I was sat on a packed aeroplane late on Wednesday night enjoying the joy that is being delayed by Whizz Air from London Luton ( Really I suppose next it will be London Birmingham when HS1 finally arrives) as I did my best to blot out the human misery that is small babies crying for 2 hours 30 minute. So as ever I turned to the escape that is Spotify and blasted a few ditties out at a volume that was loud enough to mask all the other sounds that were going on and generally doing my nut in.
By chance one particular tune appeared that took me right back to my teenage years. The song was by Simon and Garfunkel and it featured the immortal lines “ Hello darkness my old friend, you have come to spy on me again”.The haunting beauty of these harmonies is in stark contrast to the theme of the song, which I have always believed was about loneliness. I was at a party recently which celebrated a life that was 90 years old, there were about 20 elderly people gathered to talk, chat, and reminisce about times gone by. Happy chats in fairness, indeed one charming lady who I spoke to at length informed me that the worst thing about getting old is loneliness and isolation. Surely I said you are not lonely surrounded by all these lovely people, well she said ironically we hardly ever talk to each other, the hours turn to days, then weeks and before you know it it’s days since you spoke to anyone.
To be honest I was rather taken back as it had not occurred to me that even though there were people around the truth is that isolation is a really tough problem. Once people get into that mindset it is very hard to break the cycle. This got me thinking about an excellent article that I read in Route One by my old friend Martin Dean, Director Of Buses at the Go Ahead group and presently the President of the Confederation Of Passenger Transport and all round good egg. Martin wrote a great article about the real effects of bus service being chopped by cash ridden Local Authorities. The point is that the implications of loneliness are far reaching and can affect anyone, social isolation and mental health go hand in hand. So when Local Authorities simply say sorry we have no money to subsidise bus services, it is not only a blow to the rural communities but it is also a real sentence to many single people who will be losing a lifeline.
Martin’s point is that hard core economics have no feeling or sentiment, It is sadly about the bottom line, but as he also pointed out the social implications are slowly being realised by some communities like Derbyshire and Norfolk. In these areas local politicians have reversed some bus cuts as they have recognised the benefits of connectivity and the well being of people in communities both rural and urban. Some of the most isolated people live in London a city of 9 million people, the humble bus is used by many on a daily basis as it connects them to other people. Research conducted in Shropshire for Greener Journeys discovered that elderly people in particular used the bus every day to do a daily shop rather than a weekly shop as it gave their lives a daily purpose.
And as Martin pointed out there is a strong and real case that we the bus community should be making about hard to measure but still essential factors that those tasked with making decisions need to be aware of when budgets are cut and some of the bigger implications. And so it seems only right and proper to finish with a classic line from Simon and Garfunkel…..And a rock feels no pain, and an Island never cries…..and like all of us sometimes we all need a bridge over troubled water. I thank you, see what I did there.