My free Time Out travelcard has run out. This is the one thing I have been dreading since I left the magazine. No more cheeky one-stop tube hops, no more quick bus rides up the hill because I’m feeling lazy. I’ll even have to reacquaint myself with the actual cost of bus and tube fares, plebeian knowledge I have long disregarded. From now on, every journey on public transport has to be justified. My feet are in for a hell of a beating.
I was the same last time I was freelancer, when I first become heavily involved with the London bus. Time-rich and cash-poor, I could afford to take meandering bus trips across London rather than more expensive and direct journeys by tube, and came to appreciate the London bus in all its magnificence. A few years later, armed with a Time Out travelcard and newly installed as features writer, I attended a brainstorming meeting with the editor, who wanted some new ideas for the Big Smoke section. He picked up a copy of Time Out Manchester (a collectors’ item as it was the only issue they produced) and showed me a column called Bus Bingo, in which the writer took a random Mancunian bus every week. Nice concept, I said in one of those ‘monkey tennis’ moments familiar to any journalist, but how about I, er, take every bus in London in numerical order? And so a column was born.
It seemed popular. I don’t go to many parties, but when I did I was frequently introduced as ‘the bloke who was doing the buses for Time Out‘. And people would regale me with tales of terrible bus trips, or rhapsodise about their favourite routes. (Thinking about it, this could be one of the reasons why I don’t get invited to many parties.) People wrote to the mag saying they were collecting each column, or complaining if I gave a favoured bus an unfair review. Plus it got me out the office.
But all good things and all that. We got a new editor, who in our first meeting asked me how long the bus column would go on for. ‘Well,’ I told him, ‘there are at least 500 routes in London, and that’s before you consider night buses and the ones with number prefixs. And I’m only on No 60.’
He looked aghast, the facial expression of a man who had spent a decade taking taxis on an Emap expense account and fully endorsed the old Tory maxim that anybody who took the bus was a loser. He couldn’t understand why anybody would want to travel by bus, let alone write about it, let alone read about it.
The nail in the coffin came when I, perhaps inadvisably given the prevailing mood, commissioned a full-page piece interviewing three other people I had discovered who were also taking buses in numerical order, a pensioner, an artist and a blogger, who I dubbed ‘Buskateers’, a word that has inexplicably failed to make it into the Oxford English Dictionary.
And so the column was scrapped before I got a chance to fruitily ponder the 69, or settle scores on my old school route of the 127.
London wept, and then went back to reading about 50 Essential Hidden East London Cheap Eat Sex Markets For The Summer. And now I’m back on the buses, although not in numerical order and only if it is too far to walk.