ACROSS LONDON BY BUS(v) Route 331: Uxbridge - New Denham Length of journey: ½ mile, 5 minutes
Four buses have taken me so far across London from east to west, but they haven't quite taken me all the way. There's still half a mile to go, which would be easy enough to walk, but a nagging voice tells me I really ought to ride. Only one London bus exits the capital anywhere between Watford and Heathrow, and that's the 331. This runs in a giant horseshoe from Uxbridge round to Ruislip, only three miles direct, but 14 miles on the bus. I only need to go two stops, but that means a very different trip to those I've made earlier today. The 331 is my first single-decker, and on a Saturday afternoon a damned busy one. A long queue is mustering in the bus station, and it's already obvious that I'm not going to get a seat. Our driver has stern words with a teenage girl whose Oystercard isn't valid, but lets her on anyway. She dashes to sit with her pink-clad cabal, muttering, but earns brownie points later when she's the only person to stand for a wobbly pensioner. Our final attempted passenger is a very elderly man who appears completely and utterly confused. He stumbles aboard, mumbles something to the driver, then turns to the entire bus and exclaims "I don't know what I'm doing!" He has the look of a startled deer caught in headlamps, alas probably permanently. Some kindly soul near the door lends an arm and helps him off, deducing that he really wants the U1 instead, and attempts reassurance. It's quite the saddest thing I've seen all day...and we're off.
We stop in the High Street to allow even more departing shoppers aboard. As social and ethnic mixes go, the passengers aboard this 331 are almost the direct opposite of my 53 experience down the Old Kent Road, but that's nearly-Buckinghamshire for you. A charming old lady asks if she can squeeze into the wheelchair space alongside me, because that's better than standing in the doorway with the college kids. The bus heads north out of town, past several boxy office blocks towards the bridge over the canal. The 17th century SwanandBottle pub is London's last hurrah, before we're across the River Colne and beyond the capital's border. I'm the only person to alight at the next stop, and I get stares from the other passengers thinking "why the hell did he bother?" But I bothered because I wanted to cross London by bus to gain an appreciation of this fine city. And after five long hours I now have, and I think I deserve a tube home.