One of the things I’ve had to get used to about working at a University based on an out-of-town campus is that it’s no longer feasible to walk to work every morning. Fortunately there is an excellent bus service from central Brighton to Falmer, so this isn’t too much of a hardship. I’ve now invested in one of those new-fangled smart cards that makes it very economical not only for getting to work, but also for hopping on and off while pottering about town doing shopping and whatnot.
I have noticed that if I get the No. 25 bus from Old Steine before 8am it only takes about fifteen minutes to get to the University of Sussex. If I’m a bit late starting out, however, and don’t get to the bus stop until after eight in the morning, the trip can take about forty minutes. The problem is that roadworks on the A27 Lewes Road have reduced it to a single lane in each direction; there’s a critical point when the traffic builds up to rush hour levels and then solidifies. Still, I don’t mind getting in before 9am as that gives me useful time before the roll of meetings commences, so I found it quite easy to adapt to the early start.
Anyway sitting on the bus this morning I had a kind of flashback to my schooldays. The school I went to was on the opposite side of Newcastle to where I lived, so I had to take the bus every morning. I did much the same thing in those days as I am doing now, in fact – getting the bus at 7.30 to avoid the heaviest traffic, and often doing the previous night’s homework before lessons started in the morning.
The one thing that was very different in those days (and we’re talking about the Seventies now) was that the “School Run” didn’t really exist. Even the posh kids took the bus or train to School rather than being ferried back and forth by doting parents. I think it did me a lot of good travelling on the bus along with all kinds of other people rather than being transported in the hermetically sealed cocoon of a family car. The famous friendliness of Tyneside folk undoubtedly contributed to the omnibus experience and left me with a lifelong preference for public over private transport. I’ve never owned a car and have no intention of ever doing so.
Anyway, this all reminds me of the (probably apocryphal) quote from Margaret Thatcher:
A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.
Whilst I’d by no means be ashamed to be counted a failure according to a Thatcherite criterion, I did once get a bit riled by a version of it when I was conducting a UCAS Admissions Day at another institution (also a campus university). A (male) parent of one of the candidates asked me why there was so little car parking space for students on the campus. I replied that undergraduates were basically not allowed to park on the campus, otherwise it would be overrun with motor vehicles and wouldn’t be so nice and spacious and green. However, I said, that’s not a problem because there was an excellent bus service that could take students to the University from town and vice versa in just a few minutes. The indignant father bristled and announced in a very loud and angry voice “No son of mine is going to get on a bus”. That was the nearest I’ve ever come to losing my temper with a parent on a university admissions day. Fortunately nothing like it has happened since.
It never would have occurred to my parents to come with me when I visited universities for interview and I would have been horrified if they had insisted on doing so. Nowadays, however, prospective students are invariably accompanied by parents, who generally ask at least as many questions as their offspring do. Is this just an extension of the School Run, or is because parents now have to foot the bill (when in my day there were maintenance grants and no tuition fees). Either way, times have definitely changed.
Anyway, I’m about to get the bus home. Tomorrow we are interviewing prospective postgraduate (PhD) students. I don’t think any will bring their parents along. And quite a few may even come on the bus.Follow @telescoper