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by John Walker


I am often told that I speak like the Reverend I.M. Jolly, but the man was far too jovial and optimistic for my liking.

The other day I was driving a bus out of Edinburgh when a rough looking family of five boarded in the city centre, the youngest being a very loud young lad of about three. The wee boy decided it was time to check whether the rivets on the inside of the bus were all secure. He set about wailing continuously in a voice that sounded as though he had been smoking 30 a day for 50 years, despite his innocent youth. His father, a shaven headed male with tattoos covering his other tattoos and more jewellery in face piercing than most women have at home, was becoming very agitated. This was because the boy’s behaviour was annoying two Burberry bunneted Neds at the back of the bus, who began to “perform” to draw everybody’s attention away from the wee boy towards them. They started shouting abuse at people walking past in the street through a window they had opened.

The father of the toddler, despite his intimidating appearance, picked him up and began to sing “The wheels on the bus” song to the wee boy, who eventually calmed down and began to join in with the song. We were leaving the urban area by this time and the neds, two skinny wee boys of about 14, had run out of people to shout at so they engaged in an extremely vocal game of berating each other for the apparent entertainment of others on the bus. A recent company circular has highlighted the fact that passenger complaints about the behaviour of other passengers has increased lately, and this has prompted the company to instruct drivers to take appropriate action, including telephoning the police if necessary.

Problem is we’re not supposed to eject 14 year old kids from a bus under any circumstances, and I’m sorry to say it but I spent the best part of 30 years as a police officer trying to do my bit to sort out the Ned problem. The result was :-

NEDS= 6,743    COP= 0.

What is a Ned?

The word appears to have originated in the Glasgow area to describe a young hoodlum, referred to as a“yob” in England. I’ve seen the term “Non Educated Delinquent” used, with the inference being that “NED” is an abbreviation of that term. I’m not inclined to believe that, however, as I’m sure the term dates back to the days of the Teddy Boys, when they were often called “Teds”, and the term “Ned” appears to have crept in as rhyming slang as in, “Look, there’s Ned the Ted”.

Anyway, regardless of his ancient and historic origins, the Ned tends to be a youth who is usually disadvantaged by an upbringing in the poorer areas of the country. In Scotland our housing schemes (housing estates to non Scottish readers) are the cradle of the Ned, who is usually aged anywhere between 10 and about 30.

In Teddy Boy days the Ned wore drainpipe trousers, brothel creepers and other “Ted” gear. Teddy Boys were not necessarily synonymous with causing mischief, but their image suggested that they were men of the world, and a force to be reckoned with.  By the time I was old enough to be a Ned the typical “ Glesca hard man”, or Ned of the time, was  wearing hand made suits with blazer style patch pockets and 18” bottom Oxford bag trousers. The shirt usually had to be a Ben Sherman with a button down collar, and hair was worn shortish with a high parting. Moccasin shoes and a sharpened steel comb “chib” in the inside “patch poaket jaikit” were optional extras.  Was I a Ned? Sorry, but despite the fact that I was brought up in a housing scheme on the fringes of Glasgow I never quite managed to qualify. I simply never had the brass neck required to terrorise the general public in the manner perfected by Neds.

Today’s Neds are immediately recognisable by the baseball hat worn on the back of the head, and the designer sports clothes that they wear to everything from school to funerals. The baseball hat can be optional, especially if they go for gel on their hair, and some of them wear enough gel to have greased the wires of the entire former Glasgow trolleybus system. If they are Neds on the pull then they will reek of  some macho male body spray, with maybe just a whiff of Buckfast, special brew lager, or cheap vodka topping it off. Those of you who don’t know what Buckfast is shouldn’t be reading this as you don’t live on the same planet as I do. If you are in fact from another planet, Buckfast is a tonic fortified wine made by monks in the south west of England for the avid consumption of Neds and persons of  general alcoholic disposition in the poorer areas of Scotland. It is believed that the wine was in fact originally made for tonic purposes but these days the monks and the Neds appear to have given up on who is kidding who.

The Ned instinct develops as he realises that he hasn’t been dealt a very favourable hand in this life, when he becomes old enough to look seriously at the surroundings in which he lives. If he lives in the Calton area of Glasgow then his average life expectancy these days will be 53.  And people wonder why Glaswegians queued up in their thousands to enlist underage by giving false dates of birth in the Great War?  My great grandfather proved everybody wrong as he used to smoke 40 Capstan Full strength cigarettes and drink the best part of a bottle of cheap whisky every day of his life.  He confounded medical experts on Glasgow life as he only managed to live to the grand old age of 37, despite being in otherwise excellent health, having never consulted a doctor in his life. The truth was that he couldn’t afford the consultation fees due to the exorbitant price of whisky and cigarettes.

With factors such as the above coming into play, the Ned resolves to show society that although he realises he is not likely to make the big time at much, he is nevertheless somebody to be reckoned with. This is achieved by putting on demonstrations of what people in authority call “bad behaviour”, and is carried out to best effect when performed along with some fellow Ned actors. Unfortunately, one of the best platforms for these shows, which to be fair are carried out free of charge, is on the bus. 

The Bus Stop Shuffle

When waiting for a bus the Ned starts to go through his shuffle routine immediately he sees the bus approaching. His appearance begins to transform from a perfectly normal looking individual in sports gear with a funny hat, into a swaggering swashbuckler ready for anything. The feet start moving like a boxer’s and the arms start to swing loose like Pinocchio’s. Then the shoulders start swaying from side to side ready to give the driver the “Clint Eastwood” squint as the bus comes to a halt at the stop. As the driver concentrates on stopping the bus without hitting the dancing puppet on the pavement, the Ned will have given the bus the once over, checking all of the windows to see whether his granny or his mother’s auntie Mary is on the bus. If he detects the presence of a non-friendly ned, or group of neds on the bus, then he will decline to board and shout something like “Sorry, wrang bus, big man!” to the driver, even if that’s the only bus that travels along that road!  Neds are incredibly streetwise and appear to have the ability to observe grasshoppers copulating at 400 yards. If the Ordnance Survey employed Neds then the city maps would show every dog turd, cracked window pane, and discarded cigarette end on them.

“It’s a Zone Ticket Pal”

However, we’ll assume that the bus meets with the Ned’s approval, and he gets on. He’ll either grunt the amount he is going to pay or state his destination to the driver. The bus driver is either “Pal”, “Mate”, or “Big man”, even if the driver is female. This tells the driver he is not dealing with a clever Ned. The clever Ned will have produced a crumpled zone ticket which he will have held against the clear UPVC panel in the driver’s “bandit screen” in case the driver takes it off him to scrutinise it further. The  zone ticket might have been bought by his pal, wee Tam, whose Giro had come through. Tam had used the ticket to go and “score” and had no further use for it. Tam gave the ticket to his sister who used it to “go up the toon” and she met our Ned in the toon. She likes our Ned and gives him the ticket because she’ll meet up with him later on that night in the pub and get it back again. If  the ticket is out of date then it is easy enough to rub the ink on the date so that the driver can’t read it and most drivers of advancing years (including me) will not want to go through the pantomime of challenging the validity of a ned’s ticket when he’s “oot his face” on whatever substance may be his pleasure. The Zone Ticket was designed by ordinary naïve clever University types in an effort to make the use of public transport easier to people of a like mind. They have certainly succeeded, as it’s now a dawdle for the Ned to abuse the system and travel for nothing.

Some drivers pit their wits against the Neds in what they perceive is a battle for supremacy. It’s a battle they cannot win, and here is an example of why:-

Ned:- “Half intae the toon”

Driver:- “How auld ur ye son?”

Ned:-  “15”

Driver:- “Whit’s yer date a birth?”

Ned:- “Whit’s that mean?”

Driver:- “When’s yer birthday?”

Ned:- “16th March”

Driver:- “Whit year?”

Ned:- “Every year ya numpty!”

The Role of the Ned on the Bus

As a fair percentage of Neds are under 18 then their first priority is usually to smuggle a bottle of  Buckfast onto the bus. This will help them with the other tasks that they feel obliged to perform. The usual targets are the bus seats and seatbacks which they will either simply cover in graffiti or kick the back out of the seat in front. They also like to carve slogans on the window glass. As the Buckie bottle starts to empty so does the content of their bladders onto the floor. A decent Ned might urinate into the empty Buckie bottle and put the screw top back on it. One recent innovation is to  steal 2 litre bottles of Coke and pour the contents onto the bus floor. This creates a hell of a mess when trodden upon by other passengers, but this is good Ned fun. Is that pish, or what? Sound effects are provided by one or more MP3 players turned up full blast playing some silly tune sung by what appears to be a Smurf (remember them?), or some modern equivalent. The shouting and swearing also comes free of charge. When some punter (passenger) voices objection then they have achieved the desired result and the passenger receives the abuse that the Neds feel he or she deserves. The passenger complains to the driver, who is expected to do what?

Why are neds allowed to misbehave on buses?

The short answer is that they are to all intent and purpose untouchable, and the powers that be in society allow them to do what they like, including the commission of petty crimes and offences. If successfully prosecuted most “punishment” will run off a Ned’s back like rainwater off his Burberry cap, including short custodial sentences. A custodial sentence will merely elevate his status amongst his peers. Any witnesses involved will probably have been subjected to the ordeal of court and being humiliated in the witness box by the Ned’s lawyer, who will make more money from Legal Aid in a year than a bus driver will probably see in five. Even if the Ned is convicted he and his friends in the gallery will be ecstatic when his lawyer makes all of the prosecution witnesses, especially the polis, look stupid. The average cop is a fairly clever being, but usually cannot compete with the University educated “brief” in court. The lawyer is in court every day and knows more big words than the cop, who may attend court about once a week. The defence lawyer is respected by the judge as a fellow Law graduate. The cop is regarded as an over zealous oaf on a mission to better himself.  It’s like sending a Sumo wrestler into battle with a Scud missile. The Sumo, looking impressive at first, goes through all of his elaborate moves with pomp and ceremony until the Scud comes up behind him and blows him away, arse first.

Successive generations of authority have tried in vain to contrive a viable system to deal with misdemeanours committed by youths to the point that there is now no practicable deterrent in most of Western Europe. In the dark past the authorities had to resort to corporal punishment, which deterred all but the most determined, but the hard core Neds still persisted even then.

Also, almost every Ned is the pride and joy of his mother, who thinks his behaviour is purely a normal masculine trait, and she would still be wiping his arse when he was 25 if the sun shining out of it didn’t dazzle her! I found as a police officer that some Ned’s mothers were more feared by the local populace than mass murderers, and twice as dangerous. These formidable matrons have without doubt had a bearing on the general approach of the authorities unfortunate enough to be tasked with addressing the “Ned” problem. When a 14 stone lady with a tongue like a barber’s drawer full of razors starts complaining that the police and other authorities are harassing her vulnerable son, then stand back and watch. The odds are simple. The game is portrayed as a 15-year-old victim being harangued by every hairy arsed 16 stone copper and vigilante with a stick with a nail in it in the neighbourhood, and I think you can guess what happens next!

The modern Ned knows the status quo all too well and constantly challenges authority at all levels. If the police and court systems cannot sort them out then neither can the humble bus driver, and neither should he or she be expected to do so. Given that most of them only travel on short town and city journeys then the usual philosophy of the bus driver is just to let them do their Ned thing and get on with it.  Physical intervention is on a par with a game of Russian roulette, and if you get it wrong the same passengers who complained are as likely to be witnesses against you in any subsequent enquiry.

Therefore, can you blame the bus driver who decides that it is not worth speaking to the Neds or phoning the police? In this area they can take up to four hours to attend a call to a bus if nobody’s life is at risk, and can nowadays also justify their reasons for so doing (remember I once was a police officer and know this for a fact). Some bus drivers with the attitude and physique of King Kong may well get away with shouting down the Neddery, but the majority of us are simply not up to it.

CCTV? We don’t have them on our buses, but even where they do have them, how do you identify one hooded terror from another? Some Neds go on to commit real crime and end up in jail. Some progress to being alcoholics or drug addicts, and some end up hanging up their Burberry caps as early as their late teens when they become the fathers of children. Some persist and achieve honours degrees in Nedology which they use to educate the younger Neds. These Neds can still be seen, sometimes into their 40s and later, replete with Burberry caps and beer guts, sometimes never really losing that Ned trait at all.


One thing is certain. The Ned in whatever version may prevail, will still be around after my ashes are scattered in whatever midden my living relatives prefer. To be fair, in the area where I work they are not a major problem, but I do believe they are a major pest in Glasgow.  I also know that in Livingston they put barriers across the road then stone any buses that stop at the obstruction. My last incident involving Neds was when I got my bus windscreen smashed by a crowd of stone throwing Neds in Jedburgh, of all places. Yes, there are Neds there as well, even if they were only about 13.

In case you were wondering, there does exist a female form of Ned, the “Nedette”, but their behavioural traits are essentially the same. They can often be especially “over the top” as they believe that their femininity gives them more protection than their male equivalents. Oddly enough, in the “Nedette’s” case it is usually the father who will fight a cage full of lions to plead her innocence. Students of animal behaviour may well see certain similarities.

For most of us, it would be a better life without Neds, but it would appear that for so long as the cheap condoms sold in Scottish Housing Schemes keep bursting then we are bound to suffer their presence.

Copyright © 2007 John Walker

John Walker Who would love to hear from other platform staff.