Off the buses: Nearly half of British children under 11 have never been on public transport

They are missing out on much more than just an (intermittently) convenient way to get from A to B
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The Independent Online

I remember you all so well: 253, W15, 46, 34. Admittedly it takes a special sort of sadcase to get misty eyed over bus routes, but it all came flooding back to me when a surprising finding was announced by the state-funded Millennium Cohort Study. These days, 48 per cent of British children reach the age of 11 without ever having set foot on public transport.

Some of them must live in rural communities, where a car is a necessity, but it still seems odd, doesn't it? They never once accompanied their parents on a bus trip into town. They never pointed out a "moo cow" from a train window. They never sat in that top-deck, front-seat throne and surveyed the open road before them. Never mind what all these car journeys mean for childhood obesity or carbon emissions, it's their young imaginations we should be worrying about. Children are missing out on much more than just an (intermittently) convenient way to get from A to B.

First the public parks were parcelled off, then we swapped the cinema for a laptop in bed and the high-street shops were boarded up shortly afterwards. Now, one of the few remaining spaces where strangers interact is also losing its relevance. Public transport is where children learn to consider the feelings of other people – and not just the other people in their family or class at school, but total strangers. Want to see people at their best? It's there every day on the commute, when someone gives up their seat for a person who needs it more.

It is also a place for people-watching, an activity many people wrongly categorise as a time-wasting diversion when, in fact, it's the very glue which holds society together. That's one of the things you learn when you live in Los Angeles without a driving licence, as I did a few years ago. In LA only the very poor rely on public transport and everyone else is shut away from the world in an air-conditioned car. It's no coincidence that the most car-obsessed place in the world also has a reputation for unfriendliness and extreme wealth disparity. If we want people to be kind to strangers, it helps if they can occasionally run into one.

Hollywood gets it white again

This is what film director Ridley Scott said when asked about the "whitewashing" of his ancient Eygpt-set epic Exodus: "I can't mount a film of this budget... and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I'm just not going to get it financed." Fair point; I've never heard of this Mohammad Soandso either. I have, however, heard of Will Smith, Lupita Nyong'o, Rosario Dawson and Tahar Rahim. These non-white stars don't look like modern Egyptians, you could argue, but then clearly complexion wasn't a factor in the casting of white Joel Edgerton as Rhamses II.

In the absence of any 2,000-year-old family snaps, we don't know for sure what the ancient Egyptians looked like. A racially charged debate has raged since the 19th century, but the broad consensus of today's Egyptologists was summed up by Dr Stuart Tyson Smith in the 2001 Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt: "Any characterisation of race of the ancient Egyptians depends on modern cultural definitions, not on scientific study," he wrote. "Thus, by modern American standards it is reasonable to characterise the Egyptians as 'black', while acknowledging the scientific evidence for the physical diversity of Africans." In Hollywood, by contrast, this question of race was settled long ago. The civilisation of the pyramids was white, of course. Like Liz Taylor in Cleopatra (1963) or Vincent Price in The Ten Commandments (1956).

When Exodus: Gods and Kings comes out on Boxing Day it will erroneously remind another generation that every significant contribution to world history was made by white people. No doubt racism is as prevalent in the film industry as Ridley Scott suggests, but it's disappointing that even the director of Blade Runner didn't have the vision to try something different. After all, what's the point of having a $50m, realistic, CGI backdrop if the faces in front of it are such an affront to reality?

Shopping as a martial art

There was a sit-in at a Tesco Extra in Manchester. Fights broke out in Cardiff, Glasgow and Bristol and in London a grown woman shamelessly prised a flatscreen TV from the clutches of a small child. This was the UK's first real taste of US-style "Black Friday" sales and it was brutal.

Among the many minor slights endured by my gender is the suggestion that shopping should count as a hobby. Shopping was never a hobby, only an unpleasant, time-consuming chore that gives you sore feet, an aching back and a bad case of status anxiety. Black Friday has at least made it a bit more interesting. Consumerism is now a savage, bloody contact sport involving real danger of bodily injury: like cage fighting, only without the rules.

I May be wrong...

It was bad enough when I had a crush on Barry from EastEnders, but this is one I'll never live down: I've developed a sneaking affection for the Home Secretary, Theresa May. I disagree with nearly all of her policies and yet... and yet... for all the Tory spin presenting May as Thatcher's heir, on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs she struck me as a very different sort of politician; competent, but without arrogance. My only comfort is this: I'm not alone. This summer Theresa topped a poll asking the public which female MP they'd most like to see in No 10. More interesting, however, were the 64 per cent who said they didn't know. Is Theresa really that lovable? Or is she just the only visible woman in Government?

Stuck in the middle

Thanks to Andrew Mitchell's unwisely extended libel action, we're now familiar with a wide range of class-based insults. The bloke on the street is a pleb, prole, peasant, commoner or chav and the people running the country are toffs, poshos, Bullingdon boys and Hooray Henries. But why should those in the middle miss out on the fun? Leon Trotsky had a term for the petite bourgeoisie who lacked both the wealthy capitalist's power and the worker's solidarity – but "human dust" sounds harsh. Especially since, to many sensitive middle-class ears, "middle class" is already an insult.

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