By Gareth Edwards

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Triple-Decker Buses and the Apostrophe of Evil

More from the blog that confidently sets out to answer every possible question in the universe, but struggles a bit when it comes to setting realistic goals.

asked Has anybody ever built a triple-decker bus?
When in 1897 Hennimore Phayres invented the double-decker omnibus he became the toast of London. Fame suited him, and he rode around his native Clapham on the top deck of one of his creations telling anyone who would listen of his inventing prowess. Phayres tried to repeat his success the following year with a triple-decker bus and in order not to fall foul of local planning bye-lays he expanded the passenger accommodation on his buses downwards to form a basement. Hennimore’s magnificent new vehicles were fully twenty-three feet from top to bottom, but seven feet of this was below road level and the new buses required an extensive network of trenches which played havoc with the sewer system and in the end the project was abandoned. Fearing disgrace and financial ruin Phayres absconded with a large quantity of bus company funds and was never seen again, though for many years enraged bus company employees persistently searched the capital’s buses shouting his name.

Miss Pear Where is the lid?
Don’t look at me. I’m not the one helping myself to jam at 11.00 at night. No don’t do that face. You’d look a lot less guilty without a smear of raspberry up your nose.

@tommo121 Since the construction of 'the gherkin' in London, sales of gherkins and other pickles have risen. So why aren't other vegetable-shaped buildings "cropping up" everywhere?
It’s not for want of trying. Residents of Dorset still remember with dismay The Swanage Caulifower, a two-hundred foot high steel and concrete floret that for a time was headquarters to the World Brassica Corporation. For much of the 70s the building dominated the small seaside town until a freak accident at a nearby dairy-processing plant during a high wind resulted in the structure being coated in a thick layer of melted cheese, rendering it simultaneously uninhabitable and delicious. The ghastly story of the Epping Swede is too horrific to go into in a family blog.

NanceIs the apostrophe becoming a banished mark in grammar? I see there replacing they're and its for it's (or worse dont for don't) in numerous texts, tweets, and emails. Is this some kind of bigger plot against the maligned point of punctuation? What's to be done?
It is well known that spelling in Shakespeare’s day was based on a system of free-form improvisation. What is perhaps less well-documented is the state of punctuation in those happy times. Look at any writing from the 17th century and you will see it was populated by exotic and imaginative punctuation marks roaming more or less at will: commas and full stops existed in abundance of course, though they were wilder in those days; but there were pilcrows too, and tildes, hederas, guillemets, and even here or there a mighty capitulum.  And then the dark times came. Distrustful of the apparent free-for-all in 1732 a coterie of wealthy grammarians lead by Trismegistus Stickler, an apostrophe manufacturer from Leatherhead, petitioned parliament to adopt the Great Punctuation Act, containing “Four Hundred and Twenty-Seven Simple Rules for the Correct Arrangement of His Majesty’s English.” Overnight people who had happily punctuated words as the mood took them were made to feel that whatever they wrote was somehow bound to be wrong. And that oppression continues to this very day. For years the flame of resistance was kept alive only on grocery stall price-tags for potato’s. ¶But now with a mighty randomly ~ punctuated «ROAR» the fight^back is beginning ⁄ Join us & victory shall be our’s §

becca_mcgee If we're not supposed to put cotton buds into our ears what exactly are we supposed to do with them?
They are for brightening up your bathroom. Put the cotton buds in a vase with some water and they will bloom into cotton blossoms. They look pretty in an arrangement with chrome-plated shower roses and a spray of Cif.

That's all for November's instalment as I see it is now December. But why not defy the relentless encroachment of time by asking this blog a question of your own in the space below?


  1. Can you please answer a few of my seasonal holiday questions?: Why was good King Wenceslaus out looking on the feast of Stephen? What are reindeer games? Is it a good idea to roast chestnuts on an open fire? How many reindeer does Santa Claus have pulling his sleigh? And finally, Why is Frosty the Snowman so jolly?

  2. Profound thanks for your clarification re triple-decker buses. You may have inadvertently shed light on a family mystery. As the top deck of buses was always set aside for smoking in the old days, do you know what the basement deck was set aside for?

    You see, my grandfather, a Londoner born and bred, when he lit a cigarette, would always say "top deck for smoking, basement deck for..." and stop there. He always refused to explain what it meant and the most I ever got was a literal 'nod and a wink', sometimes with a finger tapped on the side of his nose if I pressed him on the subject.

    For years, I assumed it was a reference to some kind of merchant-navy-beastliness, but as he worked in a department store that didn't seem to fit.

    Having read your post I will be contacting the London Transport Museum to gain access to their 'Black Chamber' to see if I can clear this up.

    1. Brilliant - both your answer and Julian's comment.

    2. The basement deck of the short-lived triple-decker buses was initially where they kept the snooker tables. This was a huge draw for younger passengers but met with disapproval from some of the more conservative travellers who believed buses were for sitting quietly on and not making eye contact. In a bid to encourage healthier pursuits the bus company replaced the snooker tables with a swimming pool, but this attracted a very racy set of pioneering peripatetic naturists and it's possible that this is what your grandfather had in mind.

  3. thanks for confirming my punctuation views. i miss guillements and tides too.

    Now I have some seasonal enquiries. In particular I have always wondered where Orientar is what traversafarring might be. Also what is a Day Ittynye? And what would incense own one?

  4. Thanks for answering my veg-shaped building question. I always wondered why we haven't seen 'The Asparagus Spear', 'The Carrot' and 'The Parsnip'... but I had totally forgotten about the doomed Cauliflower of Dorset. I will, at once, try and 'google' the Epping Swede, but will remember to delete my Internet History files and clear my cachè afterwards!

  5. Are all shepherd boys as impractical as the one who heard the little lamb? I mean, he told the Mighty King that there was a child shivering in the cold and then suggests bringing silver and gold. Wouldn't a blanket have been more practical? Don't shepherds generally have easy access to wool?

    I've never understood this passion for precious metals.

  6. Now that the Mayan apocalypse has been proved a bust should we rest comfortably or do we need to worry about other ancient predictions?
    I wish you and your staff at SKoE a restful break.