Sunday, 9 December 2018

The NUMBER 13 Route

Victoria Station to North Finchley Bus Station  
Thursday  December 5  2018

To say this route has been ‘through the wars’ recently is a slight exaggeration  but only a year ago it was fighting for its life, and even I felt a little traumatized by the time we finished, but to return to the start.

A rather slow 390 had left us at Victoria and we picked our way gingerly out of the half completed bus station to the rather dingy head stop in Wilton Road. We certainly had time to count all the other routes trundling on their way and as the whole TFL Bus alert system was offline (thanks O2) so we had no idea when one would materialise – but it did and it proved to be a rather fetching shade of green upholstery and paintwork – clean green too. You might ask what it was doing in Victoria anyway but there you go – it has a  long history

Following our experience a couple of weeks back we made a comparatively swift exit from Victoria and were soon past Hyde Park Corner and Apsley House, a spot of brightness on a gloomy day. Many of the trees in Hyde Park were bare so you could just glimpse the Winter Wonderland ,  which will run till 6th January. 

This led me to wonder why one of our children – offspring of two cautious parents who never venture into a fairground let alone onto any kind of twiddly ride – would try any roller coaster or thrill going? Throwback genes, Jo ventures?

Having already ridden the length of Oxford Street earlier today,  this time we turned left just short of the road works which were upsetting several bus routes  and down the length of very handsome Gloucester Place, which sports several Blue Plaques, some more legible than others. And some nice window boxes.  From here on the bus became increasingly popular until the driver was running his ‘There are seats upstairs’ recording, though we thought the demographic boarding might be reluctant to climb.

We had a change of driver near Marylebone and pressed on. The trouble with having ridden this route so often as a child and school student is that certain landmarks get imprinted and it jars when they are no longer there. As we crossed the Marylebone Road what had previously been Moon’s garage was now a Spar convenience store but this is arguably a small price to pay for the refurbishment of this classic Art Deco block, though small is not the price you would pay to live here.

There is  classic  Georgian  housing  and as you near the park (Regent's) you see the back of the Nash Terraces. Also just visible is the London central Mosque – a fine building, and its presence, plus some private hospitals towards St John’s Wood, accounts for the comfortable Middle Eastern flavour of this part of the journey. I was interested to see a newish apartment block had installed a very Islamic style courtyard garden – to make the residents feel at home no doubt. St John’s Wood – its pretty parish church now on a busy roundabout opposite Lord’s cricket ground – is named for the neighbourhood once farmland belonging to the rich Priory of the Knights of St John (whose HQ we had visited in Clerkenwell) .

The Finchley Road continues with both sides built up mainly with blocks of flats – there are in fact very few shops once you leave Oxford Street until you hit Swiss Cottage.

Swiss Cottage has both a large cinema and a theatre adjacent to the Basil Spence Library complex, not so visible, and of course its very own Swiss Cottage . By now I was feeling pretty much on ‘home territory’  as having had seven years’ schooling just up the hill this stretch was familiar from the 6th form when we were allowed out in the lunch break.  'John Barnes' 
 used to be a poor relation of John Lewis and did not endear itself by being the school uniform provider so it seems better now it is a very large and popular Waitrose, handily opposite Finchley Road Underground station, where there seemed to be some building works. 

The bus was even fuller from this point,  the advice to use upstairs even more frequently deployed.  We had waited for this one  and the only other route now on offer  is the 113 so this was hardly surprising. On down the 4-mile-long Finchley Road we continued.

The next major landmark was the turning off to the Hendon Way and all points North West and this was heralded by the Blue Star garage – now sadly an overgrown empty eyesore.  From this point the road narrows so progress was more careful, as parked cars were also in evidence. This stretch was a further tale of losses – no more bowling alley (now flats) and no Castle pub, with its nearby toll sign. To be honest it was looking pretty run down in the past few years so not all old landmarks are necessarily better retained. Then we entered Golders Green or rather we cut across  past the Clock Tower and carried straight on along the enduring Finchley Road and past the now shut up side access to the Underground Station. The outer forecourt (where the Hampstead Garden Suburb buses go from) was sporting a bright blue Menorah in honour of its being Chanukah time.  

Talking of Hampstead Garden Suburb, the Finchley Road here is something of a divider between the planned and what were to be mixed housing to the east with the housing developments to the west following  the underground railway lines.

The arcaded shops with flats over are listed and particularly attractive though some remain empty.
Opposite there was a development  going up called 'The Constable' - i cannot find any evidence for this but suspect it may be on the site of one of many now lost local police stations. We watched someone drive frontwards into a precious parking place as the other person tried to back - an interesting dynamic which would not have taken place were it still the Met.   

By the end of Temple Fortune (the temple another reference to those same St. John’s knights as earlier in our trip) we were ready to cross the North Circular Road (‘now that’s what I call a ring road,’ said Jo who is very disparaging of our South Circular) and we noted another Menorah though it seemed slightly ironic that whereas in the original tale the oil had lasted an unexpected eight days one of the electric lights had blown!
We had finally reached  Finchley Central in all its variety, having spotted within a short distance a Halal Butcher, Olympus Fish, a Persian patisserie and many others indicating  that Finchley caters to a diverse range of residents, many of whom got off the bus to do their shopping (or catch a train)

The 13 meanwhile trundles on to the bitter end which is ‘North Finchley Bus Station’ – how TFL can even give this grubby underlit, draughty venue the title of bus station – it hosts about 4 routes and I am not sure there was even anywhere to sit . Barnet’s dust lorry rolled up but did not seem to remove anything?
For someone whose memory of the 13's resting place was Golders Green  – a graceful outdoors curve with easy access to a station (is there a North Finchley station said Jo? NO)  this ending was sad indeed after what had otherwise been a nostalgic and interesting trip lasting 1½ hours…

Saturday, 24 November 2018

The Number 12 Route

Thursday 22 November 2018

Well, now, this was supposed to be a seamless and efficient journey, landing us up at Dulwich Library in good time for lunch chez Linda.  And the first part went well as Linda has explained.  At Liverpool Street, we stepped straight onto the Central Line, to get to Oxford Circus, where the 12 begins.  It was 12.10. Hollow laughter is appropriate at this point.  After waiting for 10 minutes for this famously frequent bus, we rechecked the bus stop: no notice. So Linda looked at the TfL website and, lo! thanks to the bridge works at Parliament Square, it now, apparently, starts at Whitehall Place. Were we downhearted? No! (well, yes actually, but I couldn't resist the First World War reference there) . So we hopped onto another bus, and disembarked in Whitehall, only to find that the bus stop there was closed, with a notice telling us that the bus starts in Westminster `Bridge Road, the other side of the river.

Walking across the bridge was made bearable by (for me) the fact that it had been closed to all vehicles except bicycles:  perhaps a foretaste of what the whole city will be like before I die?
But also because, every 20 metres across the bridge there were young men offering that classic con trick with the three cups and the ping pong ball.  We concluded that there was an organised gang operating on the bridge.  For anyone who does not know that this is a scam, here is a helpful website.

So eventually we passed the Coadstone Lion and got onto the bus at 12.53, and we were off.  This bus was marginally less arctic than the 11. Here's a question for Mr Johnson, when he has a moment.  How can his pet buses, so hot in summer that they are known to all who are forced to travel on them as Roast-masters, be so cold in winter?

We made steady progress down under the former Eurostar Platforms at Waterloo, past the Walrus Pub, with its toothy sign, and past the attractive planting outside Morley College, which used to be guerrilla gardened until the Council took it over.  We even began to look forward to a not-too-late lunch.

But then we reached Elephant and Castle. And stopped, because Environment Rebellion had got there a few minutes before us.  It was only about 10 minutes, but some people on the bus got very tetchy, about meetings they would be late for and so on.

When we did move on, we came to road works (of course) and progressed along the Camberwell Road, past various shop and office fronts, including the 'Passion for Beauty' shop, where they 'have the secret code for beauty'.

As we came past Burgess Park, we were quite pleased with the progress we were making, but then we were stopped, this time by a car in the middle of the road, apparently malfunctioning.  A number of people were gathered round it, opening and closing the doors, and bonnet, jumping up and down on the door sill (cill?) to no avail, until suddenly, after about five minutes, it drove off, and on we went.

Linda was interested to see Seabass Cycles, of which there are apparently several branches in South East London, and we also noted two hairdressers next door to each other, definitely separate businesses, because they had different phone numbers.

We were, as always, passing newly built apartments all the way along here, past Camberwell Green and down towards Peckham.  We passed the parish church of St Giles;  he is known as one of the 14 holy helpers in Germany, and is the saint of beggars and the downtrodden.  This is interesting, I think, since the area of St Giles (around shiny Tottenham Court Road) used to be one of the nastier rookeries of London in the time of Charles Dickens.

Then we came into Peckham, Linda reminding me that when the bus goes the other way it avoids the congested High Street.  Not us: we went past the Library and the Aylsham Centre and the Wing Tai Chinese supermarket and then encountered our next hold up: a splendidly insouciant bloke,  trundling his trolley load of bags of rice up the street despite the motorised vehicles getting annoyed with him.

We were amused, therefore, to see the notice at the next lot of road works, begging pedestrians not to walk in the road. We braced ourselves for another delay when we saw two police cars stopped but flashing their lights;  but they did not seem to want to stop the traffic.

South London always has interesting churches, and we noted The Beneficial Veracious Christ Church Miracle Centre, part of a global church promising exactly what its title suggests.

'Nearly there', sighed Linda, as we turned down to pass the Rye and then fork right to pass the HQ of Suzanne James catering.  We don't often, you will agree, tout for commercial concerns, but since we have both had very good family parties catered by SJ, it seems only reasonable to let you have a look at them.

And then all that was left was to get to Dulwich Library, where this bus terminates....eventually, at 14.00.

It's a route that both of us have used and enjoyed before, but never quite as slowly and annoyingly as this.

The NUMBER 11 Route

Fulham Broadway  to  Great Winchester Street (Liverpool Street Station  )
Thursday November 22 2018

When we did this route in 2009  we had been joined by my late mother, then aged  89 and a sprightly bus user; we also started at the neat Liverpool Street Bus station,  so today saw us heading to the  other end – namely Fulham Broadway which  had been an old cut and cover station  now totally enclosed with a shopping centre (and toilets) on the way out.  Just as well, we thought four hours later…

Opposite Fulham Town Hall had been our advised starting point but then we discovered Fulham Town Hall has two facades – the older  commissioned building opposite the Underground with a newer extension on Harwood Road , where indeed we found  our stop and our bus. The Fulham Society describes the Town Hall as ‘unloved for seven years’ from which I take this listed building has not found any takers prepared to respect its integrity in any future development. 

No time to linger though as we sped east along the Harwood Road – I was always under the impression that Fulham had been the kind of working and middle class support (ie the ‘downstairs ‘ to Chelsea’s upstairs)  to neighbouring  rich Chelsea and the rows of modest houses seemed to reflect this though I doubt the  area is quite so mixed nowadays. As we approached World’s End the bespoke shops became even glossier – Bagno design is not, as you might think, a designer handbag shop but the kind of bathroom outlet that sells huge freestanding roll top baths, all of which necessitate  large rooms.  Between the furniture design shops we admired a householder who had managed to tame his olive tree into a screening hedge – a strangely English approach to a Mediterranean shrub – not that today felt at all Mediterranean with near zero temperatures.

Indeed one might be grateful for a garment made of Alpaca as sold by the Peruvuian Connection (we have local living  Alpacas in the Horniman gardens)and more chandeliers than in a BBC period costume drama (you know, the one with the ball scenes) or more conventional cashmere from Brora – you can tell the upstairs of the new Routemaster is not very warm as we yearned for something cosier. The former Post Office gave us a warm glow though I doubt the posties woudl recognise it! 

By now we had been joined by four travelling companions – three of them Australian by their accents and at least two in the front seat tourists, for whom this is an excellent route. There used to be some difference between the World’s End part of Chelsea and the rest of the King’s Road but it was hard to detect today in the range of luxury shops. Limelight Movie Art stocks all kinds of vintage film posters which seems a little ironic given that the Curzon Cinema closed in March of this year but seemingly with plans to be  reborn as part of a major new development 
Still on a cinematic theme there was a Blue Plaque for Carol Reed , film director.

Well all good window shopping must come to an end and once we were down by the Saatchi Galleries
 (very extensive) and Peter Jones we had reached Sloane Square and our right turn down towards but not quite all the way to the river along Lower Sloane Street – the large red brick Victorian mansion blocks lining the road seemed to have remained unscathed by WW2 bombs and thus redevelopment – their interiors presumably served by a range of antique shops along Chelsea Bridge, then Ebury Bridge roads.

We changed drivers at Victoria  but this was not the cause of slowness, which rather seemed to be sticky traffic in Victoria , most of which seems to be a quite complex one way system that takes the 11 right up to the back walls of Buckingham Place before coming back round . The route passes both coach and train services and there has been much building close to the station, which is also having a makeover.  We spotted a penthouse which must just about be able to peer over the Palace walls?

Once we were on Victoria Street we made better progress – incidentally we had been here the previous Saturday on a Hidden London tour of 55 Broadway – TFL’s beating heart , which also happens to be  in what they call London’s first skyscraper, completed 1929 and thanks to a recent demolition site visible from this route.

Our Australian fellow passengers were benefiting from this two cathedral (Westminster & St.Paul’s) and one Abbey route.  Sadly Westminster is a mess with the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the bridge all having fabric or road works. That did not seem to deter the tourists who were milling around as ever. Fortunately this route does not cross the river so  we had a reasonable run down Whitehall passing a very fenced off Downing Street and just missing the 11 o’clock Changing of the Guards. The wreaths from the Remembrance Day ceremonies were still looking in good order. We fared far better than last week crossing Trafalgar Square though the Strand was slow as always, improving after Aldwych. Our fellow passengers became quite excited as we passed Australia House, which itself is celebrating a centenary. One Australian passenger pointed out to her companions the shrapnel holes in St Clement Dane’s Church and when Jo nodded her assent they asked her if she had been in London for the Blitz! No, we are not quite that old.  The RAF are rightly proud of their church with its older and more recent history

 Fleet Street has a really good range of street clocks, some of which still work. I suppose it was important to know the time for erring journalists to meet their deadlines?  The other passengers got off at St Paul’s, and as this had been a pretty quiet bus we were alone now until the end of the route.

There had been  a lot of police and security personnel round St Paul’s for no evident reason, whereas they needed to redeploy  a couple of them up to the  multiple junction by the Bank of England/ Royal Exchange. This has been a bicycle and bus only crossing for some months now in an attempt to reduce cycling casualties (and improve air conditions presumably) with other vehicles banned between 7am to 7pm. However in the space of waiting for  the lights to change we spotted two cars – one sneaked across in front of us – as for the other our driver leant out of his cab and told them what was what and they did do a U-turn. However as there did not seem to be anybody policing this we can only hope there is an ANPR and fines get sent out? 

The bus did not go far beyond  the Bank of England (another worthwhile Museum visit) before it stopped quite a way short of Liverpool Street outside a relatively modern block calling itself the Pinners Hall, or rather the site where their hall had been. I am not sure if this particular city guild still functions. To be honest we felt a little stranded and Liverpool Street was further  than we thought.

This very pleasant route taking in some of the classiest shopping and the best known sites of London had taken us 1½ hours from West to East and was to prove to be the star of the day…