Since waxing lyrical about cycling I’ve had a strikingly hallucinatory epiphany where a clump of trees suddenly turned into burning bushes as the last rays of the setting sun hit them; I’ve fixed a puncture in the pitch black by recourse to my old duffer bicycle to get me from home to the point of pricking; and I’ve made a couple of work commutes by that autumnal alternative, the bus.
Bus journeys in the Cotswolds are queer experiences: regional services have a level of borderline unprofessionalism which dovetails nicely with the human, sympathetic and engaged personality, which typically emanates from the frequently mad-as-teeth drivers. I wouldn’t have them any other way, and there’s a blogpost to be written about the X9 (and maybe K. is the one to write it): but my focus here is elsewhere.
Rainy days on buses are mixed blessings. The bigger, beefier machines lock all their windows and let their passengers steam themselves to sweaty fatigue. Glass steams up and people start to smell like dogs who’ve been fooling around in the stream. The local buses, in contrast, are a little colder and sharper, with doors that limit the amount of heat they can contain, but better for it. You get on in autumn or even winter gear and you by and large feel comfortable staying in it.
Wet mornings right now are still a joy. The carpet of brown leaves is still fresh enough to turn practically verdant with the edition of a little moisture of a morning, and ducks still romp and footle in the streams between our house and the town-centre bus stop. Witney at ten to nine is still nowhere near as busy as, say, the Eynsham industrial estate, which means that waiting in it for a bus feels slightly illicit, like the still-confused part of a day off while you still feel like you should be at work.
Bus journeys north of Witney alternate between ram-packed with students of the Abingdon and Witney Farm Studies course and almost completely empty. Until the former get as far as Poffley End their interior is a wall of bodies, noise, flung conversation and impersonal stances, and all one can do beyond the age of 25 is keep one’s head down. At the farm campus, though, everyone bar two or three Charlbury stragglers is disgorged, and the bus begins to bounce and beetle its way between green fields and straggly hedges.
At the far end I have a long, sweeping walk along a driveway, contemplating nature slightly self-consciously but occasionally startling a game bird or, more rarely, a deer; or, more frequently, some of the stables horses nearby. If it’s raining then the very earth shines like polished wood, wanting to burst forth as if it briefly remembered the great excesses of June and July. The air is brambly-crisp and smells like the kick of a strong eau de vie. And the misty damp blocks out almost all sound, letting you walk through your own world. Just you, the damp silence, and an occasional frightened pheasant.