Socialist Worker

The Maintenance of Headway - Magnus Mills

by Paul Brandon, editor of Busworker
Issue No. 2181

The book

The book's cover

“It’s a bit like buses – you wait for one and three come along.” The solution served up by those in power to challenge such mocking of the industry has been to create “the maintenance of headway”.

That means, as the Booker Prize nominated author – and bus driver – states, “the notion that a fixed interval between buses on a regular service can be attained or adhered to”.

Mills’s short novel paints a picture of the real dilemmas bus drivers face on a daily basis when confronted by such a system. It brings to life a selection of the familiar characters employed to enforce the regime.

He portrays a kind of culture of madness, with its chief obsession summed up in the repeated mantra, “there is no excuse for running early”.

The book should be read by anyone who regularly uses London buses, as it gives the reader an insight into a system that needs radical reform.

Edward, the most attractive character in the book, offers some hope when he says we need an “organic” bus system – one that’s more responsive to the needs of the city and its passengers.

Yet this book could have gone further.

There is no reference to the wider privatised context of the bus industry.

That would provide Mills’s characters with greater insight into what appear to be irreconcilables.

Bus workers need Mills’s obvious talent to now write the sequel – one where bus workers rise up and challenge a system that creates wide disparities in pay, long hours, stress, and a general lack of empowerment.

Bloomsbury, £10

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Article information

Tue 8 Dec 2009, 18:40 GMT
Issue No. 2181
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