Notes from West London · Word of the week

Word of the week: Twirly

Now that I’ve fessed up about celebrating my 60th birthday recently (Dead at 59, another list) let me tell you the best thing about reaching this milestone: free public transport.

Age-related benefits are not cast in stone. Pensionable ages have changed in ways that I have not really kept up with. Most of my friends have continued to work past 60. As my own 60th birthday approached, and friends showed me their passes allowing for free travel, I wondered if this benefit would be taken away just before I was eligible for it.

A month before my birthday I finally did a search on the subject. I looked up “Freedom Pass”, entered my date of birth, and found that I would have to wait until my 67th birthday to get one. Typical, I thought. The older generations could apply much earlier, and those of us born in the 1960s have to wait. But I did another search, and learnt that Londoners can apply for an “Oyster 60+” card, up to two weeks before their 60th birthday. I did so, and it arrived in plenty of time for the big day. Freedom Passes are a whole different thing. I shouldn’t need to research them again anytime soon.

I was disproportionately happy to receive my “Oyster 60+” card. I have never travelled for free on public transport. Even when we were children we were obliged to pay for buses and trains. When my brother and sister and I took the bus with my mother (the 88 to Oxford Street for example, or the 27 to Kensington High Street) it was always “one and three halves”, no freebies even for the youngest child.

As an 8-year-old, taking buses to school for the first time, I had to pay. The fare was 2½p each way. If I got off a stop early it was 1½p: I could save 2p a day that way, 10p a week, a significant amount to spend in the school tuck-shop. I started to do so. After a couple of weeks I felt like I was scamming my mother, so I told her what I was doing. She was cool with it. If I wanted to walk further and keep a chunk of my bus fare to spend on Wagon Wheels or Cheesy Crunchies, that was fine by her.

Back in the 1990s my mother was also eligible for free bus travel when she turned 60. Buses were free at the end of the morning rush hour (9am I think, although it might have been 9.30am back then). She was happy to wait, and delighted in describing herself as a “Twirly”. That was the nickname given to pensioners who boarded a bus immediately after the morning rush hour and asked the driver, “Am I too early?”. (“Too early”, sounds like “Twirly”, you get it.)

My mother might also have been able to use the Underground network for free, but she never took the tube: she didn’t like tunnels. Although we live where the Underground goes overground, and there are no tunnels at this end of the District Line, she could never be persuaded to use it.

I have no problems with the District Line, or any other part of the tube network. I have been taking advantage of free travel on buses and tubes for weeks now, and it still gives me a buzz. Earlier this month I met up with a couple of old school friends at a pub in Hammersmith. They both turned 60 in June. We had all used our “Oyster 60+” card to get there and one of them said, “It’s the best thing, isn’t it?” It really is. By contrast another old schoolfriend came to the same venue in October with his wife, by cab. I was talking to her about how much of a thrill I get from using free travel. “He refuses to get one,” she told me, even though he turned 60 a year ago. He has been in denial about aspects of this milestone ever since. Not me. Bring it on. I won’t even mind if you call me a “Twirly”.

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