Mary Dejevsky: Buses, Boris and the upside of city transport

Click to follow
The Independent Online

London is one of few places to emerge well from a nationwide survey of bus fares published yesterday. Which pleases me, as someone who delights in riding buses. Nor is it just the fares I like – which are comparatively cheaper the more you travel – it is the number and seeming quirkiness of the routes, some of which date back to horse-and-carriage days.

My general approval of buses became only warmer and fuzzier recently, when I noticed a bus picking up passengers just around the corner from where we live. To say I was amazed would be an understatement; amazed and hardly daring to hope. The thing was that it was a Saturday, and this very useful bus, as I knew full well, ran only Mondays to Fridays. Then I saw another one at the station. Since when has this bus run on Saturdays, I asked. "From today," said the driver. "And it's seven days from now on." I let out a loud "Whoopee" quite inappropriate to my age and gender.

Not everyone, though, is as happy as I am to see a new bus passing near their door. In recent months, the novelist Sebastian Faulks has been campaigning to stop a new bus serving his rather exclusive London street. He said he was concerned about the noise and the potential for congestion on a narrow street, and recruited friends and neighbours to count how many of the new buses went by empty – in the hope, perhaps, of proving their redundancy. He dubbed the empty buses "Borises", after the London mayor for whom bus services have been a preoccupation.

So it was that, in the finest tradition of British investigative journalism, I set off on a mission to track the 228 bus. And here is my report. The chief problem with the 228 is not its presence, but its absence, which may be why I neither saw nor experienced a single "Boris"; there was always a decent passenger quorum.

My researches also established that the streets plied by this modest one-decker are quite wide enough to accommodate it without any risk of snarling up north-west London. All of which leaves undisturbed my uncharitable thoughts about transport Nimbyism on the part of those perhaps more accustomed to hailing taxis. I'm backing Boris here, and other city mayors of a pro-bus disposition: start a new bus service, and they will come.

*Most buses now boast recordings announcing the destination and the stops, which has probably done as much as "spider" maps to demystify city bus travel. But, oh the voice! It has a quality, much in demand, so it seems, in TV advertising (Nice 'n Easy hair colour is a classic) which is slightly breathless, vaguely classless and determinedly non-metropolitan. Thus enunciated, even "Next stop: Shepherd's Bush station" sounds like a faintly indecent proposition – which must be a triumph of a kind.

Brides bringing marriage into the 21st century

Chelsea Clinton, the last daughter to grow up in what turned out to be a rather eventful White House, is getting married – according to the latest New York gossip. And it strikes me that marriage is a more complicated question for young professional women, such as Chelsea now is, than it has perhaps ever been. Time was when my sympathies lay more with the men: what a terrifying responsibility to be the party expected to propose, and what if, after all that, she turns you down?

In the 21st century, though, I'm inclined to think that the dilemma is more hers than his. Here in Britain – less in the socially more conservative United States – you can cohabit, have children, as often as you like, without ever being expected to say "I do". For the well-educated and financially self-sufficient, the social pressure is almost the reverse: to marry is to betray the liberated "sisterhood" and be seen to jeopardise your own personal fulfilment.

I wonder, though, whether we are not observing a change. As it happens, I know several couples marrying this summer, and the professional, university-educated brides are approaching the prospect as a joint adventure, not a reason to sacrifice anything. Good for them.

David Cameron tries to catch the elusive Black Swan

Perhaps it has something to do with the juxtaposition of the expenses scandal and the particularly long recess, but politicians seem to be surpassing themselves this summer to look very, very busy when they are not absolutely on holiday – or sometimes, take Peter Mandelson, when they are. Even so, it is not completely evident to me why the Conservative leader decided to share a platform with international guru-of-the-year, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, at a "breakfast seminar" in the middle of August.

One ignoble thought is that the event was spurred by the return of accusations that David Cameron is "lightweight" – or, as Barack Obama is supposed to have put it, all "sizzle" and no substance. If the purpose was to scotch such unkind judgements, though, I'm not sure it succeeded. The Obama administration may have ushered in a new age of political seriousness, but Cameron seemed not to know whether he was there as interviewer, admirer, or sparring partner. To the list of children and animals that performers should avoid appearing with, should perhaps be added the global intellectual.

Taleb is one of those invariably American and inevitably male polymaths who coins a clever phrase and then tours the world to coin it in. His unique selling point is the Black Swan as a cipher for events that are low in probability, but high in impact such as 9/11 or the credit crunch; events that knock everyone back, but can – so he suggests – be prepared for.

Well, I experienced my own miniature Black Swan moment: the discovery that, even though there was mention of breakfast and I had arrived nicely ahead of time, there was not even the merest sip of coffee left. A low-probability, high-impact event, indeed. And something the man most likely to be Prime Minister would do well to guard against in future.