25 June, 2011


Come in number 25, your time's up

According to the Diamond Geezer, who knows about this sort of thing, yesterday was the last day on which bendy buses ran on London bus route 25.

I'd say DG's assessment at least acknowledges and those of his commenters broadly reflect my own response, namely that the bendy bus is not the unmitigated evil which was portrayed by the Evening Standard's pre-election campaign and latched onto by El Boris. Real life is rather more curate's eggish. What the bendy loses with its large road footprint, relative paucity of seats and somewhat bouncy ride (counterindicated for those who suffer from seasickness), it makes up for with its massive standee capacity and short dwell times. Do you need a suburban commuter bus, like the old Routemaster, or an urban rapid transit system — a tram without rails — like the Bendy? Or a mixture of both? Tricky, innit.

Wait just one cotton pickin' minute here. Is Dogwash turning into a transport blog? Is Edwin accepting a retainer from Ian Allan to promote subscriptions to Buses magazine? Where's the racism, bigotry, xenophobia and general reactionary nastiness we come here for?

Well, I've ridden the bendy 25* on numerous occasions during its seven-year existence. On one occasion, following an early-finishing business meeting in Ilford, I rode the whole line of route back to Oxford Circus. (Yes, there is legitimate economic activity in Ilford.) But mostly it's been short city-centre hops on the inner-city Aldgate - Oxford Circus section.

Even on this inner section the poor Third World nature of its ridership is startling. More so at the weekends when the more, shall we say, traditional population is absent, tending their suburban gardens. But even during the week the proportion of poverty-stricken looking people of mostly but by no means exclusively South Asian heritage is striking. I find myself looking at this teeming mob and wondering about their immigration status. Much as I stand at the end of Powis Street in beautiful downtown Woolwich, watching most of sub-Saharan Africa milling about in front of me, and reflecting that they can't all be bleedin' brain surgeons on Tier 1 visas.

Indeed the bendy 25 is the only London bus journey on which, on more than one occasion, I have become so depressed by the sheer overwhelming Third World hyperdiversity of my fellow passengers that I have actually got off ahead of my intended stop and walked.

It is perhaps the only London bus route I have experienced on which I would have been entirely unsurprised, at least in that initial moment before rational "integration" of the experience ran through to completion, to have seen passengers boarding not pushing a baby buggy, but lugging a crate of live chickens or dragging or an unwilling goat.

As a harbinger of the future of London, a trip on the bendy 25 was always worth recommending.

As to what travelling on the 25 will be like now it's reverted to standard "deckers", with the significantly reduced standing capacity I doubt I'll be able to get on board in central London, certainly not on westbound journeys, so I won't be able to say, will I?

* The Bendy Twenty-Five. Now there's a title waiting for an enterprising screenwriter to turn into a blockbuster. Perhaps a gay kitsch remake of the The Dirty Dozen? No need to worry about royalties; you can have that idea for free. As to Riding the Bendy Twenty-Five, well you might well be into a somewhat different market sector there.

Exactly; who needs to pay for an expensive holiday to the Third World when you only have to travel by London bus to find yourself literally surrounded by 'exotic' natives of those distant lands.

As an Old Manc you will surely be familiar with this old joke from less enlightened times.

"What's the longest bus route in the world?"

"The 53. It runs from Karachi (Longsight) to Jerusalem (Cheetham Hill)."

Useful route the 53. I caught it when I had a job at the ICL (a that time called ICT) factory in West Gorton for a few months in the late 1960s.

The Longsight = Karachi link didn't have quite the same force then as it does now, but the Cheetham Hill = Jerusalem link had full resonance.

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