Tuesday, 10 July 2012

London Transport of Delight

It was an apt title for a song, A Transport of Delight, Michael Flanders and Donald Swann’s salute to ‘that monarch of the road, observer of the highway code, that big six-wheeler, scarlet-painted, London Transport, diesel-engined, 97-horsepower omnibus.’

A true monarch, the London bus. I always like to head upstairs. And not just upstairs but, if the seats are available, right at the front so I can watch the streets go by, the crazy cyclists putting their lives on the line, the misguided drivers using a three-litre engine to travel at an average of eight miles an hour and, of course, the backs of the heads of the passengers in the bus in front: bus drivers in London have never lost their enthusiasm for closing the gap behind a stationary bus to something an underfed dachshund would find a squeeze, whenever they get the chance.

Upstairs, up front. It was my delight when I was nine and I see no reason why the passage of a mere half century should make any difference.

Homeward bound: my transport of delight, London's No 30
My true love is the number 30. In the morning, it’s a relief to see it turn up at my stop without making me wait twenty minutes. But at night, it’s the first stage of my trip home; big, red, airy, comfortable, it says ‘relax. It’s time to knock off. We’re working so you don’t have to. Let us take it from here.’ 

And it takes me through some of the most sought after bits of London. Even thoug it’s a mere bus. I love it when the overhead display says ‘Harley Street. Bus stopping.’ The street made famous for housing some of the most expensive and exclusive physicians in the world? That’s somewhere for a taxi at the least, if not a chauffeur-driven Jag. But the number 30 has the chutzpah to stop there.

A bus to Harley Street? Oh the delicious incongruity

Not that the display always gives good news. I’m less than enchanted by a recent habit the buses have developed. ‘The destination of this bus has changed’, the display may announce suddenly, for no obvious reason, ‘listen for announcements.’ Yeah, right. I know what that means. Another bus or a ten minute walk. A rip-off. When I climb into a bus and pay my fare, I enter into a contractual arrangement with the bus line, to take me anywhere I want, up to the place named on the front of the bus. Dropping me off short? That, as we say these days, is a trick worthy of a banker.

It can only happen because of electronic communications. Someone gets a message through to the driver. ‘That chap upstairs? The one sitting at the front and having a bit of a laugh at the jags caught in the traffic? Don’t take him to Selfridges. Drop him at Baker Street and make him walk. That’ll wipe the smile off his face.’

And I blame electronic communications for another of the disadvantages of buses. The maddening mobile phone conversation. But even more maddening than a conversation is the guy with a new phone who’s decided to choose himself a ring tone. That’s what I had this morning. It was enough to make me wish I’d walked from Baker Street where the 30 dumped me. All the way we were accompanied, at high volume, by fragments of pop music, alternating with odd chirrupings and rings, or electronically distorted extracts from well-known classical pieces.

Still, those are just the leavening of rough among the vast smooth of that wonderful institution, bus travel. Flanders and Swann, again, were clear:

If tickets cost a pound a piece Why should you make a fuss? It's worth it just to ride inside That 30-foot-long by 10-foot-wide Inside that monarch of the road, Observer of the Highway Code, That big six-wheeler, scarlet-painted, London Transport, diesel-engined, 97-horsepower, 97-horsepower omnibus.

Yep. The cheapest fare’s actually £1.35 these days, but hey, the point’s still well made.


Anonymous said...

Tim & I love it too - especially as we can now use our bus passes!! Recently got a bus from my mother's all the way to St Pauls (sorry, can't remember the number) but it was a brilliant ride - and yes I did have to get off in Fleet Street & wait for another one due to an announcement of change! Didn't have to wait long though and joined in with the general grumblings going on with other folk - mostly sat upstairs at the front observing all kinds of things, people, buildings, alley ways, pub & cafes, shops etc. great!!

David Beeson said...

That's it - a relaxed way of travelling - plenty of opportunity for communication - basically a lot of charm.