Buses are manky. Filthy. I actually quite like the things, but even I'm prepared to come clean and acknowledge that. The 'free' buses (the hated on bendys) are the worst, no question, and they always seem to posess a faint but cloying stink – a rank cocktail of chicken bones and sweat.
So it was with some surprise that I discovered the gem that is the 148, which sallies forth from Camberwell Green to the far flung reaches of Shepherd's Bush, because it's like, the Orient Express of London buses or summat.
Everything's just so CLEAN.. the seats crisp and brand new. At least one of the times I've caught it these were clad in some kind of faux leather polymer, butter-soft and shiney. They're widely spaced as well – like riding in some kind of business class suite with extra legroom.
We've got Britain's premier HGV construction firm Scania to thank for all this (their logo is proudly embossed on all the headrests) and they've done a bang up job, too fo' sheezy. If there was a spin off series of Pimp My Car entitled Pimp My Bus, presented by Tim Westwood, and the 148 was selected for a makeover, I think the big guy would be left, for once, speechless, having witnessed the majesty that is the 148. He might even cry, before going home.
"But why is this?" I hear you cry, dear reader. "Why is this bus so damn fly, when I wouldn't deign to keep chickens on most of them?"
Well – sigh – there is a downside to this bus. A reason for its pristine glory. For each of these buses has a pre-recorded voice that speaks the bus number, destination, and current location at every stop.
"THIS... IS THE... 148... TO.. SHEPHERD'S BUSH"
An anodyne female voice intones flatly, when you first board. At first it isn't so bad. Something of a novelty in fact. But like many 'novelty items' (novelty erasers for example) the sheen of the new is quick to tarnish, and it rapidly becomes deleriously irritating.
I'm guessing Scania thought they'd really push the boat out on this one, and create 'The Bus of The Future – a sort of robo-bus if you like. Well if this is the future of buses I've just seen, it's a dark one, if they're all to sound like The Bride of KITT strung out on valium.
I'd heard that one of the practices in those lovely American prisons for 'unlawful combatants', alongside water-boarding and the like, was to play music at unholy volume at the detainees – such as Barney the Purple disosaur, or even worse, Eminem. And this, after a while, is a bit like that: torture.
But on the plus side, even 'da yoof' who are partial to serenading buses with the skittish strains of Nelly and SoulJah all their mobile phones are utterly antagonised by robo-bus, and so the people who would likely be scrawling 'Murda Zone' onto a seat, or spitting on the floor aren't much in evidence.
But neither is anyone really, which is why they're so crisp and new feeling, for to tarry too long on the 148 is to court gibbering insanity as effectively as summoning Azathoth. Which is sort of fine actually, as I never usually wish to ride it all the grim environs of Shepherd's Bush, and I'd rather get the tube up to Notting Hill.
Camberwellians in a hurry take note though: As a shuttle bus up to Elephant and Castle tube however, it really is, just the ticket.