Cube Routes: Day 3 x 3 x 3 Bus 27: Chalk Farm - Turnham Green
Location: London northwest, inner
Length of journey: 9 miles, 70 minutes
London loves to go shopping. Chalk Farm residents go shopping at the big Safeway superstore, a non-descript brick warehouse tucked in beside the main railway line to Euston. It's Saturday morning and the supermarket is busy, the car park is full and the air smells of hot cross buns. The infrequently-departing number 27 bus, however, is empty, bar me and the driver. Just round the corner we pass Camden Market, a hypermarket of henna and hemp, where the pavements are packed and there's a rather different sickly sweet smell in the air. On past Camden's boxy terraces, past the legendary MorningtonCrescent tube station, down to the busy Euston Road. It starts to drizzle, and the top deck view blurs.
We head west, and it gets touristier. An Italian couple sit next to me, following the journey on a map, trying repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) to pronounce the word 'Marylebone'. There are queues of bored-looking tourists outside Madame Tussauds, and scores of plain-looking hotels on the approach to Paddington where all the shops sell food, postcards or currency. The bus slows to a crawl, attempting to negotiate narrow streets, taxis and endless traffic lights. Suddenly, round the corner from Whiteleys shopping centre, our driver flashes the bus's internal lights. We're not even halfway to the end of the route, but this is the signal that our bus is stopping early and we all have to get off. The Italian couple look bemused, and everyone else merely pissed off. It's a long long 20 minute wait beside a rainswept parade of shops before the following bus catches up and we can continue.
Next stop PortobelloMarket, at which point the packed bus nearly empties, such is the attraction of this weekly antiques-fest. Everyone's here to buy some hideous bric-a-brac and objets d'art, or to be seen doing so. It's not far to Notting Hill, where slightly posh twenty-something women are leading their reluctant boyfriends round an endless succession of boutiques. The road south to Kensington is lined by snooty antique shops, over-priced and under-patronised, but who cares when one sale pays the assistant's wages for a week. Shops, shops and more shops, right down the slightly more mainstream Kensington High Street into Hammersmith and yet another cluster of chain stores. There are more reputable places to spend money within this one square mile of West London than there are within the whole of East London.
Chiswick High Road beckons, every billboard along the way advertising the latest manufactured pop album due out just in time for Christmas. The bus speeds up, mainly because no car dare use the weekday-only bus lane, just in case they've guessed the date wrong. The futon showrooms and bistros pass by, the last few bag-laden locals climb off, and we pull up at Turnham Green in the pouring rain. The shopperbus has reached its destination, a respectable and varied high street I wouldn't mind living close to myself. But now, having watched everyone else spending their money all along the route, I sidle off home having spent nothing but my time.