Sunday 14 August 2016

Transports of Delight

On many modes of mass transit, people have long been divided into classes based on how much they can afford to pay.

The 1930s, when trams were looked down on as transport for hoi polloi.
(Roger Nuttall)

People are thinking of driving less. (according to Twitter)

I once shared a flat in East London with some snobs who would only get fish and chips from the Seashell in Lisson Grove (several miles away). They looked down on me for getting local takeaways. They hadn’t worked out – or refused to see – that I hadn’t got a car and couldn't drive across London just to get some chips.

I can’t drive. This bothers some people.

I was also asked to bring a suitcase back to London (that someone had left behind), when I’d arrived by train and would presumably be leaving the same way, carrying my own luggage. One Christmas I was given a huge set of terracotta serving dishes – I never returned to Wiltshire for them.

Other friends were mortified that I travelled by bus, bullied me to learn to drive, and urged me to get a bicycle. The tube (hot, crowded) is somehow OK. Buses on the other hand are full of common people, and you have a lovely view of places middle class people are not allowed to know about.

When you’re underground, you can’t see the places you’re travelling through. So you can get the tube somewhere acceptable and familiar, and get out somewhere acceptable and familiar. And you have somehow not gone through the places in between.

How dared I live somewhere not near a tube station? How else could they place me on the class map?

Also if I had a car I wouldn’t have to live near a bus stop, which would be on a high street full of Costcutters – I could live in a Victorian conversion down a leafy avenue (dark and scary at night).

They were so sure they knew what was best for me – why was that? They also thought I ought to be married to a barrister and living in Fulham. Single women can’t help letting the class side down: we can't afford the lifestyle, the address or the dinner parties.

Actually Mayor Ken Livingstone vastly improved transport to North London – more 73s, and hopper buses that cross East to West. No wonder the middle classes  are moving in… Night buses and the new revived overground have made a difference too.

Beloved of hipsters and people in Stokey (with pod/trailer for the baby). Stokey dads also like baby buggies that look like lawnmowers. And their kids ride wooden tricycles. Or “dandy horses” – like a bike but with no pedals.

Definitelys ride the latest shape and style – they steal them from Weybridges. Upwards ride either a) the latest shape, style, fashion and technology or b) a deliberately old fashioned sit up and beg bike with a basket for your shopping, lecture notes or dog.

I suspect there are different kinds of car, and the one you buy speaks volumes about you to someone who knows the language. I can just about tell apart a people carrier, a Chelsea tractor, a limo and a bubble car. There must be some kind that looks cool but really brands you as a vulgarian…

But of course if you move to the country (the dream of all London-dwelling Upwards) you have to be able to drive. Just don’t forget that one day you might have to give up driving… Upwards think that they ought to live in the country – in a village, not a country town. And definitely not in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool or Birmingham.

Nouveau Richards drive bespoke Rollses with built-in champagne sets and cigar humidors.
Upwards could never drive something called a “minivan”.

Some men have long discussions about the amount of space you should leave between you and the car in front and how every other driver gets it wrong and why.

Posh people don’t clean their cars – outside or in. Teales and Weybridges have car hoovers.

In the 60s, stout middle-aged ladies rode motor scooters, wearing a grim expression, a tweed skirt and a special very uncool peaked scooter helmet that buttoned under the chin.

I was waiting for hipsters to bring back the horse and cart (I’m sure there are some who commute up and down the Lea by kayak). But horses are terminally unhip, thanks to their popularity with Stow Crats and Weybridges. Nouveau Richards buy a big place in the country with stables, paddock and indoor riding school (manege). Which everybody calls a “menage” now.

Are full of teenagers, old people, families with small children, and tourists with too much luggage who get on at Gatwick and have a loud conversation about what fun it is to ride on a train for a change. Would be great if they weren’t full of people. Used to have first, second and third class. Punch ran jokes about common people getting into first by mistake (I say Bert, we’re all among the toffs!) or featuring a timid middle class traveller abroad finding himself among peasant women with chickens. In wartime morale-raiser movies everybody travels together in crowded carriages where you may be handed a baby or a beer bottle. Quiet carriages and family carriages are the new second and third class.