Bus 10: Kings Cross - Hammersmith Location: London central Length of journey: 7 miles, 70 minutes
It being 10/10/10, I thought I'd go out and ride London's number 10 bus route. I did it yesterday, obviously, otherwise I wouldn't be able to tell you about it today. A fairly interesting central route, all told, with just about enough interesting sights to keep a tourist happy. End-to-end's supposed to be possible in 37 minutes, according to the timetable at the first bus stop. Maybe at 5am, but on a Saturday afternoon, no chance.
Not many London buses kick off at a request stop, but the 10 manages exactly that. No grand launch from the front of Kings Cross station, just a low key launch in Wharfedale Road, a lowly ratrun round the corner from the London Canal Museum. Here I nabbed my top deck front seat unchallenged, before the hordes boarded at the subsequent stops round Kings Cross proper. One particular young child expressed vocal disappointment that the grandstand positions were taken, provoking a mild level of self-guilt until his parents trooped him off two stops later. Along the Euston Road we whizzed (one of the benefits of a weekend run), then down the one-way Georgian canyon that is Gower Street. So far, so easy.
Oxford Street is a mess, isn't it? More than usual at the moment, thanks to major Crossrail-related roadworks at the eastern end. London's most famous shopping street has been divided by a lengthy trench filled with exposed pipework, which doesn't exactly yell "hey, come spend your money here". One entire block on Dean Street has now been completely demolished, and from the 10's top deck there's a clear view down at the earthy hollow which will one day form a station entrance. The narrow one-way system was made worse by a particularly persistent cyclist, bedecked in green woolly coat, who our driver could never quite overtake. She'd nip ahead whenever we pulled in to disgorge passengers, but we'd soon catch her up pedalling not very furiously past every in-road obstacle.
Christmas has not yet hit Oxford Street, you'll be pleased to know, and the window displays remain filled with mannequins and shoes rather than fake snow and baubles. But be warned, the lights start being hung from 10pm tonight, presumably to celebrate whichever ghastly American cartoon movie has paid the most money this year. But the street was still exciting enough for the Japanese couple who squeezed onto the front seats alongside me, who charted their progress on a free cycling map and pointed out every exciting sight they spotted. "Selfridges!" was their initial squeal, which seemed reasonable enough until "Primark!" earned the exact same reaction shortly afterwards.
We traversed the entire length of Oxford Street in 12 minutes flat, which is a lot quicker than I was expecting on a Saturday afternoon given this street's reputation as a nose-to-tail busjam. Indeed we'd been so swift that our driver pulled in beside the Mini showroom in Park Lane and made an unexpected announcement. "Four minutes stoppage time because I'm too early." We waited six instead, the liar, and watched impotently as scores of other buses went streaming past. Several of these were Routemasters, on wedding guest collection duty outside the Hilton down the road. By the time we got there our scheduled 37 minute running time had already elapsed, and still with well over half the journey to go.
From Hyde Park Corner, it was westbound all the way. The 10 shares this section of the journey with the 9 in a particularly deft, possibly deliberate, bit of route numbering. My Japanese co-passengers were especially excited to catch sight of "Harrods!" as we waited patiently at traffic lights in Knightsbridge. A family of tourists clutching telltale green and gold carrier bags joined us on the upper deck, the youngest of whom delighted on repeating "10... to... Hammersmith" in a slightly dodgy accent at every available opportunity. I guess it's one way to learn the language, but I wished he'd only learnt to count to 5 and gone to Romford instead.
It may be October, but there was an ice cream van parked up outside the Royal Albert Hall. It being October, nobody was interested. To our right "Kensington Palace!" was obscured by trees, but this disappointment was more than made up for in audience reaction by "TK Maxx!". Kensington High Street was abuzz. The queue for Starbucks stretched back out onto the pavement, which did at least reassure me I wasn't the only person in the West End completely wasting an hour of his Saturday.
Our driver didn't seem to be rushing, indeed he was happy to allow every car or taxi emerging from a sidestreet to pull out in front of us. This gave me time to admire the flags of many nations depicted across the top of the bus shelter opposite the old Commonwealth Institute (which must have been there for years), and to watch delegates queueing to enter the 'Scandinavian Show' at Olympia. As we neared Hammersmith I thought a couple of nuns were going to climb aboard, but instead they nipped through a door into their convent carrying two bags of not very heavy shopping. And finally a spin round the gyratory beside the flyover, and we ground to a halt inside the island bus station. An hour and ten minutes, aboard the 10, to travel not quite ten miles. If you're seeking a way to commemorate today's unique time combination, you can do better than this.