Anna Burnside: Use the bus, get kids out and about

Learning to use the bus by myself as a child felt like a liberation. Picture: Alamy

Learning to use the bus by myself as a child felt like a liberation. Picture: Alamy

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CAN it really be true that almost half of all 11-year-olds have never been on a bus? This shocking statistic comes to us courtesy of the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking 13,000 British children born in 2000, 2001 or 2002 – presumably by following their mobile phone usage (three-quarters of them have one) or tailing their parents’ cars as they are shuttled to school, football and friends’ parties.

These are not waifs striking out alone in the big world. This figure is for children accompanied by an adult, who are so thoroughly protected from the mundanities of normal life that they travel only by mum’s taxi, train, stretch Humvee or sedan chair. Not for them the squash and jostle of shopping bag and folding pram or the unmistakable smell of wet coat on a dreich Glasgow morning.

Heaven forfend they might attempt this on their own. Just 4 per cent of the kids surveyed had used public transport unsupervised.

I know things were different when I was a girl, back when we thought Jimmy Savile was just an eccentric who should tone down the tracksuits. But learning to use the corporation bus service, the underground, then the rest of the trains and buses that opened up the world was a liberation.

It started in primary three, when I was deemed old enough to get the bus home alone. That is not a misprint: primary three, I was seven. For the first couple of journeys, my grandfather played private detective, shadowing me as I walked down the hill to the bus stop, checking that I crossed at the lights. After two uneventful days my mother stood him down and I made my own way back, without incident, until I left school nine years later.

Going to my music lesson involved either a thrilling mid-journey change, or getting a different type of bus altogether. Visiting friends on the other side of the city was my introduction to Glasgow’s rattling suburban rail network and, one rookie mix-up of Pollokshaws East and West aside, this also went smoothly.

A Saturday morning trip to Byres Road to drink milkshakes in a gloomy cafe and buy Simon shirts from Hoey’s? Transcard in hand, I was away. Day trip to Paisley? Not a problem.

I managed all this without the Trainline app to tell me when the next train was due, and Google Maps to tell me what bus would come. Bus stops were just that: signs at which buses stopped. No updating display of when the number 61 might grace us with its presence, nor a route map or timetable. Yet I thrived on these experiences and pride myself on using public transport wherever I am.

My daughter, who is 16, started off by going to drama classes by underground. Now she flies off to Australia, via Dubai, although she finds the stopover terribly boring. When an outing is planned, my son knows better than to ask if we are taking the car.

Fellow parents, you can do this. Please do this. You have nothing to lose but the sedan chair.

Unplug these ancient rockers

AC/DC have just released a new album, their 16th. Called Rock Or Bust, it is thematically and tonally extremely similar to the 15 that preceded it.

Looking at the band, one question springs to mind: why? Two of them look like mortgage advisers on dress-down Friday. Cliff Williams, with his long silvery hair, reminds me of the blonde one from Birds Of A Feather. Angus Young, right, who still insists on the pantomime school uniform, is more like Wee Jimmy Krankie. On the plus side, the cap hides his receding hairline, and his roots when he needs a touch up.

Whatever their song titles may try to imply, these men are not outlaws. There is nothing wild, bad, dangerous or edgy about blokes in their 60s singing Rock The Blues Away and Sweet Candy. It is undignified and faintly embarrassing.

The news that they plan to play live in 2015 makes it all even worse. How will they introduce themselves to the audience? “For those about to rock, we salute you for paying for our restorative dental work.”

Earlier this year, founder member Malcolm Young left the band after he was diagnosed with dementia. If his brother Angus et al want to write a song about that, I’m all ears. Otherwise, gie’s peace.

Time to start panicking

Tomorrow, according to Mary Berry, is the day to start planning Christmas dinner. The Bake Off queen reckons the making of cakes and puddings, buying of tinned goods and stashing of snacks in the freezer should begin on 1 December, to avoid a fit on 25 December.

I was not aware it was possible to buy Christmas dinner in tins and will be investigating with all speed.

In the meantime, I might make a list, but it will be mostly question marks and horrible queries. Get hair done? Aunties to give the kids?? Is WW2K15 available for our ancient Wii??? How will I pay for all of this????

Making the puddings will have to wait.

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