Saturday, 25 August 2012
Tales from the city-the fourth. Transports of delight.
Thank you, driver
A lesser-profiled event at the Assembly Rooms was a series of performances of Love Letters to the Public Transport System. Produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, this is a gem of a production, written, produced and performed by Molly Taylor. The premise of the monologue are a number of individual stories about love and busses, which spark other thoughts about the use we make of trains and boats and planes (or, well, busses), and the people who drive them.
The piece cleverly interweaves individual's stories with Molly’s own attempts to contact bus and train drivers who have taken her on key journeys - and her lack of success in doing so. What it also sparked for me was a memory of my first impressions of Glasgow busses. Arriving in the city from the ‘underbelly of British capitalism’ I was struck by two things. Firstly, how no-one in Glasgow ever seemed to press a bell to get the bus to stop, getting up and standing by the driver (or on the platform) seemed to be the practice; but secondly how everybody thanked the driver on their way off!
While the bell etiquette has changed, the #thankyoudriver seemed to me then, (and still does) a remarkable practice that is not repeated anywhere else (Molly confirms that it isn’t the practice even in a similar city, like Liverpool). She ascribes the difference (in part) to the fact that elsewhere passengers exit busses through a centre door away from the driver, but although this has some superficial appeal, surely in Glasgow the history as elsewhere, was that busses had back platforms. What did Glasgow’s passengers do to express their gratitude then? Shout down the bus? Pass thanks to the conductor? No, I thought then, and still think that it is a positive decision by Glasgow (and, she says, other central belt passengers) to go out of their way to acknowledge people working on their behalf in public services. Despite much-publicised (and serious) increases in the abuse of our public service workers, and the rising tide of those insulated from public contact by headphones and MP3 players, it continues. Long may it do so.
The performance also touches on another (and probably linked) aspect of public transport and our reaction to it. Molly finds it impossible to actually track down the particular drivers that took her about. She does speak to drivers who have won service awards, nominated by their passengers for their care and work, but it seems very difficult to get to an individual driver (after the event) to say thanks. Or even to get the companies to respond! She contrasts this with the facilities set up to process, deal and respond to complaints. Are we become the destroyer of services? Are we so concerned with our own needs that we fail to tell people thanks for what they do for us? And more seriously, is there no room for public service operators to set up ways to reach individuals with praise, rather than only blame?
Love letters has already performed in Glasgow at the Tron, if it reappears near you, get along to see it. Quirky, humorous and ultimately positive, it is beautifully written and acted. It itself, goes some way to attempt to redress the balance.