On the Buses: In celebration of the London Routemaster
Every weekend in Britain the place is crawling with esoteric enthusiasts ploughing their own particular furrow. Mechanical objects are high on the list, with events for motorcycles, cars, caravans, tractors, tanks, steam engines, boats and, even, buses. Today, right on cue, was the annual Routemaster summer outing at the Brooklands Museum at Weybridge in Surrey.
The Routemaster is the iconic London bus manufactured between 1954 and 1968. It was a perfect design for busy London traffic and the hop-on, hop-off rear platform allowed much speedier operation than today's health-and-safety-mad replacements. Even the new Boris Bus, the Routemaster successor, is a pale imitation of the original and the promising rear platform is never open to casual jumpers.
The last of the old Routemasters were withdrawn from service in 2005 after 50 years of presence on London's roads. I well remember the thrill of being able to jump on and jump off at will, not needing to wait for the bus to arrive at a designated stop. Of course, all this freedom is now denied us. In the past people took their risks and blamed themselves when something happened. Now no bus company could run an open-deck Routemaster in the face of ambulance-chasing lawyers.
Today's event at Brooklands Museum—which also houses the London Bus Museum—attracted primarily bus enthusiasts although it was open to the general public. I never cease to be amazed at the level of enthusiasm displayed at such events, nor the detailed knowledge of every rivet and facet of these old vehicles, whether they be buses or tanks.
Among the crowds I met Michael, a former bus conductor, who can't get enough of the bus world. He was smartly turned out in full uniform, festooned with bus badges (including his own bus conductor licence) and twiddling the old rotary ticket machine, forerunner of today's swipe-and-go Oyster card.
Also there in period uniform, complete with camera and brolly, was Peter Larkham, secretary of the London Bus Museum. Now there's a man who knows his buses.