Prime Movers Route 5: Canning Town - Becontree Heath Location: London east, outer Length of journey: 8 miles, 65 minutes
Every bus with a route number below 20 runs through central London... except for 5. This wasn't always the case. Route 5 used to run from Bloomsbury to Barking, inaugurated as part of the great Trolleybus Replacement Programme of 1959. But the West End terminus was cut back to the East End in 1990 and now the 5 is a very ordinary suburban bus, its route divided between two very different boroughs and two very different East Londons.
First half: Things to see in the London Borough of Newham Canning Town: a big shiny bus station (pictured), the start of the new DLR City Airport extension (opened 5pm yesterday), poor people, very poor people, very poor people smoking, barely a white face, wrinkled grannies pulling baskets on wheels, two girls with giant hoop earrings wearing pink anoraks with furry hoods, Rathbone Market (a nasty 60s construction of lowbrow tack-stalls and minging pound shops). Plaistow: a pre-teen posse bounding loudly onto the top deck, shops selling colourful plastic sink drainers for £1 or less, a growling thug taking his muzzled pitbull for a walk, 6 Carlings for £5, a yellow Police board propped up against a lamppost ("Can You Help?" "Murder" "...fatally stabbed in a red Nissan"), deprived housing, traffic jams, A Spittle (Florist, now boarded up). Upton Park: bookies, kebabs, shops painted in claret and blue, two boys in Santa hats covering the base of the Bobby MooreWorld Cup statue with spray string, Nathan's Pie & Eel shop, a 3 screen cinema (1 Hollywood, 2 Bollywood), inconsiderate drivers blocking bus lanes, claret and blue plastic seats in the West Ham grandstand. East Ham: net curtains behind condensation-soaked window panes, hoodies, a very ordinary-looking mosque ("all visitors are politely requested not to congregate outside the vicinity of the mosque. Asslamu Alaykum!!"), East Ham Market Hall, flats with pink doors, local residents all clothed by market and discount warehouse, Newham Town Hall, brown, grey, black.
Second half: Things to see in the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham Barking: green, a giant roundabout, Wickes, Abbey Green, Barking Abbey (ruins), Barking Town Centre, two thirds of the passengers alighting, a bustling street market, non-Persian carpets for sale, a bandstand, old ladies admiring artistic icing in the window of Cake Express, poor people, poor people reading the Daily Star, a shrivelled bloke hobbling home. Fair Cross: a big park, giant ornate villas, a whelk stall, Barking bus garage, a giant shaven-headed hulk in a vest (almost certainly on steroids), leafy avenues, the University of East London, redbrick, displaced Cockneys, publessness, row after row of identikit semis. Becontree: row after row of identikit council semis, families lugging big boxes home from the shops, cars, parked cars, old cars sunk into unmowed front lawns, barely a black face, barely a brown face, pebbledash, stonecladding, superstores, teenage cliques in navy and grey sportswear, bleached blondes, the chav cliché lives. Becontree Heath: a tiny desolate bus station centred round a brick shed beneath a pair of tower blocks (pictured), a London Transport roundel on a spike, Barking and Dagenham Civic Centre, flat grass, "dreary, depressing, miserable, unlovely, intimidating, grey, windswept, bleak, bland, decaying, unloved and thoroughly nasty".
5 links Route 5: anorak-level route information Route 5: timetable Route 5: anorak-level bus information