The Bus.

I’m a big fan of the London bus. Since the weather’s been too chill for cycling, I’ve become pretty darn fond of my daily commute on the 243. For the bus wins over its slicker sister, the tube, any day. And not just because there is no tube in my beloved home-patch of London. Oh no. A bus ride has many things going for it aside from being one of the only ways of getting out of Stoke Newington.

The first distinction I should make is that between the London bus and the countryside bus – two very different animals, I can assure you. The countryside bus, you see, tends to ferry about only three varieties of person: the very very elderly, those with little or no concept of hygiene, and, perhaps most commonly, the downright mad. It makes every rural bus journey an endurance test and is perhaps the largest driving force behind young country folk learning to drive. Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that the aforementioned three varieties of person do not ride the London buses. They do. But in London, the concentration of senile, smelly and crazy people is diluted significantly with normal folk who just want to get to work.

Nowadays, I actually find it a bit of a treat when there’s a mad’un on board. There’s a lady who often clambers on the 243 at Dalston, makes her way to the top deck, unravels a script and proceeds to march up and down the aisle, preaching at poor drowsy commuters. I find this highly entertaining although most people are less than impressed. The driver took the case into his own hands the other day and put the ‘NO STANDING ON THE UPPER DECK’ voice-over on repeat. It drowned out preacher woman’s voice effectively, and, being a really very obliging woman, she obediently retreated back downstairs.

Aside from providing just the right amount of entertainment, the London bus also scores highly on the seating front. That is to say, I can always get one. Which is more than can be said if I decided to catch the tube. Another advantage of the bus over the tube is that I don’t have to plummet towards the centre of the earth in order to travel about town. This is handy because a) I am not a burrowing mole nor an adventuring miner and b) it means I can avoid the clammy, suffocating and quite frankly INTOLERABLE heat that the tube always seems to generate, regardless of the season.

In addition to this, a bus journey provides a view which extends beyond the people sitting opposite you. And as surely all London-bus-goers would agree, our Capital’s a rather fun old thing to gaze out on. Especially in rush hour. All that scrambling architecture is pretty interesting stuff in its own right but when it’s combined with swarms of commuters, even the most gripping paperback gets a run for its money. I should note that the most exciting stretch for people-watching on a morning commute is Shoreditch. The so called ‘hipsters’, and various other trendies who inhabit this area are the most peculiarly fascinating things. Neon skirts, stripy legs, clumpy wedges and a general too-cool-for-school look abounds here. Discrete doesn’t get a look in.

The final thing I’d like to note in favour of the London bus is that it’s bloomin’ cheap. And for a gal on a strict budget, that £72 monthly bus pass is a marvelous thing. I find myself taking the most ridiculous amount of bus rides – just because I can – at no extra cost. On. Off. On. Off – Oh yes, I’m quite the tease. I milk that bus pass for every penny.

As you have no doubt realized by now, I LIKE London buses. So imagine my absolute delight when I discovered last week that they are getting a vintage make-over! Although this is old news for many (the project was first in the papers almost two years ago), I will plough on and tell you about it, regardless, as it is new to me and excites me no end.

I’ve always thought the open-backed bus was the stuff of costume dramas, you see. Its design looks fabulous on film (BBC’s ‘Call the Midwife’ was my latest spot) but it always looked like too much fun to have been a working reality. Film makers are always using their creative licence to invent something that works wonders for the smooth running of a narrative and the open-backed bus seemed a prime example. For how else are fictional lovers to be parted if it cannot be as one hops onto a moving bus? Standing in a queue, rummaging for an Oyster Card just wouldn’t have the same effect.

I still can’t quite grasp how these buses could have functioned successfully in the real world, but apparently they did. Questions about their practicality (Wouldn’t that open back have caused an almighty cold draft? Where did one pay if you could run on and off at any old point? Weren’t people always falling out?) also apply to the new buses which share the same open back. After some www. research, my questions still aren’t answered but have found out some interesting facts about our new bus:

  • The design is inspired by the traditional London Routemaster bus that was first introduced in the early 1950s.
  • Each bus will feature two staircases to provide better access (and a good circular route for scampering children who like to play chase).
  • There will be a bus conductor!
  • The bus will carry a total of 87 people – 40 seated upstairs, 22 downstairs and 25 standing.
  • It will use super-green diesel-electric hybrid technology.
  • It will be initially introduced on route 38 – from Hackney to Victoria.
  • Ooh, and sports car maker Aston Martin had a hand in the design which adds a much needed touch of glamour to the idea of a bus ride.

The best thing about discovering the news of the return of the Routemaster so late is that I only have to wait 6 days until I can catch a ride on one of these magnificent beasts. That’s right – they’ll be up and running from the 20th Feb. Look out for me on the upper deck – if you want to catch my attention, loiter on Shoreditch High Street wearing something conventional. You’ll stand out a mile.

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