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  • As I rounded a corner on last Sunday’s walk through the University of Ghana, there in the lush grass behind a lecture block stood a white horse with a couple of egrets on either side - alert, as if standing guard. Some last minute cramming was going on in the background by students who sat on the porch steps engrossed in their notes and books, oblivious to the beautiful creature and its entourage.

    There is an ongoing strike on at the university and some of the routine maintenance tasks are not being done, such as cutting the grass. Being as its rainy season now, the grass is bolting and can grow a foot in a week. So why not bring a white horse in for some prime grazing. Informal arrangements like this speak well of a society I think. Over adherence to rules or efficiencies at the expense of common compassion or goodwill can undermine fellow feeling somehow.

    In that wonderfully therapeutic, non-joined-up thinking that always happens on my walks, the white horse brought to mind one of my first trips on the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit); touted as the all new expression of transport efficiency in 1980s Dublin where the terms ‘public transport’ and ‘efficiency’ were rarely associated. We all marvelled at the timetables which were detailed to the minute. The trains were (and still are) lovely: sleek and painted in a green one of my students once referred to as ‘the springtime dung of Frisian cattle’. On that morning the DART train was full with the usual mix of slightly damp school goers, students and workers on their way to the office. The train stopped at a station and the doors hissed signalling that they could be opened and some people disembarked. A second hiss indicated that the doors had locked again in readiness for the train to take off and meet its minute-specific timetable. Instead a third hiss; the doors were open again and a voice came over the loudspeaker “ Has anyone on the Dart seen the umbrella belonging to the lady in the red coat on the platform?” , whereupon a young man went onto the platform and handed the umbrella to the aforementioned lady in red. The train took off again – late! But much more human.

    I’ve always enjoyed Dublin’s public transport. Growing up the bus routes with their own drivers and conductors were part of our daily lives. The conductor was ruler of the bus, master or mistress of all they surveyed. They chatted with the regular passengers or gave advice to visitors or admonished uppity school children. On more than one occasion I witnessed a bus full of merriment as the conductor ribbed the old age pensioners who, entitled to free public transport, fill the buses in the mid mornings. “How are the shareholders?” he asked with a glint in his eye and the laughter began. In the interest of efficiency Dublin Bus, like so many transport companies, got rid of conductors and enclosed the driver in a Perspex cage. The buses no longer had their host and the laughter died.

    So I say bring on the white horses
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