Thursday, 11 September 2008

The trip to Edinburgh

This is the recounting of a trip I took to Edinburgh. There's some pretty disgusting stuff in here, so if you're sensitive, don't read on.

I went to Edinburgh because a friend of mine phoned me and come and do a poetry reading. I have become very fond of public performance. The first time I walked on stage it was like walking into an execution courtyard with a bandage over my eyes, but now I'm much better at it and I really enjoy it.

Because I couldn't afford the trip, I found a ticket with megabus. Megabus are a low-cost bus company who organise trips in the UK. I was wondering what the fuck the difference could be between sitting on a bus from a low-cost company and sitting on a bus from a regular company, so I booked it with them.

Because the trip was going to be about nine hours long, I had booked it to leave at 11 at night, reasoning I could have slept on the bus. So I went to London Victoria station.

When I walked into the part of the station from which my coach was supposed to depart, I initially thought I'd ended up in some office for the disembarkment of illegal immigrants. There were not two or three hundred people but billions. They all had bags you could fit three sows into and the general appearance of peasants in a Robin Hood story. They were all there for my same bus.

We got in. Astute like a marmot, I walk towards the end and sit on the seat next to the toilet, because that's the one where it's the least likely people will sit next to (I did so not knowing that I was about to find out why); this will increase my chances of having a free seat next to me and thus the possibility of lying down. It turns out I am right, for, as the people climb on, the bus fills up completely except for two empty places: the one right in front of the bathroom, next to which is sitting this fat, bearded Australian caveman-guy with a baseball cap, and the one right to the left of it, next to which is sitting yours truly.

The bus takes off, and it seems I'll be able to lie down. All right! I feel very smug and satisfied for a while, until this pachyderm of a woman walks back from the front rows and goes into the toilet. Barely two seconds have passed since the door closed when the most revolting concert of retching and stomach convulsions starts orchestrating through the walls. It starts in a sort of low note, with some uncertain gags, then it goes in full swing and it's like having a double stereo right behind your seat through which you're hearing forty-two people throwing up at the same time next to a giant amplifier. For a second I wonder if the woman is going to die in there as she's reached the five-minute mark now and is still going strong, but after a while she walks out with a face so white you'd think she'd been making pizzas with her face, and walks back to the front.

Well, I tell myself, at least that we got that over with at the beginning of the trip.

Only five minutes later the same pachyderm comes back from the front and starts vomiting again. I look absently out of the window while a continent's worth of splashing is going on in there, until her friend (another pachyderm, perhaps they were going to a convention) walks back from the front to check on her. The original woman walks out of the toilet, looking just like an albino.

'Are you alright?' her friend asks her.

'Yes,' the woman who had been disbucketing herself replies, 'but I think I'll sit around here in case I feel sick again.'

Oh Christ. Oh no. Go sit next to the Australian caveman, not next to me. Go sit next to him, please, I beg you, I'll buy you the DVD of Dumbo, I'll - she sits next to me.

Utterly fantastic. Not only I no longer have the room to sleep, but she stinks so bad of vomit that I'm starting to feel like I'm going to puke on her in turn. For a while I entertain the idea of shooting myself, but eventually the clever idea comes to me: almost an hour and a half before I had planned to, I pull out my dinner and start eating it. The dinner is composed of two of those English sandwiches, with a bouquet of prawns melded to a jungle of indistinct cabbage by means of mayonnaise used like mortar. The bread is also paper-thin so it's like trying to eat the Roman empire while it's falling apart under your teeth (an analogy which makes as much sense as those sandwiches). I decide to forget my good manners for a while: I throw myself onto the sandwich like a jaguar. I thrust my legs forward, my head back, allow for a thin streak of mayonnaise to paint itself on the side of my lips, and - on occasion - I gloriously belch.

The pachyderm resists halfway through the first sandwich. Then she has to turn away; I think for a second that she's made it, but at the first bite of the second sandwich she barges into the bathroom like a cyclone and starts vomiting like a storm. Then she walks out, pale like an Aryan princess in one of Wagner's wet dreams, and she goes and sits next to the Australian caveman, like a big white iceberg.


The rest of the trip was fine enough, even though there was this hole in the roof through which gusts from the frozen mountain-peaks of the Valhalla were entering the bus. Yet I managed to sleep, and when I woke up, I was surrounded by the Scottish countryside. The degree to which this is more beautiful than its English counterpart is something I have no words to explain: sloping mountains blonde with grain, untarnished as far as the eye can see, with the occasional spots of dark trees under a silver sky. Might as well have been in Africa, so wild it all looked.

Edinburgh was wonderful. The beauty of the city is something which has got to be seen to be believed (it reminded me a lot of Rome, in many ways), the reading went really well and it was followed by a terrific night out at this club whose name I can't remember.

On the notes of such an archetypal happy ending my narrative could comfortably find closure, but I'd like to specify that the heavens did take note of how much of a bastard I'd been on my way there, and they decided to punish me. On my trip back, which seems initially much more set back as there is significantly greater space on the coach, I am assaulted by the irresistible urge to pick my nose. I look around for a tissue or something but nothing is within reach. So I reach up my hand, but at the exact moment I do so, I notice this old lady from the seat at the front-left of me turning her head and staring at me disapprovingly. Quickly I bring my hand down. What the fuck is she staring at me disapprovingly for? Does she know of what happened on the way to Edinburgh, or what? So I sit there, thinking 'who cares,' but the thing is, I had an itch which was like the Spanish inquisition in my nose. Imagine a baby pterodactyl breaking through its egg and stretching its wings within one of your nostrils. Imagine a whole family of them. Imagine nuclear bombs and guerrilla warfare going on between your nose-hairs. I had to get it out.

For a while I just look at this old bint and learnt her routine patterns. She seems to have a knack for turning her head disapprovingly whenever I raised one of my hands even slightly. Eventually she turns her head away for long enough for me to decide to go for it, and brother, there's a friggin' panettone lodged into one of my nostrils, except that when I remove it, it's like a dam is broken and the biggest sodding nosebleed I've ever been the victim of explodes onto my shirt. Seriously, I never get nosebleeds, but it appears that this one time I've removed the lid keeping one of my central arteries closed. Naturally the old woman turns around and she begins to stare as I improvise something in absence of a tissue. I'm trying to keep it from falling onto my white shirt (completely impossible, when I came home it looked like I'd just come back from Fight Club). Eventually I pick up my copy of War and Peace and end up wiping myself with that, which sends the woman's disapproval of my barbarian behaviour at its zeitgeist. I can even sense the waves of perceived self-superiority she's emitting.

Probably felt the same way I did when the other woman went and sat next to the Australian guy. Guess it serves me right.

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