View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Life
28 February 2024

Hail to the Brighton bus driver: he could be me

The advert says: “All we ask from you is a driving licence and a smile.” Well, I have a driving licence.

By Nicholas Lezard

Lunch last Sunday at the Regency in Brighton: my favourite restaurant. One of my editors, K—, is in town for a reunion with friends on Friday and Saturday, but she is at a loose end the day after and we get on well, so why not? We have agreed to go Dutch and even though this will hole me below the waterline, I already owe her money and thus can’t scrounge. We share a bottle of the house white, but K— says she can’t have more than a glass because later she has to prepare a talk, being given on Monday to a bunch of young news reporters, trying to explain the difference between writing news and writing features. K— hasn’t done this kind of thing before and expects an evening of struggle.

“Go on, have another,” I say. “It’ll stop you overthinking it.”

“No, I really can’t. What do you think are the differences between writing news and features?”

Well, I’ve never written a news story in my life but I’m a couple of glasses in so am not lacking in confidence. This isn’t the Dunning-Kruger effect either, because I have written hundreds of feature pieces, and although I am often a prey to self-doubt I know I’m not the worst person to ask about this.

“Hang on, hang on,” she says after a couple of minutes, and grabs a napkin, unfolds it to its maximum area – almost the size of an A3 sheet – and starts taking notes. At first I think she’s taking the mickey but she’s not, and I go on, off the top of my head, for the next 20 minutes or so.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

“This is good stuff,” she says from time to time. And at the end of my spiel she says: “OK, lunch is now on me.” And it’s a sunny day so we go off to the pier and she even pays for me to have a go on the dodgems and the beautiful, old-school carousel. She insists on getting in the dodgem with me because she does not trust me not to ram into her head-on. As if I would, after that lunch.

It was a lovely afternoon and on the walk back to the Hove-l I think about the possibility of earning an income from teaching keen young tinies how to write features, reviews, or, God help them, amusing confessional columns in the back of venerable magazines. My great friend J— teaches music journalism at Brighton University and he’s a Spurs fan, so how hard can it be? (Sorry, Hunter, I couldn’t resist it.)

However, his tales of marking, and university admin, and all the stuff that comes with the gig that isn’t about inspiring the kidz makes me think I’d probably not be cut out for it. In fact, I know quite a few people who work in academia and I can’t think offhand of a single one who says, “This is the best job ever and things are going especially well these days.” There’s one person I know who teaches creative writing and she says if she sees one more story beginning with someone looking at an old photograph she won’t be responsible for her actions.

I start crossing the Western Road in a reverie, chuckling about this, and I nearly get run over by a bus. This’ll probably be the way I go in the end, but I step back in time and the bus, without even honking at me, carries on westwards. As I look at its back end I see an enormous advert for bus drivers. They’re always advertising for bus drivers here. This one mentions a salary that is, as far as I’m concerned, beyond the dreams of avarice (up to £35,000 if I recall correctly) and it has a striking slogan: “All we ask from you is a driving licence and a smile.” Well, I have a driving licence.

I have now been thinking about this for a few days and the thought has yet to go away. Victoria Coren once suggested I drive a taxi if I wanted to earn a bit of cash, but I don’t like the idea of that. Buses, though – well, they’re public service. I’d be doing something useful and that would be a new one. I have written approvingly about Brighton buses before and their drivers have always struck me as professional and accommodating. It won’t be like On the Buses, with a saucy clippie in a miniskirt and a miserable inspector with a toothbrush moustache. (Younger readers: On the Buses was an antediluvian ITV sitcom. A clippie is a bus conductor and if you are still none the wiser there is always the internet to inform you.) But I’ll be in my own heated cabin and – and this is the important bit – I’ll be driving a bus. How cool is that? I mean, they’re huge. You can’t go fast unless, of course, Dennis Hopper puts a bomb on board, but he’s not around any more so that’s no longer anything to worry about at the depot. The only taxing aspect that I can see is being asked whether you’re going to Kemptown, and the answer to that is usually no, so I think I can take that in my stride. The novelist Magnus Mills was a bus driver and it didn’t do his prose style any harm. (He’s actually really good: check him out.)

I do worry if I’m too old for the gig, though. I might be too old for all gigs, come to think of it. Even teaching bored students how to write “bum” on a wall.

[See also: My personal Blue Monday involved mountains of couscous and Shakespeare]

Content from our partners
What is the UK’s vision for its tech sector?
Inside the UK's enduring love for chocolate
Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 28 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The QE Theory of Everything

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU