I’ve been on the bus for maybe 8 mins and I’ve just thought to check my phone. It’s been in the bottom of my bag for the morning, underneath tubes of dye, hand cream, a camera and all sorts of odds and ends. I’ve been sitting reading the second Game of Thrones book – A Clash of Kings – it’s taking me a lot longer than the first because I’ve not locked myself in my room for two days this time, so a half hour bus trip, plus the time waiting for it to come, is a good to crack on with trying to finish it. I dug around for my phone as the bus was waiting at the roadworks at the outskirts of town.
There are two texts and an answerphone message – I can’t access the answerphone message, but the texts tell me something I really should have checked earlier. My hair appointment, the one I’m on the bus for, has been cancelled. Bugger, I’m annoyed but there’s not a lot that can be done.
I’ve decided to get off at the next stop, which is the village of Farthinghoe. I’ve been through it millions of times but I don’t think I’ve actually set foot there. That seems odd to me, so I’ll take this opportunity to take a look around. I walk past the hedge and take some photos of the allotment behind it. I’ve been taking a series of photos of my walk to work and the countryside changing from Summer to Autumn in front of me and it’s good to have different locations to look at.
At the end of the hedge is a huge oak tree that in all these years I’ve never noticed it. I really don’t know how. It’s easily a few hundred years old. It has acorns sprouting all over it, most of them a vivid green, some beginning to brown and fall to the ground. I take some pictures with bemused looks from locals taking in their bins.
I continue on towards the bus stop, spotting a lion in the school playground.
The churchyard next door has many aging and worn headstones but one stands out in particular. It looks brand new, untouched by age and time, it’s bright and clean. At first I think it must have been recently added. Private —, possibly a casualty of recent wars, but no. It’s actually from a long past one. That headstone has possibly been standing for 67. He was killed in 1945.
I love churchyards and churches. I’m in no way religious, but I love the way that they were created with love, care, skill and attention. They are still and peaceful, there is a state of quiet that is hard to find elsewhere. I take some time looking around reading the headstones because I feel that they are there to remember someone who was loved. Reading them continues on the remembrance.
The bus shouldn’t be long, I continue onto the bus stop, it’s wooden and set back from the road, a good amount of shelter. I sit down, taking out my book to continue where I left off. A small movement in the corner of my eye makes me look up, it’s too distracting to try and keep on reading. I move the small brown spider from the sleeve of my coat to rest on the bench. I don’t think it wants to come all the way home with me. I look down again as an old man approaches the bus stop. He has black shoes held together with black electrical tape, holding in dark thick, woolly socks. Baggy black corduroy trousers, a shirt and jacket with some sort of button pinned to the lapel.
“Are you waiting for the bus?” he asks me.
“Yes, back to Brackley.”
“Do you live there then?”
“Yes, well, no, just outside the town.” He sits down next to me, resting a worn walking stick between his knees. He smells of Murray mints, which is quite reassuring. He begins telling me how he’s taking a trip to Tesco to get out of the house. I put my book away and turn to face him to listen.
“I’m going to Tesco, I don’t have the patience to just sit in that chair. My granddaughter and my son, she’s his girl, are coming tomorrow and would chew my ear off if they find out I’ve been out today! But I can’t just sit in.”
I would guess he’s in his 90s, bright white hair on the top of his head, greying lower down the sides. He has a highly animated face, cheeks full of broken capillaries and a mouth almost void of teeth. He’s very chatty and smiley and people walking by wave at him, he’s obviously recognised in the village.
“Of course I’ve been around here for years! Nineteen forty, I was in the Lancaster bombers during the war. I was stationed ’round here and there was one of those land girls in the field next door, so I stayed, that was 1940.” He smiles at the memory. I try asking where he was before the war but his hearing is perhaps not so good and he continues talking.
“After I got out I was 33 years on the buses, Midland Red line it was then. We had the 10.30 service from Banbury and you know what sorts we had on that! It used to go to the market place, up to Top Station, turn around and go back again. The bus coming here’ll be late what with Banbury market today. It should be here though…” He looks up the road, but it’s not easy to see the oncoming traffic from where he’s sitting.
“And once in a while we’d take the big trip – to Blackpool Illuminations. I picked up some from Brackley, 8 from Banbury, those Brummies from the Bull Ring and then of course, as I said, there was a pile up on the motorway. I went bumper into the back of a truck.”
He lifts his right leg a little to show me and taps on it.
“Two inches shorter and a metal knee, so that was that.
“I was sitting with my granddaughter right there.” He points to the empty space next to him. “And we were counting up how many there are now, just coming from that meeting in 1940. My wife and me, we had 4 children, then there’s 7 great grandchildren, with two on the way, so we got up to 34 with me and my wife.”
He tells me more about his bus route, there is an element of repetition, but that’s Ok. He talks about his family, he was 20 when he met the land girl who became his wife. “I chased her, but she chased me too,” he laughs “They always said it were the boys doing the chasing but the girls did too!”
We are on the bus now, he passes me a Murray mint and tells me how he was stationed in Abingdon on the Wellington bombers, then moved onto the Lancasters in Wyton, how all through the war the only injury he got was a cauliflower ear playing rugby for the squadron. He bought a house in Evenley on the green (nice) from an auction. He points out where the station was, talks about the aerodrome in Turweston, how it was taken over by his friend who kept pigs there and he used to feed the pigs and work the combine harvester to get a bit of extra money. I catch him referring to himself as Jack and check if that’s his name.
“Yes, well it’s John, but years ago there was another man called John, known as Jack who lived in Banbury. Well he raised and bred greyhounds and the lads there thought I was him and called me Jack from then on and it stuck.” His sons want him to move to a home but he says he’s happy in his own chair and in his own bed even if he’s on his own a lot.
Jack has made my day, he is so cheerful and lovely to listen to. I ask him if I can take a photo and try to explain that I would write about him. I don’t think he is listening, but he rings the bell for me when we come to my stop. I get off and he travels on to Tesco for his day out.