Tuesday, 13 March 2012

You can go your own way

I think we have all, at one time of another, suspected that buses in Edinburgh have minds of their own. This was undoubtedly demonstrated on Sunday when the bus pulled over at a stop where no one got on or off. This is not unusual-- drivers quite often stop and have a quick skim of the Metro when they are ahead of schedule. But this time, after a couple of long minutes when nothing appeared to be happening, the driver leant over his partition and announced, ‘this is where the bus stops being a 24; it is going to be a 47 from now on.’ 

I have never before been on a bus that had an identity crisis ( though there was a spooky synchronicity with my last blog...). When I got home I had a quick look at the on-line timetable and there was nothing to indicate that any of the Sunday services on the 24 is particularly inclined to change into another service mid-route. Wouldn’t it be more pleasing (not to say a bit less frustrating for the people on the bus who expected a 24 to be a 24), if this was a whim on the part of the bus rather than a command from the Lothian Buses equivalent of The Fat Controller? Perhaps the bus had a bit of a moment and refused to go any further until it was allowed to be a 47? (Could that be why my bus stopped on George Street last week--not mechanically defective but on a 'go-slow' because it was not getting its own way?)

I was a bit sad to leave the bus lest it show any further schizophrenic tendencies, but my personal route, which remained unaltered throughout, took me to Calton. I am ashamed to admit I have not climbed the hill since moving to Edinburgh and perhaps I was drawn there by association after writing about David Hume, who is buried in the Old Calton Burial Ground. 

Between the burial ground and the hill, Calton is a monumental mason's jumble sale: Nelson’s monument (where the time ball lives and without which the ships in Leith would not have known when it was time for tea), Dugald Stewart ‘s (another philosopher—clearly you couldn’t move without falling over philosophers in 18th century Edinburgh), and the Robert Burns Monument (Clarinda, recipient of all those begging letters in the form of love poems, lived in Calton Hill Street just around the corner). The unfinished National Monument was intended as a tribute to Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic wars. It appears the good citizens of Edinburgh had short memories for sacrifice—the project ran out of money and the mini-Parthenon was never completed; its nickname was ‘the Scottish Disgrace’. There is also the City Observatory on top of the hill and the Political Martyrs’ Monument (in memory of 5 francophiles who pre-dated Peter Mayle in their admiration for all things French and were banished to Botany Bay where they no doubt failed to learn their lesson-- inventing Fosters and the beach barbie instead). 

St Andrew’s House—headquarters of first the Scottish Office and now the semi-detached home of the Scottish Government, was originally the site of Calton Gaol ( I leave you to draw your own conclusions), and the Royal High School was, for a long time, considered the logical site for a Scottish Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. Nor would we want to forget the Declaration of Calton Hill—a statement setting out the demands for a Scottish Republic. One only wonders if there might be a new monument to political martyrs on Calton Hill before too long?

Calton Hill is a splendid place for far-reaching views, as well as all those monuments. It is also a nice place for a wander, well supplied with paved paths, carefully designed to take people to from the places they are, to the places they wish to be. Nevertheless, between these prescribed paths run worn tracks of bare earth; shortcuts scarring the grassy hill. These are known as desire lines—the paths people will make by taking the shortest or easiest route between points. You can lay out the route you want people to take; you can signpost it and pave it, smooth every obstacle; you can make it as attractive as you like. But living creatures will still decide their best route, and they will create a line of desire, as—apparently-- will buses. Politicians and public transport planners, take note.


  1. I remember bus identity crisis happening occasionally in London, but it fades in comparison with train identity crisis, which I always found more impressive and occurring rather frequently. Not that it changes its route that dramatically,just being a big mechanical beast seemingly changing its mind and leaving the driver, and the passengers, with no choice but to comply does it for me. I haven't been on a train choosing to stop being the Southeastern train to East Croydon and become the Eurostar train to Paris, but wouldn't that be a fantastic transformation.

    Tube train identity crisis on the other hand goes somewhere in the middle and lacks the drama - one can easily understand why one no longer feels like being the train to Morden and chooses instead to terminate in Tooting Bec. One just runs out of... steam?

  2. There are other identity issues surrounding buses when the numbers get transposed in one's mind. My dear elderly octogenarian father was sampling the bus experience recently having been a car driver all his life. He does not even yet have a bus pass but needs must and a hospital visit required a bus journey.Getting on the 87 bus at the journey's start was easy and like a young child setting out on an adventure I waved him off but then realised despite much briefing that his intention to get the 78 home was likely to prove problematic as there wasn't one.Thankfully he got on an 85(the alternative bus number option!) and made it back safe and sound. I wonder though how many absent minded elderly folks see new places on their way home!