In five years of living in Edinburgh I’ve had my share of frustrating encounters with bureaucracy, but a few small victories have served to bolster my spirits, one of them this early episode with Lothian Buses. It’s given me a warm glow every time I’ve laid my Ridacard on the electronic reader to see the name “King Rory Ewins” and a photo of me suppressing my laughter. It’s been, in fact, the very best thing about catching buses in this city.

After five years in my wallet, though, the card was starting to show the strain. A crack developed underneath the top edge, and it was clear that at some point I’d have to get it replaced. The card still worked, though, so I kept charging it up and using it. Nobody at Lothian Buses ever said anything.

Then this morning I got on the bus and the bloody thing didn’t scan. And the driver wouldn’t let me on, even though it was obvious I had a valid card. What, I was going around trying to scam free trips with a mysteriously inoperational card at exactly the time I normally commuted into work every day? I had to buy a ticket, he said, and get it reimbursed when the new card was issued. I didn’t have any change, because the whole point of carrying a Ridacard is so you don’t have to carry the exact change that Lothian Buses demand, so I had to go home to get some.

Fortunately I still had the receipt showing how much time was left on the card, so I took that in with me to the Lothian shopfront near Waverley.

“You’ll have to buy a replacement card,” said the woman at the counter. “They’re five pounds.”

But it just stopped working, I objected. It was fine until today.

“Ah, but you’ve broken it. It has wires that run around the inside, and if you break those it won’t work.”

Yeah, but it’s been like that for a while and it worked until today. (Anyway, it didn’t have wires inside, which you could tell just by looking at the thing. But I didn’t say that, because pedantry in these situations never pays.)

“We only replace them for free if they’re faulty,” she said.

So “broken” doesn’t mean “faulty” now? Oh, but I see—it’s my fault for carrying the card in my wallet for FIVE YEARS of loyal custom, when obviously I should have carried it on a velvet cushion stuffed with the finest eiderdown.


Nothing I could possibly say is going to get me out of paying them five pounds for a new plastic card that will eventually break and it’ll be all my fault.

“Um, the driver said I could get this ticket reimbursed...”

“That’s only if the card is faulty. This one is broken.”

ONE POUND, you tightfisted functionaries. One pound! Christ on a bike—because heaven forbid he should catch a bus.

“Fill out this form and take it over there.”

Oh no. A form. They were going to re-enter my details. The moment I’d been dreading ever since that glorious day.

Luckily the form still had the “other” field for alternatives to Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss, so I crossed my fingers, wrote “KING”, and handed it over. The guy tapped away at his keyboard, chuckling to himself halfway through. A good sign, surely.

He went out the back to retrieve the card from the machine, then returned to the desk and handed it over. There, next to the same photo of my smirking mug, was the name



—I yelled (inside). But I had a plan. A backup plan. There was still the faulty—sorry, the “broken”—card.

“Can I have the old card?”

Please let me have the old card please let me have the old card please I paid you five pounds and a pound for the ticket please let me have it please let me PLEASE.

“No,” said the guy at the card-issuing machine, “we have to keep those.”


You have to keep them. Why? Do unfunctional Ridacards retain some residual value? Do you melt them down to make new ones? Is there a stockpile of old cards in a warehouse that you keep for training purposes? “See this card? This card is faulty. And see that enormous pile of cards all slightly damaged through normal wear and tear? Those cards are broken. Faulty: no pounds. Broken: five pounds. No pounds. Five pounds. Study them carefully: your jobs depend on it.”

“Okay,” I said, in the most reluctant way possible. And left, carrying my 2”×3.5” rectangle of disappointment on its velvet cushion of eiderdown.

Out in the sunshine, I brushed past the crowds of gawping tourists queuing at the Tattoo office, their loud voices fading into silence as the sadness gripped my soul. I felt utterly deflated. I’d been dethroned by some bus company desk-jockey. No longer was I Rory, King of the Lothians.

Crap. I liked being King of the Lothians. For God’s sake, it was only a bus pass. It’s not like it was King Anthony Charles Lynton Blair’s biometric identity card. It’s not like it serves any other purpose than to record how much of my unspent money your company still has.

Well, that’s it. As soon as the pass runs out I’ll have to switch back to carrying change and paying as I go, and—more importantly—will have to avoid buses whenever possible. Because every time I use it now, instead of reminding me of a harmless bit of fun when I was new in town, that stupid self-destructing Ridacard will remind me of wet-blanket, killjoy, party-pooping, sourpuss, spoilsport marplots.

(No, neither did I. “An officious meddler whose interference compromises the success of an undertaking.Marplots, marplots, marplots.)

7 August 2006 · UK Culture

I knew that label-maker would come in handy.


Added by King Rory on 7 August 2006.

He, he. I read your rant. I have mailed off my hate-mail too.

Miss Psycho

Added by Miss Psycho on 7 August 2006.

oh NOOOOOOoooooOOOoooooooOOooo! The end of the most glorious reign the Lothians have ever seen. The mourning commences NOW.

Added by shauna on 7 August 2006.

The power of the press, or pressing a few keys at least: the people at Lothian Buses quoted this very entry in their reply to Miss Psycho’s letter! Mainly to say that if I’d replaced it when it was on its way out but still working they wouldn’t have charged me for it. Which seems baffling to me: if it has a crack in it but is still working it’s considered “faulty”, but if it stops working it’s “broken”? I would call something that works “working” and something that doesn’t work “faulty/broken”, myself. Given that they can always tell from their records how much was left on the card, what difference should it make? Of course, a local monopoly can do whatever they like... and I can press a few keys in protest. Forlorn protest, as it turns out. Not that powerful, really.

Added by Rory on 16 August 2006.

dimwits! arrgh! somebody buy them a dictionary.

Added by shauna on 17 August 2006.

I too have run up against that �5 replacement fee. I'd had a card, then didn't use it for ages and lost track of where it was. Searched through wallets, bag and the pockets of various coats, and still couldn't find it. Went and got a new one.

Standing at bus stop to come home from getting new card, put hand in pocket and discovered... well, I think you can guess.


Added by K on 18 August 2006.

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