me.  Of course they all pissed out the windows that day.

Anyway, the bus route is popular with tourists and they wear cagoules.

 An interview with Mat Woolfenden

Jacob:  Hallo Mat.

Mat: Hi Jacky… Yes?

Jacob: My first question…

Mat: If you don’t mind I am a busy celebrity.

Jacob: Ah, in your celebrated 400 word story ‘The Number 26 Bus,’ you use two expressions with which North American audiences may be less than familiar.  Firstly pinny, hoh, what is a pinny, Mat?

Mat:  Mr Woolfetc…if you don’t mind, you hack-scum.  A pinny is…as worn by a waitress or a baker.  You know, almost a sexy garment that covers your chest and is tied at the back.  Everybody knows what a pinny is, next question.

Jacob:  And a…


Jacob:  What is a twirlie?

Mat:  Ahhh…ah.  Well, during my time as a London Tour Guide in the 1990s, the bus driver chaps referred to elderly folk as “twirlies.”  As in ‘is it too early for me to use my over 65 bus pass, driver, or may I board your bus at 9.28am, sir?’  Naturally I assumed that by 2019 this expression might have percolated down, up around cracks in society, or at least be understandable to hep cats and gentlemen at the cutting edge…ya.

Jacob:  Did you read MY story about Yorkshire?

Mat:  Yes, yes.  Next question about me, anything personal.

Jacob:  A personal question, where would you be within this narrative personally? Are you the narrator? The one telling the driver to fuck off? The one singing? The one pissing out the window? Or someone in a crap job?

Mat:  A very good question.  I have  been, and am, all those men.  But to coin a revolting and probably the worst expression available.  On the no.26 I am outside of my ‘comfort zone.’ Euch, euch, save me.  Don’t tell anybody but I am closest to the worm-narrator [presently], and hoping for the ‘every-man resonance’ from your eyes, bleh bleh…but fellow writers please remember once you have written the piece it is out of your hands, & no longer your play-thing.  It is the property of the reader, a great and satisfying thing…

Jacob:  A few additional questions: Are the parts in parenthesis suppose to remain in the story? 

Mat: Y’know, not really, but keep them in.  As a writer with some tiny experience I have this strange fixation with draft, and early draft.  I love the joy of draft, the rush when the baby is fresh.  I love sniggering away at the ridiculous rubbish I have written, a rush I kind of miss when I draft EVERY piece from 600 words toward the 2000 words and post it away to the ‘famous magazine’ never to be seen again.  So, so, so, an exercise for the purist(s).

Jacob:  Do you have a bio and any additional links for your own work to go along with the story? Do you have a title? Do you have a photo or image you’d like to include (otherwise I’d choose one of my own)?

Mat:  Hey buddy, if you google my Mat Woolfenden you may follow the links to a half dozen published works, or seven.  Mainly I live on my blog but I gave it such an accidental homo-erotic name it shames me;  it is ridiculous, for goodness sake – – was supposed to be windswept or oceanic, maybe I was drugged by the KGB that day?  Usually first drafts pop up kind of secretly on the blog, then you’ll never see them again, unless, unless unless…y’know Granta/New Yorker are my people.
And I think I’ll send you a photo of a graveyard taken from that bus.

Jacob: Thanks again, and I’d love to use the story on the blog,

Mat:  I am so happy about that.  Here’s to our enduring friendship, my pal

4 thoughts on “My Ride on the 26, by Mat Woolfenden

  1. Hi what I picked up was the nitty grittiness of life..When you ride the bus down University Avenue…in St. Paul…that’s what you see. People of all kinds trying to get to work or come home after long hours..Without much pay…The real backbone of America…
    .route 3.


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