The bus is late. I stand at the head of a lengthening queue outside the 99p Shop. Three lanes of traffic roar past us and a beer can rolls round our feet. 'We spend half our lives waiting,' says a tiny old man behind me. 'It is not good'.
I reflect on this this. The greater part of parenting involves waiting. Waiting in playgrounds, waiting at swimming lessons, waiting at the school gate. It's the aspect of child-care that the uninitiated find most challenging and it's the aspect, a mother of independent teenagers warns me, that she most misses.
Waiting, it strikes me, gives us time out of the rush and clamour to collect our harrassed thoughts. Time to wonder where that man with the yellow shoes is headed with that aspidistra. Time to rationalise a hurtful slight; to draft the next blog post; to ponder elusive cosmic mysteries. Why should flapping a J-cloth or lunging for fashion bargains be more valid activities than the rare stillness of time suspended.
Behind me there is a sepulchral moan. The old man is scanning the horizons from under his woolly bobble hat. I joke that the delay gives us a lull for philosphical thinking
'My head is full of philosphical thoughts,' he replies unexpectedly. He tells me he once lectured in Greenwich on astronomy and marine science. He tells me of tides and constellations and the relation between the waters and the skies. Briefly we stand there on the mucky pavement with our heads in the heavens. His small shabby figure seems for a moment a colossus.
Then the bus comes and he shrinks back into a stooped old man with a mini-mart carrier bag and I am once more a stressed mother who is late for the school run. But I am resolved to look forward to the next time that my bus is delayed.