Tuesday, 31 August 2010

London's beastly bendy buses

When I moved to North London one of the most enticing things about my new flat was my much reduced commuting time. No longer would I trail from one end of a bus route to the other early in the morning, watching the bus fill as it approached the centre of the city, then slowly empty as it grew closer to its terminus. People at work would proudly tell me how they commuted in from outside the city in less time than it took me to travel a few miles across London.

My new route to work was now an easy hop by bus, zooming down Camden Road to Fitzrovia, taking no more than 25 minutes on a bad day. I was giddy thinking of the time I would save, as well as the money, being dependent on buses rather than the more expensive Underground. But, alas, my new bus was not the lovely double-decker of the last few years' commute. I was unlikely to park myself next to the likes of British screen-legend Susan Hampshire on THIS bus! Oh no, my new bus, the number 29, is one of the cursed "bendy buses" of London. An introduction to the city's tranport system of former mayor Ken Livingston, they were so divisive that Boris Johnson ran his campaign for office using a removal of bendy buses from London's streets as a mjor selling point. He won and, surprising even himself, became mayor in 2008, yet these horrendous vehicles remain on our roads.As a passenger, the bendy bus is quite the least comfortable mode of transport on offer in the city; it combines the hideous proximity to one's fellow passengers of the Tube with none of the speed. Like a vehicular push-me-pull-you, travelling in a bendy bus gives one an odd sensation of not really being sure which way one is moving. This may be due to the somewhat haphazard placing of the seats, which are scattered around the floor of the jointed bus, facing forwards, backwards and sideways. But a vacant seat is a rare treasure by the time I brave the No. 29, so I usually end up standing, down the central gangway of the bus (annoying those who need to get off when the bus stops, and those whose heads I clout with my handbag when squashing myself in for the benefit of those disembarking), or in the bus's corrugated middle. This is a particularly disconcerting feeling as at times the rubbery folds seem to eat you up when rounding a corner, then spit you back out again when bending in the opposite direction.

The front of the bus contains the driver and a series of utterly useless luggage racks which are too small, and positioned so that loading and unloading them smashes shopping bags and (only the very smallest of) suitcases into the heads of those sat nearby. The driver is thus a long way - a good 18 metres in fact - from the other end of the vehicle of which he or she is in control. Concentrating on their front half, they have no regard for any other road users proximate to their back half, which swings round like a lashing tale, sending cyclists and cars flying across the nextdoor lanes of traffic.
On a traditional double-decker bus, passengers get on by the driver up front, swipe Oystercards or brandish travelcards, and then hop off at the back of the bus. Bendy buses have numerous sets of doors which allow both entry and exit, and in theory, travel payment. Having watched everyone hopping on and off the 29 however, I have no idea how these bendy beasts pay their way - they are vehicles which make it easy to travel, illegally, for free; to which, as a now fully financially responsible Londoner, I object! But then this may be a specific trait of the 29; the bus route proudly ranked 3rd most dangerous in the city in a thoroughly unreassuring report published by TfL in 2006. Yet how is a driver to police bus-stabbings and muggings when they are so far from the action? It would take a fair while to realise anything was amiss at the far end of the bus, let alone for anyone to get from the front ("Excuse me, sir. Sorry madam. Could you just move that buggy and six bags of shopping, please? Sorry, I need to intervene in that mugging on the back row of seats.") to the back. Crime rates in N7? I blame the buses.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Who's there?

As I waited on the platform for the next tube train to arrive I heard an incongruous sound. A telephone, ringing echoes around the circular tunnel. A proper old-fashioned ring too, not a bleeping electronic tone, easily confused with a half-hearted fire alarm. The tunnel amplified the sound, making the echoes sound eerily hopeless and desperate. No one along the platform batted an eyelid. Everyone stood, awaiting the train, plugged into iPods, lost in their own thoughts. Did anyone else wonder who was calling? Or who they were trying to contact?

There must be millions of phones in the city; landlines in homes and offices and shops, mobile phones in pockets and handbags, phoneboxes dotted along our streets. The older, large, red Tardis-like phoneboxes are London icons. I cannot count the number of foreign tourists I have seen gingerly posing with a filthy receiver to their ear amongst the colourful postcards of hookers and mini-cabs, while a friend snaps a souvenir photo. Some must ring a hundred times a day, while others may not have rung for years.
I have heard an ancient wall-mounted phone ring deep beneath the city in a disused Underground station, below Mayfair. There were only three of us down there, wandering through bunkrooms and typing pools once used by Churchill's Cabinet during World War II. We looked at one another - no one knew we were there, and we were not exactly expecting any calls underground. Expecting a misfiring call-centre, one of us answered with a surprised and bemused "Hello?". There was someone there, a real person on the end of the phone - and they seemed as surprised to have got hold of a disused Underground station as we were to have had our hushed exploration interrupted by that obtrusive ringing.

A couple of days ago I walked past a new phonebox; its glass door and windows were shattered all over the pavement. Inside the phone was ringing. Is someone trying to get hold of me? Following me around London by public phone? The plots of numerous thriller films fly through my paranoid, and overactive, imagination.

Returning home this evening to my original tube station, where I first heard the ghostly phone, I emerge into the ticket hall. The familiar sound of London rain greets me. As I rummage in my bag for my umbrella I hear a second sound. The phone is still ringing, now echoing out onto Caledonian Road, down to the bus-stop and across to Tesco. On and on the bell rings, over and over. I splosh out into the rain and head home. The caller keeps on ringing into the dark, soggy night...

Monday, 2 August 2010

Picnic blankets and Dancing Queens

One thing you simply cannot fault the British for is their determination to enjoy their pathetic summers. Regardless of the neverending drizzle, the constant cloud-cover and the sunshine which is only remarkable by its absence, they plough on with their outdoor activities on a mission to see the summer through. And give the impression that they are enjoying themselves as much as people in places where quality sunburn is a potential achievement.
Here in London we indulge in numerous outdoor activities in the summer months. We have chilly picnics in our lovely green parks. We drink outside our bars and pubs, cluttering up the pavements whilst the insides of such hostelries remain empty. Under umbrellas we watch open-air theatre and dance in the dirt at gigs and urban festivals.

Areas of the city host entire summer schedules of al fresco frolics, like the Earls Court Festival which closed last week, with an event which truly put the camp back in camping. On a Friday evening, after a week which seemed like it would never end, weary workers clutching well-earned bottles of wine, cushions and picnics filed into Nevern Square's central gardens behind the Earls Court Road. They scouted prime spots and laid down their blankets and set up their folding chairs in front of a vast blank screen. Every kind of picnic emerged, from the instant supermarket variety to the home-cooked, tupperware feast laid out on pop-up tables and benches. Clutching our own clinking bags, our own little group plumped for an optimal spot near the screen and waited for the action to start.

Once the evening truly began to fall, and dusk settled over the square the huge screen lit up. Lights in the huge houses around the square backlit residents watching both the picnicking audience and, after it was dark enough, the out-door screening of "Mamma Mia", the summery feel-good film based on the music of ABBA. As we pulled our cardigans closer about ourselves and huddled together for communal warmth under threatening clouds, a cast of tanned and far more skimpily-clad lovelies frivoled on a sun-drenched island. They sang, they danced, they dressed up and shoe-horned somewhat unlikely Swedish pop lyrics into the preparation of a Greek wedding.
Amanda Seyfried demanded to know whether the Scandinavian adventurer was her father and the square finally fell silent. But not for long. "Yes!" squeaked a tiny voice who knew the film too well, shattering the atmosphere and provoking uncontrollable giggles across the picnic rugs. Meryl Streep agonised and warbled away on her cliff-top, finally dashing up the mountainside leaving Pierce Brosnan looking surprised, and as if he were trying to remember the lyrics to his next number. The world's gayest picnic behind us went wild, and tossed their zebra-print cushions in the air.

By the time the closing strains of "Waterloo" rent the air the rugs and stools were abandoned as the now well-lubricated audience took to their feet to boogie away with the film's cast. Whilst we giggled over the last of our Pimms, one middle-aged woman swayed towards our camp and bemoaned our lack of dancing, imploring us to "give our souls to the music". We nervously laughed her away, yet after a week of giving our souls to work and study there could be no better way to spend a Friday night...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Pin It button on image hover