That Smell

Mum and Dad are away on holiday so I’ve gone up north to look after the house while they’re away. Living as far out as they do, I had to catch the bus this time, as the nearest train station is easily a few hours away on foot (with feet being the only reliable form of transport since neither my brother or I can drive).

Arriving in Lincolnshire sometimes feels like stepping back in time. It’s doubly noticeable coming up from Croydon, watching the diversity metronome swing violently to one side. When you live and work in such a cosmopolitan environment, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are still great parts of this island that are – to take Wilfred Owen out of context – forever England. I think we all need reminding of that from time to time. A lot of us Southerners fall into the trap of thinking the rest of the country thinks like us. I still believe that’s how Brexit caught so many of us off-guard. We weren’t looking or listening hard enough to the folks north of the M25.

It’s been a while since I caught a Stagecoach bus. I used to ride them all the time when I was a teenager; but then, both my parents had full-time jobs, and Kent is pretty self-contained. So it was a trip down memory lane – sort of.

The guy sitting next to me falls asleep in seconds. He’s smartly dressed but his body odour is quite overpowering. Between his sweaty cologne and the leather-clad goth girl puffing sickeningly sweet clouds of vape smoke overhead in the seat in front, I’m reminded my sense of smell isn’t as awful as I always say it is.

Three lads sit with their feet up across one extra seat each at the back of the bus. There must be an unwritten rule that stakes out the rear of any vehicle as the sole dominion of teenage boys, because I’ve never seen any other setup on my travels. One of them is pissed about how there’s nothing to do where he lives, and how he knows nobody, and how not being able to drive doesn’t help. He could be voicing my own concerns, if I were really that bothered about settling for my own company. His mates tell him to come along on a night out, and if he doesn’t have friends out there, “fuckin’ make friends, mate”. A wingman’s life was never easier.

A man gets on at the prison gates just outside the city in matching grey trackies and a baseball hat that’s too small for his head. His eyes are large, dark and staring – it takes me too long to realise it’s his dilated pupils that give him that intense look. A blunt tucked behind his ear smoulders ever so slightly. Now the smell of wet grass (or fox, as I always assumed) mingles with the BO and the indiscernible fruit-something of the vape clouds. He cracks open a lager and the bus driver stops by a bin and tells him his booze needs to go in that bin, mate. You what, he says. That bin. Can’t drink on here. Roll-Up Man gets up – alright, jes gimme a minute – wanders over to the door and necks the entire can. A lady near the front applauds. He ain’t wastin’ that can! Roll-Up Man returns with hands up in mock surrender, or it could be triumph. It’s hard to tell.

Lord Vaper continues to drag on her death stick. Given that she’s the third passenger on the bus to ignore the no smoking sign, I wonder whether anyone can read, or whether they just don’t care.

The Marvel run continues tonight with Doctor Strange. Watched Civil War for the first time last night and actually really enjoyed it. Yeah, I know, I missed the hype of watching them as they came out, but the MCU truly belongs to the generation just after mine, I think. I grew up with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and that remains the gold standard as far as superhero movies go. Perhaps I’ll have changed my tune by the time I get to Endgame. Somehow I doubt it. Like the Joker, I guess I just can’t let go of Batsy. BB x

P.S. I wanted to give the title of this post the full nod to Sonallah Ibrahim’s seminal 1966 novella, That Smell and Notes from Prison, but some references are just far too pretentious to shoehorn in – especially when it’s about a bus ride out of Lincoln City.