Square Routes: Day 3 x 3 Bus 9: Aldwych - Hammersmith
Location: London west, inner
Length of journey: 5 miles, 40 minutes
I made this journey three months too late. Back at the start of September this was a Routemaster route, but alas the new replacement boxy double deckers make the number 9 now as anonymous a route as almost any other. Shame. My third square route was a relatively-brief jaunt from the West End to West London, beginning almost directly outside the boarded-up entrance to another long lost transport legend - the disused underground station at Aldwych (deceased 1994). King's College nextdoor is much older, 175 years old this year, but still very much functional.
My journey would have been much more pleasant in a Routemaster. Just one stop down the Strand we had to wait for two minutes while a balding Japanese man battled to find change and then feed it into the ticket machine beside the bus stop. Actually we didn't have to wait - our driver was just being kind - but this delay would never have happened with an on-board conductor to sort everything out. My grandstand view of Nelson's Column would also have been considerably better had I not been sitting on a stiff plastic seat of the kind you'd expect to find in a cheap cafeteria. Still, such is progress.
Apart from TrafalgarSquare, route 9 has much to recommend it to the tourist. This might explain why five tourists crammed into the three seats next to me at the front of the top deck for most of the journey. They ooh-ed at Admiralty Arch, they ahh-ed at Piccadilly Circus and they prodded furiously in the general direction of the Ritz. I could have told them everything there is to know about Piccadilly as we sped down the bus lane there, but instead I chose to keep quiet. Knightsbridge was a bit of an ugly disappointment, although the retail cathedral of Harvey Nicks definitely caught their eye. They strained in vain to spot Princess Di'sfountain through the trees in Hyde Park as we passed close by, then disembarked rapidly when we reached the Royal Albert Hall. I'd like to think that this was for cultural reasons but I suspect it was more likely they just wanted to take each other's photos beneath the gaudy gold of the Albert Memorial.
Just before we reached Hammersmith, a sad sight caught my eye at the end of Kensington High Street. Here stands the CommonwealthInstitute, a low concrete building with a curved green copper roof which for 40 years promoted cultural diversity to an under-enlightened nation. I remember being taken round the exhibition halls as a child and seeing strange African masks from distant lands that Britain had only just realised it didn't rule any more. Alas the building now lies empty, having been closed to the public two years ago by its somewhat suspect board of trustees. A number of Commonwealth leaders support the idea that the Institute should be knocked down and the money from the sale of the land used to fund schooling for disadvantaged children. No doubt property speculators are licking their lips at the prospect, but I would be saddened if this slice of post-imperial heritage were to be replaced by 'Tanzania Court' and 'Lesotho Villas' (1 and 2 bedroom apartments available). As my number 9 journey had shown, the past is always in danger of being lost forever.