Cube Routes: Day 7 x 7 x 7
Bus N343: Victoria - New Cross Gate Location: London southeast, inner Length of journey: 11 miles, 60 minutes
London is one of the few cities in the country where you can get home by public transport any time of the day or night. The tube may stop running just after midnight, but a red army of buses trundles on through the night, jam-packed heading out of town and virtually empty heading in. Over the last two years Mayor Ken has increased the number of nightbuses in London by 25%, and one of those new routes is the N343 running half-hourly through Southwark and Lewisham. Glamorous it ain't, but at least Peckham looks nicer in the dark.
There's a brand new bus station outside Victoria station, all gleaming perspex and streamlined lanes. Alas it's rather exclusive so the N343 has to start round the corner instead, outside the Apollo Theatre (home to West End smash Bombay Dreams). Appropriately the bus first heads East. Far too many different nightbuses travel the route between Victoria and Trafalgar Square, so I found myself the only passenger on board as we sped past Westminster Abbey and an illuminated Big Ben. Below Nelson's Column there were again lengthy queues for all the other nightbuses, but not for the N343. The only nightlife heading for Peckham was one bloke carrying a steaming hot pizza.
At last, at Aldwych, the route came into its own and several sarf-londoners herded on board. We crossed Waterloo Bridge with the Oxo Tower shining to the left and the new Golden Jubilee Bridges twinkling to the right. Pure pitch black magic. We headed along Bankside towards London Bridge, lonely security guards sitting illuminated in giant glass buildings along the way. Still not one drunkard nor one kebab nor one loaded weapon was on board. The nightbus got much busier at Elephant & Castle, at which point the average salary of the passengers on board suddenly halved. The backroads of Walworth were lined by long tall council cuboids, shoeboxes for filing away the London underclass. Several windows were still brightly lit, at least one waiting for the arrival of that now-luke-warm pizza.
The most annoying public announcement cut in every time somone pressed the button to request the bus to stop. "Bus stopping at next bus stop. Please stand well clear of doors." It was impossible to fall asleep with this female nasal whine repeating every two minutes, and I'd gladly murder the engineers who installed this un-sound system.
We passed through Burgess Park, the only place in Central London (zones 1 & 2) to be more than a mile away from any form of railway station. Round here the 343 bus route is the only local lifeline, at least until 2011 when a brand new tram service is due to pass through, linking Peckham and Brixton to Waterloo and Camden. I wonder if they'll bother to run a service at night. Peckham had pulled down the shutters before we arrived, just the odd club and takeaway still open down an iron-fronted high street. Late-night revellers were queueing at the bus stop, but it was very hard to spot where they might be coming from.
By now five different people had sat in the seat next to me, all of them heavily sober. Slowly the bus emptied as we plied the well-kept terraces of Brockley and Telegraph Hill, until New Cross came into view. The driver couldn't believe there was anyone still on the bus as we reached the end of the road, but at least I got off without having to press that dreaded whining button. End of journey number seven, my Cube Routes finally completed, and so I departed into the night. Bybus, of course.