Monday, 16 July 2012

On the buses

One of the plus-points about having brain cancer is that I get a free bus pass (the other is reduced hairdressing costs). It's quite handy: not worth growing a glioblastoma for, but a useful thing to have.

It's mine because the DVLA won't let me have a driving licence at the moment, for fear I should embark on another bout of side-on disco dancing, this time at the wheel. Since I've only had the one fit, and that nine months ago and before the tumour was cut out, I can't help feeling this is a bit over-cautious. But there it is – no more vroom-vroom for me until a year after the surgery.

In the meantime I have a little blue card which gives me free bus travel around Scotland, and some reductions on the Glasgow tube and local trains. Annoyingly, it seems to be the same as the one my mum gets for being a pensioner, but it also looks like a YoungScot card, so I'm hoping people just think I had a hard paper round.

While it's a little odd to be – for this purpose at least – technically disabled, I use it daily. I actually quite like public transport; it provides a great opportunity to catch up on podcasts, do a spot of reading, and ponder the great issues of the day. You know, stuff like: does Tom and Katie's divorce settlement allow him to take the wean to McDonald's on Saturdays as long as he promises not to sacrifice her to his weird octopus god? (For fear of a complaining call from John Travolta, I should probably point out here that I don't actually think the Scientologists worship un-nameable Lovecraftian horrors. I think they're far more sinister than that. )

Of course, public transport has its downsides: the varying condition of the fleet, from the comfy, wifi-enabled buses heading out west to the cabbage-smelling boxes aiming east; other passengers and their fascinating range of personal habits and conditions; happy, smiling Glasgow bus drivers with an interesting concept of clutch control: Wait, wait… right, he's just about half way up the stair… change down hard!

And, of course, the vagaries of city traffic. Just the other - particularly rainy - weekend, an apparently unreasonable attempt to get to Queen Street Station by means of boarding a bus which purports to stop outside it led to a major round trip thanks to "an obstruction in the road" (given the date, I guess this was the Orange Lodges getting their flutes rusty further into town).

"If youse are no' goin' tae the city centre," the driver informed us. "Youse hud better get oaf here."

What luck, we thought. The city centre is exactly where we're going.

We stayed on.

One tour of some of the more exciting parts of the south side and an unexpected trip over the Squinty Bridge later, the driver announced that a patch of pavement-free road under the M8 was now the city centre, and that was where we were all getting off.

As we splashed our way through ankle-deep puddles among fast-moving, rain-blinded traffic to negotiate a way into Anderston Station from the wrong side, I reflected that we were lucky technology hasn't moved on further: First Wormholes wid like tae point out that because of an obstruction in the quantum, youse'll all be getting' aff somewhere just outside o' space and time, from where youse'll huvtae walk tae Buchanan Street.

It also occurred to me that, were I actually properly disabled, I would be in a bit of bother right now - as opposed to just soaked up to the knees and swearing at drivers coming off the Expressway.

Of course, I'm not. And since my haircut is now substantially less medical than before, I don't look it, either. To be honest, I feel a little guilty about having a bus pass; OK, I have a serious illness, but I'm mobile and employed and can afford bus fares. In fact, I'm a little surprised at how readily it's accepted, since I'm clearly over 26, equally clearly (I would hope) under 65, obviously equipped with the standard number of operational limbs and generally self-propelling.

Still, it's nice to live in a country which has decided that those who need free public transport (and a few like me who don't really) should get it.

I wonder if Richard Branson can be persuaded to launch his £128K-per-person near-space flights from Prestwick

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