Conversation starters, UK style

by Rijuta Dey
7 February 2010
Originally published at The First Pint ( short url: )

Travelling around UK on a shoestring budget is achievable if you are ready to contend with cramped bus journeys and of course – nosey and unusual travelling companions. Undeterred, I have taken full advantage of cheap bus tickets available through the ‘funfares’/megabus combo and travelled around this island-nation.

Drawing by Andre LewisAll my life I have had the singular luck of getting only oddballs/weirdos/fartbags as travelling companions. I wasn’t let down on the eight hour Manchester-London night journey last weekend either.

An oldish man with silvery floppy hair (a bit like Einstein, but straightened) sat next to me, clutching a huge duffel bag the entire way. He smelled strongly of alcohol and worryingly lurched towards me with every twist and turn of the bus. I tried to ignore him the best I could in that cramped space, burying my face in a book titled “The Rise of Islam.”

We’ve all had moments where we’ve been thrown by a native’s odd conversation-starter but I’ll bet anyone that what the man said to me after the first two hours is the weirdest ice-breaker ever. “Are you Muslim?” I heard him rasp in my direction. When I answered in the negative, he proceeded to tell me why he had asked so (resolutely ignoring my uninterested expression). “Ah, you see, I was once travelling with a Muslim family and they refused to eat the mince pies I offered them, as it was not halal.”

“Umm, so..?” I asked, genuinely confused.

“But they were having chips! Fried in animal fat!”

I knew from that point that I was doomed to fate of a series of excruciatingly stupid and unsolicited opinions from this Londoner.

He continued to prod me into conversation. Seeing the cover of my book, he enquired after my religion. “I am Hindu,” I replied tentatively, bracing myself for another brilliantly incisive comment. I wasn’t disappointed.

“Oh! So you guys pray to flying monkeys, huh?”

The next six hours proved to be unexpectedly amusing as Mr. Rock Star (he claimed that he was a teacher/street-musician) regaled me with opinions about everything, from Gordon Brown to Agatha Christie. He was wearing dark glasses throughout the journey and every time he got excited, he would push them up his forehead, only for them to flop down again. No kidding, he talked for six hours straight, fiddling with the glasses all the time.

His parting shot to me was another gem. “Ah, we Londoners are ALL against the 2012 Olympics.”

“Umm, why..?”

“The bombs can go off again! So bloody unsafe…”

I rest my case.


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