Nick Lezard: Tales of the City

What idiot thought these slug-like scarlet killing machines were a good idea?


Much has been said about bendy buses. Too much, some might say. Not me. I could go on and on. As indeed does the bendy bus. It is, in fact, their single most obvious characteristic.

From the outside, that is. From the inside, their most obvious characteristic is that there are only about four seats in them. True, two of these are positioned sideways, so you can look at your street from an exciting new perspective, but that is scant consolation when there are no seats available, which is always.

But it is the length thing that is most distressing. Even my 10-year-old child could spot the flaw in the plan which introduced these bright red behemoth slugs to London streets. "What kind of idiot thought they would be a good idea?"

A good question, to which I gave the correct answer. As to whether Mr Livingstone is actually being paid a backhander by Mercedes to clog up the traffic, kill cyclists, and disfigure the streets, I am not quite sure that that is his style. It is much more likely to be blackmail. Whatever crime he must have committed which can only be hushed up in such a way must have been monstrous; but I have absolutely no idea what it could have been. Perhaps some kind reader will illuminate me.

But those wretched buses are still here. Even that quiet popular revolt, known as "not paying", has failed to sweep them away. You notice them particularly when on a bicycle. I used to ride a motorbike around town like a lunatic for about 15 years and never had an accident. Now cycling down the Uxbridge Road has become like some kind of futuristic death contest and I nearly meet my maker about once a week. It is only a matter of time.

Do you overtake them when they're at a bus stop? It is rash to do so, because you could be halfway through the manoeuvre when the driver decides to pull out and murder you. And when there are two bendy buses in a row, which happens often as the 207 crawls to its berth at Shepherd's Bush Green, then you are dealing with almost 40 metres of callous, scarlet killing machine. I tend to bottle out of overtaking two bendy buses at once, and resentfully gulp in the fumes at the back instead.

To pass the time I indulge in a little mental arithmetic. Eg: Two bendy buses, end to end, are almost as long as two cricket pitches. If even Freddie Flintoff, bowling flat-out at 90mph, were to release the ball at the driver's end, a batsman at the rear end of the second bus would have a leisurely 0.89476 seconds with which to react to the delivery, whereas on a standard cricket pitch he would have only a scant half a second to make up his mind which shot he was to play. I am not factoring in such details as deceleration, or where the crease would be on a bendy bus, or whether the bus is moving or not, but I think it does help to put such matters into their proper perspective.

Gong me up ...

To my mind, the most startling revelation about the whole cash-for-peerages business with the Labour Party has been that Patrick Stewart, the actor, paid a six-figure sum (loan or gift, I'm not sure) and, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, received an OBE. I had no idea OBEs were so desirable, particularly for one whose reputation as one of Star Fleet's most courageous and resourceful captains was impregnable. Now even the captain of a starship has been contaminated by this stupid affair. When my wife catches me watching repeats of Star Trek: the Next Generation I have always been able to say, "Hm, yes, it is a bit silly, but Patrick Stewart's acting is a joy to behold." Now even that risible excuse has been lost to me.

But then if Patrick Stewart wishes to boldly go where several millionaires have already been, why shouldn't the ordinary person get a piece of the action? I do not have the resources of a fat cat, but I can scrape together £100. What I want to propose to the Labour Party is that, in return for the loan of such a sum (I'm not made of money, you know), I am given an OBE for a week; or, if they would prefer, a knighthood for a day.

Peer pressure

Actually, make that a peerage for a day. It has to be pukka and above board; transparent, as the jargon is, so that when I book my table at the Ivy under my new, ennobled name, they can verify my title and give me a decent table at a proper dining-out time. Of course, I won't be able to eat there, my money beavering away in Labour Party coffers, but it will be a victory of sorts.

I am prepared, in fact, to haggle, should it come to that. I would even accept an Oyster card, or a parking space in Notting Hill Gate whenever I need one. We will sort out the details later.

But when I call up Millbank with my proposal, the phone does not ring. I try Labour Party Properties, also at Millbank, and with a name like that possibly even more corrupt than the Labour Party proper, but that phone number has been discontinued. This is most disturbing.

Have Blair and his cronies panicked so much that they have frozen Labour Party assets, and had their phones cut off as a result? I have never been one to go in for conspiracy theories, apart from the one about Ken Livingstone and the makers of bendy buses (see above), but there has to be a connection here. And it's a bit suspicious when you can't ring up a party HQ even when you want to fling money at them. I think we are coming to the beginning of the end.

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