Cube Routes: Day 2 x 2 x 2
Bus 8: Bow Church - Victoria Location: London east, inner Length of journey: 9 miles, 80 minutes
Out of all the seven buses I'm riding on this week, this one's different. It's a Routemaster for a start, that much-loved old London workhorse, the bus with a conductor. These purring beauties have plied the streets of the capital since the sixties, although they're all now under threat from Mayor Ken who wants to ban pollution-guzzlers over 10 years old in Central London from 2006 onwards. The number 8 route is therefore due to be converted to dull boring one-person-operated buses sometime next year, boo hiss.
And the number 8 is also my local bus, the one that starts pretty much outside my house and heads through the East End, through the City, through the West End, through Mayfair and stops pretty much outside where I work. So, just to be different, I decided to take the bus to work one weekday morning, rather than speed there via my usual tube journey. Would it be a rush hour, or a slow coach?
I left home at the normal time and waited outside the fried grease shop for one of the number 8s that drip drip out of Bow Garage every six minutes. Hop onto the platform, climb the winding staircase and prepare for a cut-price sightseeing tour of London. We skirted the Bow Flyover, spent a minute chugging up the busy A12 dual carriageway and then threaded our way through the demolishable estates of Old Ford. By the time we reached Roman Road, only half a mile as the crow flies from our starting point, the bus was jam-packed full and sailing past the waiting queues. The conductor had no chance to check our tickets, spending all his time on the platform counting them all off and counting them all on.
London was busy waking up - kids heading to school, street markets setting up their stalls, fry-up breakfasts being wolfed down in tiny cafés, shop shutters being raised, and a bus full of EastEnders off to work. Lots of people alighted at Bethnal Green and transferred to the tube, and I could have saved a good half an hour if I'd joined them. Approaching Shoreditch we paused beside the newly-demolished Bishopsgate Goods Yard, now just a sea of rubble awaiting the northern extension of the East London Line. Our conductor was busy rushing around the bus like a restaurant waiter, guiding people to their seats and trying to find time to take their money.
It's all change as you enter the City of London. Shops become offices, poverty becomes wealth, cafés become sandwich shops, and everyone walks around with a laptop bag in one hand and a latté in the other. From one of the poorest council wards in the country to Threadneedle Street in just a couple of minutes, it's a sobering journey. At Bank Station I saw something I thought I'd never see again - a perfectly behaved queue of 20 commuters all waiting patiently to board the bus and not rushing forward in a free-for-all when it arrived. Elsewhere crowds of commuters swarmed the streets, more of them female the further west we travelled, out of the City and into Holborn.
We reached Oxford Street just before 9am, to find this one particular street still asleep. No trainers or stilettos on sale yet, not quite, so the pavements were half empty and so was the bus. Another red traffic light, and another, and another - I could have been at work so much quicker underground. We turned south into Mayfair, an area so exclusive that it merits just one bus route, which of course none of the locals would ever use. With all eight tickets on board now easily checked, our conductor finally had the chance to put his feet up. The last few passengers swung out onto Piccadilly, heading for Hyde Park Corner and Victoria. Me, I was late for work. I've learnt my lesson - buses are for short hops, not for end-to-end epic journeys. Next time, I'm tubing it.