diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 23, 2014

London has no F-prefixed buses, so we're straight on to G. And there's only one of those. The G1's a real peculiarity too, having started out in 1988 as an attempt by Wandsworth Health Authority to link as many hospitals as possible via a variety of unserved streets. Initially it had a partner, the G2, but that was removed in 1992 leaving just the G1. It follows a slightly less convoluted route today, but only just, hence it's very much a bus for short hop journeys rather than anything end-to-end. Oh, and the G stands for St George's Hospital, obviously.

 Route G1: Battersea - Streatham
 Length of journey: 10 miles, 85 minutes

To the northeast of Clapham Junction, nudged up against the railway, lies the Shaftesbury Estate. It's rather lovely too, with leafy avenues of basic but well-proportioned terrace houses built for the working man, but now snapped up by those rather richer. The G1 starts its epic journey up a dead-end street in the far corner, outside a scout hut from which the sounds of gospel singing are temporarily emanating. About a dozen of us are waiting, the last bus having seemingly been cancelled, and only the small toddler scooping up leaves seems immune to a general feeling of polite restlessness. When the bus does finally arrive it still has to turn round, which proves awkward, and then the driver (who looks like he's just out of school) finally whisks us away.

"Why did we get the bus?" Two well-spoken lads are sitting behind me on their way to watch some rugby in a pub. They nipped aboard as we crossed the Shaftesbury, as did a dozen others, but are regretting that decision now we're stuck at traffic lights trying to filter onto Lavender Hill. "I can't believe how long this is taking." We need five attempts to get through, and then we join another snail's pace line heading up towards Clapham Junction. A suspiciously high number of passengers alight outside the enormous Asda - some have travelled barely half a mile - and then we wait while the ramp is deployed so a wheelchair shopper can come aboard. "Should've walked," says one member of the increasingly-irked rugby chorus, but they still reach The Northcote in time for the majority of Sky Sports' pre-match banter.

The terraces off Northcote Road are often known as 'Nappy Valley', a reputation well justified as the bus progresses through. Our first pushchair is swiftly joined by a second, carefully lodged opposite the wheelchair, then somehow a third ("yeah, but you'll have to fold that up"). Mummy and Daddy number four are not so fortunate and are left at the roadside with the news that there'll be another G1 along soon... which may not be entirely true but alas our mobile crèche can take no more. Space is limited outside the bus on Broomwood Road where a Tesco delivery driver has parked slightly too close to a traffic island and is blocking the road. A honk from our driver gets the van shifted, but also merits a curse and a one-fingered salute from Mr Tesco (LM60 UFH) as we drive off.

The western side of Clapham Common is busy with joggers and several games of football. Due to the cursive nature of the G1's route I note that I could have walked here from the start in the time it's taken us to get here, and hung around to watch part of a match too. Our vehicle half-empties at Clapham South station, because that's how London buses work, then immediately refills with folk going back west again. One has brought an IKEA shelf unit as a travelling companion, another his ice hockey gear including two skates and a pair of gloves slung over his stick.

Our next Common is Wandsworth, which we narrowly missed ten minutes ago, and very smart it is round here too. The lady sat in front of me has been checking her phone ever since she boarded, repeatedly googling the Central London Golf Centre to work out pecisely where to get off. The ice skater kindly nudges her to alight at Tilehurst Road, whereas she should have waited for our doubleback to Springfield University Hospital, the first of the G1's blatant diversions for medical reasons. We waste time doubling back again just down the road at St George's Grove, but once you realise these 500 flats are all NHS keyworker accommodation the extra detour suddenly makes sense.

I may be riding all the way to Streatham but the driver isn't. On Garratt Lane he pulls up and greets his replacement, who's just popped out of a red van parked in front. They swap tales of driving conditions and shiftwork for a bit, then Young Driver crosses to the van and drives away while Older Driver spends a minute beeping the ticket machine. Are we done? It's finally time to enter St George's, a hospital on a huge campus to the west of Tooting. We're not seeing its best side, we're rounding the perimeter past a sequence of entrances to delivery bays, wings and clinics. It's here at last that our wheelchair passenger alights, justifying the Wandsworth Health Authority's route planning all those years ago, although why she needed to go all the way to Battersea for two bags of shopping is beyond me.

After four hospital-edge stops we finally escape. We're down to just five passengers now, and barely get a sixth as we enter Tooting High Street. The lady in question's Oyster card beeps empty, then beeps empty again, and the driver decides to refuse her passage. She attempts to pay by cash but is four months late, then plays the "not being very good at English" card in a desperate attempt to stay aboard. This works inasmuch as the driver lets her remain "For One Stop Only", but then she retires somewhat sheepishly, presumably to try her scam on someone less strict.

It's hard to turn right at Tooting Broadway, but eventually we do, and suddenly a whole load of new passengers pile aboard. This end of the G1 is effectively a whole new route, dispersing shoppers and tube users into the deeper suburbs, and every seat aboard is soon taken. We're heading for Furzedown, Wandsworth's largest interwar estate, pleasantly tucked around the back of Tooting Graveney Common. As the only bus to venture this way we've soon dropped off most of our human cargo, eventually emerging near Tooting Bec Lido, which is virtually in Streatham. Oh good, nearly there.

I've not been through Streatham for a while, so it's a bit of a shock to see the Mega-Tesco and Leisure Centre development on the High Road that's recently replaced the old ice rink. A new ice rink lurks within, above a swimming pool and surrounded by flats, and the end result is very clever but utterly devoid of visual joy. A bus lane helps us speed ahead - it's possibly the first time we've hit thirty since we set out nearly an hour and a half ago. The bloke sitting opposite is jabbering almost as quickly into his phone. It's a relief when finally we turn off and stop round the back of a Lidl, parking up in a grotty temporary bay beside a building site. The bus blind calls it Streatham, though I'd call it Norbury, into which I am only too happy to escape.

» route G1 - route map
» route G1 - timetable
» route G1 - live bus map
» route G1 - route history
» route G1 - The Ladies Who Bus

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