Cube Routes: Day 5 x 5 x 5
Bus 125: Finchley Central - Winchmore Hill Location: London north, outer Length of journey: 8 miles, 40 minutes
From Thatcher to Portillo, this is a red bus journey through a true blue world. The 125 winds its way through the lesser-known parts of Barnet and Enfield, from the constituency of the former Prime Minister to the former constituency of the man who never quite was. Margaret Thatcher once famously remarked that anyone over the age of 30 who was still using buses was a failure. I was here to prove her wrong. This whole area of North London looks like it was built in one go in the 1930s. It's comfortable suburbia, and the very essence of Betjeman's Metroland (except that the Metropolitan line is miles away). As a result all the houses are at least twice the size of the average shoebox that passes for a new home elsewhere these days, and all the better for it. They just don't build proper affluence any more.
I set off on this particular bus journey as dusk was approaching, little realising that I was about to take my life in my hands. The first bus stop looked so safe, so inviting, nestling between a nice Jewish school and a low-rise Catholic church. I took my grandstand seat at the front of the top deck - not difficult to arrange when there were only two of us on board. As we pulled away I heard the sudden sound of rapid gunfire to my left, although this turned out to be merely a low-hanging branch thwacking repeatedly down the side of the bus. A dented green Primera pulled out unexpectedly in front of the bus forcing our driver to slam hard on the brakes to avoid a collision. Dulcet tones could be heard yelling at the culprit from the driver's cabin downstairs, but alas I suspect the incompetent Nissan driver heard none of it. It was an inauspicious start to our journey.
Through North Finchley countless shoppers darted across the high street, risking their lives weaving between the semi-stationary traffic. At Tally Ho Corner two passengers boarded the bus wielding oversized curtain rods. In Whetstone a white van overtook us with both rear doors gaping open, a cargo of what looked like oil drums on show to the world, but a few honks from our driver prompted white van man to nip out at the next set of lights to slam everything shut again. In Oakleigh Park a selfish car driver parked illegally at a bus stop outside a carpet shop with her hazard lights flashing, then walked straight out into the path of our oncoming bus. We ventured deeper into suburban traffic-calmed streets, our driver now battling against countless road humps, traffic islands and mini-roundabouts, each originally designed to slow down vehicles considerably smaller than our own. Do they sell travel insurance for bus journeys? I'd gladly have signed up.
Finally we reached Winchmore Hill, somehow still in one piece. There was only me left on board by this time, which didn't seem entirely surprising given the circuitous and risk-packed route we'd taken to get here, and the fact there wasn't much to see when we finally did arrive. Our driver faced one final moment of danger when some idiot took a flash photograph of his resting bus, no doubt temporarily blinding the poor bloke. Sorry mate. It seemed safer to escape the area by rail rather than by bus. I tracked down the local overground station, only to find that this part of London merits merely two trains an hour, and so sat freezing on the platform until my deliverer arrived. Public transport's not what it was, you know. Me, I blame the local MP. Well, the old Finchley one, anyway - the residents of Enfield Southgate appear to have already Twigg-ed.