Old Hags, Buggies on Buses, and Christmas in London

Confession: I’ve started about seven blog posts in the last few months and haven’t finished any of them. Mostly because I’m terribly busy, and then poured a glass of water on my computer, then tried the rice trick and ruined said computer—but also because I feel like my musings don’t fit into any sort of category. They’re not about food, or my kids, or really anything in particular, so I don’t finish them into a polished piece to post. But then it hit me: I don’t have to write about specific things here. I can write about anything I damn well please. So today I’m going to tell you a story about an angry old hag on a double decker bus.

On a freezing December day (last Thursday, when the weather woman told me to put on my gloves because the high would be 6 degrees; somehow celsius is more painful than fahrenheit), the girls and I had to trek across town to visit my doctor. I didn’t have any childcare available, and something was going on with my eye that I had to get checked out, so onto the 13 bus we went. Charlie was in the buggy covered in a blanket, having had terrible sleep the night before (meaning I also had terrible sleep the night before), and I thought a ride in the buggy on the soothing hum of the bus might just let her have a kip. MY GOD I AM TALKING BRITISH.

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Oh my sweet girls. Lucy will turn 6 this year and Charlie will turn 4. Time, as they say, flies.

The bus arrived and I pushed the buggy on and into the open part in the middle. I was in luck: there were two seats open right next to the zone designated for wheelchairs and buggies (wheelchairs always have priority, though, but there were none that day). Two seats open! Next to my buggy! This never happens. But as I’m telling Lucy to squeeze into the seat a shrewd voice from behind me snaps, “You know you take up two seats when you do that!”

I was a little confused. Yes, I had taken two seats: one for me, one for my daughter, and squeezed the buggy against our legs to make room for another buggy that was already there. “Do what?” I asked the shrew, who I identified as a short, white-haired old woman who looked like a Gorg straight out of Fraggle Rock, only evil. A dark Gorg.

“Put your buggy there and leave no room for the rest of us with our trolleys to sit!”

Lucy with one of the 50 Paddington Bear Statues placed all over the city.

By this point the haggard Gorg was sitting down in an empty row across the aisle, with plenty of space for her small shopping trolley. “You’re sitting now, aren’t you?” I asked innocently enough, but with sarcasm lurking behind every word.

“You people with your buggies and your garbled gooka shrw badda ladda ding dong wakka lakka loo…”

By this point I was tuning her out because she was an intolerable old Gorg just trying to make trouble. Old women on buses fall into 3 categories in London: nasty as a witch on her period, sweet as mince pie, or quiet and invisible. You can guess which one the Gorg was. I ignored her, chatting with Lucy about school and her amazing performance in the play Cinderella earlier that day. The old Gorg talked at me all the while, Gorging on about buggies in the “trolley space” and how 50 years ago there would never have been a buggy on a bus and why is there now? Gorg gorg gorg gorg smooka gorg gorg.

Dave's company Christmas party at Abbey Road Studios. Once in a lifetime, man.

Dave’s company Christmas party at Abbey Road Studios. Once in a lifetime, man.

But then a new voice—a beautiful, articulate English voice—piped in. “Why do any of us have children at all? Why don’t we just become insufferable old ladies like you?”That made me turn my head. She was close to my age with long brown hair and glasses, book in hand, just trying to have a peaceful ride on the bus. But then she stuck up for me (the English, as a rule, don’t converse with strangers—this was HUGE). I could have hugged her.

“Yes!” I replied in my most sarcastic tone. “Wouldn’t that be fun? Gosh, why did I have children at all?” Then I quickly turned to the kids and told them they are my everything and Mommy was just having an argument with a wicked old Gorg with warts covering her nose. Not to worry.

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I got to sit in the studio where more than 190 Beatles songs were recorded. Even though I’m a Stones girl through and through, it took my breath away.

I’m not old, you’re old,” the Gorg retorted. Nice try, but she was grasping at straws. Now it was two against one.

“The sign says ‘wheelchairs and buggies’. It doesn’t say anything about trolleys. So just leave her alone,” my savior spit.

“Did I ask for your opinion? Because I don’t remember asking you for anything. Why don’t you just shut up!” Gorg was getting super gorgy, the warts swelling on her nose and threatening to burst.

“I didn’t know I had to answer to you,” Savior quipped. “I can say anything I like. I’m expressing my opinion and don’t tell me to shut up.”

“I’ll tell you anything I damn well please,” the bitch snarled. “Gorg gorg gorg gorg gorg gooooga gorg gorg!”

Our living room and pint-sized tree decked out for the holiday.

Our living room and pint-sized tree decked out for the holiday.

“Excuse me,” a new, lovely, brilliant voice piped in, “but this lady has a right to ride on the bus with her buggy and her children without being harassed. And now you’re harassing other passengers as well.” She was a middle-aged Indian woman, who at first I dismissed as the meek seat companion to my Savior. But whoa, she was not meek. She couldn’t take it anymore. “You need to calm—“

The Gorg snapped at her before she could finish. “I’m not harassing her. You people are harassing me! This woman called me old. She called me an old woman. I’m going to have you all thrown off the bus! Gorga gorge wakka wakka ding dong lolo gorg gorg*!”

*If you haven’t noticed by now I use Gorg Gibberish whenever I can’t recall the specific phrasing or the Gorg said something explicit.

At this point most of the back of the bus had moved as far away from the Gorg as they could (this is totally English—stay far away from conflict). My Savior and her seat companion were now sitting behind me (Savior was chatting with Lucy and I, making light of the situation and helping us all tune out the Gorg), and the rest of the passengers were all sitting on our side leaving the Gorg alone on the left. She probably didn’t notice. If you can’t tell by now, the Gorg is a little self-centered.

Lucy at the London Chocolate Festival beside--you guessed it--a solid dark Belgian chocolate dalek from Doctor Who!

Lucy at the London Chocolate Festival beside–you guessed it–a solid dark Belgian chocolate dalek from Doctor Who!

The trip went on like this for what seemed like hours. Through Queen’s Grove, St. John’s Wood Station, Lord’s Cricket Ground…the Gorg just chattered on and on, blasting us for this and blaming us for that. Finally at Park Road she rose to exit the bus. And—what luck!—she had a friend also exiting the bus who had come down from the upper deck. “Well hello, darling!” she greeted. She transformed into a totally different person. A non-Gorg. An almost civilized human being, even.

Exiting the bus with her trolley and her old fart friend, I heard her explaining (incorrectly) the situation on the bus. “This rude woman cut me off with her buggy and left me with no room for my trolley—“ The bus doors closed and I could her nothing but a round of applause rising from behind me—everyone who had endured the Gorg’s wrath for 6 long stops, in traffic. But my eyes were still fixed on the Gorg, and when her eyes met mine, I thew her the bird. I stretched my middle finger as high as it would reach and mouthed “F#@% YOU!” Her eyes widened. Her friend’s mouth dropped. And the applause was deafening, now with people laughing and cheering as well. I was just glad it was over.

I never got those ladies’ names or emails or anything, though I should have. It takes a very special person to stand up for another in this country. Mostly it’s turn your head and look the other way. If they hadn’t have spoken up for me it probably would have ruined my day. But because I had allies, it morphed the Gorg into just that—a Gorg. A nobody. Someone so unhappy that she tried to bring other people down to her level. But that day she couldn’t catch me. Or the girls. Or the lovely women who stood by my side. So thanks, whomever and wherever you are.

Dave and I at the Southbank Christmas Festival.

I also promised a little about London at Christmas: it’s magical. Really. That’s a word that’s thrown around this time of year, but London does Christmas so big and so bright that it’s hard to imagine, being from the States. We have holidays that build up to Christmas—Halloween, Thanksgiving, then Santa comes. But here they don’t celebrate either of the latter so it’s just Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, three times as big and three times as long. Gifts and decor have been out since October. Seriously.

A lot of people have asked if it’s hard being away from my family and friends during the holidays. YES. It’s harder than I ever imagined it would be. Every gift, every light, every song—I think of them. I’m such a Momma’s girl that I’ve never spent Christmas away from my parents so this year is particularly hard. But I cling to my girls and remember that we’re giving them a magical Christmas, even if it’s a bit hard for me. We had a “pretend Christmas” this morning to open the gifts from family and friends, then we’re going to visit my sister-in-law in Germany and spend the actual holiday there. I’m told Germany is pretty fantastic at Christmas, too.

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Whatever you celebrate, count your blessings. I have so many, including my upturning health, which I’ll update you on next time.

Love to you and yours. xx

Jenny