If a citizen of, say, North Korea visited Edinburgh, they might feasibly mistake Grant Stott for our head of state. Whenever the Princes Street traffic is creeping along as slowly as ketchup out of a chunky glass bottle, bus passengers will invariably find themselves brooding over frozen visions of the Forth One radio presenter and pantomime stalwart. Grant Stott has been plastered across the sides and backs of buses, modelling in four different poses. As the traffic grinds to a complete standstill, in whichever direction you turn, you are greeted by his grim physiognomy, peeping over and through and in between buses which also bear his face.
Why do I cap Grant Stott’s whole identity with the word “grim,” and why does it fit so perfectly? For Grant Stott’s face is truly his fortune. He looks pleasant but undistinguished; he could be both a celebrity and the average ungainly suburban dad. Having never tuned my radio away from BBC Radio 4, I have no idea what Grant Stott does during the course of his programmes, but you can imagine what his show sounds like, or even envision a entire lifetime of local radio, just from glancing at his wholesome face and its fresh, canny innocence. He probably talks about football and plays pop songs, and invites people to phone into his show for a chat. Yet he is only the idea of a celebrity, rather than being an actual celebrity, and I imagine that most people in Edinburgh have only become acquainted with him from the buses.
But back to the grimness. After idly studying these photographs for several weeks, I realised that Grant Stott actually looks deeply uncomfortable in all of them. It would be unflattering for most people to have their image magnified to the size of a bus, but then most people would have never agreed to such a prospect in the first place. Your world would become a sort of psychosis if whenever you stepped out of your home, giant photographs of yourself in stupid poses went sailing past and all around you on the sides of buses. But over time these portraits of Grant Stott gradually reveal the fright in his eyes, the awkwardness of his staged postures, the fear which hovers around his mouth. He seems to be on the verge of flinching, or blubbering for mercy, or suffering a wholesale psychological meltdown.
It is as if these portraits have captured the deepest, truest part of Grant Stott’s personality, and imprisoned it in a sort of cosmic exile on the exteriors of buses. Perhaps any Grant Stott which remains in human form is now a mindless automaton, who mindlessly broadcasts his radio shows. Perhaps whenever the leftover Grant Stott takes money out of a cashpoint, the photographs on the sides of buses begin to weep blood.
Grant Stott has sold his soul to be the face of Lothian buses, and to become an idealised personification of the average Edinburgh commuter. He may be so monstrously ordinary that we identify with him only by virtue of being sucked inexorably into his human vacuum, but he is subtly an example in both senses of the word. He goes to Work (10:00 hrs), rather than living on benefits. He goes Shopping (16:00hrs), which upholds our failing capitalist infrastructure. He visits the Gym (18:30hrs), rather than remaining an obese pig like most men of his age. And, finally, he nibbles Cocktails at the sensible hour of 21:00, rather than binge drinking and fighting in the Grassmarket.
He appears most distressed in the Gym portrait, hunched over and brandishing a badminton racquet with the cover still on, looking like a hunted animal. He seems uneasy with all of the bourgeois fanciness of dressing for Cocktails, which allows us to identify with him even more because we plebs would feel this way too.
The overall message is that Lothian buses’ passengers should use the service to lead constructive and responsible lifestyles, whereas in reality most passengers seem to have randomly and inexplicably settled on their bus as starlings will together alight on a certain tree. I cannot explain why people travel on Lothian buses, but it would be for none of the reasons offered in the portraits of Grant Stott. You would never go to Work by bus because you would be late. You would never come home from Shopping on the bus because stampeding schoolchildren would tread all over the bags containing your new clothes. You would surely walk to the Gym rather than take the bus. And if you turned up to Cocktails on a Lothian bus then all of your bourgeois friends would hoot with laughter.
Some men travel on a Lothian bus to have a blowjob. Presumably, they can get no privacy at home and the only place where they can find relief is sitting upstairs, at the back, staring fixedly ahead whilst a girl’s face is buried in their lap. I see this a lot. Other people think that their mobile phone conversations deserve to be broadcast publicly, and they regard a Lothian bus as the means to share them with the largest possible audience. Massive numbers of elderly people use Lothian buses because it is free for them and they view the downstairs of any bus as a sort of common room. It would be perhaps easier if some Lothian buses were converted into care homes. I treat myself to a Lothian bus when I am walking aimlessly around the city and my legs get tired. Nobody on these buses looks like Grant Stott. On some days, everybody looks depleted and drained of hope, but all of Lothian buses’ passengers nevertheless remain fascinating, stunning, and utterly distinctive human beings.