Reading William McIlvanney’s recently republished Laidlaw, it would seem that the original Glasgow detective is also a shuffler. And, at that, one who sees both the rich (sometimes black) seam of humour in public transport, and also how it lends you insight into human nature – including that of the murderer.
Laidlaw, with his new sidekick Harkness, are on the bus (much to the latter’s surprise):
‘A car is psychologically sterile, a mobile oxygen-tent. A bus is septic. You’ve got to subject yourself to other people’s prejudices, run the risk of a mad conductor beating you to death with his ticket-punch. Two twenties, please.’
‘Now have ye thought about this?’ the conductor said. ‘There’s still time tae get aff. We stop for tea at the end o’ this run. Ah usually like tae go berserk at least once before ma tea-break.’
Laidlaw and Harkness laughed.
‘Ah’ll pit yer name in for a Ministry of Transport Medal then,’ the conductor said.
When he was gone, Laidlaw said, ‘Of course, the Underground’s worse. Then you’re sealed off in a revolving tube with everybody else’s hang-ups. Like laboratory specimens.’
Harkness shook his head.
‘And here was me thinking you just liked the view from upstairs on a bus.’
‘There is that,’ Laidlaw said. ‘I like sitting up at the front and playing at being the driver.’
Laidlaw lit a cigarette.
No more smoking on the bus, but – as Laidlaw urges Harkness – make yourself a traveller and not a tourist. Take the bus.