- Routes 85, 39
There are days, such as on Tuesday when I began this venture, when the world passes by serenely and you wonder what all the fuss is about. The world allows you to exist and drift at your own pace uninterrupted. Then there are days, such as today, when you attract the flotsam and jetsam of life, and there is nothing you can do to avoid it. It should have been so easy. The 85 runs almost past our place, but in a show of total dedication I walk the mile into town to get it from the first stop. Only, the 85 doesn’t start where I thought it did. I wander further into town to investigate. Then, outside Game, a young man stops me and asks the way to Norbiton station, which is almost where I have just walked from. I start to tell him, but he interrupts.
‘Yeah, some crackhead just nicked my phone, yeah, and now I’m lost.’
‘Well, you’re in Kingston,’ I reply, unsure as to why he is now lost because he hasn’t got his phone. Is the marketing that literal? You’ll be lost without us.
‘Yeah, I know that bruv, I just need to get to Norbiton station.’
‘Okay, well as I said, if you go past those phone boxes and keep walking, eventually you’ll come to…’
‘Hang on, which way?’
I continue to point in the direction I suggest he takes.
‘Although Kingston station is just there. It’s only one stop away from Norbiton,’ I offer.
‘Nah bruv, I ain’t got a ticket.’
‘Could you not buy one?’
He gives me a withering, shut-it-Grandad-real-men-don’t-buy-tickets-fuck-the-system look and swaggers off, not entirely in the direction I suggested.
‘Cheers bruv,’ he shouts back. ‘I’ll ask someone else, yeah.’
Sometimes life is unnecessarily confusing.
However, my battle with Kingston, just to get the 85, is not over. This should be easy. I live here. I know this place. So why, this morning, do I feel a stranger? It’s a very peculiar feeling. And where does the sodding 85 start? No one seems to know, because it’s not in the place where the 85 ends. However, I need to get money out so head into the High Street, ready to run the gauntlet of charity pushers. It is virtually impossible to walk the length of the pedestrian street in Kingers and not be asked by someone to help save something, anything, as long as it’s not your money. Young, attractive girls wearing branded t-shirts guard the street, swooping on the weak with clipboards and promises of redemption if only you will give sixteen pence a day. Eye-contact, a smile, a quick step and they are in. I have become skilled at avoiding them, but this one, a bubblegum blonde, bouncy, squeaky, eyes like a meerkat on lookout, everything just wow and fantastic, will not give up and starts to walk alongside me. She asks me my name. I tell her.
‘Fantastic Ben. So what do you do?’ I’m going to have to either punch her in the face or break into a sprint if I want to shake her off. Neither of those is happening, especially the latter.
‘I’m a sports journalist, of sorts.’
‘Wow! So, do you like sport?’ An odd question, but inadvertently pertinent.
‘No, I used to, but I’m pretty sick of it to be honest.’ We are still walking, albeit slower than I want, but her eyes deaden a little at this reply, which pleases me.
‘So, do you like tennis?’ My reaction is best described as ‘Martin Freeman’ and I shake my head incredulously.
‘Okay, just thought I’d ask. Don’t know why really. I’m Esther by the way!’ She shakes my hand a lets out a little giggle. The sort of screechy, brainless giggle that makes me want to stave her face in with an iron. I stop walking.
‘I’m sorry, I really can’t do anything for you today.’
‘But why? I donate to several charities and I’m a student!’
‘And I’m pretty sure I pay for you to study, so shall we call it quits?’ I smile again and walk off quickly before we get into a debate about grants and tuition fees that I will surely lose given I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. She shouts something after me, but I have no idea what it is. I seek refuge with Animal Collective’s latest album.
Finally, I find the 85, and it’s busy. I am last on and have little choice but to head upstairs. My thoughts turn to Putney and the journey there. I knew a girl from Putney once, about 10 years ago. She was mad as a lorry. Since then, I have had it in my head that all girls from Putney are collectively so. Today, on the back seat, are three girls of about 14 or 15, who quickly make clear to anyone within four miles that they are going to Putney. The conversation runs the gamut of topics from their favourite character in Hollyoaks to the fact that Margaret Thatcher only needed four hours of sleep a night. One of the girls doesn’t know who Margaret Thatcher is. Lucky cow. Her friends explain.
‘I like Barack Obama,’ she says. ‘I want him to be my husband.‘Her friends laugh. ‘Although, I have given up boys at the moment. Honestly, I’ve like totally given them up.’
There is a moment’s silence, before her friend speaks up.
‘When did you start with boys?’
The timing is delicious and I almost want to congratulate her.
Meanwhile, Kingston and Norbiton are left behind as the bus climbs Kingston Hill, home of exclusive golf clubs and Chelsea footballers, before joining the A3, possibly the bleakest road in the country. Off it comes again, to Putney Heath and then down into the town itself. Putney High Street is torrid, so slow, trumping Wimbledon for unnecessary traffic lights, but then it’s my third river crossing so far and the picturesque Putney Bridge Station. There is nothing to do here, so I use the time to finally get hold of an Oyster card. The man in the station is embarrassingly helpful. To celebrate my Oyster compatibility (surely I’m a Londoner now?), I am treated to the immediate arrival of the 39, my first single-decker. To the back-left I go.
It sounds obvious, but the perspective is so different. You look into shops, not over them, look at people’s faces, not, well you get the idea. Pretty bloody obvious, but it really does give a different feel to the journey. Unfortunately it’s back up Putney High Street before swooping up the hill towards the rarefied air of Wimbledon Village. The bus bottles it though and turns off through Southfields and then Wandsworth. I have my first flashback. I recognise this stop. I was here on Wednesday. Sure enough, I look out the back window and there is the 156 looming down on me. It’s a nice feeling, starting to see buses I have ‘completed’.
However, while the 156 had an irritating meddler, the 39 ups its game considerably. Step forward, the Soldier of Christ. A gentleman wearing a blue blazer with the aforementioned job title emblazoned across the back stands up and strikes a pose. It is the pose of a six-year-old boy playing army, his hands clasped out in front him to represent a gun. ‘Pow, pow,‘ he says as he takes shots at unwitting pedestrians outside. Then one seems to get past him because he spins round and shoots past me. My fellow passengers glance at each other. This man is the reason we have tight gun laws in this country. If we didn’t, I’d be dead now. Fact. After killing the heathens (presumably he can tell from the unseen aura that surrounds us all, which of us are the enemies of God) he celebrates Usain Bolt-style, but ends up doing a wonky Nazi salute before stepping off jauntily like Jack Bauer with added God complex.
Clapham arrives. A passing gentleman offers me a potted history of the Grand while I take a photo of the old cinema. I think he is trying to weird me out, but he is too little, too late. Well done south London, a fantastic display today. North London, you’re next.