Friday, December 09, 2005

Hold on tight, it's the end of the road


So, the Routemaster has finally been withdrawn from service across London.

Naturally, there has been predictable outpouring of grief and complaint for the loss of this admittedly finely-designed feature of London transport. The Routemaster has become an iconic figure of London (and therefore Britain, since the two are synonymous in much of the world outside the UK). Sturdy, distinctive, long-lasting, attractive and convenient, they are adored by many Londoners, even more people outside London, and by the transport-obsessed nutcases of which this country has a frighteningly large number.

But, let's be honest: they were horrid beasts. The seats were always narrow, the upholstery threadbare. The wooden floors were filthy and unattractive. They were impossible to disembark from with any elegance, and coming down from the top floor was an exercise in injury defiance. The windows were grimy, and they were freezing in winter. The shuddering as they sped up or slowed down made my teeth rattle in my gums. There was no room to put any of your luggage (that little hole at the front was never adequate for anything bigger than a rucksack - and who would want to leave his rucksack there, in these times?). And I, for one, could never see the bloody number of the bus until it was on top of me, so dim were the lights behind the display.

From street level they were splendid to look at, and the hop-on, hop-off feature was enormously handy (as long as you were reasonably able-bodied, which seems to rule out 50% of bus passengers in my experience). And of course it was nice to have a conductor who didn't hide behind a glass screen. But anyone who thinks having a conductor on board adds an extra element of public order enforcement is still living in the fifties. Indeed, many of today's Vicky Pollards see the conductor as an extra incentive to create trouble, an extra target to wind up, safe in the knowledge that the worse he or she can do is throw them off the bus, in which case they just wait for the next one and the whole mess starts all over again.

We may not think much of the bendy buses. The two-decker Routemaster replacements may lose in charm what they gain in safety and cleanliness. But there's going to come a time pretty soon when mourning the loss of the Routemaster is going to be like mourning the loss of the penny farthing. Clinging to such symbolic representations of our 'heritage' merely typifies the juvenile sentimentalism that typifies much of so-called Middle England. London is a modern city, a fast, thriving city - aesthetic joys can still be found everywhere in the city's architecture. We don't need to get there in antiquated splendour. Heavens, we're not complaining that the Tube isn't steam-driven any more, are we?

We've come to the last stop, folks. Are you just going to sit there and cry, or are you going to get off and move on?


Post a Comment

<< Home