Public transport is the great theatre of the world, which is why I always take it (whenever I can) in preference to that frightful contraption, my motor car. You learn so much on public transport; in a car you just lose your temper.
This morning at the bus stop, for example, there was an elderly man – three of four years older than I, that is – whose breath, though it was eleven o’clock, smelled of alcohol. He had with him his six year old grand-son whom he obviously adored, and who obviously adored him. He cuddled up to his grandfather and almost buries himself in him.
‘Grand-dad, I’m allergic to you!’ he said.
‘No you’re not!’ said Grand-dad.
‘Yes I am, I’m allergic to you,’ and he laughed a naughty, charming little laugh.
Is it not amazing that a six year-old child should understand the notion of allergy? I am not absolutely sure that it is a good thing – perhaps it presages a lifetime of hypochondria – but it is at least an amazing one.
Then again it is surprising – to me, at any rate – that a child should understand the ironic use of language to mean something very different from the words appear to mean, thereby strengthening their impact.
On the bus ere several boys aged about fourteen. They were exuberant but not badly-behaved, and they managed to go ten whole miles without swearing once. They were talking of grandmothers.
‘My gran’ll moan you to death,’ said one.
So long as children can say such things, there is hope for us all.
Towards the end of the journey, at the last bus-stop before the bus would terminate, to use the present-day language of public announcement, a middle-aged man got on.
‘Grammar school please,’ he said.
‘We don’t go there, mate,’ the driver said.
‘Because we’re going to the bus station. You’ll have to take the number 45.’
The man shook his head in sheer disbelief. He turned to the passengers in the bus.
‘He’s just being an awkward so-and-so,’ he said, and got off grumpily.
Everyone on the bus smiled as if in some kind of complicity. He had raised our moral immeasurably and momentarily united us. Compared with him we were sweet reasonableness.
So rich a pageant, so many lesson, on so short a journey! What would I have learned in a car? The proper study of Man is passengers on a bus.