A few years ago, when I was on a London bus, I decided to tweet: “I am on a bus.” It struck me as a wonderfully banal thing to tweet, and it nicely dovetailed with my earlier Twitter catchphrase: “I am in a room” (which I tweet when I am in a room). It caught on. A couple of weeks later, I thought I’d spice things up by tweeting Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, every time I got a bus. Over the last two years I’ve tweeted Boris many hundreds of times, reporting on my bus journeys. I’m sure he appreciates it, despite the fact that he has never replied.
Because of this, people associate me with buses. They think of me as The King of Buses. Random strangers tweet me when they are on the bus! They seem to think that I spend most of my life on buses. This is not the case.
Some people on a bus.
I feel I should explain why I tweet so much from buses. First of all, I work from home a lot. This means that unlike many Londoners, I don’t face a daily commute via tube. The bus is great for short journeys, but if you’ve got a long trip from the suburbs into the City or the West End, you’re much more likely to take the tube. Personally, if I am out and about during the day, I’m probably on a bus.
Secondly, For at least half of the last three years I lived in Muswell Hill, which has no tube station but an excellent array of buses – if I wanted to take the tube, I’d have to take the bus first. I moved from the leafy confines of N10, but I still live in quite a hilly area and since I’m quite lazy I take a lot of short, local bus journeys – I’d probably be a lot fitter and healthier if I walked instead. Even given all that, I probably only use the bus 10-15 times a week. There are many Londoners whose baseline is 10 journeys a week, since they will get the bus to-and-from work or a tube station five days a week. Ands there are plenty of people who takes four buses a day – two to work and two home. Compared to them I’m a dilettante; the difference being that they don’t tweet about it.
The thing that frustrates me about my public association with buses is that I don’t actually like buses. I appreciate that they exist and I know that London buses are much, much more reliable than they were when I was a kid, but I have no love for buses. I know some people find buses terribly romantic, but I see them as purely functional. They get me from A to B and that’s it.
In contrast, I absolutely love almost everything about the London Underground. I swoon about it. I love tube maps and tube tales and tube station design. It excites me. I’ve always felt like that. If London has a soul it’s located underground, shuttling along the Piccadilly or Victoria Line. There’s a relentless energy about the tube, a sense of expectation and drama with every journey. Even if it’s a humdrum journey from Finsbury Park to Turnpike Lane, it feels epic, as though simply by being in a tube train you are connected to the pulsing heart of the city. I love people-watching on the tube. I love the station designs. I love the endless romance of anonymity, the glances exchanged across platforms and escalators.
I also like the rules and etiquette of the tube: as a rule, people behave themselves when underground. Trapped underground, closely monitored and with limited exits, people think twice before attacking or abusing you. There is a certain dusty, disheveled chivalry on the Underground. This is in stark contrast to buses, where ruffians know they can get off whenever they want (pressing the button above the doors) and therefore act out whatever gangster fantasies they desire. No amount of commuters at rush hour is as terrifying as accidentally getting on a bus as the schools are emptying.
Of course, I’m also realistic about the tube. It is crippled by signal failures and draconian weekend closures. I’m also lucky enough to avoid often use the tube in rush hour – I know how hellish it can be. I also once spent 20 very hungover minutes stuck on a Circle Line train between Moorgate and Barbican, desperately needing the loo and cursing my existence. Despite all this, I love the London Underground. Sometimes, when I’m feeling depressed or out-of-sorts I take a short tube journey to reset my brain.
Some people waiting for a tube train.
I would tweet more often when I’m on the tube, except for the obvious fact that most of the time I am underground with no signal. Otherwise I’d be tweeting “I am on a tube”, happy for the whole world to retweet me.