Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Of buses, buggies and Olympic sport

Outrageous story in today’s papers: a woman has been given a criminal record for not swiping her Oyster card as she boarded a bus with her two-week-old baby. She reportedly offered to pay the £20 fine once she realised her mistake, but was not allowed to, and was forced to attend court, where some less-than-sympathetic magistrates found her guilty.

Do these people have any concept of what it’s like to travel on a London bus with children? I think not. Having endured several bus journeys recently with the Littleboys plus double buggy, perhaps I can helpfully inform them.

In the spirit of the current Games in Beijing, I’d like to compare it to competing in a difficult and dangerous Olympic event; one for which every parent should receive a medal. First of all, we have the tense, nailbiting wait at the bus stop, where the competitor (let’s make her a she, although it could easily apply to a Dad) is unsure whether or not the bus driver will let her on with the pram. As the bus draws up, she might experience butterflies somewhere akin to an Olympic diver, standing on the top board about to perform a complicated somersault. The ‘rule’ is two pushchairs only, but this does not take into account the size and shape of buggies, and you will get some drivers that cast looks of horror at a double buggy and simply shake their heads.

Once our plucky heroine is given the green light to get on, it’s a race, with a bit of weight-lifting thrown in: heaving the buggy onto the platform (usually with no help from fellow passengers); squeezing down the narrow galley and into the space allotted for buggies (invariably running over someone’s foot, which they will have failed to move, en route), and trying to apply the buggy’s brakes before the bus sets off at a cracking pace.

That’s if you have just one child. Add to this trying to hold onto an excited toddler, who will fall over if not anchored down, and it’s starting to resemble the three day Eventing.

Once safely on board and hopefully, seated, the journey itself is relatively easy – just a matter of trying to keep everyone happy. (This is not a problem for Littleboy 1, who sits there shouting out ‘another bus, Mummy!’ every time we see one - which, thanks to the heroic efforts of poor, departed Mayor Ken Livingstone, is about every two seconds.)

Finally, we have the dismount. Our contender sits there, primed, like a sprinter waiting for the start gun. Unlike other passengers, she cannot take up her position before the bus stops (because she will career into other passengers with the pram). At the same time, a speedy descent is necessary to ensure disembarkation before the doors close.

All in all, remembering to swipe an Oyster card is the least of her worries, so my sympathies are all with this poor new mother (who was presumably sleep-deprived as well). Personally I think the magistrates in question should be forced to spend two weeks on three hours’ kip a night, armed with a double buggy and two screaming kids, and made to travel on a 35 through Brixton in the rush hour.

Or perhaps Boris Johnson should come to the woman’s rescue. After all, he has kids. I still don’t think he deserves to be Mayor of London, but if he sorted this out, even I might come to respect him.

11 comments:

http://reluctantmemsahib.wordpress.com said...

perfectly brilliant summary of what it is like to travel through London with children on public transport. I hope Boris reads your blog.

The Dotterel said...

Unbelieveable! And of course, London's law enforcement agencies currently have nothing else to occupy themselves, do they?

Tara@From Dawn Till Rusk said...

Ourtrageous! I can't bear to hear stories like that, it's hard enough being a mum as it is. I have a friend who was ejected EJECTED from a cafe for breastfeeding because it was 'upsetting the other (very old) customers'. Grrrr

Mud in the City said...

Public transport at rush hour is nightmare enough for one not encumbered by a buggy!

Maybe this will feature as a new sport at London 2012?

Potty Mummy said...

I can't count the number of buses that zoomed past me with our double buggy... I hope this poor woman gets the public support she needs. Great analogy, VG!

valley girl said...

Thanks RM, I hope Boris reads it too - maybe I'll email it to his office....

Dottorel, quite agree (and if it's not paying a ridiculous penalty over bus fares it's stuff like overfilling your wheelie bin).

Tara, that's a horror story too - though I am not surprised. (Living in Nappy Valley, as a new mum I got quite used to all feeding mothers getting their boobs out, but I got some funny looks once when I tried to do it in the South of France.)

Hi Mud, I like your suggestion – we could grade bus routes in order of difficulty, a bit like the canoe course in Beijing?

Thanks PM, and it’s good to hear from a fellow double buggy wielder – some people think we are mad taking them on buses, but we can’t all drive around in 4x4s parking illegally, can we?

Can Bass 1 said...

What shall we do? Write to that Johnson fellow and give him a piece of our mind? Start a petition? Seriously, this is disgraceful behaviour. One would expect better in the capital of the Empire.

Jaywalker said...

Oh god, yes yes yes; this reminds me soooo much of happy times attempting to catch the bus to the Transport Museum from Bishopsgate with my own two littleboys and fifteen million enraged commuters. Only the Paris metro is worse.

Here is Belgium they have special anti-obesity tram doors that are impossible to squeeze through with all but the thinnest buggy, and though my own are now largerboys, I get a stab of sympathy whenever I see someone trying to wrestle with one. The largerboys, on the other hand, have perfected the art of disappearing down the far end of the bus/tram so I can no longer see or find them. Also helpful.

valley girl said...

Hi Can bass 1 - it is indeed disgraceful - do you think Boris will read my blog if I send him a link?. (Can we come and hear your choir sometime?)

Jaywalker, hello and welcome - I know those Belgian trams, as I once had a friend who lived in the further reaches of Brussels, and I certainly cannot imagine having to take the double buggy on them. Just had a peek at your blog and it's great - will add you to my list when I get a moment.

Susanna (A Modern Mother) said...

Yes, I can relate. It's similiar to park and ride at the airport. Enough to put me off travel for a while.

Iota said...

Accessible public transport is all very accessible in theory...