October 2004
A guide to mobile eating

I haven't been on 'public' transport for many years my dears. I am, of course, not a member of the public. However I had heard through my contacts in the art world that the newest and 'hippest' place to eat these days is on London Transport and so swallowing my distaste I decided to spend a morning amongst the proletariat. I have to admit things did not start well.

I boarded a bus labelled as 'one man' but it seemed to be full of people, some of them women. The driver who for some unaccountable reason also appeared to be the ticket collector, seemed determined to throw obstacles in my path straightaway. First he claimed to be unable to accept credit cards and when, after a short altercation, I agreed to pay 'cash' he became very upset at my proffered £50 note. It was difficult to understand much of what he was saying owing to differences of class, ethnic origin and a glass screen, coming between us, but eventually and with growing signs of insurrection from the mob waiting behind me to board, he waved me through without the need to pay. Others had already simply walked around me without making any attempt at all to show tickets or pay and so I surmised that payment is optional on London Transport under Mr Livingstone's exciting new regime.

It was difficult to find a seat. Apparently it is normal to occupy seats designed for two with just oneself. My attempts to encourage a young man wearing a lot of jewellery, and with his legs so far apart as to make his eyes water, to move up resulted in some rather aggressive (although unintelligible) language and strange noises from his teeth. However at that moment I saw a double seat become vacant and I moved toward it. This was not as easy as it might have been. The omnibus was now moving at considerable speed and these models appear to have a new design of footbrake - all on or all off. The result was that I found myself alternating short desperate sprints forward with wild grabs at the handrails to avoid being thrown backward to the floor (none too clean I might add). All the while a recorded voice was continually announcing 'bus stopping' even though we were in the outside lane. The driver himself seemed occupied with talking into a mobile phone whilst overtaking cars and forcing pushbikes off the road whilst old people were bouncing off the seats like ping pong balls as the bus pursued its erratic course.

Flung finally into my seat by a particulary sharp piece of braking, I took stock of my surroundings. A hot day meant that the bus resembled a mobile greenhouse. Clearly the locals were used to sunnier climates than ours as the bus's heating system was still running at full blast blowing hot air up my trouser leg and I commenced to feel rather faint. As I tried to relax somewhat I began to regard my fellow diners. Across the aisle a young woman with a distracted air was repeatedly pinching small lumps off of some kind of muffin and placing them in her mouth with no apparent knowledge of , or interest, in what she was doing. The young man behind her was conducting a noisy mobile phone call whilst pulling heavily battered pieces of some kind of chicken/rat/cat from a cardboard bucket and poking them into his mouth during the rare pauses in his rapid-fire conversation. At one point he began to suck on some dishwater coloured bones with apparent enthusiasm. The smell was not very pleasant. Upon finishing the meal he threw the bag to the floor where it joined a great many others and glared at me when I tut-tutted disapprovingly. Other omnibus-borne diners were engrossed with the contents of various brown paper bags the bottoms of which were translucent with grease and from which they removed potato chips and some appalling things apparently called 'burgers'. Others still were feverishly emptying packets of crisps, going so far in their obvious delight at the taste as to hold their heads back in order to tip the last few delicious crumbs in. Their pasty complexions, darting suspicious eyes and inane conversations in which 'innit' seemed to serve the function normally reserved for the comma, however, suggested that this diet was not perhaps one to be recommended for mental, physical or spiritual health. At least not at 8:30 in the morning.

As my 'stop' approached and I bounced from side to side whilst descending the stairs, fighting the powerful gravitational forces induced when a large vehicle attempts, in under two seconds, to come a dead halt from thirty miles an hour, I could not help but think that eating on omnibuses is not something we, as a society should really encourage. Perhaps this is what darling Mr Blair means when he now admits to the mistakes of the 60's. Too late Mr Blair, too, too late.