I’m having a bitty week. It’s often like that when I come to the end of a sequence of posts which involve a lot of research-gathering and thinking. Not to mention trawling through and transcribing old letters, which is rather time-consuming as you can imagine.
So, as I was sitting on the bus yesterday, letting my mind wander and mulling over what to write next, it came to me that one of my favourite pastimes on bus journeys is to try and predict which seats new passengers will choose when they get on board. In fact I’m sure there’s a learned psychological treatise that could be written on this very subject. Let me just check with Professor Google…
Yup, as I thought, I’ve found an article in the Daily Telegraph, 19 June. You can apparently divine people’s personality by where they sit on a double decker bus, and in fact it might be a better indicator than those psychometric tests that companies spend large amounts of money on to ensure they recruit the right people. It seems they would get superior results just jumping on to public transport, according to a study done by one Dr Tom Fawcett of Salford University. This comes as no surprise to me as I have spent years, even decades, observing these very phenomena. If only I’d thought to write it all up, someone might have given me a PhD for it!
Anyway, according to Dr Tom, bus passengers fall into seven distinct groups. Those at the front on the top deck are generally forward thinkers and those at the back are rebellious types who do not like their personal space being invaded. Sitting in the middle are independent thinkers – usually younger to middle-aged passengers more likely to read a newspaper or listen to a personal music player. On the bottom deck at the front tend to be gregarious meeters-and-greeters while those in the middle are “strong communicators”. Travellers who automatically head for the rear downstairs are said to be risk-takers who like to sit on elevated seats because it makes them feel important. The final group are chameleons – travellers who do not care where they sit because they feel they can fit in anywhere.
I wouldn’t disagree with any of that, especially the bit about those who want to sit up high and lord it over everyone else. My own ‘study’ is rather less scientific, focusing as it does on my ‘where are they going to sit’ guessing game. Which, though I say so myself and don’t have the stats to back it up, is usually fairly accurate. (You’re just going to have to take my word for it). Also, you have to note that my research these days is based on observations made on the single-decker country bus which runs between my small town and the nearby county town, so perhaps not subject to the parameters imposed by City travel on double decker buses.
Not that I haven’t done my fair share of that in my time, having lived in both Glasgow and London AND negotiated both of those fine cities’ public transport systems with young children in tow. I notice that Dr Tom’s study doesn’t seem to include young children and the parents thereof, which might possibly change the dynamic somewhat. Let me assure you that given the choice, young children will always want to climb the stairs and sit at the front of the bus, no matter how much baggage, including pushchair, their parent might have to haul up said stairs. I don’t know if this means that children are forward thinkers, or if they just enjoy being able to see all round from up high, instead of always having to try and see over the heads of taller humans.
I’m talking, by the way, about the days before bus companies felt any need to provide a space where you could just push your sleeping toddler complete with pushchair on board and park them in the designated space for the duration of the journey. In the 1970’s and 80’s we were expected to fold up the pushchair and put it in the luggage rack – always too small – whilst trying to find seats for several small bodies, possibly a bit tired and sticky from a day out in the park, and one of them more than a bit cross from having been wakened from a lovely snooze in their buggy. You’d be surprised how many of those gregarious ‘meeters-and-greeters’ or ‘strong communicators’ on the lower deck fail to make eye contact in these circumstances, and, well, you couldn’t really expect anything of the risk-takers at the back could you? And if you’d had to go and find seats upstairs, well good luck to anyone trying to read their paper, or not have their personal space invaded. I think that one must conclude that children are the archetypal chameleons, neither knowing nor caring whether they fit in or not.
Lets get back to the country bus and my guessing game – carried out from my own preferred vantage point in the second row on the driver’s side, where I like to sit in the aisle seat with my bag in the space beside me, and my deaf ear facing the window. Let the observations begin. First of all, individual people will generally go and sit in any available empty seats so that they have a space to themselves – unless of course they spot a friend in which case they will go and sit beside them. This happens quite a lot on this congenial local bus with its regular patrons. Myself, I tend not to know many of the people getting on – I’ve only been living in the district for about 6 or 7 years, not the several generations necessary to be considered a local in a small Ayrshire town! Usually older folk stay nearer the front, younger ones like to go up the back where no-one can see what they’re up to, especially schoolchildren, who must also be rather deaf because they seem to feel the need to conduct their conversations at the top of their voices.
As the journey progresses and the bus starts to fill up, my theory is that new passengers tend to subliminally seek out someone to sit beside that is most like them – i.e. women beside women, men beside men, older vs younger, flashily vs more soberly dressed, etc. Oldies like me will have already started to double up on the front seats rather than have to battle their way up to the back of a shoogly bus negotiating the twists and turns of a country road. At some point I will have quietly moved over to the window position – it’s a point of honour with me not to have to be asked to move – I feel it is bad bus etiquette not to anticipate the needs of my fellow passengers.
Another point of etiquette is that everyone is generally very good about leaving the front seats free for the aged and infirm or for young mums (and it is usually mums) with babies in buggies. I always feel that the bus company should put up friendlier notices regarding buggies – they make a great fuss about how we should leave room for any wheelchairs (quite rare), but the ones about buggies (much more common) are more along the lines of grudgingly agreeing to them being carried at the driver’s discretion. I think they would do well to remember that these young parents are actually fare-paying passengers, unlike the rest of us oldies who gaily skip on and off the bus waving our free bus pass at the driver. Although ‘skip’, I have to admit is somewhat of an optimistic term in this case.
Were you wondering why I am deaf in my right ear? Well even if you weren’t, I’m going to tell you – I fell off a bus when I was 9 and burst my eardrum! And it wasn’t just any old bus, it was my Dad’s bus. He used to very occasionally take one of us for a trip to the terminus along whatever route he happened to be on at the time. It was exciting to just sit on the bus observing the other passengers coming and going (obviously the start of my data gathering activities) and watching the city go by until we eventually arrived at one of the mysterious destinations Dad used to refer to when he got home, such as Balornock, Shettleston, Penilee. I don’t know that the actual terminus could ever live up to my imagination, but just the sound of their names seemed exotic and mysterious to me and I was filled with curiosity, as I would always be when visiting somewhere new, about what it would be like to live in this different place and whether it would be better than my home in Govan.
These trips weren’t as unsupervised as it sounds. These were the old style buses with a driver and a conductor, who were normally a regular pair. Dad’s conductor was one John Mackie and they remained friendly for years afterwards even after they no longer worked together. In fact it was John Mackie who eventually bought our flat in Govan and paid the instalments direct to my Dad once a month until the outstanding amount was all paid up. So, it would have been this very John Mackie who was the conductor who issued me with a ticket and kept an eye on me as I sat up front behind my Dad, ensconced as he was in the driver’s cab. I had strict instructions not to lose the ticket and to show it to any inspector if asked. I don’t know if these little jaunts would have been exactly against regulations, but I was taking no chances and duly kept tight hold of my ticket throughout the journey.
Further instructions involved getting off the bus. There was a bus stop just round the corner from where we lived off the Govan Road and, under John Mackie’s supervision, I was supposed to alight there and go straight home where my Mum would be waiting at the appointed time. But on the occasion in question, something went wrong and the bus started to pull away from the stop with me still on board. I totally panicked and jumped off the moving bus.
I have absolutely no memory of subsequent events because the next thing I knew I was recovering consciousness in hospital. I rather think I allowed it to be thought that I’d either fallen or been pushed off the bus platform, rather than admit the truth, which was that I was trying to emulate people I’d seen grabbing the pole and nimbly jumping on or off the moving vehicle (or was that Danny Kaye in the film Merry Andrew...?) I obviously didn’t appreciate the physics involved and I have an impression that rather than going with the direction of travel, I just jumped off the back in the opposite direction and ended up unconscious on the road. I can only imagine the terrible fright I gave my poor Dad and Mum and Mr Mackie. Fortunately I was given a clean bill of health and sent home. It wasn’t until months, or possibly years later that it was realised that I had no hearing in my right ear and that the fall had burst my eardrum.
Didn’t put me off buses though, and I think I was even allowed to make further journeys in my Dad’s double decker! Today, bus travel seems to me like almost the perfect way to get about. Basically it’s a free half an hour or so to stare out of the window, ponder one’s fellow passengers or get on with one’s book. Someone else doing the driving and navigating and finding a place to park – what’s not to love? The icing on the cake is the odd occasion when one is accompanied by a small grandchild to whom the whole thing is a great adventure. The modern child is more used to being ferried around in the family car, so the humble bus, or indeed train, is a great novelty to be enjoyed in wide eyed wonder, much to the entertainment of their fellow passengers, no matter where they are sitting.