For my first alphabetical London bus journey, I have no choice. There is only one A bus, now that As only appear at the start of a route number and never at the end. The A10 it is, the bus to the airport, which had me wondering if I might be boarding something snazzy and special. Nope, single decker red bus, as per normal. But speedy too, indeed almost an express.
An A-Z of LONDON BUSES
Route A10: Uxbridge - Heathrow Airport Length of journey: 8 miles, 25 minutes
You can take the slow bus to Heathrow, which from Uxbridge Bus Station is the U3, or you can take the fast bus, which is the A10. When the time is right my A10 emerges from the cavernous portal by the tube station and pulls round towards the first stop on Bakers Road. There ought to be no passengers on board, not straight out of the depot, so I'm surprised to see a bald man already seated up front peering closely at a phone. When did she let him on?
Two of us board, then suddenly a young lad in a nearby doorway throws his cigarette to the ground and trots across. He's wearing a suit, which is considerably better dressed than all the other males around here, and stands out even more thanks to his bright green and blue striped tie. Cabin crew or check-in staff or some other airport-related job, obviously, but I decide against peering too closely at his ID badge to make sure. He takes the seat behind me and plugs in some banging drum and bass, and off we go.
Escape from the town centre involves passing St Andrew's Park, which used to be RAF Uxbridge but is now levelled for flats. Ahead is the Hillingdon Road, a wide suburban dual carriageway once pencilled in for a tram, except it proved too hard to persuade locals they wanted one. On one street corner is Jack's Fish and Chips, a local legend in what was once a pub, with banners now proudly celebrating its '46th anniversary'. And behind that cricket club on Coney Green is a Saxon earthwork, uncovered in the Twenties and containing a few shards of Roman pottery. A lot along this urban clearway isn't quite what it was, if you know where to look.
Although several bus stops are busy nobody seems interested in flagging us down - the A10's quite a specialised taste. But when we turn off down the Harlington Road suddenly we're the only bus in town and off ships our only female passenger. We gain two more shortly afterwards, one a little worse the wear from the weather, the other with immaculately tied hair. "More airport," I decide, and on we go. We pass a 'Station Hand Car Wash', despite the absence of any stations for at least a mile in any direction, old or new. And I don't think I've ever been to Dawley before, although this long-swallowed manorhouse is now remembered by a brief parade boasting minimarket and betting shop. So far so ordinary.
But then we hit Stockley Park. This vast gravel pit and dumping ground was smothered in topsoil in the 1980s and landscaped to within an inch of its life, and is now a seriously hi-tech business estate plus golf course. The A10's allowed in round the back, which means waiting patiently at an electronic barrier, and then meandering through the site past BP, M&S, IBM and other blue chip companies that aren't acronyms. You can tell we're on private land because all the road signs are at thigh height on rectangular panels, and all the bus shelters are squat blue things with Stockley Park branding. There are also ponds and sculptures, because Apple employees deserve nothing less, although it being Sunday the ducks are quacking at nobody.
On reaching the main road we cross to do a brief loop in the other half of the Stockley Park estate, where neatly-tied-hair-woman alights, so I was totally wrong about her. Joining the busy dual carriageway we cross the Grand Union Canal and the Great Western Mainline in very quick succession. And then there's just one last stop before we do something I think no other TfL bus does - we join the motorway! Specifically that's the M4, more specifically the Heathrow Spur (a mile of airport link completed in 1965). This stretch of blue from the Holiday Inn to the Park Inn hotel boasts the UK's first ever motorway bus lane, but today our drivers spurns it as unnecessary and the extra lane remains empty.
Before long we're at the Concorde Roundabout beneath the A4, named after the model British Airways plane that used to sit here, although in 2007 an Emirates Airbus hijacked the spot instead. We're now on the Heathrow perimeter, but well below plane-spotting level and about to head into a tunnel. Six other TfL buses head this way, beneath the northern runway, and it'd much more fun almost skimming the roof in a double decker. Never mind, the A10's speedy dash has brought us inside the airport in double-quick time. How retro-futuristic the whole place now looks, like some Gerry Anderson set from the 60s, all swirling roadways and the occasional jet.
We pull up beside the entrance to Heathrow's coach hub and bus station, more than two miles since the A10's penultimate stop, where the handful of us on board alight. Nobody's brought a suitcase, it's not been that kind of journey, but blue-green-tie-bloke strides off towards Terminal 3 ready for his ground-based shift. Standing nearby is a shivering soul in sombrero, shorts and flipflops, attire which presumably made sense a few hours back, but entirely erroneous now. And as our driver swings round to change her blind to 'Uxbridge' I notice that the bald man is still aboard... and indeed heads back the same way a few minutes later. I can only assume he's the driver's husband, and a round trip to the airport is their way of spending time together at the weekend.