It is fitting that on this fifth day of November, my very first Bonfire Night in well over fifteen years, I was transported back in time. This morning I made a distinct tactical error by "experimenting" with my commute to work, and deciding to "give the bus a try." I was by far the oldest person on the thing, the other seats being crammed with every assortment of school-uniformed adolescence you can imagine. Why I did not just poke my head around the door, scan the scene, and promptly opt for the train instead, I'll never know. Instead I paid for my ticket and hauled myself, very stupidly, to the top deck where about 50 teenagers were crammed and getting up to no good whatsoever. I quickly turned around to try my chances with the bottom level, but they'd seen me and cackled at my embarrassment as I made my way down "We're LAFFIN at you, Mrs!" (Yes. I know. Thanks for vocalizing it for me).
So I spied one spare seat and wedged myself next to the poor teenage boy who had clearly been selected as School Pariah, and whose fate was not at all helped by the fact that the practically middle-aged woman sitting next to him was (according to the other kids) "his girlfriend." I sat there with my iPod on, trying to look dignified and pretend I couldn't hear any of them, but their clamour completely drowned out anything I could listen to. So I sat there pretending to listen and took note of how school buses still smell of farts and raging hormones after all these years, how they are still very much that space where pecking orders are established, where language is unutterably foul, and where teenage girls can sit on one anothers' laps and flirt outrageously with the spotty youths who are learning to be men by trying to flirt back and by calling one another "girls" to mitigate the attempts.
"One day" I thought, "One day my sons will be taking this journey, and I won't be here to help them navigate."
It was quite a ride, and not one I intend to repeat any time soon. The school bus must remain a sacrosanct space, and I am much happier on the 8:09 train with all the rest of the bourgy commuters, fiddling with my new blackberry, listening in on phone calls, and reading the paper. If nothing else, it stinks a lot less.
Tonight we will take our boys to their first Bonfire night and teach them the gunpowder, treason and plot rhyme. We'll explain where the tradition comes from, because we'll have freshly googled it during the day. Mummy and Daddy and Fireworks will be the centre of the universe. At least for a little longer.