Thursday, 3 October 2013

On the buses

Due to a recent mishap with my little toe, I've had to reduce walking to a minimum during my London commute, whereas normally I try to maximise the potential of exercise on my way to work; stomping through woods, running up and down escalators.

Last week, when I could hardly walk at all, I had to take minicabs, but then realised that I could virtually get from door to door on the bus. True, in order to travel from North London down to Camden, I needed to first make my way further North, and change buses, but at least this method meant I didn't have to get onto a crowded tube, and stand all the way down into town. Plus two buses is a fraction of the cost of a minicab, with almost exactly the same journey time.

Although I am a self-confessed London bus lover, I'd forgotten what a fantastic view you get while sitting up on the top deck. (this week I managed the steps up). You get a whole new vista of London, especially now when the trees are turning and the autumn colours are at their best.

Yesterday, for instance, after a VAT seminar (I know, my other career is soooo interesting), I took a bus from Covent Garden all the way to North London, and when the bus drove past Kings Cross, I saw for the first time the new facade. (The King's Cross development has finally been finished). The sun was setting, painting the beautiful cornices of the St Pancras Hotel and the new windows of the station building with a golden glow. I felt truly lucky to live in such a beautiful city.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson opening the new King's Cross Station Square last week.
Video: The Telegraph Online

But, for an author, the best bit of travelling on the bus is the overheard conversations you are privy to.

On the tube, people are much quieter; they don't have mobile reception of course, but there also seems to be something about a bus journey which encourages conversation. There are the usual, 'I'm just on my way home' kind of telephone calls, or acquaintances meeting up by accident and getting into a deep conversation about somebody else's marriage. I've heard people do telephone interviews on the bus, or tell little porkies about why they're late for work. 'Traffic is terrible,' they say when the bus hurtles down a hill.

But the best conversations are from teenagers, who seem to think anyone over the age of twenty doesn't hear (or more likely understand) what they are saying. Boys tent to talk mainly about sports, but the girls! The girls discuss TV programmes as if they were populated by real people, they discuss their friends, their objects of desire, their enemies. All at the top of their voices. If I ever have another young character in my novel, I'm going to spend weeks on buses during school kicking out time. There could not be a better way to get a true teenage voice into your book!

Next week, sadly, I'll be back on the tube. All this lounging about and earwigging on the top of the double decker buses will not keep me fit, or keep my back in shape. Though I might just sneak a few bus rides in when the weather is too wet or cold for a hike through the woods!

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