Strange Bus Trip: The Number 25 And The Old Somali Woman

November 28, 2010

The number 25 is one of my least favourite buses of old London Town, mainly because it’s a bendy bus. Bendy buses are nasty, smelly, single-decker snakes of doom. It’s possibly the only bus that makes me hanker for a gas guzzling, fuck-the-environment beast of a car. Boris, our esteemed mayor has returned some of the routes to a sensible double-decker (welcome back, number 73), but here in Tower Hamlets, we continue to be packed like cattle, becoming unofficial testers for the efficacy of deodorant (or lack of, in most cases).

Today, I had to take the number 25 and I was not looking forward to it. I boarded the cattle truck, which became more crowded as the journey went on. The doors opened at the next stop and a group of Somali women crammed on, chatting to each other. One of them was louder than the rest. I couldn’t see who it was, but after a while the loud one was ushered to a rare vacant seat by one of the other members of the group, and then I saw her. She was an old woman, a very old woman, probably 80 or 90. And she was a screecher.

The bus would be mostly silent or humming with chatter when suddenly, the calm would be broken like a siren in the night as she’d screech in what appeared to be high agitation. Sometimes she’d shoot up from her seat and babble even faster and at a higher pitch. Surely, it would only be a matter of time before she’d screech at a pitch that only dogs could hear. Another women in the group who I assumed was her daughter had the unenviable task of calming her down. I felt her embarrassment as some of the passengers either gave the old woman the evil eye, or sniggered because she sounded like one of Terry Jones’ female characters from Monty Python. This went on for 10 stops, or 15 minutes before I stepped off and left the lucky remaining passengers to it.

I really am going to have to learn to drive.



  1. I can’t quite imagine a bendy bus, but I shall ‘google’ forthwith. I wonder if it is a bit like the trams we have here almost like a train on the road? Your experience though is happening on buses, trains and trams all over the place and as you pointed out so eloquently the older the person the louder the voice.
    I too keep saying I should learn to drive but I can’t rid my mind of the worry that I may knock over a rabbit or a pigeon or something and not be able to live with the pain of it so I continue to walk and use public transport. Rabbits and pigeons live to play in the road for another day.

    • That’s so sweet of you to think of the rabbits and pigeons, Maggyann. I’m not so sure I would be thinking of them as I make my way by car, knowing I’ll have a nicer journey. Well, as nice as any journey can be if you discount the traffic jams and various fines that come your way through speed cameras and over enthusiastic wardens.

      I believe you can see bendy buses in other parts of Europe. Our narrow, winding London streets are not suited to these vehicles, but they were bought in nevertheless. Oh, by the way, welcome to my blog. Please comment again, as and when you feel if you make a return visit.

  2. Public transportation is a great step forward to be eco-friendly, but if it isn’t made appealing and accessable, people won’t want to use it, so what’s the point? My hometown here in the USA unfortunately has practically no public transportation, appealing or otherwise.

    • There are so many things I can say about the state of our transport system in London right now, but I will hold back, given that you hardly have a public transport to complain about. In that sense I am very, very lucky.

  3. You have such a lovely way with words!

    Are the “snakes of doom” those vehicles that have two bus-portions joined in the middle by an accordian? I first saw them while studying in France way back in 1979, and was amazed. I’ve never seen them in the U.S.

    • That’s exactly the one, Jacki! I have stood in the accordian part of the bus on a few occasions and I must admit, that part of it is fun, trying to see if you can keep your balance. Other than that, it’s a horrible thing. I hope it never crosses stateside. By the way, have you changed your email address or something? This blog theme has a habit of having hissy fits and putting people in the moderating pen when that shouldn’t be the case. Nice to see you again anyway.

  4. I’ve taken a bendy bus but once, and I hope never to have to do so again. Ever. It was at Heathrow airport, and possibly one of the most scarring experiences o my life. I can practically still taste the inverted exhaust and see the stunned, shocked faces of the Finnish people, so used to shiny, white, bright, litter-free celestial-looking chrome edged buses, who had just wandered onto what must have looked like the mythical, albeit double-jointed Stygian Barge.

    My experiences of public transport are very similar to yours. I much prefer trains, but I would have to take a bus from the awkwardly situated train station, thus utterly rendering the action obsolete. My hour-long daily penance yesterday included an old lady, cursing and blinding loudly at anyone who would listen, who then took out her teeth and started slobbering over a surreptitiously produced industrial-size, double-strength-toffee triple coated Mars bar, making sounds similar to a toilet plunger attacking a blocked WC. Barely had she finished before magicking up a family size bag of pork scratchings. She proceeded to work through the entire packet, each crunch wobbling her formidable jowls and producing what can only be described as a sonic boom.
    She also smelled strongly of Doctor Collis Brown’s and petrol, which did nearly caused me to faint, but also prevented anyone from sitting near me. Which was a good thing. I’m socially hopeless.
    So, yeah, sorry for producing a tirade from something supposed to be a mere anecdote. But hey, it’s so long, it’s practically a guest post. ;D

    • Your tirade really made me laugh. I thought that story of the old woman and the Mars bar was superb. As for the pork scratchings, well, quite frankly, they’re just plain wrong and should be illegal, the nasty, smelly things. I’m so glad I wasn’t on that bus (or was it a train?).

      Dr Collis Brown and Petrol? I think that needs to be bottled and sold as public transport perfume du jour straight away.

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