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Going out and about in the modern world

Yesterday I went shopping in Kingston, a town in south-west London well known for its facilities in this respect. As it happens, courtesy of my senior citizen’s Freedom Pass, I chose to travel there by bus – not an experience that I have often embraced in recent times.

The expedition was something of a novel experience.

Firstly, as long as I can access a seat and sit down, I quite enjoy bus rides.

A prime advantage over journeys by car is that you don’t have to worry about finding a place to park or having the shrapnel with you to pay for it.

Also, bus rides give you prime opportunities for people-watching and reflection, both of which I gradually seem to do less and less of in my personal life.

Not that either is necessarily entirely worthy in the actualité.

One can benefit from people-watching in a negative/positive way.

To start with, in surveying your fellow bus passengers, you can always find solace in the realisation that in life there’s always someone worse off than yourself! Going out and about among the generality of British humanity in the raw, you cannot help wondering what on earth the bulk of them are making worthwhile contributions to anything productive or constructive.

I do appreciate that, arguably, the purpose of Life itself is not necessarily the pursuit of achieving anything.

However, coming from a not particularly well-off background myself in which – if our family couldn’t afford something we wanted – we either went without and/or did whatever we needed to do to gain the wherewithal to pay for it, I cannot help the fact that (in terms of ‘personal responsibility’) it rubs against my personal grain that there appear to be others who regard it as normal to have four, six, eight or ten kids and – if they cannot afford to house, clothe or feed them – then its somebody’ else’s responsibility to do it.

Secondly, I could not help but notice that there are a lot of very large people in south-west London.

We read occasional media stories about obesity epidemics – particularly among children – but I was struck by the sheer number of fatties waddling about in the centre of Kingston yesterday, presumably shopping for more food.

Thirdly, smartphones.

Being an oldie, I use my smartphone (for which I pay through the nose) primarily/exclusively for making or receiving telephone calls and or texts.

It is noticeable how few others do likewise.

I would estimate that 40-50% of people I walked past on my trawl through Kingston’s shops yesterday were doing something on their phones as they perambulated – e.g. talking, or reading/sending texts or indeed posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or else upon some app or another I’ve never heard of – instead of paying attention to where they are, where they are going, and whether or not they might bump into someone or something on the way.

There’s no doubt this is a generational thing.

My son, 36, was showing me last night how brilliant his new smartphone was. By simple voice command – he pointed out – he could place an entry in his diary, together with a reminder; ask any question about any subject in the world he liked and get an immediate voice-answer; send an email or text; and even (this a latest development apparently) switch his smartphone camera to ‘infra-red’ mode and survey his surrounding for heat sources etc.

Clearly smugly pleased with his new purchase and its on-board facilities, he asked if I ever used my smartphone’s voice facility to keep my diary up to date.

I told him that I didn’t. Instead I have a physical engagement diary in which I write out my engagements in longhand – why would I ‘double up’ and go to the trouble of duplicating it in my smartphone?

Furthermore, I pointed out (warming to my theme), I didn’t need to use my voice facility to ‘go online’ on my smartphone because I never went online on my smartphone.

Why would I want to do that when I can do it perfectly well (or better) on my computer when I get home?

I think my son had stopped listening to me by the time that I had extemporised on the fact that half the world’s population seem to spend so much time on their phones simply and solely because nerdy techo-types kept inventing new things you could do on your phone without regard to whether any or all of these were necessary or helpful.

Then younger generational people started using these new facilities because it was the fashionable thing – and/or because they were there (and, of course, because someone had persuaded them by advertising etc. that they’d be ‘being left behind’ if they didn’t spend a lot of money in buying and using them).

Fourthly – and finally – bicycles.

As a user of a car, of course, I naturally hate all cyclists.

Nevertheless, against all logic and reason, the fashionable PC brigade has decreed that leg-power is a good thing and duly wrecked all city centres by making them cycle-friendly and anti-vehicle.

The world of commerce and reason is grinding to a halt as someone somewhere has decided to favour cyclists over everyone else. In cities these days everything is for the convenience of cyclists (at the expense of cars). Even on ordinary roads cyclists constantly get in the way of cars, holding us up as we try to get to work and/or to important meetings.

Far too often in the countryside you see one or two cyclists idling along with a queue of twenty or thirty cars strung out behind them desperately seeking a stretch of road on which they can pull out and round them in order to proceed at even 25mph.

If I had a pound coin for every time I’d seen a cyclist go straight through a red traffic light, impede pedestrians by riding their bike across a Belisha crossing and/or even ride for hundreds a of yards at a time along pavements intended exclusively for pedestrians, I’d be the third richest man in Britain.

It’s an absolute disgrace. If the Government was ever so foolish as to give the UK electorate a referendum on the subject – a straightforward one, of course: Should Bicycles Be Banned, Yes or No? – I’m sure that the result would be at least 85% Yes.

At least the do-gooders haven’t banned gin yet – though I don’t doubt that it’s only a matter of time.

I had a double with ice, lime, Angostura bitters, loads of crushed ice and a can of Schweppes full-fat tonic immediately I got home last night … and then another after my ‘smartphone’ conversation with my son … after which I fell asleep in front of the television.



About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts