Night buses: An adventure through the twilight bowels of public transport.

8 06 2010


The film critic and skiffle band member Mark Kermode recently commentated in a YouTube debate that most movies are a story about going home in one way or another. This is quite a universal theme and one from which a lot of drama can be gathered.

We’ve all been there, adrift in a foreign land or city with no bearing or direction. The drugs (including alcohol) are starting to wear off, the earlier frivolity and high spirits have given away to panic and fear. Where am I? Do I have enough to get home? Why is everyone looking at me? In London, once the Tube is put safely to bed we have the Night Bus. I’m sure other cities in this faded nation of ours have them too but from my experience of Leeds they are only whispered of in legend and run to a coveted timetable known to only a few elders and habitual liars.

Night Buses in London are an adventure through time and space. Crowded full of shift workers, drunks, delusional party-goers, the professionally odd and sociopaths they are driven by anti-social trolls, grown out of their seat like the pilot-thing from Alien and cursing every single human being who dares walk onto their midnight horror-coach.

My most recent Night Bus journey came after the Rage Against the Machine gig in Finsbury park. For an hour afterwards it felt revolution was in the air, we took over the streets, we banged drums and strode around like a new dawn was about to break. But then we saw the queue for the tube station and we realised that anarchy and rebellion are all fine but it’s late and we have to find a way home. A brisk walk to the tune of Mancunian moans took us down to the next tube station which we found it to be closed and under seige from bemused, cold and frightened RATM fans who struggled to decipher the illegible runes of the bus timetable.

Our merry band of six decided to entrust the journey home to a man who had travelled the world, bribed his way into despotic regiemes and had grown up on the mean streets of Watford. This was a mistake.

One erroneous bus journey later we were heading in the right direction, towards the nexus of Night Bus routes, Trafalgar Square. The World Traveller’s girlfriend offered to pay for a taxi back to a friends house nearby. The Mancunian said no, he wanted to go back to the World Traveller’s house for that was where he left his beloved pornography and the guest bed which he had soiled with his manhood.

So we waited outside Charing Cross as every other bus route except ours pulled up at the stop, teased us with hope for a moment and then pulled away with the bio-automaton driver cackling with spite as it drove off. The younger members of our gang were starting to loose the will to live, moaning more than the Mancunian to our surprise. The denziens of the night were starting to come out then, distorted and disturbed human beings hollering in unknown tongues. Shift work wage slaves trudged towards us, oblivious to the world around them and cursing the series of life choices which led them to the living death in which they exist now. At last our bus turned up, the young’uns needed tickets but the ticket machine at the stop was broken. “Not to worry, the TFL website states that if the machine is broken the bus drone has to provide one” said our World Traveller. The curmudgeonly bus-borg disagreed.

In the un-British scramble for the tardy night bus two of our young’uns snuck on board through the exit, thinking we were about to follow. Instead they sped away without us, looking forlorn and confused out the window like two eastern european girls who have just been tricked into prostitution while we stood by cussing the unhelpful bus-drone but powerless to help. Had they been skilled in the dark arts of London life they could have blagged their way back to our destination with anal virginity intact.

In the meantime we ran across the road to find a working ticket machine.Then. just as we found one the next bus on our route turned up, with barely a soul on board. It paused for a moment as we hurried to get our tickets then sped away, it’s driver waving his diseased and partially mechanical hand in mockery.  The country boys jumped off the first bus at the next stop, just as we got back across the road to find some TFL employees had pulled up in a van and fixed the very ticket machine which had thwarted us in the first place. London had not lost it’s talent to confound its residents to the point of taking it personally. Again, we waited twenty minutes.

When we finally got on the last bus home we were greeted with the dead eyes of typical Night Bus passengers. Naturally there was only one seat left on the bus and a lot of people to get uncomfortably close to. To pass the time I concocted visions of mighty Chewbacca making sweet wookie love to the anus of Jesus Christ. The look of horror and confusion amongst my comrades suggested my tale had served its purpose. Others moved back and gave us some room.

As we travelled past the satanic towers of the City, paved in gold and washed with the blood of immigrant children (sacrificed to serve the Banker’s pantheon of horned gods.) It was then that the bus driver, whose vocal chords had been removed at the factory in which he was installed into the bus pressed a button to ask passengers to move down the bus. The cattle mentality of those who use Night Buses failed to comprehend the recorded female voice, everyone was too tired or afraid to commit to any action. “Are there any seats on the top deck” someone asked a man sitting on the stairs. “Yeah, I just like sitting here don’t I” came the sarcastic reply.

The bus-borg was losing his patience. Fail-safe circuits in his abused mind kicked in and knocked him unconcious for a reboot. The bus, being cybernetically linked to him followed suit and stopped its engine. For a moment it looked like we would have to get out and wait for the next one, something which had happened to me before on a night bus and almost devolved into a riot as my fellow passengers who had already waited for an hour in the small hours of a Saturday attempted to hijack other buses as they went past.

Thankfully the bus-borg rebooted successfully, some cattle were herded off to make room and we continued into the East End (signified by the prevalence of England flags and white vans.) I suggested to the Mancunian (he being of a musical leaning) that we start a sing along with the other passengers on the bus to raise spirits as by then they had taken on the demeanour of a persecuted people being trucked off to a death camp. The Mancunian declined with a northern growl. The largest of our young’uns sunk his mighty head into his bear like hands, we debated on whether to write “cunt heron” on his forehead as per tradition.

Streets blurred into one and another, take-aways, traffic lights, dark obelisks of office towers and the vague smell of rotting fish and human waste that heralds the borough of Plaistow. By then we had all taken on the Night Bus trance, brain waves running on empty, souls drained and thinking of sleep. Our Night Bus journey had come to an end, no fatalities, no police intervention and the unworldly blues of near dawn were yet to crawl across the sky. Not as bad as other journeys I had been on.

The ten minute walk back to the house seemed like hours for the younger members of our group though. Sadly, and with victory almost in our sights one fell by the wayside. Weak from loss of blood he collapsed like a sack of bones in a hoodie. We had come too far to stop now, so we made a simple grave outside a public toilet and went onwards to Vahalla. Passing a fox with a baby’s arm hanging out it’s vulpine jaws, it tipped us a magical cockney wink and the World Traveller recognised we where at his street. The remaining young’uns stumbled towards safety, those of us more seasoned quietly enjoying the camaraderie that the adversity had put us through as if we had stormed Omaha beach.

Dedicated to the memory of Chumbawumba or whatever his name was…..

I'm the one in the skirt, naturally



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