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-make-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ordeal of the route was intensified by the fact that, only on Friday, the well-loved Routemaster double-deckers had been replaced by New Improved 'bendy buses' --- concertinaed progstrosities, which wheeze and lurch through the narrow thoroughfares with all the graceless, hulking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 01:27 AM | TrackBack
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