Recent reading. The maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills


In contrast to the aforementioned D-Day, The Maintenance of Headway could be consumed in an afternoon.  It’s the sixth novel (it’s a novella actually) by one of my favourite British writers; the bus driver who is Magnus Mills.

And this book is clearly autobiographical as it is something of an essay on the issues that face bus drivers in an unnamed city sporting an Arch and a Bejewelled Highway that must be Oxford Street.  It has certain similarities to his earlier masterpiece (the Scheme for full employment – an allegory based, I think on Napoleon’s grand scheme of the same name). Similar, but totally different, and, I think, less allegorical.  It has no real beginning, middle and end.  It has no plot to mention but it is a delightful and whimsical take on the little things that drive people’s day-to-day existences in whatever line of employment they find themselves.

Spats, cliques, politics all brew up as the depot’s drivers face up the inspectors in a class ridden micro ecosystem.

The mantra that bus drivers should be ‘driven’ by “the maintenance of headway” challenges individuals on a daily basis.  The ultimate goal of every driver is to finish his (or her) shift a few minutes early and keep moving throughout their day.  The inspectors are driven barmy by early running buses even though the population at large continue to arrive at bus stops early fully expecting their buses to arrive late.

Mills gentle humour is punctuated by the odd outburst of totally unexpected foul language by one of the more aggressive and anti-establishment drivers which makes for laugh out loud moments.

Magnus Mills is a national treasure.  Take this book to your heart.  A stunning return to form after his weakest outing to date (Explorers of the New Century).  Read it as a companion piece to The Scheme for Full employment then delve into his back catalogue.  I promise you much joy.

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