- Routes 464, 320, 227 (76 minutes)
- Flickr photos from these routes
The weather precludes me from going anywhere near the centre of town today. I’ve made that mistake before and having arranged to meet Mum at lunchtime, I plan accordingly.
However, it’s only halfway through the tortuous tram from Wimbledon to New Addington do I remember there is a quicker way to cover two-thirds of the journey. The x26. It’s a bus. I think I’ve heard of them.
The 464 is the first of my three buses today, which will take my total to a tantalising 99. The 464 begins in New Addington – a glorified estate on a hill south-east of Croydon – and runs out into Kent through Biggin Hill to tiny Tatsfield village.
New Addington always feels like an experiment gone wrong. The colour-coded estates and its relative isolation make me think of somewhere the Victorians would have ‘contained’ the mentally hill had they been a little more progressive. Instead they locked them up at the now defunct Cane Hill hospital in Coulsdon.
First impressions are crucial though. In a previous life, when I was a wide-eyed journalist just out of Uni, I was sent to New Addington to interview someone whose girlfriend had gone missing. He was an odd character and I left the house joking to myself that he killed her. Sure enough she was found dead in the loft a week later. Grim.
On the bus, four boys behind me are busy planning their day in the sun. The talk is of Facebook, which girls are going to be there and why is it they are all wearing the same style of shirt. The terrain couldn’t be further from the city; rolling countryside, narrow lanes, high hedgerows.
We pass Biggin Hill airport, which retains the ‘airport’ part of its name because of the terminal building and its customs facilities, despite looking for all the world like an airfield.
It has a rich heritage however, having served as a principal fighter base during the Battle of Britain. To quote wiki:
Over the course of the war, fighters based at Biggin Hill claimed 1,400 enemy aircraft, at the cost of the lives of 453 Biggin Hill based aircrew.
It was involved with the RAF until 1992, when any remaining crew moved to RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.
The brave boys behind me alight in Biggin Hill town centre, taking their overbearing Lynx deodorant with them and the bus wheezes its way up Cudham Hill to Tatsfield. The entire journey has taken just 17 minutes, which is the quickest route yet, I think.
Tatsfield is lovely, your classic English village. An inviting pub, local shops for local people and even an interesting sculpture.
The possibility that the sculpture is fashioned from the whittled-down bones of previous visitors on the 464 briefly whizzes through my mind. The League of Gentlemen has a lot to answer for.
After a quick mooch in the sun, my only way out of the village, to catch the 320 in Biggin Hill, is to get the 464 back down Cudham Hill. The 320 is waiting for me when I get there, but oddly has Catford Bridge on the front. My list had the 320 ending in Bromley.
This is a problem. I need the 227 from Bromley to be my last bus of the day because I’ve arranged to meet Mum on its route. I decide to get the 320 until Bromley. The extra 10 minutes to Catford will be done another day. It’s on my list.
The 320 is a double-decker that really struggles to get up Stock Hill. Then at the top, as the bus waits to pick up some passengers, the same kids from the 464 appear out of nowhere. They look hot and flustered, not a crime in this heat, but they have the look of mischief about them.
They do not get on, but we do have the dreaded driver change which, given the rigmarole involved, you’d think was akin to strapping an astronaut into the shuttle. We are motionless for nearly five minutes, but when we do move on, traffic is light as we head north and countryside slowly gives way to suburb gives way to town centre.
I get off with heavy heart, despite it not being the end of the route. I am off about 10 minutes early, but I will complete the journey next time I’m in the area, I promise.
Bromley is a busy town on the fringes of London where the fame-hungry uneducated meet the massive racists of deepest Kent to create the perfect Big Brother contestant. They breed them here for Endemol, a never-ending supply of vacuous wannabees.
Walking through The Glades, Bromley’s identikit shopping centre, I consider stealing a baby to save it from its parents. No court in the land would find me guilty.
It’s a walk through the town to catch the 227- which is to take me east through Beckenham to Crystal Palace from Bromley North station.
Within five minutes, the bus is a modern vision of Hell – I’m sure Dante mentions it in passing. It takes two stops to fill completely, sending the temperature soaring. Behind me a man shouts into his mobile about his Dexter-inspired dream about being a murderous ghost in someone else’s house.
But he is quickly outshone by a new passenger; a woman on the brink of tears who is positively screaming into her phone. It’s about money. The family is going under. Why won’t he pay the money? It’s ugly and awkward. I feel sorry for the woman, who is so desperate, she has lost all sense of propriety and doesn’t care she’s telling 100 strangers her intimate financial affairs.
The little girl sat next me stares at the woman in wondrous enchantment at the industrial language. Someone mutters ‘shut the fuck up’. The bus continues to heave in the heat. Yes, my 99th route is proving quite the experience.
Fortunately I have a get-out clause. I’m meeting Mum in Beckenham for a pint and a sandwich and I hop off with glee.
It is a glorious hour in the Jolly Woodman, which is the local for Mum and Pete, my step-dad. The gamut of conversation runs from them offering to shelve out our shed to how there used to be a water tower in Chislehurst but it isn’t there now so there’s no point even mentioning it.
Then Dad calls and says that four tickets for the Oval Test match would be £800. Unless the seats are on the England balcony, bang goes that idea. Sandwich and cider dispatched, I bid family farewell and return to the 227. The remaining 15 minutes of the journey up the hill to Crystal Palace is marked out by a man who should know better putting a mars wrapper in a hedge, barely five yards from a bin. This infuriates me. Littering makes me so angry because it’s just so lazy and directly affects other people.
My tut and shake of the head are a little extravagant though and the woman sat next to me glances over. Crystal Palace Parade arrives and I escape. I am on 99. And I will hit three figures next week.
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