I get on the bus from West Drayton to Uxbridge. Go upstairs. 4 young people; 2 boys and 2 girls. (Maybe 17-19 age range). 4 of them but they are taking up half the deck – spread out over several rows. One boy calls out to me that my shoelaces are undone as I come upstairs. No doubt I am supposed to look at my shoelaces and then look like an idiot because they are not undone. I don’t. Sit on the bus for half an hour, listening to this conversation – shouting at each other over several rows. They see a friend outside the bus. The two girls start banging loudly on the window. I reflect that it’s a good thing it is probably made of some kind of reinforced glass.
The boy, who is brighter, goes over and opens a side window and shouts out at their friend. The talk seems to meander about. At one point one of the boys boasts about how he will challenge people at his college dorm to a fight. He will come out with his Samurai sword (plus a whole lot of threats and names of weapons I don’t understand). As they get off the other boy is pulling up his trousers which are somewhere down his thighs. I am tempted to say “Your trousers are undone” but don’t. Nothing wrong with these young people; the comment about the shoelace is a kind of welcome into their space perhaps. No doubt they will all learn a trade or skill and make a worthwhile contribution to society. But right now, aged (about) 18, they simply don’t know how to travel on a bus.
Get to Uxbridge. Go to the Post Office to get an International Driving Permit. I checked last night and the Post Office website confirmed that the Uxbridge Post Office branch offers this service. Only it doesn’t. On return home I check the website and can see that it is badly put together and gives misleading information. From experience I know that the chances of anyone at the other end of an email in a call centre wanting to take any responsibility for this are remote. (The Post Office is a company owned by the government but it would probably be the same for any large organisation; perhaps Schumacher was right and “small is beautiful”).
Stop off in Waterstones bookstore thinking I might at least buy a book so as not to have completely wasted the journey. Browse the history section. No; I don’t want Mein Kampf. (Why is this such a common sight in bookshops in this country?) Nor, do I want one of the many hatchet job type books on Russia by people such as the Guardian’s Luke Harding or Marc Bennetts. Marc Bennetts lives in Russia according to his Guardian bio page. I don’t really get the mindset of someone who would want to go and live in another country and then write books about how terrible it is. Luke Harding used to live in Russia but the authorities declined to renew his visa.  Luke Harding is noted for his seeming willingness to believe everything that he is told by British Intelligence  and ex-spies; so long as it is anti-Russian. (This is a recent Harding article where he breathlessly repeats every word told him by an experienced GRU agent – probably the fact that he is an ex-agent and now linked with British Intelligence is what makes him so trustworthy).
Back home on the bus. Two students (same age as the previous ones). Black in appearance. They spend the whole time talking to each other in very loud voices. It is a kind of public performance rather than a conversation. One of them uses the word faggot. The other one tells him off; it is a slur he says. The first one chews on that for a while and then comes back with calling his friend “nigger”. I flinch a little. After all I thought this word was considered out of order these days. As they get off the bus idiot boy calls his friend a “nigger” again – in a loud voice. Should I intervene? Say something? It is, after all a racist term. I’ve heard it used (when I lived in South London in the 80s) by a black woman to abuse a black man but in this case it doesn’t sound like that. The boy using it sounds to me like he has the consciousness of a white boy. Is it racist? It is somewhat racist – after all no white person on the bus could use this word so if nothing else he is bringing race into it. It doesn’t leave me with a very nice feeling. Like I have been slightly racially abused. I try to think about this from an understanding point of view. I think the boy using it is probably insecure. It seems all a bit confused to me. At any rate more young people for whom travelling on a bus in public presents a difficulty they are still working through.
You don’t of course get this sort of problem in Russia. At least in my limited experience (a month in Kazan and a month in Moscow region). Young people in the high-rises smoke a bit of weed but they seem to be able to behave in public without it being some sort of a crisis for them. The sense is that of a more cohesive society. The transition between being a minor and being an adult still has a context in which it can happen without becoming a great reflective drama requiring youth workers and psychologists to help manage the journey. The Russian state may be a bit more authoritarian than the West but their society isn’t crumbling like ours.