Friday, 21 January 2011

A Busman's Holiday And The Moral Dilemma

Buses. Irksome passengers. Bus drivers. You just can't get away from them.

Every day off a bus driver has is a busman's holiday.

Busman's holiday? Where does such a well used expression emanate from? says there are several theories, the most common refers to the regular drivers of omnibuses in the 19th Century. These drivers became so attached to their horses that they would disguise themselves as passengers and keep an eye on the health of their horses and how the relief drivers were treating them.

But the term could have nothing to do with omnibus drivers. It could refer to gangs of pickpockets who were trawling the streets at that time. They would work in pairs and one would engage in conversation with their victims, while the other would relieve them of their wallets. He was known as the buzzman or buzman and a 'buzman's holiday' meant that there was never any time for a holiday as there was never a day off.

Take your pick.

Either way, today the meaning of busman's holiday is doing the same on your day off. Take yesterday. I had the day off as it was my daughters eleventh birthday. Travelling down to the school in a car, over the brow of a hill in the bleak moorland landscape, there was the big local service bus parked on the side of the road. The driver was sitting on his own in the front passenger seat, the rear panel was open, the engine was in full view and it was making gurgling noises. It had broken down. Further down the road there were the odd frozen looking, huddled to the bus stops. Through the town another bus pulled speedily out of a side road, forcing me to break. Down in the valley it was foggy and there was a bus with faulty back lights which kept flickering on and off, as if there was a loose wire causing the fault.

I find it impossible to not notice these things. An off-duty bus driver on a busman's holiday seems to be no different from an antique dealer on holiday failing to resist the temptation to pick up a ceramic object and check if it is genuine or has undergone restoration. The difference is that often I seem to face a moral dilemma.

Do you stop when you see a broken down bus? Is it help or hindrance? Do you say something or report the bus driver who carved you up? Do you tell someone about a faulty light?

I didn't stop for the service bus which had broken down as it was a big company, who are highly efficient and there would be a replacement bus on the way. I did stop and warn the huddled passengers that they may be facing a long wait. I didn't say anything about the bus driver (who I recognised) who pulled out without looking because that would have been a case of 'pot calling the kettle black'. The amount of times I have done that sort of thing must be shamefully large.

"Never criticise another driver," a wise old sage of a bus driver once told me, "because it always comes back and whacks you in the face". He's right, life is too short to get into that game. And the bus with faulty lights? I'd forgotten about it by two corners later and the driver will pick it up when he does his walk round check.

I read the Racing Post instead.

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