It was Loelia Ponsonby, and not Margaret Thatcher, who said that "a man who, beyond the age of 30, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure". To recap for recent arrivals to Britain and those whose memory of early 20th-century aristocracy is a little rusty: Lady Ponsonby was the third of four wives of the second Duke of Westminster, a leading Bright Young Thing and a close friend of Ian Fleming, who named M's redoubtable secretary in the early Bond novels after her. (She became Miss Moneypenny in the films.) As such, had she not died in 1993, she might have been delighted by the antics of today's Premier League footballers. But not by the behaviour last week of Lukas Podolski.
Podolski is only 27, and German, so he can be forgiven for not understanding that in Britain, dahlings, serious people do not take the bus. Arsenal's shiny new forward was spotted last week jumping on a single-decker in Hampstead, north London, and heading into town to Pizza Express and the pub. In the pictures, he is smiling rather excitedly and holding a brown paper bag. The Non-U among us would like to think that it contained cod and chips with a serviette, which was proscribed by Nancy Mitford as terribly Npower League Two, especially given that eating food anywhere other than a dining table is already infra dig. But given that he is a Premier League footballer and is therefore unfeasibly minted, it was probably dragon's eggs with a gold leaf jus.
Podolski came to Arsenal from the German team FC Köln this season, for an undisclosed sum that was likely to be around £10m. He is probably paid a good deal more than £50k a week. It's safe to say, then, that he didn't get the bus because he had to. And the grin on his face as he queued up to board shows what the bus-fearing snobs are missing: sitting in the top deck front seat and pretending to drive; sitting in the back seat and snogging; peering down the periscope and waving at the driver …. Taking the bus is the best fun. There's a reason why there's no children's song about the wheels on the Ferrari going round and round.
Even Virginia Woolf, in Mrs Dalloway, appreciated the high-flying thrill of taking a seat upstairs, as Elizabeth Dalloway bravely boarded an omnibus to the Strand: "… it was like riding, to be rushing up Whitehall …". Cliff Richard and his pals in Summer Holiday illustrated the sense of freedom that comes with an open road and an AEC Regent III RT. Paddington Bear, naturally, was a fan of the bus. (Maybe Podolski had marmalade sandwiches in his paper bag.)
In a 2009 survey by Salford University, the psychologist Dr Tom Fawcett claimed that where one sits on a bus is determined by personality. Those in the middle seats, where Podolski sat, are independent thinkers. Let's hope that remains true of Arsenal's new signing, and that he does not turn into a fast car-driving, cocktail-drinking, common-or-garden British footballer. Britain will forgive him most things if he continues taking the omnibus. Even if he does eat his mushy peas with a fish knife.