OPINION - Save our Number 24 — buses hold the secrets and memories of our city

·3-min read

The No. 24 is the oldest surviving bus route in London. It takes people from the hill to the river: Hampstead Heath to Victoria station since 1910, and Hampstead Heath to Pimlico since 1912. Now, as part of the Government’s insistence on diminishing bus services, it is likely to be abolished and replaced by the No. 88, whose route will be tweaked, and will no longer serve Parliament Hill. Perhaps it is believed that no one in Parliament Hill needs it: as if social cleansing has progressed so far that all nocturnal travellers can go by Range Rover.

If you wouldn’t live in a city made entirely of cars — and we do, but I have hope — bus routes are essential. If you are elderly, disabled or have young children, the Underground is not safe. Underground travel is dramatic — thrilling and awful, below the throb of the city — but it is no place for the vulnerable, and they know it.

Many people will have smaller access to their city if the No 24 ends: buses have more reach into the corners of the city, and they get there quicker. Perhaps these people do not matter, being young, old or poor.

If bus travel is essential, it is also romantic. Black taxis, though exciting — take the children up the Mall — are expensive. Minicabs are boring and the Underground requires energy and attention. But a bus is both mediative and thrilling. I sit on the top deck and watch the city expand before me and feel terrible nostalgia as the London of my youth is torn apart and remade; or I sit downstairs and listen to Londoners be themselves.

I have met fascinating people on buses because a bus is a temporary village on wheels, and a gift to the lonely and the curious. Buses hold so many stories. They feel like they reach back to the past.

The No 24 was always my bus: Queens Crescent, Gospel Oak to Trafalgar Square. It’s something to have a 24-hour service from the end of your street to the National Gallery and Parliament: the glory of a city is in its connections. I had an intimate relationship with the No 24, even when it was redesigned to look like Robocop in lipstick and was a furnace in the summer.

I raged at it, I cheered it, it saved me. When I was pregnant, I took it to University College Hospital to get an emergency scan at midnight in the tense late summer of 2013; then I took it to the same hospital to have my son. It is easy to feel alienated by London’s spaces. It is hard to feel alienated by a bus route.

I understand that great cities are destroyed and renewed. That is their nature and their purpose. But there are essential reasons why bus routes must be protected; there are also aesthetic and personal ones.

Lose the route, lose the stories, lose the past. What comes next?

In other news...

The purge of minor royals continues. Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are retiring from public life. They will follow Prince Andrew and his teddy bear collection from the royal fold.

Prince Michael could be a look-a-like for his cousin, the last Tsar Nicholas II, if he hadn’t been murdered by the Bolsheviks. He was accused of offering access to the royals for money.

The Princess is the daughter of an SS officer — her father joined the Nazi Party in 1930 — and she wore ‘a racist brooch’ to meet Meghan Markle. One acquaintance claimed she called a couple of her black sheep Venus and Serena. The Kents’ exit shows Prince Charles is dedicated to removing his embarrassing family members from the public eye.

It can’t come quickly enough.

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