diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Bus 60: Streatham - Old Coulsdon
Location: London south, outer
Length of journey: 12 miles, 75 minutes

For the Diamond Jubilee, I thought I'd go out and ride London's number 60 bus route. A long drive, straight down the middle of south London, from the foot of Lambeth almost to the very edge of Surrey. An opportunity to see how outer suburbia has been celebrating the Jubilee, if it's been bothering at all. Do join me on the top deck.

Last time I was in Streatham there was a bus station. Now there's only an extensive gap where that and the ice rink used to stand, awaiting transformation into the long-awaited Streatham Hub. There'll be a new ice rink, a sports centre, some flats and a giant Tesco, and you can already guess how architecturally unadventurous it'll look. Plus there'll be a new Bus Interchange, from which the number 60 will head off, rather than starting opposite the (thankfully still standing) United Reformed Church. I think I'm in line to climb on board the bus first, but an obese young woman clutching a bulging pastry blunders past me. I would have complained, but queueing is so passé these days, plus her Oyster flashes up to show it's a Freedom Pass so there's probably good reason.

The first evidence of street parties comes swiftly, before we queue to turn right off the High Road. A banner strung across Barrow Road announces a two-day BBQ shindig for the Jubilee, apparently a "Resident's Celebration", which sadly suggests only one person will be turning up. The bus heads off into residential Streatham Vale and stops outside a "Village Card, Gift & Balloon Shop" - which sounds nothing like the kind of business that would survive in any true village. A young woman in summer dress and flipflops runs flailing towards the bus. The driver waits - he's kind like that - and she skips aboard with a cheery "thanks", then slumps panting on the top deck. The Jehovah's Witnesses are out in Pollards Hill where the bus gets busier, possibly with people trying to escape. The library and Harris Academy look rather modern, the vanilla-block housing estates and cemetery rather less so. Only a single pair of flags stuck to the roof of a Volvo Estate hint that a Jubilee might be imminent - other than this, Merton really isn't trying.

Having bypassed Norbury, we're back onto London Road through Thornton Heath. An Asian woman whose house number is in the 990s is busy sweeping her front garden unnecessarily clean with a long brush, putting her less immaculate neighbours to shame. There are no celebrations at Jubilee Court, a bricky block of Thirties flats, whose windows are shuttered and residents rehoused, probably as the aftermath to an arson attack last year. Just past the pond, Broughton Road is temporarily closed for a Jubilee street party. Nobody's turned up yet, but there is a bouncy castle inflating in the street and a mini-marquee erected in someone's front garden.

Croydon creeps up on us, past the sort of shops you only find half a mile from where the proper shops are. Grand Parade now boasts little more than a dry cleaners and an afro-salon, while the Half Moon pub is nothing but an eclipsed shell. The most sincere Jubilee wishes are offered by the Croydon Tamil Business Forum, in a celebratory message to Her Majesty pinned up in the front window of a riot-restored business. Elsewhere the town's piecemeal regeneration continues, with over-modern developments going up alongside Victorian terraces and gaping wasteland. Finally at West Croydon station the passengers pour off, impatient to hit some proper retail, before we queue for trams and zip round the Whitgift.

The second half of the journey is a different world, escaping from Croydon's high-rise nucleus in a break for the countryside. Banners on South Croydon High Street announce this as the Restaurant Quarter, a claim which is not immediately obvious but soon proves true. A young girl in pink plastic sunglasses and dreadlocks plonks herself down on the seat beside me and proceeds to sing something sweet but entirely undistinguishable for the next five minutes. Her mother sits patiently behind, secretly wishing I wasn't there so her other daughter could sit up front too. We pass a school cricket match at the proper Whitgift, but only one cluster of fluttery bunting (which turns out to be outside a party goods shop).

At the bus depot we pull over for a change of driver, allowing a prolonged stare into the recesses of this gloomy garage. And then we're off through Purley Oaks, past just one concrete aberration at Canberra Court, and a lot more roadside greenery. The shops in Purley town centre are the most patriotic so far, with more than half decorated in red, white and blue, and one carpet shop with a cardboard cut-out of Her Majesty in its window. The bus slowly empties as the houses become more detached, more half-timbered, more stockbroker belt. Out here they're not ashamed to hang flags from the fourth bedroom window, or to slap Union Jack wing mirrors on the spare hatchback. One last push.

Coulsdon's not in Surrey, but nearly is, and wishes it was. There are still a few passengers queuing to climb aboard, most clutching bags of groceries from Waitrose in the High Street. We nip beneath the bypass (ugly, but necessary) and start our final ascent - a lengthy climb between white detached houses to the top of New Hill. And finally we pull in beside the Tudor Rose pub (offering Ju-Bellini cocktails this weekend) in the heart of Old Coulsdon. It's a charming spot, set around medieval St John's church - the sort of place where you suspect there's always a Union Jack flying from the flagpole outside the estate agents. Even the funeral directors has some jolly balloons and assorted royal memorabilia in the window. If you're in the area today they're holding a Giant Picnic in Grange Park from noon (but bring your own food, and probably best a raincoat). They're celebrating 60 glorious years all along route 60, but most especially here in Old Coulsdon.

60 links
Route 60: route history
Route 60: route map
Route 60: One Bus At A Time
Route 60: timetable

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