There are many things I’ll miss about London life, but there’s one irrational and wholly inconsequential behavio
ural trait that I’ll be glad to kiss goodbye to – Oystercard Unreadiness Syndrome.
Maybe you’ve not heard of this disease that’s currently rampaging through our capital city, but you’ve almost certainly seen it. It predominates in women, although is not exclusively confined to them, and its frequency tends to increase on occasions when those around the victim are running late to get somewhere. There is a simple cure, but education is still necessary to ensure that we stamp out this terrible illness.
Picture the scene. You’re on the bus. You’re late for a job interview/first date/goddaughter’s birthday party. You’re making good progress through the busy London roads, and all is looking fine. And then it strikes when you’re least expecting it.
The bus stops to allow a fairly lengthy line of passengers to get on. From the size of the line, they’ve been waiting there for, ooh, fifteen minutes. During that time, each passenger has no doubt been consumed with their own thoughts – "What do I need to buy in Tesco’s?", "I wonder why he isn’t answering?" or "Man alive, look at the legs on her", maybe? But each member of the ever-lengthening queue knows one indisputable thing – once the bus finally arrives, they’re going to get on, pay the fare, and (hopefully) sit down. It’s quite simply the law of the (transportation) land.
Most people get on the bus as expected, the beep of the ticket machine registering the successful acceptance of the validity of their Oystercard payment. But then comes our poor OUS sufferer. Identification is generally possible by the handbag she’s swinging from her shoulder. If it’s conceivably large enough to conceal, say, Liechtenstein, then it’s probable that she’s at the very least a carrier of the disease. She makes the short step up onto the bus, and then, confronted with the familiar yellow glow of the Oystercard reader, she makes the grim realisation that she has to offer some form of payment for the journey. Does she have her Oystercard ready, having known for the last quarter of hour that she was going to need it? Sadly not.
No matter how many times they get on a bus, OUS victims are crippled by an inability to remember to have their payment out and ready to use. And not only is it not ready, it’s hidden within the murky depths of that handbag, no doubt nestling cosily beneath the severed heads of three ex-boyfriends and seventeen copies of the latest Harry Potter blockbuster.
And so the hunt begins. Our hapless victim rifles through the bag in search of the ticket she never even knew she needed. Her mission unearths all manner of treasures. Marlboro Lights (six packets)? Check. Picture of her and closest mate on the slopes at Val D’Isere? Check. Small surface-to-air missile (collapsible)? Check check check.
Only after a complete dismantling of the bag and the laying out of all its contents on the floor, does the victim find the means to pay. With a cheerful ignorance of the villainous stares of the disgruntled fellow passengers who’ve been kept waiting for ten minutes, she walks to an empty seat and settles down to listen to David Gray on her iPod.
Victims in advance stages of the disease can find that after taking every single item out of their bag, the Oystercard was actually in their pocket all along. Variants of the disease include Credit Card Ill-Preparedness Complex (generally witnessed in long supermarket queues) and Fast Food Indecisionitis (where the level of indecisiveness increases in direct inverse correlation to the number of items on the menu).
We need to act urgently if we are to banish this world of the terrifying impact of this degenerative disease. Please do give generously, and help those that are unable to help themselves. Thank you.
PS In the United States, I can only assume that if somebody waits until they get on the bus to get out their payment, security marshalls will operate on a shoot-to-kill basis. Zero tolerance – it’s the only way forward.