There's an old bus depot just round the corner from where I live. It's a big brick shed rammed with double deckers, and it's 100 years old this year. To celebrate, Bow Garage organised a centenary Open Day yesterday so that interested locals and enthusiasts could take a look inside. I'd like to count myself in the former category, if you don't mind.
Fairfield Road was packed, not just with buses (and traffic trying to get past the buses) but with blokes. People who like buses appear to be 99% men, with just the occasional long-suffering wife thrown in. They were everywhere - on the pavement, standing between parked cars and hovering in the road outside the garage. Almost all of them had a camera, because "People Who Like Buses" have been walking around with cameras long before the rest of the population caught up. Every time another heritage bus chugged in or out of the garage, which was frequently, scores of shutters twitched to capture another commemorativesnapshot.
Getting inside the garage was rather harder. There was a mighty queue of enthusiastic gentlemen, far longer than I was expecting, waiting patiently to pay their £2 for entrance. Everyone received an informative programme detailing the garage's history (which I promptly lost, mislaid, dropped, or something, oh the agony). And, once inside, an unexpected choice of activity. First there were the old buses, lots of them, lovingly maintained and copiously photographed. Some were boardable, some were green, one was actually a trolleybus, and one had been raised up on jacks so that you could walk underneath (hard hats provided). And second, there was the shopping area. Blimey, don't "People Who Like Buses" like to shop? Particularly for miniature model buses and other people's photographs, but also for books, maps and more obscure items like destination roller-blinds. Several special anniversary items were also available, including mugs, t-shirts, ties and even fluorescent yellow jackets. I suspect that many of the blokes in attendance have entire spare rooms rammed with bus memorabilia, which may be why so few of them arrived with a female partner in tow.
And then a treat. A special heritage bus service was in operation, every 10 minutes throughout the day, running non-stop from the garage to Holborn and Aldwych. Pick your departure time carefully and you could have ridden on a Green Line classic, or a boxy Titan, or an open-topper, or any one of a motley bunch of old vehicles. I got lucky and climbed aboard RM1, the very first Routemaster. A motley crowd rammed aboard (alas, no sign of Boris Johnson taking notes) and off we sped round Bow Church and into town. We followed route 25 into the City, a rare double decker in a stream of unloved bendies, leaving bemused would-be passengers stranded on the pavement. No dear, we are not going to stop and let you on, not even if you mouth obscenities at the driver and shrug your shoulders in sarcastic desperation.
There are lots more special old buses running today, this time on routes 9 and 15 between Tower Hill and the Royal Albert Hall. If you're partial to a rear-platform chugger, you'd better make the most of this opportunity because it may be London's last. The rules of the Low Emission Zone are tightened next weekend to cover buses and coaches, meaning that any vehicle with an unconverted engine may be liable to a £1000 fine. London's remaining heritage Routemasters are unaffected, but some post-1973 omnibuses will be restricted to showing off outside the M25. Whatever you think Boris may have promised, these old workhorses aren't returning to London's streets any time soon.