Tag Archives: buses

N17

To deepest North London to see my daughter who is staying at a friend’s house for a while. Walking back to Seven Sisters tube I go another way from the road I came by and misread the map. I don’t mean I went the wrong way, but I failed to guess what sort of place I was walking through. There’s a circular street called Clyde Circus. On the map it looks like the sort of street plan I associate with 1930s or later council estates. But when I got there its actually very late Victorian terraces and quite posh. I should have paid attention to the words rather than the pictures. Anywhere called “Beaconsfield Road” is likely to be a long straight street of late 19th century “villas” (because almost certainly named after Lord Beaconsfield AKA Benjamin Disraeli, who died in 1881).

North London feels different from South London. (for a valus of “South London” that is I suppose more or less South East London inner suburbia). At any given distance from town it tends to be more inner-urban, with a more developed and denser infrastructure, perhaps more sophisticated, and also somehow less provisional. It feels like they finished building it. And fewer of those dark streets. S

And it really is a quick way back to the tube.

Not that that did any good. Hoping to be back home just after midnight I tried to change to the Northern Line for London Bidge at King’s Cross. Arrived on the platform about twenty past eleven and waited, and waited. No southbound train on the indicators. Just when I was starting to think about looking for a bus they did the Inspector Sands announcement, Sensible passengers started leaving immediately. A few minutes later they did the evacuation alarm and we all made our way to the surface. False alarm it turned out but at five to midnight I was at the back end of St Pancras watching the staff try not to have a fight with an aggressive drunk. So out to the bus stop, and three cigarettes later (waiting for 63, 171, 436) was back at Lewisham at nearly half past one.

Then I still had to change the washing in the machine do some other stuff to get ready for tmorrow and fell asleep in an upright chair which is why I am blogging this now.

Can I go to bed and get up in two or three hours? I am about to find out.

The Dark Streets of London

I’ve been going up and down to town by bus a lot more recently. Partly because I’ve been travelling later so miss the rush hours so buses can get around better, partly because I’ve been deliberately trying to see more of some parts of South East London. On Thursday when London reacted as badly to a whole centimetre of snow as it always does, I had to stay late at work and might have missed the last train so I set off on the 188 bus from Russell Square. Or tried to, the first bus was ten minutes late and it was after 1am when we got to the Elephant. So instead of getting off to wait beside Old Kent Road in the sleet to change to a bus to Lewisham I stayed on thinking to change to a 47 at Canada Water where I could wait under cover. Except of course the station was closed so I ended up waiting for nearly half an hour for an N47 at the bottom of Evelyn Street, with my boots sliding around on the ice. Well after 2am when I got home. Commute Fail. I should have known better than to trust the 47 after dark.

That part of London is about as dingy and gloomy as London gets, especially after midnight in the sleet and slush. I’ve been seeing a lot of it recently.
As well as using the 188 late at night, in the past few months I’ve sometimes had reason to take the number 1 bus from town towards the other end of Bermondsey in the early evening.

somewhere_7663

The first two or three times I went to the Elephant on a 68, and squeezed on to a packed number 1, but then I realised it was easier to walk to Tottenham Court Road and get on at the begining of the route and get a decent seat – the best one is on the top, at the front as every seven-year-old boy knows (why do people grow out of trying to sit there?)

the _tower_of_the_elephant_and_the_moon_a7668 elephant_7677 the _tower_of_the_elephant_and_the_moon_7672

London gets a lot dimmer as soon as the bus turns off Tower Bridge Road to Southwark Park Road. The streets are actually dark. There is less light around, there is less to see, the views are more restricted – there are very few long views except when Canary Wharf looms at the end of a street, for example when you turn left at the bottom of Galleywall Road into Rothrhithe New Roiad and look through or beyond the bridge.

dark_streets_7684 dark_streets_7685

The area is carved up into sections by long railway viaducts, and its dead flat so lots of sightlines are terminated by railway bridges or by the workshops and warehouses that line the track using the arches

There are few big blocks of flats until you get to Deptford and too many of the smaller ones (both council the new legoland-alike private blocks that want to grow up into “gated communities”) turn their backs on the street presenting a brick wall or a pointless fence to the street, and a little grassed over dog-toilet between that and the doorless (or even windowless) ground floors of the buildings. Between them and the warehouses and walls and hoardings around derelict old industrial buildings and post-industrial waste spaces, the narrow streets are all too often blind on both sides.

dark_streets_7687

I know these streets well – this is pretty much one of my more usual cycling routes home – but things look different from the top of the bus. Its dingy and gloomy. There are few shops and they are mainly closed by this time of night. The street lights are sparse and that orange colour that doesn’t really illuminate brick so compared with central London – or even with Lewisham – there isn’t that much visible outside the windows.

The first time I try it I forget – if I ever knew – that the number 1 goes down Galleywall Road and I get off two stops early and walk through the dark streets to Ilderton Road (a place I first heard of on a record sleeve back in about 1976 – my copy of Dillinger’s “Cocaine” proudly claimed to have been released by “New Cross Records, Ilderton Road” – I have no idea why I should remember that after over thirty years).

dark_streets_7678 dark_streets_7679

When the business of the evening (a football match at Millwall) is over I set off home. Its even darker walking along the Surrey Canal Road – a sort of Bermondsey Bypass along the route of the old canal that used to connect Peckham to the Surrey Docks, filled in in the 1970s and now one of London’s darkest, dingiest streets, lined on both sides by warehouses, scrapyards and a very few small factories, as well as three huge shiny buildings – the Millwall ground, Deptford combine heat and power plant and a very large shed that seems to be something to do with the new East London Line extension

The road parts company from the old canal route at Folkstone Gardens in what might be the most unpleasant junction I know in London for a cyclist or pedestrian – a sharp S-curve passing under two lowish railway bridges that cars and lorries can approach from five separate directions, with no traffic lights and blind-spots everywhere,

Along the slightly more gentrified residential streets of Deptford Park (only slightly – though if it was anywhere else in London a lovely little park like this overlooked by bay-windowed Edwardian terraces would be as posh as a posh place) and up to Evelyn Street to get a bus home.

And decide to turn right (towards Lewisham) rather than left (towards the nearest busstop) and walk down to the next stpo[, over the old Canal Bridge which is the nearest thing to a hill between Tower Bridge and New Cross.

But the next stop is shut, because of some road works. Really weird ones that seem to consist entirely of traffic cones that divert three lanes into one for no obvious reason. So carry on down past St Luke’s Church and all the way to the stop by the John Evelyn pub, by which time I’ve walked over half way home and had I gone down to Old Kent Road I’d have probably been home by now.

The stop has one of those little red displays that pretends to tell you when the next bus is coming the way that train indicators work at a station. This one says that there will be a 188 along in a few minutes, and 199 a little later, but doesn’t mention the 47, the bus I want. It does have times for the N1 and N47. As its only just after 10pm and these night buses start after midnight I assume that has to be a typo. Maybe the N47 will turn out to be a 47 really,

The 188 comes on time, the 199 comes on time, then another 188 and I count down the minutes to the supposed N47 – 8, 6, 4, 2… then it disappears from the list. Nothing comes of course. Nor does the N1 materialise Another 199 comes, and another N47 is promised, and finally a 47 is flagged up at 19 minutes in the future. I’m not much further walk than that from home. But I wait – there is no N47 of course and wait – and the bus is postponed, the last 12 minutes take nearly half an hour. But one does come in the end, about 10.50, three quarters of an hour after I got to the stop. It is surprisingly uncrowded.

I get off at Brookmill Road perhaps the most gloomy street of the whole journey after Galleywall Road, barely lit, with 1950s and 60s brick light-industrial sheds on one side of the street and 1990s legoland metal ones on the other.

brookmill_road_7864 (7) brookmill_road_7864 (8)

Mostly now Nigerian churches for some reason. Its only round the corner from home but it can feel scary at night, overlooked by no-one except the very end of platform 1 of Lewisham station, on the other side of the abandoned and ruinous Traveller’s site.

brookmill_road_7864 brookmill_road_7864 (1)
brookmill_road_7864 (2) brookmill_road_7864 (3)

Round the corner into Jerrard Street, onto the main road, and the pub is still just open and I have a pint and one of the sandwiches the darts team didn’t eat.

jerrard_street_7881 jerrard_street_7879
jerrard_street_7880 jerrard_street_7881

South-East Suburban Circular

One of the crazy things about asthma is that its often better being upright and out of doors. So when I managed to get to church on Sunday morning after four days more or less confined to my smelly little bedroom in my smelly little flat I felt a lot better for it. So I thought I’d spend the afternoon outside. But I’m too knackered to walk far, and not into sitting on park benches, so time to try another bus trip.

Bought a one-day travelcard in one of the local shops and got on the first bus that came down Loampit Vale – a 321. Crazy route, Sainsbury’s to Tesco’s, part of the current fashion for breaking up the Great Old Busroutes into inner and outer suburban sections. It starts near New Cross then down to Lewisham and transects what I think of as the layer of classic suburbia, straight up Lee High Road and then Eltham Road, Eltham Hill, Eltham High Street, before turning right on Footscray Road and down to Sidcup, where I walked down towards the station and got on a 229 through Bexley and Bexleyheath towards Thamesmead.

There aren’t many people on the street in these outer reaches of South-East London. You see some of them through their windows – some teenage girls chatting round a table, some men on stepladders Doing It Themselves.

Its suburbia, but its quite dense suburbia, and its not neat suburbia. There is something makeshift and ramshackle about it. Lots of little gaps. Pebbledash in some of the more downmarket parts. Odd bits of 1970s brutalism embeded among the older buildings. Small shops with cliched names – at least three “Buds of May”, a restaurant with the unfortunate name “Sophie’s Choice”, a shop called “Doors of Distinction” which sounds like the location of a spoof sitcom.

Glimpses of small, empty, muddy, sports grounds at the ends of side streets, Hills to the north and south, and over the hills and far away to the east, the lights of Dartford Bridge and the industrial North Kent Marshes

Why does Old Bexley call itself a “village” on the signs, when it was clearly a small town before London ate it, and not a village at all?

Things begin to change on the dual carriageway from Bexley towards Bexleyheath. Things are more open, more 1970s, more concreted. Bexleyheath announces itself with a big new Legoland-style Marriot hotel on top of a hill. There’s a lot of the feel of Legoland about the architecture of Bexleyheath shoppng centre. It looks as if they knocked it down and rebuilt it sometime in the 70s or 80s, and there are streets of huge shops. But there is no back to it – its like a sort of concentric Blackpool – the town-centre buildings back straight on to rows of 1920s and 1930s terraced houses, there is no urban depth to it – not even the sort of urban depth you get in Eltham or Sidcup with their pubs (some of which even have customers), their disused crumbling pre-war cinemas, Edwardian public buildings, and interjections of civic brutalism.

But there are more people around. Its getting dark, and all of a sudden the bus is full. I suppose it must be people who have been shopping and are going back to Erith or Thamesmead. The bus runs through Barnehurst to Erith and then back west again to Belvedere (more or less along a route
I walked a couple of years ago) Even Erith is getting posh private flats these days.

The view is occasionally spectacular – the towers of red lights down the Thames by Dartford, the lights of the City in the other direction, the multistory blocks of Plumstead and Thamesmead and most of all the industry by the Thames and in Belvedere. In the day it might not look so good, but at night it is a landscape of lights.

Thamesmead itself is magnificent in a way. But it looks utterly uninhabitable. Dark, threatening, inorganic, with no obvious plan or logic to the layout. Places that just grow have reasons for being the way they are. Thamesmead is laid out by obsolete whim. The bus goes round and round through probably similar sections – probably because I can’t quite see them. Other planned suburbs (& Thamesmead is nothing if not a planned suburb), other planned suburbs are being gradually humanised as they grow older. They become natural, they accquire an artificial backstory. Trees grow, streets are altered, new walkways broken through, buildings are infilled, retrofitted, reused. But Thamesmead is so structured, so constrained, so racked by its curvy grid of near-motorway roads that it has no way of linking itself across them. Most of the little neighbourhoods turn their backs on the streets, and hence each other, often set back twenty or more metres from the road, on a different level, screened by fences and lines of scrubby trees and municipal planting. This is a place built for cars, not people.

But weirdly, even though its dark and getting cold, and there is nothing to so, nothing open in the gloom., there are more people around on the streets and in the buses than there were in the posher suburbs further south. Mostly black and Asian. A lot of them look as if they are on their way to or from church. Its built for cars but a lot of the people who live there can’t afford them.

And a 177 back to New Cross, through Abbey Wood and Plumstead and Woolwich and Charlton and Greenwich and Deptford, and finally back to church for the evening service on another 321. Or maybe it was even the same one.

This bus terminates here

The other day a policeman in uniform came up to me at the bus stop at Waterloo station and asked if I could answer some questions for a “survey”.

A few questions about where my journey was from and too that day – nothing that would identify me – then something like “what is your experience of bus travel today?” Weird question. Not sure how to answer. And do I have any complaints about the service?
Well, the buses are too hot. And often overcrowded. But you expect that… Any complaints about the other passengers? Are any of them rowdy? Abusive? Violent? No, not really. Mostly just trying to get to work

I don’t really know but it looks pretty much as if he was trying to get up to his quota of complaints for the month, and was asking me questions from a form intended to report specific incidents.

He also asked me which bus I used. And would only take one answer. (another clue that it was a fake report for a fake incident)

But that got me thinking as like most people who use London buses, I use all sorts of routes.

I reckon this is about true:

  • More than once a week: 21 24 29 188 321 436
  • Maybe about once a week but probably more than once a month: 47 59 68 91 136 168
  • More occasionally than that but not one-offs, still part of my regular pattern of travel: 1 7 9 12 15 17 43 53 54 73 89 108 122 171 172 176 177 185 199 225 284 343 381 484 P4 P12 P13

Which is more regular routes than I would have guessed I think.

And why is the oldest bus route in the world the number 12?

And talking about the 188, how come when the driver is black (maybe 4/5 of the time) the bus takes you to the north side of Russell Square? Which is where most passengers, including me, are going. But when its a white guy in the driving seat he stops on the south side and plays the little “This Bus Terminates Here” message until everyone gets off? And then we all walk across the square – and the bus gets to the north side before us.

More listening to London

Seen from a bus:

There were police in the act of arresting someone at the bus-stop in front of Lewisham Station this morning. Or at least it looked as if they were from where I was sitting on the 321, they had the back of their van open and it looked as if they were bundling someone in. Of course I don’t know for sure if it was an arrest. Maybe they had just stopped for a cup of tea and a chat, but if they had it was a funny place and time to do it.

The bus stopped right next to them and we passengers all got off the bus and went up to catch our trains. I think there are cities in the world where a bus driver would not stop at an arrest scene however many passengers wanted to get off. I think there are cities in the world where the passengers would insist loudly that the bus drove on as quickly as possible.

OK this was the BTP, and if they had arrested someone it was as probably for getting on the DLR without a ticket. But you cant tell that from the other side of the road. Two vans and half a dozen uniformed police, and at least one plain-clothes (I assume since she opened the door of a police van herself and got into the front) Anything could be happening. But the bus stopped and we walked right past them. No-one here expects the police, or those they are chasing, to have guns. So no-one is scared to be near them.

Overheard on a bus:

29 bus last night, packed with standers, only two empty seats . Young women walks up to them, turns round without sitting down, comes back again. I take my chance and sit down and find myself next to the reason she didn’t.

Dirty, drunk, bad-smelling tall twenty-something man, feet on the seat opposite, talking to himself or his can of K cider. Or maybe talking to me. Mumbling as if I wasn’t meant to hear. “That’s right. You sit next to me, Get your fat arse into the seat” Northern Irish accent I think, the sort that sounds almost Glasgow.

Then off on a mumbling rant about the state of the world and the nation. “Twenty-two pounds a week Army pension. Its a joke.” It seems that he has an unfeasibly large number of stitches and no job. And the fat cats screw you whatever you do.

Then he sat up straight, seemed to take notice of his surroundings, and asked my how my day had been, before apologising to the women opposite and getting off the bus. Though he turned round on the pavement and made a throat-chopping gesture at someone. I hope it wasn’t meant for me.

The song remains the same:

Tube strike has caused a flurry of political conversation around the office. Best line so far:

Ms. X [defending the strikers]: “Maybe they should get 5%. Why shouldn’t workers get the same money as their bosses?”

Mr Y [horrified]: “But.. but.. that’s Communist!”

X: “Well, I am a Communist”

People are actually talking about politics, the fash are getting pelted in the streets, a Labour government is groping its way to ignominious defeat, there is a Tube strike, its raining, and I’m listening to Deep Purple…

Bloody hell, its the 1970s!

But fings ain’t wot they used to be:

Overheard in a pub:

“… eighteen of them and they were all Romanians and they were all pregnant. And the Lewisham Council gave them every floor of a whole block of flats, the whole building just for them. AND their partners. No English people could get that. We have to work for everything we get in this country… [blah-blah]…politically-correct…[ [blah-blah] …soft…[blah-blah]…that’s the trouble with this country…[blah-blah]…so liberal…[blah-blah]…the Englishman is a foreigner in his own country…[blah-blah]…politically-correct…”

Nothing remarkable about that, you can hear similar nonsense any day if you hang around in the wrong bars. Except that the young black man who said it was wearing a hoodie, combats, and a baseball cap.

London truly is a multicultural society 🙂

London was like this every day before the Congestion Charge

Getting to work. There is a Tube strike. I foolishly didn’t realise that the buses would be messed up. I rarely use the Tube to get to work, and when I went home last night I had had an easy bus journey. But of course that was because all the Tube-travelling wusses left work early so by the time I hit the streets the rush had died down.

Twelve hours later on my way back things were quite different. Waterloo was packed with people who didn’t know where to go. Some seemed sad, some angry. I was sitting next to a young woman – maybe girl really, she looked a lot like my daughter did about five or six years ago and gave every impression of trying to look older than she is, lots of makeup, very high heels – who looked very sad. Well maybe looking sad was the point because the clothes were distinctly Goth – black al over, frilly round the edges, long skirt, rather chunky shiny black shoes.

An odd style for 10am. Its too early to be going out, and the clothes looked too clean and new and dressed-up to be her regular clothes (or the ones she was coming back from the night before in), and the style is too self-consciously Goth to be dressing up for work. Unless she works in one of the handful of deliberately self-styled Goth pubs I suppose. I rather patronisingly wondered to myself if she was going for an interview for some supposedly arty job, or at college or university, and wanted to look “different”. Which if it was the case she was failing to do because you could see people dressed like that when I was in Brighton in the 1970s. Except that they were wearing second-hand stuff or clothes they nicked from their grandmothers rather than a style bought off the shelf at Claire’s Accessories. No, not Claire’s Accessories, that’s cruel. But I hope it was the Goth pub. You always want to think the best of people. I smiled at her and she smiled back. Which is always heartening. Though she looked sad again later.

A woman on a wheelchair tried to get on the 188 bus in the rain and another woman, one of the other passengers, complained. She said it that motorised wheelchairs are against the rules. I hope she’s late for work every day this week. And the driver agreed and didn’t let the wheelchair user on. I felt very angry – but said nothing. There were a lot of other people who said nothing. Its not as if it was one of those refurbished golf buggies with steering wheels and five-speed gears that large Americans use to get round convention centres and airports and silly Brits drive down the wrong side of the road at ten miles an hour in. It was just a perfectly ordinary wheelchair with handles and everything and a little whiny motor controlled by a switch in the arm. The sort that nearly all wheelchair users actually use. She didn’t get on the bus, but a couple of policemen helped her to the one behind. I hope she wasn’t refused there. I didn’t see what happened.

There were more idiot drivers on the road than I’ve seen for ages. More drivers of any kind. One fool tried to pass the bus I was on on the inside by moving into a side street and back out again and ended up with the nose of the car jammed between roadworks and the kerb. A wobbly wet cyclist also tried to come up the inside between a parked van and the bus, just as the bus was moving left to a stop, and his handlebars came within an inch of us. And he nearly fell off. Whey didn’t he just stop? Why didn’t he go on the outside of the bus the way you ought to?

It took me twenty-seven minutes to get from home to the platform at Waterloo Station, another twenty-seven from the platform at Waterloo Station to the south side of Waterloo Bridge (for non-Londoners that is about four hundred metres) and it would be poetic to say it took twenty-seven minutes from the south side of Waterloo Bridge to work, but actually it was twenty-four. Yes, I could have walked it, but I stupidly didn’t come dressed for walking in the rain. Wearing sandals – I thought about putting on shoes and socks but didn’t because I was late for work and wanted to catch a bus in a hurry. Sandals save a minute.

The 188 driver kicked us off the bus at the south side of Russell Square, as they usually do when they are grumpy (and black drivers do less often than white drivers – I wonder why that is?) But it didn’t matter as the Square was so blocked with traffic we got there before the bus. And my feet hardly got wet at all.

This is what London was like every day before the Congestion Charge. Thank God for Ken Livingstone.

And expect worse. As we move towards a government that is likely to be even more unreasonable on worker’s rights than “New Labour” has been, the chances are we will see a lot more of this.