Coach story number one — the Wind-up baby chronicle


I don’t do it on purpose. I don’t climb on a coach and take a good look around, searching for the most perfect seat—the seat where i’ll be disturbed and irritated most. The seat opposite the masturbating man, behind the heart attack victim, in front of the loudest apple eater in the world, next to the baby that screams for England, and vomits for fun. I don’t sit in these seats on purpose. I don’t do it intentionally.

It just happens. Call it a skill, call it coincidence, call it the luck of the Irish.

All the above people exist. I find them, or they find me. And we sit together. For as long as it takes.


This wasn’t a long journey, but as with every journey I’ve been on in the last couple of weeks, the baby was there. That baby. You know the one I mean. It’s really loud.

When they got on the coach it was whimpering, by the outskirts of Glasgow the whimper was an aggressive moan, and by the time we hit the motorway, the howling was coming along nicely. She can only have been about 19 months, and desperately wanting to crawl around or stumble around the coach as best she could. But her parents decided this was a bad, bad idea. They wanted her to stay very still, and very quiet.

I saw the dad fumbling in a bag at his feet. “Ah,” I thought. “He’ll be getting a dummy.” I was wrong. It was a two-litre bottle of full strength Coke. Which he tipped to his baby’s lips and made soothing noises as she guzzled down at least 12 teaspoons of sugar and Christ knows how much caffeine.

Two minutes later, she was becoming quite painfully restless, desperate to get off her dad’s knee and run around. So, to persuade her to stay still, he’d give her more Coke, which made her want to run around more, which made her cry louder, which led to more Coke.

I turned up my personal stereo as loud as I could bear, but all the same from Glasglow to Carlisle I listened to

  1. Ella Fitzgerald, with louis armstrong and the wailing child orchestra
  2. Gorillaz, the high pitched keening remix
  3. Dean Martin, the bawling years, and
  4. Bach’s “screaming really loudly” suite, for string and caffeine-baby quartet.