"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book


Teaching the grandchildren to use buses. By Roger Atkinson

Blog | By Roger Atkinson | Jul 04, 2024

Window on a lost world: schoolgirls on a bus in 1946 (Photo: Getty Images)

Two generations ago, in the 1940s and 1950s, the bus was a nearly universal means of transport, but we are now in a second, or even third, generation of children who never use buses except for school buses, and the school buses are usually only for those over the age of eleven. Their parents convey them to primary school by car because crossing the road on foot is too dangerous and paedophiles haunt every bush or alleyway. The school bus to the secondary school has to be tolerated because the school is too far away, and apart from having to pay an extortionate sum such as £160 a term for a season ticket, the only problems it presents are bullying and riotous behaviour. Bullying is for the school to deal with under its zero-tolerance policy, and the bus driver should cope with riotous behaviour.

My grandchildren have been brought up never to go on a bus. Indeed, their parents say: ‘No, we live in the country; there are no buses.’ They confess to having seen one from time to time but know neither where it goes nor whence it comes, nor do they know anyone who has ever used it. If I appear at their house, having come on the hourly bus service from Chester, they are puzzled but put it down to my having exceptional knowledge not available to anyone else.

When the twins, Theo and Rupert, were just over ten and would soon have to use a school bus, I decided that it was time to teach them how to get home from my house by bus. There were buses at 15.40, 16.40 and 17.40 to choose from. We walked up to the main road and waited for the 15.40. It stopped, but they refused to get on it unless I went with them. So I did, and waited 25 minutes in their village for the bus to go on to its destination and come back. Their mother came down by car to collect them from the bus stop – about one-and-a-half miles, a journey with which they were familiar as the bus stop was not far from their primary school and there is a foot- path across the fields to their hamlet.

On their next visit, I tried once again to get them on the bus home. Rupert went; Theo refused. I asked the driver to see that Rupert got off at his village. Unusually on such a service, a drunk got on and pestered passengers, and the driver had to turn him off in an intermediate village. This so preoccupied him that although he stopped in the twins’ village, he forgot about Rupert. Rupert had expected individual attention, so even though he recognised the village, he did not get off. But when the bus moved on again, he reminded the driver that he had been asked to put him off at the village. The bus reversed for 150 yards and Rupert got off. His mother appeared in the car a minute or two later, took him home and then drove 13 miles to Chester to fetch Theo and back again.

Next time, they both got on the bus but Theo handed me his laptop as they did so, saying: ‘Daddy said I must never take this on a bus; I would lose it.’ Their mother met them in the village and took them home. Their father then drove 13 miles to Chester to fetch the laptop.

The twins are now nearly 15 and, apart from their school bus, have never ridden on a bus again. In just over two more years they will get driving licences and, no doubt, each will have his own car.

In the 1920s, rural communities were transformed – liberated – by the motor bus. Now it is scorned until old age, declining faculties and bereavement deprive us of the use of our cars. Then we campaign for county councils not to cut bus subsidies – the bus is an essential rural life-line, which we, who have paid our council tax for donkey’s years, are now using, tendering our bus passes for free travel on them.