- Route 31 (52 mins)
It’s been too long since I was last out so it’s time to improvise. Thomas must come with me. This is a risky strategy given his history of buses and vomiting, but with a shortish route, broken up, I reckon I’ll be safe. I make the pitch.
‘We’re going to get a train, then another train, then a bus,’ I explain to his three-year-old brain.
‘And then will we be there?’ he asks, not unreasonably.
Which is where things get a little existential. Depends what you mean by ‘there’, I don’t say and just nod and smile. One day son, all this will be yours. And I’ll sit your son on my knee and explain to him what I did during the great financial meltdown. Oh, I rode on some buses, I’ll say. It all seemed to make sense at the time, I’ll say, before looking wistfully out the window.
Today though, I have my cousin Mark with me to help with any mess, whether that be vomit or philosophical quandaries. We meet at Clapham and take the train to Shepherds Bush.
The gleaming Westfields, which has since been usurped by the newer version in Stratford, dominates the area and we must walk through its pristine, soulless shadows to reach the start of the No 31, which is to ferry us to Camden Town. Come the zombie apocalypse, these gleaming towers of capitalism will be the hideous relics of our time, but I won’t dwell on that theme here. There’s a child present.
The 31 is a salubrious route that quickly leaves Westfield behind, avoiding the scruffy area around Shepherds Bush Green in favour of the tree-lined Holland Park Avenue.
A Ferrari growls in front of us, but we are soon heading north towards the boutiques and private sports clubs of Notting Hill. With Thomas in mind, we hop off for a break and head towards the Museum of Brands - a delicious little collection of trinkets and household goods from the last 120 years tucked away in Colville Mews, just off Lonsdale Road.
It is a lovingly-preserved time-line of capitalist growth over the last 100 years. Thomas loved it because he got to wear a head-torch, but I’m not sure he looked at a single display until he spotted a Sonic the Hedgehog toy near the end. Real value fom this place would come from taking an elderly relative though, someone to regale you tales that can add some human experience to the hundreds of products on display behind glass.
This is not a place for a three-year-old. Still, Thomas is good, happy with his torch and we’re fairly quickly back outside to pick up the No 31 again. On the way, we notice a church that has been converted, at least partially, into a fancy clothes shop. The new religion. With new cathedrals.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m reading Lights Out In Wonderland and I’m looking for such examples of rampant capitalism, but there is a theme developing to the day. The 31 is soon around the corner to pick us up and continue our journey, but traffic is heavy and as we labour north-east, I sense unease from Thomas and a little boredom from Mark, although they do well to hide it.
There’s no way to dress this up though. This is life on the buses. In Maida Vale, we pass the Animal War Memorial Dispensary, which opened in 1932 and features a large bronze sculpture and two stone plaques dedicated to all the animals whose lives were sacrificed during the First World War.
Thomas asks to have a go with the camera. Here then, is a selection of views from route 31 from the point of view of a three-year-old.
Bored of photography, Thomas wants a story so the final leg of the journey from St John’s Wood to Camden is spent reading Mr Mean. He loves these Mr Men books, but they are from a different age. Characters laugh ‘sarcastically’. Once off the bus, I realise it’s my first time in Camden since starting this odyssey, which seems odd given it’s my 109th route, but poor old Thomas is in no mood to hang around. He just wants to go home after hours of pointless travel. I oblige. In truth, it’s been a weird one. It’s been a long day for Thomas and him coming meant I wasn’t able to give the route my full attention.
I’ll have a map for you later.