Category Archives: We heart London

Bird-watching

35. 6pm. Top deck, on the right, about halfway down.

I sat down next to a man in his forties who was watching a nature documentary on his smartphone. The narrative voiceover was in a highly unnatural style that we hear all the time now, with stressed syllables getting three times the emphasis they need. I caught the words ‘Alex has been investigating the behaviour of these birds in their natural habitat…’ before the man noticed I had sat down and began fast-forwarding the video, perhaps out of embarrassment that he had been caught watching a bird documentary on the bus.

He stopped just near the end of the documentary, and I heard the following glorious words which I thought were appropriate for today (apologies to any non-Londoners – this will fill you in):

‘The question is, of course… just how… did that crowdo it?’

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Fish out of water

59. 9.30am. In the aisle, overwhelmed by Tube regulars.

Tube strike day. I won’t comment on whether or not it was a ‘total disaster’ or ‘really not a big deal’. Enough opinions have been aired on the internet already. All I will say is that my usual 59 route was severely and comically disrupted by the throngs of Tube travellers venturing aboveground, in some cases apparently for the first time.

Three overheard gems:

1. Two women in glamorous office-wear, wedged in together and speaking nose to nose. One to the other: ‘I really don’t understand. Why are they running it from Victoria to Seven Sisters and not coming to Brixton? I mean, what’s so special about Seven Sisters that they had to miss out Brixton? Did they think we would kick off more down here?’

2. A middle-aged woman who had nabbed a seat, speaking on her mobile phone: ‘I’m just ringing to let you know that I’m on a bus – on account of the strike, which is affecting the Underground – and we’ve just been told it’s terminating early. At Aldwych. I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do when I get to Aldwych’ (waves away her neighbour who helpfully suggests some other bus routes before adding that the woman could just wait for another 59 which would surely follow close behind) ‘I really have no idea what I’m going to do. But I just thought I’d let you know anyway.’

3. A very large and imposing man standing near the driver, glaring balefully at the squashy sea of people who weren’t moving down the bus effectively enough. He didn’t actually ask anyone to move down, but after a few minutes of glaring he leaned over to the driver and whined, as if to a form teacher, ‘Driver, no one is moving down the bus and I can’t get through.’ Mister, on the buses we try to actually talk to each other. Give it a go!

Apparently the river ferries were free today until 10am. Perhaps tomorrow that might work for some of you. Have fun anyway…

Night bus

59. 12am. Bottom deck, stuffed into the aisle, very near the front, with the whole of south London.

‘You lot have GOT to calm down!’

‘Oh my DAYS!’

To my right was a group of laughing teenaged girls, heading to their respective homes after an evening out. They were the classic girlfriend-group mix: a supremely confident one, a couple of giddy ones, one who was used to speaking her mind with authority, a very pretty one who didn’t say anything, and a dappy little one who was the butt of all jokes.

This one said, ‘Can I have some bubblegum?’ which caused a torrent of cackles.

‘Did you HEAR what she just said?’ said Authority-girl, to another chorus of ‘Oh my DAYS!’

To my left was a pair of shivering friends, one of whom had sore feet. They were continually craning their necks to see beyond the laughing girls and keep an eye on the Number 3 bus which was ahead of us. They were trying to pull off the trick where you jump off one bus and immediately board the next in your journey, but they needed the two to get closer together before risking it.

The bus was totally rammed. At first I thought this was because we south Londoners know how to party on a weeknight, but it turned out that there had been some sort of control-room disaster and the buses were all out of sync. Our driver spoke to his controller several times on our journey, receiving new instructions to manoeuvre the service back into order. Every time the radio went on, the laughing girls yelled out, ‘Shut up SHUT UP he’s saying something!’ which made me laugh because it was as if we were waiting by an FM radio for the Lotto results.

Right ahead of me (yes, in the luggage tray) was a scraggy Caribbean man who stank of tobacco. He spoke in very slurred Italian to some friends several metres away (I guess they had been separated by the oncoming tides of passengers), and punctuated his exclamations by waving a bottle of wine in the face of the girl with sore feet. He was a sort of magnificent, Byronic hero.

The laughing girls were debating their next move.

‘I could get the Tube you know, I’m telling you it’s not the time to be getting another bus.’ This was Confident-girl.

Authority-girl retorted, ‘Who gets the Northern Line from Victoria?’

‘No-one. We’re at Oval.’ Wow, I would love to be able to give withering looks like that.

Dappy-girl piped up, ‘I could get off here and walk!’ which, again and inexplicably, made everyone else cry with laughter.

One of the giddy girls said, ‘Do what you feel, nigger,’ to cause a bit of scandal.

The controller came back on (‘Shut up SHUT UP!’) to tell the driver to go as far as Brixton, and then wherever else he took his passengers would be on his own time. I passed the message back to the girl with sore feet, who passed it back (ducking the waving bottle) to the person behind her. News trickled back, as if along a desert caravan. Of course, most people seemed to be joyously drunk so I have no idea what the message was by the time it reached the rear window. The point is we listened as a sort of cobbled-together team, swayed together, made way for each other and actually talked to each other, and by the time I was squeezing my way to the back doors to get off I felt full of the joys of spring and humanity.

And then the doors opened and winter slapped me in the face. Ah, December!