Paul Johnson

Whatever else you do, don’t miss the bus!

Whatever else you do, don’t miss the bus!

Americans grumble to me that the price of cabs in London is outrageous, and they are right. I tell them to take a double-decker red bus, but they look doubtful. Too complicated? Certainly, when I am in New York, I hesitate before I take one of those convenient buses that go up and down Fifth Avenue because the drivers are so impatient and sarcastic, and when I fiddle for dimes and nickels to pay them, call out, ‘Oi, oi! Hoy Foynance! Hoy Foynance!’ Reading Thackeray’s Collected Letters the other day, I see he had the same experience with a Manhattan streetcar (horse-drawn of course) in the 1850s.

I now take a lot of double-deckers, partly because I have a free pass, partly because the one good thing little Mayor Livingstone has done is greatly to increase their frequency, so there is now no waiting at stops. But he should not have abolished the old Routemasters, the best double-deckers ever made. His reason was ‘safety’; you could jump on and off between stops. But that was the whole point: that is precisely why they were so agreeable. Also, you could hang on the platform, gripping the chromium pillar, and feel the traffic whizzing by, although that was strictly forbidden. The feeling was almost as exhilarating as the old Renault buses in Paris, half a century ago, when you were allowed to stand on the rear platform and lean over the rail as it chuntered and whizzed up the boulevards. As Mrs Rodd used to say, the feeling in your tummy as the big Renault swung round the corner at full speed was ‘Blissikins!’

My belief is that the Routemasters were actually safer than their modernistic successors, which have such fierce brakes or such bad drivers, or both, that they stop and start with tremendous jerks, forcing you to hang on grimly.

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