An odd thing happened today.
This afternoon I escaped to Manchester. I hadn't been there in a couple of months and I needed a break from the constant work and yesterday's grim news.
It was just after noon when I emerged from the Maplin store on Oxford Road and found myself needing to get to the city centre. I had a little shopping to do, plus I wanted to spend some time looking around Waterstones where I knew they have quite a good collection of books about C# and the NET framework, which I've been using these last few weeks to build myself an interesting app. I vaguely hoped one might be in the sales, though I'd be ultimately disappointed.
The obvious way into the city centre is to walk but it is a bit of a hike and I was in no mood for testing my ankles so soon after Christmas. Thankfully, Manchester is an enlightened city and has free buses that run the main routes. They're not normal sized busses but are adequate for the job and very regular. Not long after I arrived at the bus stop, a bus arrived. I was also in luck. It was pretty empty.
So off we go...
Not many people get on or off the bus until we arrive at the Museum of Science and Industry where a group of adults is waiting. The adults were a variety of ages and there might have been fifteen or twenty of them. It was also very obvious, looking at them, that they very had some quite severe mental and learning difficulties. There was also too many to fit on the small bus. However, the bus was fairly empty and we all cleared our bags from the seats to allow as many as possible to sit down. So, after a few minutes of people squeezing between people, the bus is loaded with loud, raucous, but happy customers. All is well. On we go.
At the next stop a few people get on. A few people get off. One woman squeezes though the crowd and into the seat next to me. I'm at the back, central because of my unreasonably long legs mean that I just can't fit into normal bus seats without either sitting sideways or tucking my knees under my chin.
Off we go again.
A couple of stops on, we're pulling approaching the stop outside Forsyth's music shop. I always look in the window of Forsyth's at the guitars I'll never be able to afford. I was looking that way, probably dreamily waiting to see a Les Paul Sunburst, when I felt a tapping on my arm. I turn around. It was the woman. She starts to speak to me.
'Can. You. Move. Your. Legs? I. Want. To. Get. Off.'
That's how she spoke. Very, very slowly. I immediately thought 'what an odd woman' but I didn't say anything. I just smiled and moved my legs. She squeezed past and moved down the bus.
And that's when I saw her mouth the word 'Aw! Bless' to a friend. They both gave me sad little smiles.
That's when it struck me. She thought I was with the museum group.
Now, this doesn't happen to me very often. I might not be the best looking man in the world but neither (I hope) am I too much of an eyesore. My biggest fault is that I dress a bit shabbily and refuse to make any fashion statements. I refuse to be a walking billboard for companies so I wear nothing that endorses brands. About the only thing I wear that endorses anything is a Ralph Steadman T-shirt emblazoned with Dr. Gonzo. That's what I was wearing today beneath a blue sweater and my coat. My jeans were just black jeans. On reflection, it had to be my hat: thick navy blue Peter Storm 'thinsulate' number from Millets.
Meanwhile, I didn't know what to think or what to do. You can't suddenly start saying 'Oh no, I'm not with them' for fear of upsetting people who don't deserve upsetting. At the same time, I was by myself. I couldn't start discussing politics or goat metaphors in Dostoyevsky's novels simply to prove a point. As it was, I just sat on the bus as it pulled out of the stop and the two women disembarked. As we pulled away, they looked at me from the pavement and gave me a small wave.
I won't tell you how I responded.
I might, however, have to buy a new hat.