Tomorrow is the last day of Routemaster operation on route 19 between Battersea and Finsbury Park. I took a ride on the 19 last week, just because I can't next week. They've already started the changeover, so I had to wait beside Battersea Bridge for 15 minutes while a couple of dull modern double deckers emerged from the old shed that doubles as a bus garage. But then I nabbed the top deck front seat view on the next vintage vehicle for a snail's pace crawl across Central London, and suddenly the wait was worthwhile. We got stuck in a jam in Knightsbridge for 20 minutes, but (unlike next week) the Japanese tourists sitting to my right were still able to hop off the open platform and escape. We paraded up Shaftesbury Avenue which, until tomorrow night at least, is the only road in Central London where every bus is still a Routemaster. We transported some Chelsea nobs to the art galleries up Piccadilly and we delivered a smiling kid with an Incredibles balloon (and her dad) to the estates of Highbury. At least four different middle-aged blokes took our photograph as we passed. During the journey the conductor's memory failed him and he asked to check my ticket twice, although admittedly the two occasions were over an hour apart. I sincerely hope he has a job lined up for next week, but somehow I doubt it.
For the second half of the journey I got to share my top deck view with a bus fanatic and a genuine minor celebrity. The minor celeb was BBC London 94.9FM weekend breakfast DJ Simon Lederman. You've probably never heard of him, and neither had I, but his name was written on an envelope and Google is a wonderful thing. Simon had an on-board rendezvous with the bus fanatic to collect some prize tickets to give away on air for a special Open Day being arranged by Cobham Bus Museum this weekend. He also got to check the Radio London advert in the Open Day programme and got shown all the spelling mistakes in the accompanying advertising leaflet. I'm afraid that Simon's on-bus conversation was rather more interesting than the first 10 minutes of his show last Saturday, but that's local talk radio for you.
If you want to see some fine old buses in action, you could chug down to Surrey on Sunday. Or you could just stay in town and ride a Routemaster for £1.20, while you still can. There are several guest vehicles serving the 19 tomorrow, if you're interested. But there'll be just five routes left to choose from after tomorrow, and none at all before the year is out. Ride now while stocks last.
StillRoutemastering: 14 Putney - Tottenham Court Road (last day of operation: 22 July 2005) 22 Putney - Piccadilly Circus (last day of operation: 22 July 2005) 159 Marble Arch - Streatham (last day of operation: 30 September 2005) 38 Victoria - Clapton (no final date set, but likely to be replaced by bendy buses in October) 13 Golders Green - Aldwych (no final date set, but will go before Christmas)