The night bus, where London’s heart truly beats.
– A lovely piece by the London Evening Standard’s Richard Godwin on travelling on a London night bus.
Ideally, it should be Friday or Saturday night, about 2.30am. Then your fellow passengers will not be the sensible ones who have traipsed home early – but neither will they be the ones who have stayed to the bitter end. Any later and their thoughts will be on their beds, or their comedowns, or whoever they’ve dragged home with them. At around 2.30am, there’s still life in the evening.
The optimum position is standing on the top deck.
The best buses are the ones that ply Kingsland Road (the 149, the 76, the 67), though the N29 from Camden has its moments. Still, it should be cold enough outside for there to be condensation on the windows, and when the bus moves it should feel as if you’re sailing.
The ideal mood is bittersweet. Perhaps you have left the club too soon; perhaps it didn’t quite work out and you’re nursing a slight regret. Either way, you should carry a sense of the sorrows and pleasures of city life, its infinite possibilities and the impossibility of following them all.
If most of these conditions are met, then you can lose yourself in the scene. The French girl in the Harry Potter glasses, chirping away to her friend (French seems to be the second language on east London night buses); the black girl draped over the white guy, who’s tracing the mysterious word KRUDE into the window mist; the Irishman on the stairs, holding a bottle of blue raspberry rotgut, singing some embarrassing pop song (Boyzone?
Actually: didn’t he used to be in Boyzone?); Portuguese, Polish and possibly Vietnamese are audible. Someone is furtively chomping a burger, someone is rolling a spliff and a girl in a cowboy hat towards the back is laughing at you laughing at all of this…
Of course, London is not the only place with night buses. Still, there aren’t many other cities where you find so many people so touchingly intent on having a good time – and a transport system so geared up to helping them do so. On certain top decks, you find a sort of cosy mayhem that’s London at its most distinctive and best: tolerant, madly varied, infectious.
It rarely lasts all the way home. Soon after the Harry Potter girl gets off, somewhere in Dalston, you gain a seat and lose your vantage point. The singing gets annoying, there’s some aggro downstairs and then the bus stands at a stop for ages. The couples huddle closer, the single people lose themselves in their iPhones, the spell is broken.
It’s precious while it lasts, though. You may be the sentimental side of several pints but you’re proud to call London your home