A few years ago I used to do a job that entailed getting up at 5am. This was wonderful in the summer months as there are few things nicer than having the world to yourself as it stretches and yawns itself awake, bathed in the golden light of sunrise. It’s less wonderful in January as it holds you down and kicks your teeth in, while shouting “You want some more?” in your face.
Day after day, once I’d forced a cup of tea down and performed my ablutions, I would be at the bus stop at 5.35am. In wintertime this was the bleakest place imaginable – pitch black and often accompanied by howling wind and driving rain or snow. I would contemplate to myself that I knew how the Germans had felt at the Battle of Stalingrad (ANSWER: not at all pleased – something confirmed in several diaries written by troops of the Wehrmacht).
Every morning there were five of us at that bus stop. Myself, whom I cast in the hero’s role; Ron, who was nearing retirement and did “something with wood”; Billy, a man in his 60s, originally from Barnsley, who worked as a security guard, took a bottle of vodka to work with him every day, and often had the hedonistic whiff of breakfast-time wine on his breath, and “the couple”, who worked together doing something that me, Ron and Billy never bothered to ask about.
The male of the couple was short, walked with a limp and said very little, which was amply compensated for by the female who spoke non-stop, occasionally punctuating her sentences by breaking wind with the sort of carefree abandon, lack of self-consciousness and “doing her own thing” more commonly associated with hippy-era San Francisco. We could have formed a five-a-side football team if it hadn’t been for Ron’s blindness in one eye and Billy’s blind-drunkness in both eyes.
Over a period of months we all got to know each other quite well. We developed an esprit de corps forged in the misery of a Beeston winter, and thus, over time, it was revealed that during the 1970s Ron, through no fault of his own, had known the most notorious British serial killer of the past 50 years. They had become nodding acquaintances due to working for companies based on opposite sides of the street and had both used the same cafe for their lunch.
Now, even those of you with the minimum number of TV channels know that the interval between documentaries about serial killers being repeated is measured in weeks or months rather than years, and so it became customary for me to remark upon this every time one was on TV.
The following morning after each one was broadcast I would always say to Ron, “Your mate was on telly last night,” to which Ron would unfailingly reply, somewhat wistfully, while staring into the distance, “Aye…Peter…he were a quiet lad.”
I have hundreds of stories I could tell you about Billy too, but alas nearly every one of them is marred by his swearing like a docker in the last line or two. If I ever meet you in a pub I’ll tell you them. He was a good storyteller, in that happy, relaxed way that people who drink two large glasses of wine at 5am often are. As he is no longer with us, I sometimes imagine him propping up some corner of the Mansions of Rest, or staggering happily down the Streets of Glory, explaining to Dean Martin, in his broad Barnsley brogue, exactly what form of relationship he would like to enjoy with Samantha Fox, this being a subject he referred to on a regular basis. I like to think that Dean would understand.
I still see Ron occasionally – usually rushing to or from the doctors. He seems to be enjoying his retirement judging from the glint in his eye, although this could merely be due to the interaction of sunlight on glass.
To finish on a happy note, I shall tell you about something that occurred at the very same bus stop this Spring just gone.
As usual I was waiting for a bus when the heavens opened and this, combined with a howling wind, made the day feel like February instead of April. I had been the only person at the stop when I’d arrived but without seeing or hearing anything I sensed that someone was near me. I turned around to see two really tiny Asian ladies who were using my impressively manly frame as a shelter from the storm by positioning themselves to the leeward-side of my bulk. I smiled at them and they looked up and grinned at me.
It’s the little things, people. The little things that make your day.