Tag Archives: Buses

On the buses: the first ten routes

Recently, I’ve read a couple of good stories about London bus nuts. There was one on City Metric about the nice German bloke who wants to travel every route and another in Guardian Cities about the guy who wants to ride 200 in 24 hours – though as he only has to ride one stop on each, I’m not all that convinced.

This got me thinking about my own bus travelling endeavours. It began while I was dozing through a meeting on the eighth floor at Time Out, Tottenham Court Road. We were brainstorming ideas for the section I edited, The Big Smoke, and increasingly aware of my own non-contributory silence, I suddenly found myself picking up a thread. Somebody had suggested, I think, doing a piece about the towns at the ends of every tube line, but my brain decided to take this basic concept several steps further, from the realm of the relatively sane into that frightening place where logic, stupidity and over-ambition combine.

“Why don’t I take every bus in London?”

“In numerical order.”

“End to end.”

The fear hit me straightaway. What had I just said? Why had I said it? But Gordon, our voluble editor, was the sort of man who liked to greenlight six impossible ideas before breakfast, and he was enthusiastically in favour. There was no going back on this: On The Buses was born. Every week, armed with a camera, notepad, pen, all-in-one transport map and the desperation of a man with a large hole in his flatplan, I’d leave my colleagues and trot off to some godforsaken corner of London to catch a bus that would take me to some other godforsaken corner of London, where I’d then find the only way to get back to civilisation was via the bus I’d just got off.

In the end, I chose to embrace the reality of my bus-travelling future. There were positives here, I told myself. I could get to see parts of London I’d never usually visit, and as a writer it was an interesting challenge, having to write what was essentially the same column every week while keeping it fresh and amusing. You don’t realise quite how many buses go through Trafalgar Square or Oxford Circus until you decided to write about every single one of them.

I also thought that in difficult times for the print trade this was a handy insurance against the sack: there were several hundred routes in London and surely they couldn’t get rid of me until I’d finished them all?

More fool me. A year or so later, Gordon was replaced by another editor, a man who I’d guess has never ridden a bus in his life and simply didn’t understand why anybody would be interested in such hideous things when you could simply get the BBC to hire you a cab to whisk you from the TV studio to Primrose Hill. We were rarely on the same wavelength, and in one of our first meetings he asked how many bus routes I still had to do. About 650 I told him. ‘I was worried you might say that,’ he replied. Like a man waiting for the No 68 on Herne Hill and spying the X68 coming up the road, I knew precisely what horrors lay ahead.

In a bid to shore up my position  – or possibly I was just being provocative – I then wrote a long feature about other bus enthusiasts. Early in my journeys, I’d received a letter from a woman who was also riding every bus and then during one idle afternoon in the Time Out library, I’d discovered an old bus column written by Alexei Sayle. Clearly there was both a history and a present here; it was living heritage. Exploring the internet further, I discovered there were several of us, including several retirees, plus a lovely bloke called Ben, and an artist, doing a project. Look, I was telling the editor: we are a tribe. We are on trend. People really do like buses.

It made no difference. Within weeks, the column was axed. Within months, I was too. The bus dream was over, and I’d barely made it into the 60s.

For those who care, here are the first ten On The Buses. More available on request.

no1no2no4no3no5

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In the depot

I finally made it to one of the London Transport Museum’s twice-early weekend openings at their Acton depot. where they store the buses, trams and train carriages they can’t exhibit in Covent Garden.

It was brilliant. If you like that kind of thing.

(I wouldn’t like to say the event attracts a certain type, but these were the longest queues for the gents I’ve ever seen outside a football ground.)

I could have spent hours browsing the specialist books for sale, while the kids loved the model railways.

The following pictures are via @callyorange. And go to the next one in September.

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On the buses again

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.

(For more bus appreciation, these three pensioners are taking One Bus At A Time, while Ben at Route 1 To 499 pledges to take every bus in London, albeit in no particular order.)