Driving through London’s West End in a vintage double-decker bus is challenging at the best of times, let alone when there are protests and road closures everywhere. Thanks to my inherited bravery from my lovely mum we managed, but it was tight (and I don’t just mean round side streets with cars parked on each side). Deep breaths – you made it. Calculating the various driving jobs over the past year or so I realised that I’d clocked up fourteen weddings and one amazingly soul-affirming funeral where we drove behind the funeral cortege at 10 miles per hour from Harrods to Mortlake with every road user letting us through. No honking, no swearing, no over-taking. Just people stopping to watch us go by with their heads bowed in memory of people they’ve lost or just paying their respects. Life in frantic London can have its extraordinary moments.
Today’s blog is about the joy of navigating a bus as old as I am through London’s streets and the heartache of learning that buses are wide, long and did I mention wide? Yes, I did – it’s the image of that green Lamborghini that still haunts me while being directed by a police man in Covent Garden Piazza to try and get past it, because it was illegally parked and blocking everyone. Easy in a car. Not so in a bus, especially when you’re being filmed by two restaurant terraces of diners all wanting a bit of excitement to show their friends on social media. CRUNCH. The noise still makes my blood run cold. WHOA. The cry from enthusiastic, voracious filmers still makes me want to jump out and shout “Well – YOU try it in THIS.” The smirking “Didn’t think it would make it through” from said policeman didn’t exactly instil confidence either. We made it to our pick-up in the nick of time though. The Lamborghini, miraculously, didn’t have a mark on it, but the poor old bus had a nasty crack in the bonnet. The big, red bus is a London icon and anything other than shiny, bold and heroic doesn’t really work in my eyes, so that Kermit-green image will always be with me when I check in my left hand mirror.
My precious mum would have thought the whole thing hilarious. She told me that she once witnessed an accident and ran up to the driver who’d smashed into two parked cars and hugged him like a long lost friend. She thought that if he had a nice memory of the accident, it might not affect him so badly. He didn’t think of it like that and called the police. Not to report the accident, but to report Mum for assault. She meant well of course and luckily no action was taken (at least that’s what she told me). Nobody came up to hug me after the Lamborghini incident and I live in dread of one day seeing my crumpled expression in the driver’s cabin as the crunch rang out. There on social media for the world to see. So far, it hasn’t. Since this incident I’ve been told that if you pump an old routemaster’s brakes too much, it can build up pressure and that occasionally makes them surge forward despite your foot being on the brake – so I’m sticking to that version. “It surged Officer, it surged. Nothing to do with my judgement of width. Honest.”
The wedding on Saturday was absolutely charming – the family and friends of the army officer getting married thanked me personally for a smooth drive which made all the angst of road closures, driving South over bridges to get back to North London and uncharted bus territory worth it. On the way home I stopped at the bus stop outside my Dad’s house and there he was, waiting like an excited kid to jump on the open tailboard and have a ride on one of the buses that he used to take as a child. He kept saying afterwards that he couldn’t quite get his head round the fact that he and Mum used to take me to my grand parents on the same bus route (the old No. 19) and that now he was watching me as a grown-up driving the thing. Another soul-affirming moment, especially as Dad doesn’t drive at all.
Everything in life is a lesson and the one thing that my Mum taught me is that life is there for the sheer adventure – good or challenging – and most of the time the unexpected makes you stronger. I did tell her about the Lamborghini incident, just before she passed away, but she didn’t understand why I was going on about lamb all of a sudden as she was only eating scrambled eggs. I can’t believe it’s a year since she passed away – it’s flown past and I think of her everyday and am comforted that 50% of me is her. That’s the 50% that my husband often worries about – the “what’s the worst that can happen?” wife who refuses to be defined by age and convention. When a lot of my friends were contemplating a bus pass within the next decade, I decided to pass my bus test instead. One day I’ll migrate to buses that have power steering, air conditioning, sound-proofing and heating. Routemaster’s, however are much more fun.