I’ve been meaning to tell this heart-warming true story of national unity online for almost two weeks now and just haven’t had a chance to: I keep being troubled by the strange and topical outbursts of The Voices In My Head.
I get on a Brighton bus at about eight, having had some delightful early-Friday-evening drink and conversation with Hot Wheels Helena and The Boy, who are in town visiting friends. As I board, I can hear there’s a kerfuffle going on at the back. Some Brighton & Hove double-deckers have sets of four face-to-face seats at the rear and the rowdiness seems to be coming from that area. I assume it’s just some pre-Friday-night-out drunken joshing and sit myself down about half way along the bus.
It’s soon clear to me that one guy seems to be the focus of the fuss. He is probably in his fifties, but looks older. He’s wearing camouflage and a hat and is slouched down in one seat of a foursome, muttering audibly. His muttering is non-stop. He streams insults and complaints at those around him, particularly against an olive-skinned Asian/Pacific late-teen/early-twentysomething iPod boy in the seat opposite him. People are telling Camouflage Geezer to shut up. He tells everyone loudly that he won’t. Both a late middle-aged white Englishman in a “Queens, New York” baseball cap and a big, friendly-looking twentysomething local white girl are telling him that he should get off the bus. The girl shouts up to the driver at the front, demanding that he kick the irritating man off.
Eventually the driver reaches a stop and can’t ignore the noise any longer. A couple of passengers nearer the front, afraid that the driver will interrupt his route to do something about the matter, tell the others at the back to ignore Camouflage Geezer. The passengers at the back complain that those at the front aren’t the ones having to put up with his abuse. The bus driver turns off the engine and leaves his cabin to investigate. I think this is the first point at which I hear the passengers at the back accuse Camo Geezer directly of racism. This sets him off.
“I AM NOT A RACIST! They are calling me a racist. I have never been a racist! I was in the Anti-Nazi League in the 70s! I AM NOT A RACIST!”
Passenger: “You are racist! Get him off the bus!”
The driver asks the man politely if he’ll leave the bus so that everyone else can continue with their journey.
“I am not getting off the bus! I AM NOT A RACIST! You can’t even get on the bus now without being accused of being a racist.”
The kid opposite him who has been the focus of his abuse finally snaps, pulls his other in-ear phone out, and stands up to shout at Camo Man.
“Just shut the fuck up!”
“I am not a racist!”
“SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
“…I WILL NOT SHUT UP! YOU CAN’T ACCUSE ME OF BEING RACIST. I was in the Anti-Nazi League!”
The bus driver gives up. After calling back to base:
“Sorry, you’re all going to have to get on to the next bus. Your tickets will all be valid!”
Groans from the front.
“I AM NOT A RACIST!”
Then Camo Man decides he has found a get-out. Pointing in the direction of iPod Boy he says to the others:
“I didn’t know he wasn’t black! I thought he was black, okay?”
People start trickling off the bus. With the engine stopped and the driver not settling back behind the wheel, it’s clear to everyone it won’t be going anywhere. Surprisingly quickly, another bus appears and we all start streaming on. Camo Man stays in his original seat, where, after another brief run-in with iPod Boy, he remains, muttering to himself. As we are walking to the new bus I share some sympathetic words with iPod Boy and tell him that I was pleasantly surprised that the driver did the right thing. We all pile on board and it isn’t even overcrowded. Once we’re moving the traffic is pretty slow though.
After passing a couple more stops our bus is waved down by a police patrol car coming the other way. The cop in the driver’s seat leans out and, in a slightly bored voice, shouts up to our new driver:
“Are you the one with the nutter?!”