The danger of making assumptions is that sometimes things go horribly wrong.
I had put off calling him for about twenty minutes, but I had an odd feeling in my stomach somewhere.
I hoped he was late just because he’d been messing around with the other wee boys after rugby training, but I couldn’t imagine them doing that in the dark. Something felt … off.
I rang him.
“Where are you?”
“Dunno” came the nonchalant reply. I could actually hear the shrug in his voice.
“It’s getting late - are you nearly home?” I asked, trying not to reveal my apprehension.
“Och no. I’ve no idea where I am. I’ve been on the bus for ages” he replied cheerily.
Trying not scream into his ear, I asked carefully “Okay … What can you see?”
“Houses …? Shops …? A pub, maybe …?”
“A PUB? WHAT PUB?” I screamed into his ear.
Simultaneously berating and congratulating myself for my old student habit of being able to mentally navigate Edinburgh most excellently by pub names and locations.
Usually. I didn’t recognise that one.
My heart rate sprang into orbit and I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing.
He was 11. Only 11. Only just 11.
And that day he got on a Lothian bus ALL BY HIMSELF for the very first time.
What could possibly go wrong?
I had primed him so well.
He had to walk a short distance from his rugby training to a bus stop on the main road.
It’s one of the main arterial roads that radiates from Edinburgh’s centre out to the edges of the city where we live – a straight road that I thought was really familiar to him.
It was about six bus stops from rugby to home. Less than ten minutes.
I showed him the bus stop when we drove down to rugby training. The exact bus stop. Told him ONLY to get a number X or a number Y bus.
Gave him the right money, told him to put it in the slot and ask the driver for a child ticket.
Told him to take the ticket, watch out for the stop where he needed to get off (which he knows very well), ring the bell, and say thank you to the driver when he got off the bus.
And reminded him not to dawdle on the ten minute walk from there to the house.
A wrong assumption
But I missed out something so blindingly obvious, something adults don’t even think of, it’s so obvious to us.
I didn’t tell him buses go both ways.
The number X not only goes from the town centre out to the edges where we live, but it also comes back IN from the edges, into the centre and then out the other side.
So, standing at the appointed bus stop, he sees the number X coming towards him on the other side of the road heading INTO town and assumes that I told him the wrong stop, as look! There’s a number X bus!
Okay so it’s on the other side of the road, but hey, Mammy must have got the stop wrong. I’ll nip over and get it.
Magical mystery tour or highway to hell?
On he hops, oblivious to the fact he’s heading into town and not out of it. Going in completely the wrong direction. Going further and further away from home. In a big city. All on his own. After dark!
And at the end of that bus route? One of the dodgiest parts of Edinburgh, right on the opposite edge of town.
Thanking every single god that I don’t believe in that we’d given him a wee cheapy emergency mobile phone, Mr Green shot off in the car to get to somewhere near the end of the bus route. Hopefully to be there waiting for our lad to get off the bus.
The signs were there
In the meantime I got on Google Streetview and got him to describe his surroundings.
He saw a particular sign on the wall of a building I recognised … I knew where that was, told him to get off the bus, and go straight over and wait right next to it, as it was well lit and busy.
Better wait there and be safe rather than wait at the end-of-route bus stop on the street on his own after dark in that part of town.
He got off the bus, still talking to me on the phone.
But his bus had gone past that building, and now he couldn’t find it. He couldn’t see the big sign anymore.
He was now walking around this part of town looking for a building he’d only spotted once and was starting to get a little concerned.
HE was slightly concerned...
... I tried to hide the fact from him that I was hyperventilating and trying not to be sick in my mouth.
“I’m on a bridge now” he told me.
That didn’t make me feel much better.
“There’s a canal …”
What if some wee neds came along and nicked his phone and his bag and pushed him in?!
I found the exact spot on Google Streetview, saw it was right next to a deserted industrial estate in this particular neighbourhood, and imagined all sorts of vile scenarios.
Abduction. Mugging. Assault. Murder …
“Stay on that bridge and do not move one single muscle or speak to anyone till we pick you up. Don’t make eye contact with anyone! In fact, just become invisible!” I ordered.
He came in the front door half an hour later quite chuffed with himself after his wee adventure.
He didn’t even notice my hair had turned white and my face was a street map of wrinkles.
The moral of the story?
Never assume the way you see things is the way everyone else sees them.
I had no idea he wouldn’t have known buses run in both directions, because to me it was as obvious as looking both ways when you cross the road.
He laughed when he got in, asking me if I’d been worried.
“Don’t be daft, I trust you to look after yourself” I lied.
Resolving never to let him on a bus again on his own till he left high school.
Have you ever been caught out by a really basic assumption like this about what other people know or don’t know? Please tell me it’s not just me ..!
I learned my lesson from that
And I've carried it over into lots of things I do now.
In my business, it's made me a lot more careful when working with clients that I don't just assume what they want. I make sure I ask.
That's part of why I won't do a brand shoot for anyone without a proper planning meeting - it's my chance to ask questions and get lots of answers, so I don't fall foul of assumptions.
That works both ways, of course. I try to make it really clear to the people I work with how the process works and what they get at the end of it.
After all, it's better I say at the outset that the removal of dental braces is classed as "extra retouching" which has an associated extra cost.
It's better I say at the outset that the small business owners I photograph are NOT left to figure out for themselves how to sit, stand, and arrange themselves in front of my camera, because I talk them all through it.
It's better I say at the outset that they don't need to worry beforehand about coming up with location ideas, because we talk it through together based on what their brand needs.
So yep, don't make assumptions - it can go horribly wrong!
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