Thirty Thousand Streets

Friday, November 18, 2005

Bus Route Review: The 12

Part two of my very infrequent review of different routes on London buses, and this week, it's a biggie.

I read on the Camberell Online blog, that some cats been hating on my favourite bus, the good ol' 345. In particular, some chump who writes for Time Out, claiming as they do that it takes forever to get anywhere. Tsch, eveyone knows you don't get the 345 if you've got to be anywhere fast, fool.

But fair enough, if you've actually got a job and don't just dispense comments like 'Camberwell is a bit shit' while tittering over your laptop in starbucks, then maybe you want to get there fast.

I am occasionally compelled to Work, necessary evil that it is, and In such situations, the bus for me has recently been the Number 12. In practical terms, it's theoretically unrivalled. It goes right past my flat, up the Elephant, and thence to Waterloo and ultimately Oxford Circus. The reality however, is somewhat different.

This is what some Christian website had to say about the number 12:

"Twelve is a perfect number, signifying perfection of government, or of governmental perfection. It is found as a multiple in all that has to do with rule. The sun which "rules" the day, and the moon and stars which "govern" the night, do so by their passage through the twelve signs of the Zodiac which completes the great circle of the heavens of 360 (12 x 30) degrees or divisions, and thus govern the year."

"Twelve is the product of 3 (the perfectly Divine and heavenly number) and 4 (the earthly, the number of what is material and organic)."

Blah blah blah, yadda yadda. Whoever wrote this clearly never rode the number12, because it really is shit. Shame really, because it's a really useful route, just massively oversubscribed. They really should put on about 50% more, because every morning and evening, it's rammed to capacity. It's kind of what I imagine a bus from purgatory to hell would look like, with serried ranks of grim faced commuters lashed to posts trying to ignore each other, and their own misery.

A wise man once said:

"If you want to see real grime in London, don't look to the streets - you've got to go on the buses for that"

Actually I made that up, but its true. The endemic lack of civic pride in this country reaches it's Apex on buses like this, where no journey would be complete without several small heaps of sweating chicken bones, swirling round your ankles. One of my quintessential bus experiences on the 12 recently was when some guy sat opposite me wolfed down a couple of Muller Fruit Corners, then cast the detritus under his seat (which was considerate) whilst across the aisle, some guy was sat openly weeping next to his stoney-faced and oblivious (and presumably newly ex) girlfriend, whilst all around strove to ignore it.

The number 12 is also one of London's new breed of buses the much reviled 'bendy bus'. In practise these are supposed to be more efficient and quicker, as the driver doesn't check tickets. In reality though, this generally means that he has no way of restricting the flow of passengers, so anyone can ram their way on, and generally does. The number of times I've waited at a bus stop and the 12 has rolled up, packed to capacity with a sea of piteous faces staring out of the gloom.. In anywhere sane, people would simple wait for a less crowded bus, as I usually do, but Londoners actually seem to relish hanging out in someone elses armpit, so force their way on anyway. When you're on the other side of the doors and people start inserting themselves, the overwhelming urge is do draw a concealed hedge trimmer and repel boarders.

In fact, so sardine like is the net result, that you could pump a 'bendy' full of olive oil and it would make a covenient snack for a balrog on whatever circle of Dante's hell the 12 is currently stopping at.

Uggh Hellish.. But as I said, it would be a hell of a lot better if there were just half as many again. In the space of time it took for one 12 to arrive at the top of Regent Street last night, three 453s (I think) themselves of the bendy disposition, sauntered past like vast empty red corridors; you could install driving ranges on some of them, and for practically a fraction of the cost of the buses themselves.

As you may be able to tell, I aint got a whole lot of love for the 12. It seems to bring out all that is worst about public transport, and the unflinching meanness of modern life in the modern city. Needs must though, and I gotta say, it gets me to the coalface on time. I was going to give it a (1+2=) 3 but for sheer handiness:



gridrunner said...

It sounds not unlike the northbound Northern Line, Clapham Common at 08:30. We're so full we like to lie down and stack ourselves in eight vertical layers.

This morning I unwillingly went cheek-to-armput with a very smelly 50-something man. Fortunately I get to switch to the more humane “just packed” Victoria Line two stops later at Stockwell. That’s assuming I manage to force me way off the Northern Line train that is – the door opens conveniently on the opposite side.

No chicken bones for us though.

Ginmonkey said...

The 12 makes me very sad - it's a horrible bus now. I used to live in Peckham and now live in Camberwell and the 12 has been one of my most used buses in the 6 years i've lived in London. It used to be a great bus when it was a routemaster - it was still over crowded but the conductor kept some order on the bus.

It was also one of London's great bus routes - all the way from Dulwich to Notting Hill. I'm not ashamed to admit i shed a little tear when i learned that not only was the 12 to become bendy but TfL were terminating it at Oxford Circus "for our convenience" (not very bloody convenient if you want to go to Notting Hill!) - i know it took a long time but that wasn't the point it was a great route across London - busy tube people never understand us bus people, we're different, we don't mind spending a little longer to get places we're observers and dreamers, i loved the changes of people and places you saw on the 12 - i always planned to make a film about it, i suppose it wouoldn't be as interesting now.

The Eyechild said...


Routemasters, bit like hen's teeth these days aren't they? The last one I got was on the 21st of July this year - the date of the second and failed bombings, when attempting to reach South London via any means available.

They do ooze charm, something that can't really be said for the bendys, which do frequently ooze a variety of other things e.g. fire, smoke, curry.

I never realised they used to go all the way to Notting Hill, that gives the 345 a run for its money.

Ah well, cheers to London Transport for having the courage to amputate this final leg of it's journey.

Ginmonkey said...

My mate Adrian who is both older than me and has lived in London for much longer says the 12 used to go all the way to Croydon (the part now covered by the 312 bus route - that's monster of a bus route, i wonder if anyone used to travel the whole way?

You should do teh 436 - i think it is pound for pound the most crowded bus route in Camberwell and possibly has the most crazies -beating off some stiff competition. Right i'll stop talking about buses - i find a few uyars as a south londoner you tend to get a little bit obsessed by them.

Zeno Cosini said...

It's true: we Londoners can't let a bus or train pass without trying to clamber on if we suspect there's a cubic millimeter's free space inside, and to hell with any pregnant women or paraplegics who get in the way. It's a matter of pride, I think. I don't buy in myself. I'm always particularly baffled by the people you see sprinting for a tube and risking life and limb grappling frantically with the closing doors when, um, there's another one coming along in ONE MINUTE. Are you really in THAT much of a hurry? Is the universe going to collapse to a singularity if you don't get on this particular Greenwich-bound Jubilee line train? No.

I-it isn't, is it?

Peter Gasston said...

I'm sure you'll write about it at some point, but the 436 is probably worse than the 12. Same complaints, except some morning's its so full that you have to watch 2 go past before a 3rd stops. A huge blessing of my new job is that I can go there by train.