I love travel, I really do. In fact I’ve pretty much made a life out of it. But have you ever heard that expression ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff,’ and then, ‘It’s all small stuff’? Well, travel can be a bit like that. Lots of little things which by themselves are easy to ignore. It’s only sometimes, when they all add up at once, that it becomes… well, you’ll see.
For starters, travel in England is guaranteed to be less exciting. When I boarded the 502 National Express coach from Bridgwater to London I was hoping to spend most of the four hour, overnight journey asleep. I was admittedly a little dismayed when an Indian couple with a tiny baby followed me aboard, all the way to the back and sat directly behind me. I immediately gave up all thought of rest; if there’s one thing bus travel has taught me, it’s that bored infants within two feet are not conducive to a peaceful night. But what I expected to become an assault measured in decibels became instead something more… fragrant. The baby didn’t scream or wail – much – oh, no. She decided to spend the whole journey vomiting.
Alternating between intense snot-gargling and heaving with a sound like the death rattle of an asthmatic brontosaurus, the baby produced a range of sick noises that would impress darts team captains the world over. It didn’t smell too good either.
But that was not the source of the problem. There’s a special kind of stench which is only possible to achieve on public transport. Human kind have been using toilets for just a few millennia, so it’s hardly surprising that some of us have yet to grasp the complexities involved. Hence the quality of public conveniences the world over; even if only one person in ten struggles with the concept of not pissing all over the floor, by half past nine in the morning you’re still ankle deep in urine.
When you add the instability of a bus doing 60 mph down the motorway, then throw in the mood of the driver and the high probability of sudden and dramatic right turn – well, it’s hard not to imagine the state of the rubber matting in the toilet cubicle on the 502. Though how it gets so far up the walls remains a mystery.
Luckily the toilet has a door. It kind of has to really, or there’d be week old turds doing laps of the bus.
Unluckily, this toilet door was broken. It would shut and it would open, but it didn’t seem keen to remain in either state for very long. So every time the bus negotiated one of those delightful mini-roundabouts we’re so fond of in this country, the door gave a stately swing, generously wafting that most unique of odours across me on the seat opposite.
No wonder it was the only one left when I got on.
But it did help me avoid some slight embarrassment. Alerted by firsthand experience that the lock was probably knackered, I was clever enough to hold the handhold when I was forced to use the loo later – rather than perform my usual trick of remaining still by wedging my back against the door. Thus, I was spared the indignity of toppling backwards at the next sharp turn, possibly still urinating in a graceful arc above myself.
By the time I’d extricated myself from the cubicle the man had gotten his baby to sleep. She was wrapped around his neck and he was making a calming ‘SSS-sss’-ing sound. As I sat back down I couldn’t help but notice that every hissed breath blew right over the top of my headrest and gently lifted the back of my hair. That was slightly disconcerting. After a few minutes I sank a little lower in my seat. But I needn’t have bothered.
Because at that moment the baby woke up and volubly shit herself.
Spicy poo-stink spread like a fog, and in the sealed environment of the coach it seemed thicker somehow, and destined to stick around. As the subtle fragrance of curried diharreha drifted past my nostrils I reflected – perhaps I would get some rest on this trip after all. I was a heartbeat away from passing out completely.
But please don’t let me put you off bus travel in the UK. It’s nearly always not quite this bad…