on the #8 bus from Liverpool Street to Oxford Street, after a Sunday morning wander down Brick Lane. An ordinary morning, of junk markets and beigels, but, from the seat behind came a singsong voice, a running chant of names and shops and places:

Lloyds TSB
Royal Bank of Scotland
Only four floors remaining
Cards Galore
Perfect Gifts for all the Family
New air conditioned offices
Nat West
Towards Holborn or Aldwych
Nat West
Hurry Hurry--only two remaining
Sale NOW On
Sale Sale Sale
Call NOW
For sale or let
Nat West

Trying to look at her without turning, fix on a reflection instead, I saw an old woman with a tight grey perm, looking out of the window, reading off signs and hoardings, and, most importantly, the name of every bank. We couldn't work it out: was she just learning to read, perhaps, and felt the need to rehearse the text to voice translation? Maybe she didn't realise that she was speaking the words aloud. Maybe her companion was a blind bank worker, who needed to be reassured that all the banks were still there, lining the highways in fiscal barricades. Her tone was flat, lacking all surprise, except for a tone of pleasure and vilification whenever she was able to read out the signs from the several buildings of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

She didn't distinguish between sales stickers, bus signs, hoardings or grafitti. They all came out in the same tone: boredom, laced with a hint of 'I told you so'. She didn't sound that interested in the words she read aloud as the bus stop-started along the roads.

I started to get the giggles. Tried to work out if she was a spy, relating some terrible secrets in a geographical code, shopfront signposts cracking the secrets of the nation. I had to shush snarl repeatedly, as we whispered about her just a little too loudly.

But was I any stranger for pointing out the phrasing of signs that I had noticed all the day before? "takeaway banana" (I had wanted to steal that one); "please use the feelers provided" (I looked around for insect accoutrement, and was disappointed that there were only amputated stocking legs hanging in a limp brown bundle); "Happy Lady: King of Kitchen" (the only saucepans suitable for the jovial cross-dressing monarch in your life).

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