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Saturday, December 10, 2005

double decker bus


So, farewell, then to the noble double-decker London omnibus.

I confess I never  knew they were called RouteMasters - after, what, 50 years' hopping on 'n' off those wonderful carriages? LOL.

I suppose they had to go, if only for their total inaccessibility for the handicapped and agèd.

What memories flood.

  • One could smoke on the top deck, a God-send after a night in the boozer.
  • Also a life-saver was that open exit with the pole that one grasped as one swung aboard at some traffic light or slowing corner.

    Where I lived in Swiss Cottage was equi-distant between two stops so I either got off on Finchley Road and had a tedious stagger down Fairfax Road, or stayed on and had to totter back from the next stop. OR, I took my chances and stepped lithely off as it slowed for the roundabout by the Britannia pub.

  • And how many times have we just missed it but then seen the lights go amber just up the way and *sprinted* to catch it before they changed? The fitness level of Brits will plummet with the passing off these mobile gymnasia.
  • When I moved south of the river, the bus would start at Wandsworth where all the char ladies would clamber on board and cluck away to each other, then it'd cruise up to fashionable Kings Road where all the Sloane Ranger totties would get on and the lads would shuffle up to make space for the cutest ones. A little further up and the bowler-hatted city types would get on in their pinstriped Savile Row and furled 'brollies.

    Charming exchanges would take place:

    "Good morning, ladies. Good morning, Mrs Wilkinson. Good morning, Doris, how's the leg? Oh, I'm soo  glad - what a bore it must have been for you."

    "Morning ducks. Ooh, I like the button-hole. Very  nice. See his button-hole, Flo? From yer own rose bush, is it, luv? Oi, wot 'm I going to do abaht my rubber shares? They going to stay steady or what? My Sid - bless his soul - 'e'd hate for me not to do the right thing. Got them just after the war, 'e did, said to me 'Mavis - you look after these 'n' they'll look after *you*.' Always such a *planner*, was my Sid.

    So wot I'm going to do, then? Wossit say in yer paper?"

    "Let's see ... Malay Rubber .. yes, they *do* seem to be a bit frisky. On the other hand, I was talking to the Treasury boys the other day and one of them tipped me off that United Sarawak was in for a rebound ... Mavis - hold on to them, is my advice."

    "Orl rite then, Sir Martin, I will. But there'll be a flea in yer ear if they go down. You'll've have to change yer bus route, won't he gels?" Laughter all round.

  • I was once walking up Baker Street and the bus was just pulling away when I spotted a young lad - 11 or 12 - waving and sprinting. I signaled the driver - a big West Indian - and he duly waited. As he pulled away, the lad on board, I gave him a big thumbs-up, and then I thought 'Sod it, no. I'll write to London Transport with the time and location and bus number.'

    A few weeks later I got a letter in the post from the PR department: they'd been running a courtesy campaign and my letter had alerted them to include Mr Cameron among the award. Would I like to attend the ceremony?

    I rolled up, and there he was, squeezed into his best suit, massive neck constrained by a tie of wondrous garishness, his darling of a 5' by 5' circular wife in a bright green dress across which all the birds Africa were depicted in eye-blistering plumage, his three children in their Sunday best, hair slicked down and clearly in awe of the occasion.

    Speeches were made, medals were pinned - and the announcement that all awardees were to receive an instant pay rise, back-dated to their act of heroism.

    Over drinks and sandwiches, Mrs Cameron bustled up and clasped me to her voluminous bosom as, tears in her eyes, she informed that the money had saved their lives, enabling them to repay a medical bill and hence stay in their Notting Hill house. I don't know whose eyes were wetter by the end.

    Cameron himself looked a little emotional and insisted I come for dinner:

    "No, insist, mate. Mustn't he, Sylvie? You like spicy food, do you, mate? That's settled, then - the missus make the best nosh in town. Like a drop of wine, do you? Great. I'm partial to some of the Rioja myself, so we'll feed you up - look at 'im Sylv', we gotta put some flesh on those bones - and have a right time, pal."

    I turned up and of course it was a crappy part of town and I was offered "protection" for the Fiat ("See that no-one keys yer car, mister?") til Jack came out and told them that one speck and they'd feel the back of his hand. I think they were rather taken aback that I had such powerful pals in the area.

    Inside was chaos, children everywhere and grandmas and uncles and neighbors and ska playing on the Dansette ...

    I was taken down the line like some royalty and when I got to the old dame whose hospital bills I'd assisted, she started to rise from her seat and then *knelt" before me and made to kiss my hand.

    I was horrified and made to protest but Jack said quietly, "Let her do it, Chris. This is important. "

    Finally, I too knelt and lifted her up and back to her seat.

    "It was my *honour*>" Then, sensing all eyes on us, I said, "Hello? No drink, granny? Blimey, Jack - you running a dry house here or what?"

    I'd brought a bottle of Hennessy XO and handed it to Jack to share it round.

    "Bloody hell, mate - you shouldn't have ought to ... how'd you guess? It's gran's favorite. 'Ere, Sylv - seen what Chris bought, the bad lad? Blimey, we'll never get granny back to the rotgut I serve."

    Toasts all round and for the rest of the evening, every time I espied the old lady she was helping herself to another smidgeon and raising her glass to me in conspiratorial toasts.

    Passing of an era, and I'm not just talking buses

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