Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Broken Down Bus, A Cathedral, And A Man With His Trousers Around His Ankles

We arrive in Durham from Edinburgh in the middle of, what seems, the northeast monsoon season. Durham, in the distance, is being battered by torrential rain.

Durham Train Station
As we leave the station a bus shelter offers temporary respite from the deluge, and checking the timetable we notice that there is an electric bus due.

He arrives (the driver and bus), we climb aboard, he takes our money, we sit, he sits and waits and hums, makes a comment about the weather, I respond, and then he attempts to start the bus. The lights dim, the bus coughs, but refuses to spark into life. After several attempts and the arrival of more people - tapping on the bus door like little sparrows - he explains that the bus won't start and will have to phone for help.

I wonder about his journey to work, what did he do before bus driver, and did he arrive at this point in his life by accident, sheer good luck or design?

This broken down bus, I think to myself, is all part of my journey, all part of the great adventure that is mine. Sometimes, tragic, sometimes comic, sometimes just ordinary and mundane and not worth writing a blog about. But, I can't help thinking, why did that bus decide to die the moment I stepped on board?

Why was the rain torrential at the very moment we disembarked from the train? Why that bus, and why today? Some would say fate, chance, luck, or, maybe just the natural course of things.

If you think about it, however, it's a bit more complex than that.  I stepped aboard that dead bus because, and exactly because, of all the decisions I have made throughout my life. Every single decision, good, bad and indifferent, which brought me to that point at that time on that day in Durham!  Decisions on what to do in terms of work, where to live (sometimes driven by what we work at), who to share my life with, loved ones, friends.

Even the decision to get out of bed, catch the train south, to travel into town by bus rather than walk were all made by me. And, that last decision to travel by bus into Durham, intersected and collided with the bus breaking down - a humming bus driver, little old ladies like little sparrows pecking at the bus doors.

The next decision is an easy one, to walk into Durham and stop at the first coffee shop we arrive at. It just happens to be the Starbucks at Framwelllgate Bridge (what a great name for a bridge and who was Framwell?)

It has a fantastic vibe this Starbucks, it has a library of books and the tables are taken by young people scribbling notes into large pukka pads or using pens to underline and highlight and remind themselves of something essential in reference books.

Some, as well as using notepads, were intermittently hammering the keyboard of their laptops. One young man with a laptop was also using a palm top, an iPhone and a small notepad. By their elbows, these students had measured piles of reference books which stood vigilant, ready to spring to life when called upon.

Where, I couldn't help thinking, are all these kids headed? Where will their journeys take them and how will their lives intersect with all the other lives on the planet. How will it all unfold for each of them? How will their lives develop from this great swirling matrix of criss-crossing individual actions? Who will cross their destinies with fortuitous or, who will cross their destinies with disastrous results? What challenges will fate have waiting for them?

Where will they find themselves in 20 years and be wondering : How can one person be so lucky? What decisions did I make that worked out so well? - or (and more likely) - What happened to all those dreams I had? Where have they all gone? What happened along the way? How did it get to this? Boy, they might think, am I glad I studied Interconnected Pastiche at Durham University in 2013! (Note to Aleisha Chrome 'Interconnected Pastiche' is not an Italian pasta dish).

My next decision was to visit the toilet, only to have the unpleasant experience of finding that the door was open and the cubicle occupied. A large, grubby, middle-aged man, was seated on the pan, his trousers at his ankles. He let out a garbled, throaty noise like aaawwwwwsh, I let out a garbled, throaty sound like oooshhh and beat a hasty retreat. It must have sounded like the start of a rap song in stereo - aaaawwwwshhh/oooosssshhh - Sittin' there wit his trousers on da floor/Why didn't he just lock the rapping door/ lock the door - aaaawwwwsssshhh/ooooosssshhh - zipco, cra, zipco cra, da da da da na na na - why hadn't he locked the door?

Later in the cathedral I stood before the memorial to all the Durham miners who had lost their lives working in their respective collieries. Their working lives spent in constant night, extracting coal that provided energy to feed the great capitalist industries across time, generated economies, built communities and sparked the nation.

But, the image is complete, here among the candles and the echoing acoustics of the huge spaces and angles of this massive structure, these workers gently rest within the bosom of the great and magnificent cathedral.

Their memory, in death, as stately and as significant as any monarch.

How extraordinary that our lives are so interconnected with the work we do, and how that, in turn, impacts to such a great extent.

Spead the word!


  1. Interconnected Pastiche - connected works of art that celebrate the previous artist! :)
    Good blog! I didn't know you could rap lol!
    A x

  2. Mid (to late) life crisis me thinks.
    Dont second guess life. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and sometimes that means get off the bus and walk. All you can do is make the best decisions you can and hope they are the best they can be.
    PS: next time bypass Starbucks and try esquires just across the bridge. Always go local not corporate

    1. Yes, point taken Mr D, but it is not only about our decisions but about the decisions of others that intersect and interact with our decisions.
      I will, to be honest I usually try and patronise the independent coffee shops, but on this very wet and miserable day I was a stranger in a strange town.