Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Royal baby shambles

According to the CIA, there are over 350,000 people born every day on our already teeming planet. The gigantic majority of them will come into the world the way they'll remain for their entire lives, from the point of view of all the others - anonymous, save for their family and those close to them.

Now there has been, of course, one particular exception to that dominating the media these past few days. I write from a broadly neutral position when it comes to the royal family. I'm far from a flag-waving Monarchist. Nor though am I some kind of abolitionist Republican - I do not believe the removal of the monarchy would do the country any good. The absolute domination of the broadcast and printed media of the birth of the latest royal kid, though, I do take serious issue with. (And, of course, here I am, both feeding it and feeding off it by adding my own contribution to that panoply).

This is not news. This boy, one of those 350,000+ who came into the world today, is no more newsworthy than any of the others, as far as I'm concerned. His life is, more or less, mapped out ahead of him. He could, of course, be one of the very rare exceptions among royalty who lets it all go - all the trappings, the lack of freedom, some of the attention and privilege which goes with his lineage. Even if he does, he'll be protected from the worst of life's realities by his name and his family's money. More likely he'll lead the kind of life Princes Andrew or Edward do, not ascending to the throne and the kind of burden of duty the Monarch bears until he's at least the age Charles is now. He will, in all likelihood, live his life within certain pre-defined parameters.

The same can't be said for almost all of the other kids born today. Of course, the vast majority will live their lives in obscurity. Born today were people who will do terrible things - murderers, warriors, ideological extremists. But also born today somewhere were people who'll do great things in art, literature, politics, environmentalism, architecture, diplomacy. Somebody may have been born today who will become as famous as the royals. Maybe somebody who will do something great for all humanity. The canvas for almost all of those countless thousands is more or less blank, and some of them will fill it with lives that will astonish, that will be much more fulfilled than that of our royal newbie.

This is not a criticism of him, of course - in his innocence he has no more idea of what's in store for him than anybody else. I wish him well. But I extend those same wishes to all the kids whose births didn't make the news today, whose as-yet unlived time stretches out ahead of them, to be lived who knows how, for who knows how long?

Monday, 8 July 2013

Hunting the bus nutter

Typical - you wait forever for an entry about buses, and then one comes along all at once. Or something. Anyway, financial realities have meant that, in recent months, I've had to forego the freedom of a Travelcard and commute to work by bus. Not for me the devil-may-care, jet-setting man-about-town jollity of changing from train, to bus, to tube at will. No – I now sit on the 159 from Streatham all the way to Trafalgar Square every morning, and then do the return journey in the same way every evening. In many ways it's been a boon – getting on at the start of the route, I always get a seat. You can see the outside world. If you open windows you actually get air coming into the bus. And they're very unlikely to get stuck in a tunnel 200 feet underground.

There are, though, of course, drawbacks, as you'd expect for a monthly saving of £80 on a three-zone Travelcard, with all its attendant flexibility. You can't just change your route home mid-commute if things have all gone a bit pear-shaped – at least not without paying again. It takes longer, particularly on the way home, for some reason. You get squashed by gigantic individuals sitting both in the seat next to you and most of yours. You occasionally have to sit with your feet either side of a drying puddle of somebody else's vomit. Mercifully (and selfishly), I'm pleased to report that this last hazard is something I've only seen happen to other people.

By far the greatest difference, though, is the bus nutter. Now I'm sure that the sardines packed on the suburban trains into London each morning run the risk of finding themselves next a train nutter, but trains are big. There are a lot of people on them. Even if there were two train nutters aboard, your odds of finding yourself next to one of them are long. I did the train version of the rat run every morning for years, and I was much more likely to see a fight than encounter an oddball. This is not the case on the bus, so you have to do what you can to minimise the chances that you'll end up his (it's always a man) travelling companion for the duration of your trip. This means, frankly, surreptitiously scoping out the people waiting at the stop in the morning to see if you can spot him.

This morning's candidates were a twenty-something lad swigging from a half-empty bottle of Gordon's at 7.30am, or a bloke in a suit who, eschewing the seats provided at the bus stop, sat on a six-inch high concrete block muttering to himself. He smoked tar-black roll-ups and stared openly at anybody turning up. He didn't get on the bus, instead wandering off to whatever business to which he had to attend. This prompted the thought that he'd decided that one of the rest of us was the bus nutter and he wasn't going to take any chances. And, frankly, who's to say he wasn't right? I often listen to funny podcasts on the bus into work, occasionally having to fight to stifle a laugh, and could well be on several regulars' shortlists of dodgy individuals to be sat as far away from as possible.

One of the unequivocal rules that all London commuters understand about their daily routine – if you look around for the morning's Designated Bus Nutter and can't identify him, it's you.