! ! Goodbye Routemaster

The iconic (damn, I swore I’d
never use that word..)
red London bus
was designed by the lively minded
for the active lively – those who
take a few chances with life,
look for a little excitement,
test their limits, enjoy
– the French have a phrase for it –
the little happinesses, sweetnesses, or
good fortunes, it doesn’t
translate quite so well –
let’s say, exhilarating moments?

viz.:

the back platform, a step
nearer the ground, is open; rubber-floored;
a central vertical bar,
wound with a grip-fast plastic,
midway on the edge of the platform; then
on the vertical edge of the rear bus-back,
a substantial holding bar
which never lets you down;
another horizontal bar
the other side
to steady you either getting on or off

so

you’ve just missed the bus as
it begins to pull away?
Don’t worry – you’re young to middling,
the driver’s still to change from low gear as
he pulls away from the kerb and queue;
you check the platform’s clear;
a short run;
grab the upright bar with the right hand,
right foot on platform, then
left hand on vertical bar –and there -
a small but significant personal achievement,
a confirmation that life’s for the winning;
the breathing deeper, healthier;
quicker than the gym or marathon

and correspondingly,

you’re on the bus, you’d like to get off soon
but it’s quite a few yards, or chains, or furlong
to the next bus stop - but eureka! – the bus slows
towards a red traffic light or a traffic jam:
stand on the open back of the platform (yes,
the designer thought of that too) , or holding on the central bar
(this one requires a quick calculation of which
you choose according to bus speed and agility)
and dropp off with some grace,
hit the ground running…
another little good fortune, exhilaration
to liven up your day; even your fellow passengers
watching, feel a shared lift of spirits
at this touch of athleticism

though

this bus, though it can cope
with a young mother with a quickly
folded push-chair, infant now in left arm,
wasn’t designed for low-income single mothers
with twins who like to shop at Harrods,
or for self-drive wheelchairs…
so in these more socially inclusive times
where well-stuffed infant-carriers no longer fold to nothing…
and with labour-intensive costs in mind,
there's no benevolent conductor watching
all these minor athletic feats –
now, fast-shut doors, make the seated driver supervise all this,
no conductor standing, climbing stairs,
taking your ticket while the driver – drives; alas,
it’s goodbye Routemaster…

but

maybe you’ll understand why, as
symbol of our more agile years,
we miss it



(for PoHo, who asked)
+ PS: you can buy one cheap!

by Michael Shepherd

Comments (4)

This is brilliant Mike. I think you have chosen an ideal object to illustrate the subject. I like they way that you avoid simpering nostalgia and just lay your cards on the table. The struicture is excellent. A real enjoyable and intelligent piece.
Dear Michael, Yes, all things seem to change over time, even the great classics of which your subject is definitely one! You can find a couple in Atlanta, GA now doing tours, but they are not part of the mass transit system, alas! Wonderful writing (as usual!) Best regards, Hugh
A great tour de force Michael. An ode to a design classic, conceived in the minds of war veterans allowing the driver/pilot to concentrate on getting to the destination/target while the conductor/bombardier concentrated on the welfare and safe delivery of the volatile cargo.
Ye gods. I never thought I'd enjoy reading an ode to a bus. Loved it. (They were easy for fare-avoidance, too, I am reliably informed.)