Saturday, 23 April 2011

On Travelling around London.

There are numerous ways to get about our fair city. Most recently the introduction of the “Boris Bike” has taken the capital by storm in pleasant way and I am all in favour of the velocipede revolution. Not for any namby pamby “green” reasons, you understand, but simply because I think they are quieter, cleaner and generally more civilised than most motorised conveyances. A person on a bicycle is not divided from the world in the same way as a motorist, who travels in their own carefully controlled environment. One sees far more from the saddle of a bicycle than from behind the wheel of a car, plus, it’s good for you and frankly in London, it’s usually the quickest way of getting anywhere. I, like most vintage fans lust after the glorious Pashley Princess,

 but manage very well with my trusty old Raleigh.

I cycled quite happily until I was 8 ½ months pregnant, at which point my grossly distorted figure resembled more closely that of a weeble than a woman with far more propensity to fall down at the slightest push. At this point, I submitted to the request of The Director that I give it up for the bus.

Ah, the London Omnibus.
Banish from your mind dear reader any nostalgically sepia tinted images of scarlet route masters with their cheery drivers and sympathetic conductors.

The modern incarnation of the London bus is a far less amiable one. My experiences with London buses to date have been almost uniformly bad. Most recently a driver stopped in the middle of a bank of bicycles, forcing me to walk (with my baby in her pram) down the road along Oxford Street into oncoming traffic in order to remount the pavement. On another occasion, after failing to tell me that my Oyster card was depleted (I, wearing headphones had missed the accusatory beep) the driver stopped the bus after driving me for 20 minutes into darkest St John’s Wood and unceremoniously threw me off, miles away from a cash point or newsagent. I had to walk for half an hour to get to my destination. Of course, if he had simply told me when I attempted to get on that I was out of funds, I would happily have disembarked, topped up my card and awaited the next bus, but this particular driver seemed to derive some sadistic pleasure in abandoning me to my fate.

Using the buses with a pram is especially difficult. I have of course, never attempted to mount a bus with my gorgeous Silver Cross Kensington,

being rational enough to see that it would be far too cumbersome and bulky to be convenient to myself, or other passengers, but I do have a smaller modern “travel system”

(the excellent Linear Freeway, also by Silver Cross) which I take out on occasions which necessitate the use of public transport. The drivers generally park about half a mile from the kerb, making it terribly difficult to get on and off without the aid of fellow passengers. Once you’re on the bus, the driver seems to delight in pulling away the moment the last Mollusc has been swiped. For anyone who has ever tried to negotiate a moving bus with a cumbersome buggy on swivel wheels, I cannot recommend the experience. The drivers are almost always surly and unhelpful. The atmosphere throughout the average bus ride unites its passengers with the Blitz spirit historically reserved for periods of enemy bombardment.

Generally I find that one bus ride per outing is more than enough to send me into a flap like that of a pigeon trapped in a lift and usually for my return journey I resort to flagging a Hansom Cab. What a difference the experience proves. If my experiences with buses have been uniformally bad, those with the ubiquitous black cab have been universally excellent. I have never had to wait with outstretched arm for more than a minute, even with the titanic Kensington. The drivers always manouver the car as close to the kerb as possible and hop out immediately to open the door and help load baby and buggy in. They are always polite, respectful, friendly and fluent in English. I always consider it a treat after a day in town (particularly after the descent into the lowest circle of hell that is Oxford Street) to take a taxi home and really I don’t think there can be any sight more comforting to a weary Londoner than that of a black TXII with it’s light on.

If I didn’t have the reassuring option of taking one, I would probably venture out rather less than I do. And so I raise an ethereal glass to the much maligned London Cabbie. Gentlemen (and occasionally Ladies) Thank you.

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