You look at him and see only a bus conductor. He seems wise in the ways of drunks at 11.30pm, and mothers on their first outing with a baby at 10am. The worlds never collide except through him, and he brings his cold blue eyes to rest on all of it. He is in his mid fifties now, hair completely white, which he expected, and is grateful to still have hair and not be bald. He rides the bus through London, sweeping along the curve of the river from the west end to the city and back again, scooping up tourists, shoppers, lawyers, bankers and mingling them up on the worn seats of his Routemaster. This is his last summer as a conductor, with the withdrawal of the hop on and off London Bus coming sooner than anyone likes. No more swinging on the pole. No more collecting fares and checking tickets. No more dispensing the freedom of the city from the back of his bus.
It’s not the first time his life has been swiped out from under him. The first time was in ’89, when the stock markets went down and swirled his life around the plughole at the same time. Only just over forty, and slung out onto Gracechurch Street with all the other clueless suits. He didn’t have time to worry about what people would think, with a mortgage over his head, interest rates at fifteen per cent, and Barbara on diazepan. He saw the ad in the Standard on the train home, and thought ‘fuck it’. Applied, got the job, was out of his training before most of his former colleagues had realised their jobs really weren’t coming back and they’d have to find something else to do. Did he miss it? Of course he did. There were holidays in Florida, his Audi, the crisp collar of a hundred quid shirt against his neck, his heart racing in his chest when he made a good trade. The only way he got anywhere near that thrill these days was throwing a cocky, drunk trader off his bus on Cheapside on a Friday night, which, some might say, he did with more regularity than even they deserved.