by Mat Woolfenden
penniless pot poet, a pending pen arrives for work. The slacker chap – leaper train carriage grinds the straight edge.
I swing lead legs and depart station fan at a shoulder by the sky, weave cabs, bus garage, hop through a dark arcade, skipping drowsy piles of sleeping bags in every doorway and nine o’clock and every day I greet the Rhodesian uniformed security officer. He wears Santa’s beard, toes tramps with a boot.
‘Get up. You cannot sleep here. Clear off or I fetch the broom,’ says the Saffa.
Ghosts gather fix of blanket eyes, hitch jeans, slough-slide Victoria Street, milling upon our Catholic cathedral square, begging crumbs astride pet pigeons. The daylight party over there, rush around, a school playground. Men, some are spider-webbed – tattoos tan on our beach, man
where I hang out the back of a Routemaster double-decker bus. Ship parked up for the capture of Euro-American natives. We grift the gates of Buckingham Palace.
‘Is this the bus for Buckingham castle?’
‘Yes sir,’ I reply.
‘How much, buddy?’ he says.
‘Is twelve pounds sir, the journey to two hours.’
‘Takes dollars? Hang on. Honey, Honey – I can’t understand the guy. He says palace too pants.’
‘Do what the man says.’
Eujamerigan, either end of the barrel from my experience is larger than my life and the world a richer place for that: huge, healthy, or post-combat like the fella. Hairy humongous fiddles with a string of cameras slung across his chest, a baseball cap, I remember all shapes, sizes make the journey I too await with the driver on back seats. Scotsman pal. An old boy, seventy years, flat cap, black teeth and the medals’ ridge runs long his veteran’s blazer pocket.
‘Bus driving was a profession. Not like now, Aye recall Marble Arch Nineteen Forty-four: “Time for a knee-trembler, darling?”’ said the girls a long time ago.
‘Do you like a knee-trembler, son?’ he says.
‘Pass, oh pass me please, sit with the views upstairs, madam. Up the stairs.’
The bus top full of feet. Half a dozen, the soft and the sick, sit below with me. Cockney point-controller handles cash and wears a peaked hat, belly, B O and tatts too, my brother, though his sub-species is rough.
‘Off you go. Full house. There’s twenty Korean up there, I said you’d talk slowly. Go on, fuck off.’
Mac climbs into his cab and guns the engine. I slouch recess seat in hollow at the back of bus. Jumped to feet I ring the bell twice.
The best guide in London may well be the worst microphone player. Timing, my vowel annunciation, I mean I bust a bizarre bass oration sound of the geriatric senator when really I remain scallywag brat.
‘Good morning ladies and gentlemen, my name is Matt. Welcome to London. I am live-guided.’
‘Down the stairs, downstairs.’
Hide, seek the back of heads, ears twitch, attune to the rhythms of my voice as I establish if anybody understands a word I say; finish cigarette off the back step with the mic cable’s tail, like a rat man. No, a happy boy I climb the stairwell of the bus, show face, otherwise reading yesterday’s paper.
Incredible how the mind runs twin track.
I watch myself, listen to speech while people go happy on top, what can be better than ride? Capital, wind in the hair with family, friends, the way I speak sends types around the bend, the volume high set, an irritating sense of humour.
My days achieve all this.
Doth tongue at the end, count twenty pounds change for the hydraulic sandwich fund. Trip four times and day is done, loopy patter repeated threads spill trails in mind, tour guiding in sleep. Success rate of seventy percent with the spiel, a great fail, but typically:
‘Hot damn, you’re so funny. Tell me that Winston Churchill again!’
‘I may be drunk but you are ugly, mister.’
‘Ha ha ha. Hey son,’ he drops ten cents into my palm.
‘Thank you, sir.’
Englishman says –
‘You’re like a young Tommy Steel, you are lad. Tommy Steel on the stage.’
‘Yes I should,’ I rage. ‘Mrs Brunhilde?’
‘Bond Street for our toy shop, madam.’
Stop. Toast, ten minutes. The Queen Victoria always open for a lavatory. Away.
‘Iron Lady, blue years’ hand-bagged’ and half my lifetime wasted talking English.
‘Did he say, Mary something about his old lady? We’re going to see a lady, Mary.’
‘Good ladies and gentlemen.’
‘He said Upstairs Downstairs.’
‘And I love that show.’
My bus pulls aside an exquisite Belgravian row. Machine-gun cop guards the street but stares at me. Trigger-twitch finger, a fellow daydream, I imagine, and treat him to full blast profundo, Hammer horrors of a:
‘Is a what, where?’
‘Take the photo.’
And feel the top deck stir, squirm, standing in their eyes on feet in goggled stare.
‘What is he talking about?’
Belgrave Square’s finest flags flutter from first floor consulate balconies.
‘Identify embassies of Dulland, Frass, and Raq, Lilliputt, Scotlon, Khat,’ I say
edging Hyde Park Corner among motor cars, encircled the artillery guns’ poke toward Flanders Fieldz.
‘What passing bells for those who died?’ Tribute trilled in the chaffing, and trite outside a Lanesbrough Hotel, I reveal where
‘Michael Jackson dangles babies from the window,’ awaiting
‘Michael his-name? The guy Apsley is the who?’
‘House, madam. Duke of Wellington is and was still a Number One London Irishman “born in a stable does not follow I am horse,” he said during lifetime.’
‘A horse,’ she declaress.
‘And behold finally on our left side the Queen Mother Gates reflect in sculpt the curve of monarch’s majestic breasts.’
Oh dear and why surely, and why say such a thing? And chap, I don’t know why. I read an article in the press and not a crowd-pleaser for certain we will scratch out my eyes before I fall to crap all day long. Instead manage, squeeze the new build of my:
‘Hilton, however high a hotel – in one man parachute sailed from top – exploding upon whale beach.’
The faces sit now pale and miserable. Hyde Park spreads and all wilderness blows:
‘To our left.’
And like tumbleweed we are drawn to Speakers’ Corner, goodness knows why we lose a load?
‘Hop-on hop-off the world, join the crazies on the crates,’ I say and wrangle forty replacement prisoners any given Sunday at the Tyburn Tree.
A nun prays over the gallows’ spot, a touch at half-time. I breathe, man the mic. I make amends:
‘My friends: toot de toot, toot, toot, toooooot,’
I run upstairs and I salute ‘The Embassy of the United States of America…’
We all cheer and ride on buddies through Mayfair.
About the author
Mat Woolfenden lives in Scarborough, England. Writing for almost a decade he was shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writers’ Prize 2013, longlisted for Fish which he thinks is prestigious. Published in Open Pen Magazine a lot, he headlined for their outfit during narration evenings in the capital and certainly Mat should exploit this narrator ‘talent.’ Published inside Litro, inside Hobo Pancakes(RIP) & on-line perhaps discover ‘My Ride On the 26’ which is good fun and indeed bus-related? Mat’s scrap-book dwells @ drysailorboy.wordpress.com. Appearances include BBC Radio York in 2020, 2021 narrating ‘Mudland’ plus a section of his ‘Big Dog In Persia,’ he seeks publisher buddy, works in mental health and nnnnng, and the photo is also a decade old, but relevant. More fat, more hairy in 2021
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