diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 05, 2004

Last Routemaster to Bow (Friday 4th June, 2315-0025)

Typical, you wait decades for the final number 8 Routemaster and then five come along at once. Late last night these five fine vehicles were lined up alongside Victoria station - three red buses, a green one and a white one. A surprisingly large crowd of enthusiasts had gathered to say their farewells and to take one last ride home (so it was just as well there were five buses available). The very last bus in the queue was RML 2760 (the very last Routemaster to be built), chugging away proudly with a Union Jack draped over the bonnet. This was the bus everyone wanted to be aboard, and the conductress had to hold the waiting mob of travellers at bay as if they were eager teenagers waiting to board a coach on a school trip.

I grabbed a window seat on the upper deck as the bus filled up with 'people who ride buses'. The bloke who sat next to me had NHS specs and the faint whiff of body odour, but I'd hate you to think everyone on board was like that. There were serial bus addicts who spent the journey testing each other out on which route ran where, there were friends who only seem to meet up on 'last runs', there were a couple of wives enjoying a double decker Friday night out with their menfolk and there were a few of the shy silent type who just sat and watched. Average age about 40, I would reckon, which is younger than I was expecting. Two blokes regaled us with bawdy songs and the odd lewd comment, a bit like being aboard a rugby club tour bus. One young afro-coiffed lad had even brought along a giant corkboard on which he had written 'Farewell No 8 Routemasters', but alas it was too big to hold up to the windows.

Ding ding. The last journey began. We set off through the illuminated streets of nighttime London, round Hyde Park Corner, up Piccadilly and through the backstreets of Mayfair. A man walked up the stairs carrying a film camera complete with giant furry microphone - the BBC were on board! He took a shot of the giant corkboard (so it wasn't entirely wasted) and pointed his camera in various people's faces (thankfully not mine). A journalist interviewed a few of the travellers, except they seemed more intent on discussing technical operational niceties rather than uttering the magic words "they're a London icon aren't they, we'll miss 'em".

Along Oxford Street the Friday night crowds waiting for their transport home were a bit cheesed off when our packed double decker sailed by without stopping. The bus was three-quarters of an hour late already and some of the on-board enthusiasts were grumbling that they were going to miss their last train home. "I wish they'd finished earlier," said one, oblivious to the irony of his statement. Some succumbed and alighted early to grab a final tube connection, allowing space for a handful of surprised Friday night revellers to take their seat aboard history. We sped past Centre Point, St Paul's and the Bank of England on this final express service to Bow. Just after midnight we passed Liverpool Street, the very last Routemaster to exit the City of London on a scheduled service. Some of us enjoyed the view, others enjoyed the upper deck social club and the BBC crew just slouched on the stairs. Bethnal Green, Roman Road, Bow Church, my house. End of the line.

Nobody wanted to be the first off the bus, mainly because the BBC cameraman was training his lens at all those filing down the stairs. The previous four buses had already disgorged their passengers and a crowd had gathered at the bottom of Fairfield Road to fire flashbulbs at the final double decker. There were still the last few yards into Bow Garage to be negotiated, and a traffic jam of vintage vehicles, current services, taxis and Smart cars had to be cleared from the narrow roadway before this could happen. The driver paused before turning into the garage so that the 200-strong crowd could attempt one last photograph. Only the crew and the BBC team were still on board as he finally disappeared inside the garage (moral: if you want to be part of history, get a job reporting it). The massed multitudes were eventually permitted a five minute photocall inside the garage - a giant shed filled by buses packed tight like loaves of bread in a baker's tray. The BBC were busy interviewing the driver and conductress, and grabbing more shots of us. I managed to capture one last decent photo, and then we were all sent back outside. Some of the old Routemasters were already heading out of the building on the way to their new owners. Slowly the crowd dispersed, ready to meet again in West London when the 7s lose their Routemasters next month.

This morning there are no crowds in Fairfield Road because there are no buses worth seeing. A steady stream of red boxy Tridents trickles out of Bow Garage every 7 minutes, and nobody's interested in the number 8 any more. It's just one more anonymous bus route traversing the capital, 40 years of historic Routemaster service lost overnight. It's hard to imagine anyone ever getting quite so worked up over these new buses. Having said that, the red boxy Tridents that go past my house on route 25 are due to be replaced by huge long bendy buses before the end of this month, and I shall certainly miss them when the only alternative is standing inside a characterless wheelchair-accessible box on wheels, packed in like cattle. But it's the Routemaster that will forever hold a special place in the heart of London. Ever had the feeling that progress is moving relentlessly in the wrong direction?

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream