Bloody kids and little old ladies

Tuesday, December 7th, 2004

People are funny. And not always in a good way.

We've just had an unpleasant rush to finish a pile of tender documents as part of the bidding process for work from a government department. Unpleasant, as in staying-up-all-night-typing unpleasant.

And so at 3pm I was driving to the Post Office with a huge great wodge of documents metaphorically under my arm and very little thought for anything other than postal tariffs and delivery times. It's amazing how the sight of a road taped off by the police can concentrate the mind.

It was a fairly major road (long enough that the flashing blue lights at the far end were barely visible) and its closure was causing a certain amount of confusion, with cars and buses being waved off into the depths of an estate from which, frankly, many of them will have been lucky to emerge with all four wheels still attached. It's like that in places around here. Part of the way down the road was a ruddy great bus at a crazy angle.

With little to be gained by gawping, I went into the Post Office and joined the queue. It took a full hour to post my documents, and by the end of it I'd heard two contradictory versions of what had happened.

In one, a small boy had been hit by the bus while crossing the road. His head was bleeding and he was bawling his eyes out but in all other respects he was unharmed. In the second version, the child was a small girl and she'd been airlifted to hospital. There was a lot of maternal clucking from the mothers in the queue, and low murmurs of “and just before Christmas, too”.

But the first I heard talk about it, in a loud and whiny voice, was a scabrous, rheumy-eyed, old woman in dirty pink woolly stockings – not the sort that gives you fresh-baked cookies at Christmas but instead the sort that waves her stick at you and phones the council to complain when you're playing in the street on the new bicycle that Santa brought.

The conversation went like this:

Postmistress: I saw it all taped off when I got back from lunch – what happened?

Old woman: A little girl got knocked over by the H25, they're stopping all the buses going through.

Postmistress: Is she alright?

Old woman: I don't know. There's no buses going through at all.

Postmistress: That's terrible.

Old woman: Yes it is, I had to walk here, there were no buses.

This column is, in general, a fan of little old ladies. They are a universal store of lore and wisdom, venerated by the Goddess, and (as Terry Pratchett points out) the driving force of many agricultural economies thanks to their load-carrying abilities.

But I make an exception for ones who value bus tickets over blood-soaked children.

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.