‘On the Bus My Oyster Card Goes “Ding De Diing De Ding Ding” ’: Transforming the Space of London’s
On an April evening’s journey from Streatham to Tooting the actions of two teenagers prompted me to think about the sociality of public travel, when they responded to the anonymous voice that organises their journey on the 319 through this area of South London. After our imminent arrival at ‘Tooting Bec Lido’ was announced through the speakers in the ceiling, the girl closest to me mimicked these words, giving an almost exact repetition of this voice from her position at the back of the bus. Her friend, in turn, responded to this marking of the received pronunciation of ‘Tooting Bec Lido’ employed by the disembodied female voice, by repeating the word ‘Lido’ in her vernacular English, common to the area. By signifyin(g)1 on this announcement the first girl drew attention to the incongruence between the way in which that voice is used to organise bus journeys and the girls’ own understanding of their local area. Through the girls’ use of repetition, an aspect of the cultural politics of bus travel was briefly made apparent. There was a conflict between their local vernacular and the universalising, standard English of the announcement. The final repetition (which isolated and corrected the anomalous word) performed a different function from the initial marking. The second girl asserted the primacy of their language and knowledge over that of the anonymous female’s voice. Nothing further was said by either girl on this matter. There was no discussion of why ‘Lido’ was pronounced by the disembodied voice in that way, or of whether the announcement was useful to them at all; the job had been done. Their values had been asserted. Their common sense understanding of the world and use of language had been affirmed by one another. The incident makes apparent how the organisation of space on London’s buses, far from being neutral, embodies particular forms, values, and relations, and makes these felt in the lived experience of passengers. That space is meaningful to passengers, who do not simply travel on the bus, but interpret it, communicate with one another through it, and perform social acts within it.