I've written before about public-transport-related woes. But I was reminded today of another ignominious incident I have hitherto neglected to share with you. An incident in which your beloved protagonist (me) suffered distress and humiliation. You love this stuff, don't you? And since this blog moves ever closer to being merely a vehicle for self-abasement, I have scant excuse not to share the tale.
For one reason or another, I found myself in the splendid metropolis of London. The city where nobody stops, where everyone is in a hurry.
I was tired; it was late. I'd spent a day at work, then travelled to aforesaid metropolis of ceaseless movement to attend a three-hour evening class in typography at St Martin's (highly to be recommended, I might add). Ahead of me I had the 90-minute bus ride back to Oxford.
I was waiting, friends, for that bus.
Imagine me, casual bus-awaiter, louchely propped against the railings of Hyde Park. Looking for all the world like A Man Who Knows A Bit About Typography. Radiating power-commuting nonchalance. At my side, cast there with elegant carelessness, my extremely stylish rucksack.
(I know, I know: 'stylish rucksack' – it's a tautology.)
So, with narrowed eyes, I scanned the horizon for the welcome glow of an approaching bus – half-hypnotised by the crossrhythms of the ceaseless traffic.
Encroaching gently upon my mellowed consciousness – almost soothingly – came a faint hissing. The sound, perhaps, of distant fountains trickling in a grand, Kubla-Khanish oriental pleasure dome.
Except that this wasn't actually all that distant.
Indeed, it was remarkably close. And it dawned upon your hero: 'My bag is hissing.'
Swivelling my eyes downward, howsoever, I was surprised to see a friendly face gazing up at me. A grinning, happy face. A face that seemed to say:
'I like you, friend. And I think you probably like me.'
It was a canine face.
And that canine face, dear reader, was attached to a canine body. A fully functioning canine body that (it emerged) was the source of that gentle hiss.
Just exactly what is it, precisely (I ask of you), with me and wrong-place-wrong-time nocturnal urinations?
Although I suppose it wasn't so much me that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was my rucksack.
My modest, functional, porous rucksack.
There are times (we all know) when one really hopes for an empty bus. I hope you will believe me when I say that I have never hoped so fervently as I did that night.
But it was not to be.
I was thus me with a dilemma for which the most meticulous of upbringings could scarcely have prepared me. A dilemma which might be framed thus:
'What is the etiquette for taking one's seat on a crowded omnibus, should one's valise, suitcase or pocketbook happen to be dripping with dog piss?'
Holding the offending, saturated article at arm's length (or as close thereto as could inconspicuously be managed), I shambled and shuffled my way onto the bus. I know not whether I left an incriminating trail of drips as I made my way mournfully up the aisle, finding my way to one of the few unoccupied seats.
As the bus' engine juddered into life, I consoled myself: the bag can be washed. The contents aren't valuable. The journey is not long. And at least – at least – I am the only one aware of the noxious marinade to which my luggage has been subjected.
Such meditations were (once again) interrupted, as I realised that the middle-aged woman in the seat behind me was speaking. And once again, as I turned my eyes in her direction, I was met by a grinning face, its head slightly cocked askance. In lilting accents, as if addressing a child, it spoke to me:
'Did the doggy do a wee on your bag?'