I always thought it was Oscar Wilde who said: ‘A man who finds himself on a bus beyond the age of 26 can count himself as a failure.’ But I just found out that it wasn’t. It was Margaret Thatcher. And I’m furious about it.
Because when I thought it was Wilde, I took it for a style diktat. He was saying that what a man ought to be by 26 is a great chubby ponce with a silk scarf and a cane and a vast private income who travels only by brougham and hansom cab and doesn’t mix with the hoi polloi. And I sort of agreed, and always felt a kind of shame as a result when travelling on public transport.
But as soon as you know it was Thatcher who said it, it ceases to be an epigram about decorousness and becomes a statement about power and money. And so I find myself torn between knowing exactly what she meant and thinking: Screw you, Maggie! I will NOT be judged on the transportation I choose and I absolutely reject all your values and those of your depraved capitalist society run by alien lizard people from the planet Wak.
But still I can never shake the feeling that buses are somehow beneath me. Which is why I have a rule regarding their use: I never, ever run for one. And nor should you.
There is nothing wrong with getting a bus. Nothing in any way demeaning about boarding a huge smelly communal vehicle that will rumble noisily and very slowly in the vague direction of the place you need to get to and then dump you half a mile away in the freezing wind and rain. At certain times, needs must. But do not run for that thing. Do not give it that satisfaction. Do not demonstrate to all the world (and to yourself) how easily your miserable life can be destroyed by 15 minutes of tardiness here or there.
For you may not make it. With your bags, phone and newspaper clasped to your chest you may sprint in unsuitable shoes on a wet pavement, slipping and scraping like a duck landing on a frozen lake, and arrive just as the bus pulls away, to find a queue of people staring at you, enjoying your pain but pulling sympathy faces for the hell of it. You’re a failure. Not for choosing to travel by bus, but for wanting this one so much and failing to get it.
You might even fall. Might slip or stumble and go arse over tit and lie there in the road, bleeding from scrapes on your forehead and knee. And still the bus growls off, very slowly, to somewhere not all that near where you want to go. And the queue stares at you. And the people safely tucked away on the bus turn and stare at you too, through the windows. Because you failed even to stay upright.
Or, worse still, you catch the bus. Best-case scenario: you burst through the doors like a fireman into a burning bedroom, and clatter to a halt and look around triumphantly, panting and sweating. But the doors don’t shut. The bus goes nowhere. It stands there for another four or five minutes while they change driver. And everyone stares at you, huffing and puffing and red in the face, thinking: What a div. She made all that effort – messed up her hair and lost a shoe – for nothing.
So do not run for that bus. Being a success in the world, having total control of one’s life, is about being able to take or leave things. And about being seen to be able to. It doesn’t matter how much of a hurry you think you are in. Be one of the people for whom ten minutes does not make a difference. Tell yourself you do not need that bus, and you will feel it. Let it go. It’s what Oscar would have done.
Read Giles Coren’s rules for urban living every week.