September 07, 2004



So on the way to meet Ray and Glueboot in Bloomsbury this evening for typically stimulating conversation, Sphaleotas and I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard. For those outside London: the Standard really is an uncommon joy - a peculiar mix of the Chris Morris you-couldn't-it-up-bizarre ('Tale of Rex, the Dog Cut Open to Smuggle Drugs'), Stelfox-infuriating bourgeois puffery (I'm a Victim of the Great Public School Rip-Off', fashion (beautiful pic of Christina Ricci from tomorrow's Pop magazine American Gothic photo-spread) and all sorts of other metropolitan bits and bobs, some written with perspicacity (The Times' Simon Jenkins is an occasional columnist, for instance).

But what particularly drew me to this edition was a report by Andrew Gilligan on the new 73 bendy buses.

The 73, the busiest bus-route in London, was the bane of my life when I lived in Stoke Newington. People think that Bromley is isolated, when the reality is that you are only ever 20 minutes away from central London by frequent train. Getting to and from the tubeless Stoke Newington, however, is like planning a prison break. The lurching, stop-start 73 journey through the cramped and soot-blackened claustrophobic streets of North London has always been nerve-scrapingly horrific, and you have to allow at least an hour to get from SN to the west end.

In fact, Sphaleotas and I had made the journey on the 73 up to Stoke Newington on Saturday. But the normal ordeal of the route was intensified by the fact that, only on Friday, the well-loved Routemaster double-deckers had been replaced by New Improved 'bendy buses' --- concertinaed progstrosities, which wheeze and lurch through the narrow thoroughfares with all the graceless, hulking ponderousness of tranquilized, wounded brontosaures.

The rationale for replacing the old buses remains slightly mysterious. I suppose the hop on, hop off permanently open door at the back of the Routemasters gave EU2's Health and Safety Nazis apoplexy. And the civilized notion of a conductor has for a while seemed like an absurd and unjustifiable luxury in central London's screwfaced Metronoiac meanness, which seems to have be driven by a malevolent will to make everything as nerve-shreddingly frustrating and obstructive as possible.

But why replace double-deckers with buses that take up so much space on the road and that have the turning circle of Lee Chapman? Ah, it must be Prog Tech...

When Sphal and I entered the bus on Saturday (having already gone through a version of the buy-a-ticket-at-the-machine-before-boarding farce recently hilariously recounted by Oliver --- there's a whole seething undercurrent of rage against this mangerialist innovation in London at the moment: every time buses stop, discontented passengers are airily waved away by the drivers, spitting and raging in fury at the stupidity of the new regime. It's something like this that will kickstart the revolution in Britain), we were told off, schoolma'am style, by the driver. 'Sit down, DON'T show me your passes....' Like we were callow K arriving in the Castle and unwittingly flouting one of its arcane protocols.

The bus wheezed as far as Newington Green before it seemed to have clapped out. Already late for our assignation with Glueboot, Infinite Thought, Mark s, smunk and others, we sat there, the driver on the radio to Central Control, for an interminable, indeterminate period, before the wounded leviathan stirred itself and we were on our laborious way again.

It was none other than Andrew Gilligan who wrote the report on the new buses in the Standard today, in a piece so saturated with bile that I could have written it.

'... after a cattle-car journey from Third World hell, I and 120 other Londoners never want to travel on another bendy bus again.'

'To save time on the journey, you need to buy your ticket from a machine at the bus stop. But nobody, apart from Travelcard holders, who boarded at my stop paid because the ticket machine at Newington Green was not working.'

Now to the Private School piece, which I share with you in a spirit of unapologetic class rage.

Rose Fawcett (is that really here name? For fuxake?) writes powerfully and movingly about the desperate plight of being a parent paying 15 K a year for your child's primary schooling. I really felt for her. Listen to this heart-rending passage:

'On my desk, under the new Toast catalogue, lie three school fee invoices totalling a whopping 15,000... I work out at this rate not only can I not afford the very covetable gaucho boots from Toast, but we will be bankrupt by December.'

Well, that would be a terrible shame, wouldn't it?

Honestly, now, this is parody, right? She's trying to sound as objectionable as possible, surely; that's the only explanation. No-one could really be so crass and snobbish.

Wait, wait though:

'My friend Charles rubbed it in by smugly telling me that his children went back to the establishmen the calls 'Free School' last week...'


'... as I have learned (and, to be honest, I already knew) the bright ones at state primaries have every chance of getting into top public schools, if that's what they want, particularly since switched-on parents are spending the money that they have saved on private fees on tutoring.'

Now, Dave, are you going to hire the hitman or should I?

What a pitiful indictment of a class. No wonder the middle class turn out so hollowed-out and titanium-constricted. Parents like the lovely Rose have already damned their kids to a life of joyless competitiveness before they are born, their lives and aspirations micrometer and slide-rule straightlined from Minute One.

As Mark E Smith sagely put it, it's not a question of making people feel guilty for being middle-class. How could you possiby be jealous of them? 'Public school is punishment enough...'

Posted by mark at September 7, 2004 01:25 AM | TrackBack

Is my shared apopletctic rage at bendy buses (from the different perspective of a cyclist squished almost daily going over waterloo bridge by the bastards) compromised by my being brought up in a middle class environment?

I find the article you quote as abhorrent as you, but surely kollectivity should mean embracing ideas from all backgrounds (other than evening standard columnists, of course), regardless of the titanium constraints imposed by constant reference to class boundaries, or is that just my false consciousness?

There's also a strongish argument for blogging as the apotheosis of middle-class activity, concomitant with the exponential growth of leisure time enjoyed by the monied classes. Yes, you can counter-argue that it's a free, open-source, democratic opt-out from cycles of production and consumption but whilst the majority of bloggers remain middle-class WASPS with day-jobs it's a little harder, no?

Posted by: Jay at September 7, 2004 09:53 AM

in east london the new bendy buses are loved and adored. you see, those buses are completely free, for anyone with a sense of initiative.

Posted by: luke at September 7, 2004 09:55 AM

You don't need much initiative luke.... Gilligan interviewed one person who said 'maybe they'll close down because no-one's paying.'

the class point you raise is important. I am a straightforward Marxist in many ways. I see class as a question of affiliation, not background. To become-proletarian it is necessary to decode your own class background --- even, no especially, if you come from a working class background. (I think we shd distinguish being working class from being proletarian.) Anyone committed to the destruction of the deadening power of English Master Class (EMC) and its partners in EU2 is proletarian as far as I'm concerned.

The only advantage that the working class have over those from the middle class is epistemic. Like women and non-whites, the working class see the Dominant Operating System how it sees itself, but also - and this is crucial - from outside. The bourgeois seldom sees class. cf Potter's Nigel Barton.

This also gives me an opportunity to say what I think Cold Rationalist Marxist-Spinozist kollektivity involves. It is precisely not an aggregation of individuals, a giant liberal compromise... it is a decoding of individual subjectivity by Reason into a Femmunist collective subject...

Posted by: mark at September 7, 2004 10:10 AM

i ahve a new theory on what it takes to get a column in the standard (with the exception of old-guard writers like sewell, lewis smith, maschler - all of whom to varying degrees i like) is to be a high-profile fuck up. gilligan, i ask you. it seems all that matter s now is that people know your name regardless of whether you're actually any *good* at your job. there are at least three other examples like this in the paper (gilligan by far the most extreme) but i used to work with two of them and don't want to be completely unemployable just yet. mainly it's ES magazine that riles me though. funnily enough, i pitched them a story on the declining standards of modern butlery one bored lunchtime a few weeks ago. i got no reply (which may or may not have something to do with the fact that i made it read like i was emailing from prison) but the very next day i opened it and lo and behold, a piece on how tricky it is to deal with the help these days!

Posted by: stelfox at September 7, 2004 12:05 PM

re the hitman, this viewpoint really is par for the course for the strandard and at least the writer is not mentioning my neighbourhood this time

Posted by: stelfox at September 7, 2004 12:25 PM

There have been bendy buses and external ticket machines in Geneva for a long time and the system works well.

FWIW, I like standing in the bendy bit.

Posted by: mwanji at September 7, 2004 01:05 PM

I too studiously read that issue of the Standard and laughed very hard at the poor woman who'd spent all her money on a pointless education for her darling muppets.

You know, the only really true thing about the whole public/private education thing in the UK is that people who go to comprehensives (like my becoming-ever-more-proley-though-mostly-rural-cow and field-class-self)and make it to university do much better than those who went to private/independent schools.

This was clearly borne out in my experience at Thatcher's fav uni, as all the private school kids (despite making up only 7 percent of pupils overall made up all of my course, minus 3) were bloody rubbish. They weren't interested in the subject at all and whined when they had to read stuff. They had been taught how to trot answers out like well-trained little pups, but had no desire of their own to learn more than they 'needed'. The fools! Still, you get what you pay for...sure they'll all make fine City drones once they come back from India....

Posted by: infinite thought a long way away at September 7, 2004 08:42 PM

Great to hear from you Nina! Hope everything ok out there....

Yes, this is true.

On Jay's point: I think some of this is a little odd. Most of l the bloggers I know are on that strange class cusp between the working class and the middle class. If they went to university, they were probably first generation. Some didn't go. More interestingly, most are in part-time work.

The idea that the middle class have increased leisure time is frankly odd. Most of them seem to be working themselves to death, don't they? Certainly that's the case with the full-timers at work; the last thing they want to do, especially if they've got kids, is engage in intellectual discsussion or read!

Posted by: mark at September 7, 2004 08:58 PM

On Dave's point about middle-class failures, I was going to mention the loathsome Amanda Platell (her columns in the Sat Times are disgustingly snobbish would-be Brit SATC nonsense -- there was a particularly noxious piece a few weeks ago in which she and her friends were distressed to find that a WORKING CLASS woman had won a competition and was polluting the ambience of their 'exclusive' gym) when lo and behold, Sphaleotas comes back with today's Standard -- and who shd be a featured columnist if not Platell.

Posted by: mark at September 7, 2004 09:02 PM

"straightforward Marxist" - my arse!

Anyway - the bendy buses are a fine replacement as far as I'm concerned because you don't have to fold up pushchairs to get on them. They're called "the free buses" by many - maybe like "the free school" in the article... :-) plus you have the added bonus of maybe seeing the whole thing catch fire, which must rate as the all time number one excuse for being late for work?

Posted by: John Eden at September 7, 2004 10:00 PM

Reading this post as someone from outside the UK I have to admit I was slightly confused. In my background the middle class do send their children to private schools for fear of a low quality education, but in this case many of their fears are completely valid. The American public school system has a tendency to pump out sub literate students who tend to be able to spit out answers but not even get close to thinking.

I'll freely admit that I don't understand the situation in the UK.

From the tone I'm gathering that state schools are completely satisfactory and private ones sub par?

My parents were lower middle class and sent me to a private school for 11 years. Under Bush they have gone from lower middle to actually poor and I have joined this proletariat you speak of.

To be fair, poor in America is middle class in the rest of the world.

Sorry for the subjectivity of my response.

Posted by: scarboi at September 8, 2004 12:13 AM

John Eden... can we have some substantiation rather than just snorting rhetorical derision :-)? In what ways do I depart from straightforward Marxism?

Scarboi: it wasn't the fact that kids were being sent to private school that annoyed, it was the idea that we should FEEL SORRY for the woman (who has a spare 15 k a year) because 'state school kids' stood as much chance of achieving as her benighted brood...

What the private schools teach is essentially the same as what you get taught in Oxford and Cambridge; it's not much to do with content, it's a long program in how to be an impermeable, blandly confident drone, certain of yr place in the world, certain that you deserve it, certain that you have the right to tell others what to do and certain that it is perfectly acceptable that a class of inferiors clean up after you.

Such certainty is a terrible curse.

Punishment enough, as MES said.

Posted by: mark at September 8, 2004 07:11 AM

sorry, if xpost a bit confused.. In terms of the increase of leisure time, i guess i meant a more long-term, incremental process than just the last ten or twenty years in which UK working hours have obv increased substantially.

I do think the bloggers-as-part-time-workers observation kind of ties into this, tho. ie bloggers representing an economic class that can devote more time to play (in the serious Derridean sense of course!) than work.

This economic class, then, wouldn't be identified in terms of affluence but by its conscious, self-proclaimed refusal to buy into generation transfable wealth creation; by insistence that intellectual capital exceeds commercial capital.

The problem, tho, is that stance has been compromised and co-opted through its uptake by about a million bored, stoned, middle-class grads refusing to get a job whilst loafing in daddy's flat in kensington.

I read the standard quite regularly for the horror value coming home from work. Amanda Platell's been a regular columnist for ages and always, always, always absolutely vile. She got the job just after helping Hague, as his personal advisor, to the worst Conservative gen election defeat in history and it was generally hilarious to read her attempting maladroitly to justify her unique combination of incompetence and ideological idiocy. I think even she might realise that she's z-rate, which does give me a peculiar sense of satisfaction.

Posted by: Jay at September 8, 2004 10:52 AM

plattell was a horrible journalist way before becoming a political failure and held down several jobs writing rubbish for quite a long time. seems her profile has risen the worse she has got - also see liz jones who almost tanked marie claire during her tenure as editor (disclosure: i worked with her for a while at the sunday times and, although a mental, i did like her). then there was the small matter of james brown standing in for maschler a few weeks ago! had it been the singer, it could have been funny - (godfather of sole reviews london's fish resaturants) but sadly it was loaded guy.

Posted by: stelfox at September 8, 2004 11:09 AM

I think that your definition of middle class is bit wrong. I think what you mean is upper or upper middle class. Someone who can afford 15k a year to send their kids to a private school is slightly richer than your standard middle class! I realize that there is no exact definition of the classes, but what proportion of the UK pop is middle class - 30%, 40% , 50%??? Certainly most of them could in no way afford to spend 15k per per per year on a private school. I think about 5% of kids in the Uk go to priviate achool, so i would say that those 5% come from upper and upper-middle class backgrounds, not simply middle class backgrounds.

Posted by: Robin Goad at September 8, 2004 02:00 PM

who said anything about derision? :-)

Posted by: john eden at September 8, 2004 07:01 PM

LOL, but seriously, was interested in how you thought my/ our Marxism deviated from the standard model though John...

Posted by: mark at September 8, 2004 09:33 PM

Robin Goad, take yr point, but Rose herself classed herself as m/c --- and she's not an aristocrat, so wd qualify as bourgeois, no?

Posted by: mark at September 8, 2004 10:41 PM