diamond geezer

 Monday, July 26, 2004

Routemaster 50

London's favourite bus is 50 years old this year, and to celebrate there was a grand gathering of Routemasters in Finsbury Park over the weekend. Lots of them. And crowds of bus enthusiasts came along to admire them all too. It's not every day you see 75 buses all lined up in a row (except perhaps down Oxford Street in the rush hour) so this was a rare photo opportunity not to be missed. And it was free, and it only rained for a few minutes. See the official website here, Inspector Sands' write-up here and Matt's photo report covering both days here.

The line of Routemasters stretched down the hill in Finsbury Park for as far as the eye could see. In amongst the buses on show were nine of the first ten Routemasters ever built, including RM6 (pictured here in special gold livery). Most of the vehicles on display had been lovingly restored and were in almost mint condition, although others seemed barely off the scrap heap. Many featured period adverts ("Ladies - always shop between 10 and 4!") and one had been dressed up as the purple triple-decker Knight Bus to promote the latest Harry Potter movie. All sorts of unlikely destinations were on show, from Windsor to the Wirral and from Canvey Island to Växjö (it's in Sweden).

There were stalls selling all sorts of bus memorabilia, including models, magazines, videos and photographs. I realised that some of the old 1970s London Bus maps I have stored away in my spare room must be worth at least, ooh, £2 to a willing enthusiast. I doubt I'll be selling them yet. And there were also free bus rides to be taken, not round the park but out on the real roads between Manor House and Seven Sisters stations. It was especially good to ride aboard an open-topped special all the way along route 259 from Tottenham to Kings Cross. Ah, the strange looks we got at bus stops from passengers expecting a more normal service to arrive.

And finally there were the bus afficionados themselves. Average age about 50, which was quite appropriate given the event, and almost all male of course. If you have any preconceptions of how a bus-spotter might look then let me assure you that only half of them looked like that, and not all of them were wearing beige. Many of these addicts walked up and down the line of buses jotting down serial numbers in their tattered notebooks, although I thought this was cheating somewhat because all the hard work had been done for them. One particularly gauche dad barked orders at his two young daughters as he led them round their worst nightmare ("No girls, move apart so my camera can still see the numberplate").

The whole event appeared to be a homage not just to the Routemaster but also to digital photography. No matter which way you walked, someone was pointing a lens across your path trying to snap yet another picture of an old bus. I tried to be polite and keep out of people's viewfinders but it was an impossible task most of the time. Then I'd spot the perfect angle for a photo myself except that there were hordes of people in the way, usually taking photographs of something different, so I'd hang around for ages in case all of them moved out of the way simultaneously which alas they never quite did. And there just behind us, over the fence outside the park, a steady flow of modern red London buses plied their scheduled routes up the Seven Sisters Road. And not one person took a photograph of any of them, which I think summed up the whole event perfectly.

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