Magazine article The Spectator

LIFE - Long Life

Magazine article The Spectator

LIFE - Long Life

Article excerpt

My mother's father, Sir Richard Paget Bt, was not just an old-fashioned Somerset landowner but also an amateur scientist, artist and musician of boundless energy and curiosity, whose achievements included the writing of a book on the origins of human speech, the invention of a sign language for the deaf, the hand-crafting of musical instruments, and the composing and publication of various longforgotten songs. And he was always propounding bizarre theories that he liked to test by using his children as guinea pigs, however hazardous this might be for them.

At some point during the first world war, when my mother was a teenager, he was with her on a bus in St James's Street - one of those buses that had an open platform at the back - and told her that when a bus was going at a certain speed, and provided you kept your body ramrod straight, you could fall horizontally backwards off the platform and then find yourself blown vertical and running gaily along the road. Announcing that the bus was now going at exactly the right speed, he successfully accomplished this feat himself and then shouted at her to do the same. When she hesitated, he abused her for being 'lily-livered'; so she plucked up her courage and fell. But she fell in too crumpled a manner, so ended up lying on the ground with a broken arm.

For many years such an experiment has been impossible, but this week Boris Johnson has been writing in the Daily Telegraph that buses with open platforms are about to return to London with a vengeance. After a long wait, his promised replacement for the much-mourned Routemaster is about to arrive 'en masse', taking over Route 24 from Pimlico to Hampstead Heath. By 2016, he writes, there will be 600 of them on the streets of London.

The Mayor does not recommend my grandfather's kind of irresponsible behaviour; he says you shouldn't get on or off a bus while it is moving and that 'you should look around to see that there aren't any motorbikes or cycles approaching'. But he celebrates the fact the people will again be free to get on and off buses between stops, even though this involves some risk: 'It is, as far as I know, one of the few recent examples of a public policy that actually gives back, to sentient and responsible adults, the chance to take an extra risk in return for a specific reward. …

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