diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Prime Movers
Route 17: London Bridge - Archway
Location: London north, inner
Length of journey: 6 miles, 50 minutes

A Wednesday morning journey in five stops and four passengers

Bus stop 1 - Joiner Street: Scores of commuters swarm out of London Bridge mainline station. A few linger in the bus shelter outside Fitness First, but most stride on into the sidestreets of Southwark. A stream of black cabs crawls slowly by. The tip of the Gherkin rises above the bus station's spiky skylights. She waits.

Passenger 1 - 40ish female: She boards quickly, teetering towards the rear of the bus on high black heels. An understated scarf is twisted fashionably around her neck. She places her chunky black handbag on the seat beside her and shuts down. Her mind is on auto-pilot, oblivious of the passing sights and the low mist hanging above the Thames. A display of sparkly silver handbags in a Cannon Street window is the only City spectacle to catch her distant eye. She presses the button to escape, but slow-crawling traffic beside St Paul's delays her exit by several minutes. She's bored, she's unfulfilled, she's resigned to going to work. She alights.

Bus stop 2 - Ludgate Hill: City Thameslink station is in mid-morning hibernation. WH Smith is bolted shut as the trains arrive empty. Nobody stops off at the tiny International Cheese Centre, for Emmental, Edam or otherwise. Traffic queues patiently to cross the Farringdon Road. A bloke with a big fluffy microphone wanders by, cameraman in tow. Starbucks is doing a roaring trade. The first edition Evening Standards have yet to arrive. He waits.

Passenger 2 - 50ish male: He sports a gold bracelet and close-cropped grey hair. The badge on his big blue jacket reveals he's a postal worker, probably already heading home after a taxing early shift. He moves swiftly to take control of the rear cluster of seats. He opens his tabloid, whips out his reading glasses and flicks through the hyped headlines, blotting out the chatter and noise all around. Two miles and 72 pages later he re-folds his paper and rests his big black boots on the upholstery opposite. A rasping cough suggests he's missing his nicotine. Getting off can't come a moment too soon. He alights.

Bus stop 3 - Caledonian Road (Story Street): A long low-key parade of shops attracts midweek truants and old ladies pushing baskets on wheels. A speed camera nods its head at the stripy tarmac. A crocodile of schoolchildren troops up the road past a discarded fridge, their teacher resplendent in pink trainers and a slightly too bright multi-coloured scarf. Wind whips through the open-ended bus shelter. Across the road, the Tibetan Buddhist Centre lies respectfully silent. He waits.

Passenger 3 - 20ish male: Sportswear in grey and blue is the order of the day. His hoodie is mostly navy and his trackies mostly slate. A white badge on his sleeve proclaims allegiance to the Adidas tribe. His messy hair looks like it was cut to be gelled, except he's not been bothered to spike it up this morning. It's only a short trip, a couple of stops past the prison, but it saves wearing out the soles of his white trainers. He alights.

Bus stop 4 - Caledonian Road station: This is not so much a community as a building site. "Always wear your eye protection." Major renovation is underway at the tube station, concealing the Leslie Green frontage behind poles and sheeting. The buzzer beside the site office door isn't working, so workmen rap ever more impatiently to gain entry. Across the road a tall crane looms above a mountain of scaffolding and several storeys of half-built walls. One day, maybe soon, social housing and yuppie flats will coexist here. She waits.

Passenger 4 - 50ish female: She throws her cigarette to the pavement and climbs to the upper deck. Her coat is warm and blue with a fleecy collar. Her jeans are stonewashed and flared below the knee, and a cheap foldaway brolly hangs from her wrist. On almost anybody else a lumpy pink cap, big specs and gold earrings just wouldn't work, but somehow she carries the look. She digs deep into her pocket to dig out a delicate handkerchief, then fills it. Her journey is quiet and lonely, with only the view for company. She alights, and lights up.

Bus stop 5 - Archway: Ugly office blocks dominate the choked roadway at the foot of Highgate Hill. The pub across the road is adorned with cartoon characters from old Guinness ads. A newspaper seller huddles inside his kiosk for warmth, waiting to earn a few more pennies from passing purchasers. People scatter as a streetsweeping van clears the pavement. The entrance to the tube station is camouflaged at the foot of some concrete steps. I depart.

17 links
Route 17: anorak-level route information
Route 17: timetable
Route 17: Exceptionally rare Routemaster sighting (June 2004)

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