The buses are racing each other between stops. The world flies past the window in a blur: BEST CARPET BARGAINS... Klippers Hair Salon... Sambuca Saturday... Karaoke Thursday... MEGA BOXES FOR £8.99... Royal Travel and Money Transfer... iTaste... Extra Care Housing... 2 For 1 on Essentials (illus- trated with a photograph of a packet of digestive biscuits)... YOU CAN’T BUY CHEAPER... Gold International... LE UVST TIPE X... FREE BOTTLE OF POP. A man climbs aboard looking flustered in fake leather and Fair Isle, “It’s always bloody late, this bus! He’s supposed to be five minutes in front of that other one”, he says out loud as he walks down the aisle. “Bloody rubbish!” He sits down next to me in a fug of damp and sweat. The woman in front of us with the grey perm and turquoise gaberdine coat turns around, “These people are much more helpful than the Metro people though”, she says, “And it’s 30p cheaper”, she adds, her knuckles white on the handrail as the bus swings out into the middle lane to overtake its rival. “Go on, lad!” yells the damp sweat man to the driver, pumping his fist.
A pride of door-to-door salesmen (beards, short-back-and-sides, black bomber jackets, black too-long-in-the- leg trousers, black winkle-picker shoes, black zip-up briefcases) are gobbing on the floor and vaping outside the Costcutter. I pass them on my way to the terrace of houses where, during the course of the last twenty-five years, the sheds, the painted lintels, the hebes and hawthorne, the privet and the pyracantha, the decorative limestone and calcite have all been replaced with soiled nappies, empty Skips packets, sundry broken pieces of board (mainly hard and chip) sodden underwear, empty milk cartons, a football boot, a stained mattress, empty paint tins, a broken toothbrush, a dustpan, a bent trampoline on its side, assorted lengths of polythene, a broken monster truck toy, party-popper shells, broken bottles, rusty pieces of micro-scooter, bits of an old gate, dog shit, traffic cones, energy drink cans, a kitchen unit with mould on it, a car with lichen on it, takeaway trays and a partially incinerated (artificial) Christmas tree.
The woman in the faded pink anorak and Nike trainers is talking on the phone as she gets off the bus. “I got her some One Direction perfume... I know! Me neither. I’m going to put it away for her for next Christmas... It was only a tenner... You can’t go wrong, can you? And it’s lovely and fruity—I’d wear it. Those princess ones she has are vile... I don’t know... Horrible... Yeah, just as a stocking filler... perfect... I know! Lovely and fruity, I’d wear it—much nicer than these princess ones... Yeah... only a tenner... I know... One Direction perfume for only a tenner, it’s not to be sniffed at...”