Did I tell you I wanted to be a journalist when I was at school? I was sent to see the Careers Advisor and confided in her my secret ambition. She looked very depressed, but she smiled. I have some pamphlets here about the Women’s Army, she said, eyeing my not inconsiderable height and sturdy skeleton. And there’s always Woolworths…
That was it, and truth to tell it would have taken less than that to discourage me. Some kids, unfortunately, need a great deal more input than their surrounding adults are prepared to give them; they will only flourish when bathed in the sunshine of positive and persistent encouragement.
But onwards, to that cliff-top: I’m sure you’re desperate to know all about the crumbly and her plunge from dizzying heights – almost.
Yesterday I decided to experiment with catching the bus. It must be twenty years since I caught the last one and I was nervous. How would I cope with being away from home without my car in which to beat a hasty retreat if necessary? Could I really use the Bus Pass the Council issued me with a while back and which has been mouldering in the bottom of my handbag ever since? Which way up did it go? What happened if it was invalid now? Would I be ejected from the bus in disgrace?
However, I managed it and spent the next hour hurtling around narrow country lanes, jolted this way and that whilst clinging to the seat-rail in a howling gale from the driver’s open window. That was why all the passengers were sitting on the left hand side. During one of the bus’s brief stops I shuffled across to join them. I saw villages, hamlets and straggly clumps of houses I had never seen before. I swept past field after field of bright yellow oil seed rape. I never thought a bus could go so fast. I never realised that speed bumps mean nothing whatsoever to a bus driver. In a way it was quite enjoyable, a bit of an adventure.
By the time I was waiting at the hospital bus stop to come back I felt almost confident. I had read the timetable affixed to the stop. I at least, unlike the brace of old persons waiting with me on that hard metal seat, knew when the next was due. Do you know when the next one’s coming? the old lady asked the old man. Search me, duckie. I’m a Londoner. Last time I was sat ‘ere over an hour.
A bus arrived ten minutes early, a bad sign which I failed to recognise at the time. But it had the name my home village on the sign on the front. What could possibly go wrong? Is this the one for Town? asked the old lady.
No, I threw back over my shoulder as I mounted the step with the air of a seasoned hippie-world-traveller, this one is going the other way.
Well, it was going the other way – from Town. Unfortunately it was also going another other way that I hadn’t even thought of. After three quarters of an hour of jolting through fields of this and that, a lengthy detour to the prison, where we picked up neither prisoners nor visitors, and a tortuous negotiation of country lanes too small for a small car let alone a large bus, the bus came to a stop at what I recognised to be the top of the cliffs, close to but far, far above where I lived. The bus driver and her bus driver apprentice turned and regarded me – the last remaining passenger – interrogatively.
I – I believe I may have got on the wrong bus, I murmured, and they agreed. In front of me a red and white sign saying Dangerous: Impassable to Motor Vehicles!!! or some such.
Um, I believe that road joins up with the top of my road? They stared at me again.
There’s no way I can get the bus down there, the lady driver said. She actually thought I was asking her to drive the bus down there, for my sole benefit.
No! I mean – I meant – I can surely walk it, if I’m careful? I’m only about fifteen minutes away from my house as the crow flies. They had obviously never heard that expression.
So I got off the bus and set off down the path, doing that confident, bibbety-bobbity Bugs Bunny walk I tend to do when I know I am making a complete idiot of myself. The bus did a several point turn and disappeared. The silence as I walked was deafening. Nothing but the odd cricket chirping. I was old, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a warm spring day, and quite alone.
Now, if it is possible for an old person on foot to screech to a halt, that’s what I did. A few inches in front of me the clifftop sheered away to nothing, in fact there was an overhang. I was standing on a thin overhanging shelf of mud whilst far below me the cold spring sea churned and tiny ships went back and forth on the horizon. It’s like Breughel’s Icarus, I thought. All I will be is a leg disappearing into the water, spotted by a ploughman.
I reversed, carefully, and walked back along the path, still cheery-looking and bibbety-bobbity. I know where I’m going, my jaunty walk proclaimed as I examined my options. I had overheard the bus driver and her accomplice saying that the bus only came up here once a day. Maybe I could call a taxi. Would my mobile phone get a signal up here? Maybe I could walk to the nearest house and plead insanity.
And then a horse came alone – not on its own, I mean there was a human being perched on top of it in a riding hat. May I ask you something? I asked the lady on the horse. The creature reared back several paces, or maybe the lady pulled it back. I suppose a wild-haired, panicking pensioner must have been the last thing either of them expected to see.
I’ll stay back, I heard myself saying, ridiculously. I wouldn’t want to frighten the horse.
Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Horse Lady pointed out another path, one that looked for all the world like the entrance to a holiday camp but wasn’t. Follow that right round, keep going and you’ll end up in the right place. It was a bit pot-holey – in fact very pot-holey. Very muddy, but luckily dried mud. Very quiet. I began reviewing the likely headlines:
Pensioner Found Dead on Remote Pathway
Pensioner Tumbles into Giant Pot-Hole
What Was She Doing There Anyway? Enquire Grieving Relatives
I felt quite smug once safely indoors slurping tea and munching on a cheese and pickle sandwich surrounded by cats. The hip would be playing up tomorrow but I had learned a valuable lesson (not ever to get on that bus again) and escaped unscathed, unplunged etc.
The relatives would just have to grieve another day.