Mary Dejevsky: The bitter truths overheard on a bus


Related Topics

I tried my best not to turn around, but in the end had to sneak a look. The speakers were two black men, possibly in their late twenties or early thirties, one apparently a newcomer, the other an old hand showing him the ropes. But the bit of their conversation that made me desperate to know who was talking went, as I recall, something like this: "The thing is, they're having children younger and younger, and they don't know anything except shouting. They just shout. Shout, shout. That's the only way they know to discipline them. They don't have..." – you could hear him searching for the word – "maturity. That's what they don't have. I don't know what will happen to those kids."

People talk to their companions on buses in the way they don't on any other form of public transport. It's quiet enough; they don't feel they are addressing an open carriage. Is it unethical to listen in? Perhaps. But over the summer, with the buses a bit emptier, it's hard not to. And amid the prattle, the apologies for lateness yelled into mobile phones and the obsessive consumerism (you might be surprised how many under-12s converse, if at all, in Ad-land clichés), I've also heard people passing extraordinarily harsh judgements (often on themselves), genuine voices of disquiet and acute observations on the state of the nation.

Two white women probably in their sixties, well-spoken, probably not related, were discussing the daughter of one of them. "She's so talented, so creative... But she's 40 now; she's not attached." (Long pause.) "She's had two suicide attempts; her personal life is a complete mess." I had so many questions. What does she do? What did she want? Who expected what? How and why did it all go so wrong? Even Bridget Jones, I thought, eventually contrived a happy end.

Another two women (look around you, more women than men travel by bus), perhaps teachers, perhaps social workers, on a training day out, talk despondently about the chaos of some children's lives. "You know what's the single most reliable indicator of success?" (She meant at primary school, I think) "It's whether they have a table at home." "A table?" Came the response. "Yes, it's not just whether they eat together as a family, have regular meals, not just sitting in front of the television, but whether the child has somewhere to write or draw... That's the one thing."

Or how about this for a glimpse of generational incomprehension. A young-elderly couple, a young girl and an adolescent boy perpetually fiddling with a computer game. Referring, I presumed, to his younger sister, the boy said "She's village". Intake of breath from grandmother, followed by a self-consciously restrained query. "What did you say?" "She's village at it." "What do you mean by village?" "She's not much good." "Why do you call that village?" "Village cricket, geddit?" Small sounds of amusement, and "village" becomes the word of the moment as the adults play with their discovery, clearly relieved that their grandson's insult had more than four letters and evinced nothing more dismissive than the age-old scorn of townspeople for their country cousins.

Alas, second-born is no longer second-best

They're back from their holiday truce, the Eds, the Milibands and the rest, and Miliband D still leads the running by a short head (and a new hairdo) from his younger brother. But I'm not putting money on his victory (and it's nothing to do with his gift for party-planning).

The consensus has been that in any contest, the first-born will beat the second-born, tending to be of a more competitive disposition, more ambitious, more self-starting and more generously endowed with leadership ability. (I am one, I should know.) You can also cite his longer experience, his more senior jobs and the fact that it was to him that Labour rebels looked when they sought an alternative to Gordon. But I'm even less sure he will get the top job now. Not because his formal qualifications have shrunk, but because, alas, the ascendancy of first-borns may be at an end.

The leadership qualities sought nowadays are of the consensual, mediating, sociability sort – qualities that are honed by younger brothers and sisters as part of their family survival mechanism. They know better than we do how to compromise, to bargain and not to boss, but to duck, trim and wheedle to get their way. If men, they may be better at dealing professionally with women; they know they have to make an effort, that precedence is not theirs by right. This, and nothing to do with achievement or experience, is why Ed Miliband's time may have come.

Farewell, Fawlty Towers

At the start of this year we booked, for almost the first time ever and very much at the last moment, a package holiday. The service, from initial approach to conclusion, was a joy and a delight. Let me spell that out. Phones and emails were answered, calls were returned; the staff were well-informed, gave expert advice, spoke perfect English and took trouble. This was not, I should clarify, at the luxury end of the market.

I remembered this pleasant experience, after a recent lunch at Pizza Express and a sortie into McDonald's. In both places, I have encountered brusqueness and/or limited competence in the English language. But no. As I arrived with my elderly mother and my husband walking with a stick, the girl at Pizza Express was charm itself, finding a convenient table, arranging the chairs, and briefing us, but not in a parroting American-server way.

What struck me most, though, was that both she and the smiling, super-efficient lad at McDonald's, where I treated myself to my annual (OK, bi-annual) milkshake, were, to judge by their accents, local. So I wonder: has the recession forced people to take low-paid work, or could it be that a new generation is rediscovering a tradition of stylish and friendly service? How I hope it's the latter – because if it is, we are halfway to making the grade for London 2012 and, more to the point, making the UK a more congenial place to be.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Would you fork out to spend time on Sting's Tuscan estate?  

Happy to pay for the privilege of picking olives? Then Sting might have a job for you...

John Walsh
Clockwise from top: Zafran Ramzan, Razwan Razaq (main picture), Adil Hussain, Umar Razaq and Mohsin Khan were sentenced for grooming teenage girls for sex in 2010.  

Nothing can make up for the trauma of Rotherham's abused young girls, but many more heads must roll

Jane Merrick
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?