Bank robbers and Beethoven: life on the buses has changed

Ken Towl thinks that the bank robber look might be a new fashion trend

Our roving reporter, KEN TOWL, after months of observing lockdown, has been roving a little more than usual this past week, checking how Croydon’s public transport is coping with the new normal

Friday, and I can’t help but think that I look like a bank robber or, more to the point, a tram robber, as I stand at Addiscombe tram stop in a hat, sunglasses and, the latest fashion trend, a mask.

I do not mean to be flippant. I wear a mask because my instinct is to obey the law and because I rely on public transport to get around. I wear a mask, too, because the best scientific advice is that it reduces my risk of passing on the virus if I have it. Also, I am convinced that without a single exception, the anti-mask lobby is made up of idiots.

All of the above being true, to wear a mask – or to not wear one – is to make a statement in the same way we make statements through our choices of brands, colours and styles of clothing.

The young guy facing me as I get on the tram is not wearing a mask.

I infer that his statement is something along the lines of “Fuck you!”

I move along the carriage to find a space as far from anyone else as I can (which ends up being pretty much two metres). Most of my fellow passengers are wearing masks and I feel like I am being bathed in a warm soup of empathy. We are all saying, via our masks, “We care”.

The spell is broken, however, when the middle-aged man nearest to me answers his mobile and… pulls his mask down to do so. Any statements he makes now are explicit ones and, as is often the way with those people who project their voices during mobile phone conversations, jarringly personal. I won’t tell you what he said, but you would not want to be his urologist.

Mostly masked passengers await their buses while listening to Beethoven

At Sandilands, a young woman gets on and I note that she is sporting a fashion that seems popular among a minority: the daring, below-the-nose look. It’s also known as the I-don’t-want-any-trouble-but-I-reserve-the-right-to-spread-the-virus look.

On this tram, no one seems to catch anyone’s eye, much like the “old normal”, but I sense that everyone is acutely aware of everyone else. Nobody wants any trouble but the truth is we are all, now more than ever, dependent on each other to do the right thing.

We arrive in central Croydon on a Friday evening, too early for anyone to be drunk yet, but it is a balmy evening and it feels unnaturally quiet. After a couple of pints in a town centre beer garden (the Royal Standard, since you ask; they have had the good sense to tidy it up a bit. With the coloured lights in the trees and the Flyover’s dual carriageway rumbling overhead, it feels rather welcoming) I decide to head back up towards Addiscombe by bus.

The communal hand sanitiser (has someone thought this through?) at West Croydon stands mostly unused

A 466 is the first I see, so I mask up, hop aboard and head upstairs – where there are always going to be fewer passengers – and take a seat at the front. Towards the back, a lone youth sits anonymously behind a black mask just like my own. He is some six metres away. I am going home but the coronavirus is going nowhere.

Fast forward to Sunday when, anxious to spread the risk, I stay at home but ask my friend Ashley to report back on her own tram and bus journey up to Crystal Palace.

The text bulletins she sends from the frontline confirm that the weekend trams are not busy, that some 80 per cent of passengers are wearing masks, and that the bus journey up to Crystal Palace, on a 227, was punctuated by announcements informing passengers that it is a legal obligation to wear a mask and that buses were subject to checks by “police and transport officers”. On the way back the announcement changed to advise that as the bus was half full, it had “reached capacity” and would not be picking up any more passengers. This is the new normal.

On Monday, I check out West Croydon bus station, the “hub” where bus, tram and train passengers are at their most promiscuous, surely a breeding ground for socially transmitted infections?

Buses at West Croydon were all operating at well below capacity

I decide to walk in order to mitigate my risk. This involves a half-hour dance of zig-zagging and trying to anticipate other pedestrians’ moves, and so I waltz my way to find a hub that is a mere shadow of its former self. Nearly all of the passengers at West Croydon have masks. Some of the drivers do, too.

There is a hand sanitation station but, while I am there, no one uses it. All the buses appear to arrive and leave the hub at a markedly reduced capacity.

Between blasts of classical music, the tannoy announcements warn the few waiting passengers that they should obey the several rules that characterise our journeys on public transport. It is quite surreal, people of all ages listening to Beethoven cut with public service announcements while dressed as bank robbers.

This is very much the new normal.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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2 Responses to Bank robbers and Beethoven: life on the buses has changed

  1. Bob Grahame says:

    “central Croydon on a Friday evening, too early for anyone to be drunk yet.”
    Wow; Croydon really must have changed since lockdown!!!

  2. davidmogo says:

    Incredibly unsympatheric article.
    There are plenty of people, myself included, that have medical reasons that means we cannot and should not wear a mask. Assuming that anyone not wearing a mask on public transport or in shops is saying “F**k you” is much more your problem than it is theirs.
    We should not be made to feel shamed for our conditions. Each to their own.

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