"But nobody, absolutely nobody, hates you as much as the people who make English bus shelters. I've no idea why, but their most earnest wish, the single-minded thought that carries them through every working day, is to make sure that no user of a bus shelter in the United Kingdom ever experiences a single moment's comfort. So all they give you to rest on is a red plastic slat, canted at an angle so severe that if you fail to maintain a vigilant braced position you will slide off, like a fried egg off Teflon."
(Bill Bryson. The Road to Little Dribbling)
I really like Bill Bryson. In fact I once got very much into the habit of consulting his anthology of Stateside articles, Notes from a Big Country, as if it were a shabby Bible, and realized that beneath the humorous carapace was a very good journalist indeed, with an eye for detail ("Iowa women are almost always sensationally overweight"), an ironic delivery of economic fact ("the United States Congress ... recently voted to give the Pentagon $11 billion more than it asked for") and a delightful way of describing American buses:
"...Most of the people on long-distance buses are one of the following: actively schizoid, armed and dangerous, in a drugged stupor, just released from prison, or nuns."
It helps to have that quote to hand whenever I'm jawing on about the perils of crossing the States and people start looking sceptical. It reminds me of the time I got reluctantly back on a Greyhound bus in Salinas, followed closely by the local sheriff and two ex-cons. In fairness, they made no trouble and I even chatted to one for a time before he got off at Berkeley. Any schizoids aboard were probably already in a drugged stupor, no one fired a gun and I didn't notice any nuns.
All of which is a far cry from the stop for Stuart's service 30/31 'tween Lanark and Wanlockhead. It is indeed another world, but in defence of British bus shelters they built a new one on our main road the other month and though its design may not be quite art deco sublime, it's clean, efficient and neat, no weeds grow through the asphalt floor and it's a far, far better thing than the tiring transparent box it replaced, with its scratched plastic panels, shrubbery pushing against the base and (every single time) one discarded sweet wrapper whistling on the wind.
I wouldn't quite call it comfortable (I guess sadism still lurks deep within the genes of those who devise such shelters), but it's a nice change from the previous craphole. Photographed from the right angle there's even the church in the distance and sheep on the lea.
Oft-times, dear old Bill turns a moribund eye on Britain, from gloaming glen to dribbling hill, and that I too should do.
But remember this, old boy, there's at least one foreign road and humble stop worth catching the eye of Hopper, Constable or Rockwell
Mind you, if a Greyhound draws up, run like hell.
James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau and The Legend of John Macnab. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.Suggest a correction