London Moves: Thoughts on How We Move Across the City

This was an idea that nearly turned into another damn blog, but I managed to reign myself in and instead start a series on this blog (which has been mostly a bit of a place for me to whine about my personal life) on how Londoners move around in this city.

It’s always been an interest of mine how people get to work, to school, to see friends, to go from here to there. It intrigues me the maps we build in our heads of the paths we take, of the areas we claim as ours, the parts of this vast city we feel comfortable in and attach emotions to.

They needn’t even be stationary, these places or “non-places” to borrow the term from Marc Augé’s book of the same name. Recently, I was in The Auld Shillelagh with some friends and someone brought up how everyone in London has a favourite bus. We proceeded to discuss our favourite buses and the buses we absolutely hated. One of my friends even went around and asked people at nearby tables what their favourite bus was. We left the pub amid shouts of “10!” and “the 8!” (which aren’t buses that reach Stokey, for those of you who aren’t aware).

When I was still working on my Master’s degree, I did a course at SOAS called the Anthropology of Urban Space, Place and Architecture, which was one of my favourite courses. Our final project involved documenting and writing about a “place in London,” and I chose to focus my project on a particular bus route: The 29. For the project, I started a blog I intended to keep going, until I moved out of my infested flat on Holloway Road and traded my seat on the 29 for seats on the 38 or 56. The blog, The 29 Project, is still up in all its unupdated glory, seeing as how I no longer live along its route from Wood Green to Trafalgar Square. Feel free to have a nose around.

The 29 is no longer a bendy–it was one of the last buses to go double-decker. I had just arrived back in London when the 73 made the switch from bendy to double-decker, which also resulted in its route terminating in Stoke Newington as opposed to continuing on to Seven Sisters.

It’s interesting when I am in Angel waiting for a bus. When I first got to London, I would wait for the damn 43, which, when the question was brought up at the pub about one’s hated bus is the bus I marked out. Ride it in the wee hours of a Friday night/Saturday morning along Upper Street, or on a rainy Monday at around 6:00 pm if you want to know why. When I moved to Clapton, I would keep my eyes open for the 38 or, preferably, the 56, which I felt was slightly quicker and generally less crowded. Now, it’s the 73, the 476 or, ideally as it runs nearest my house, the 341. Sometimes I watch the other buses pass, the buses I used to board, and my mind thinks back on when I used to live in Holloway, in Clapton.

At times my eyes still narrow meanly at the damn 43.

Friday, the 22nd, was an interesting day for travel in London, as there was a massive bus strike that rendered only 30% of buses in operation, with some routes not even running at all. The lines I trace on a near daily basis to get to and from to work, involving one or two bus routes with an Overground trip sandwiched in the middle, were broken.

So I had to go a different way.

I walked across Stoke Newington, from its hypothetical western border of Green Lanes (at least at the bit I’m at) and crossed an eastern border I have breached before, but whose lines are unclear. I began seeing signs for “West Hackney,” which slightly confused me, until I realised the “Hackney” in this sense wasn’t the borough, but the area within. It was, in all likelihood, the West Hackney before Stoke Newington was appropriated as Hackney’s new western annex in the 1960s.

Anyway, I walked to the Rectory Road train station, which was all the more interesting as I was keened to seeing what was around me that was different. As I walked along Neville Road, before I made a right on another street to head to the High Street, I could hear a woman with a pram talking loudly behind me to someone else on the phone, saying “There’re no 38, no 56, no bus, no bus to where you are.” The bus stop on Stoke Newington High Street near Amhurst Road seemed especially crowded with anxious commuters. I watched as one hailed a black cab that was cruising by. I didn’t see any buses at all, but I had heard later the 67 was running.

I was dorky enough to report my impressions on Twitter.

So on I went, crossing the invisible barrier separating Stoke Newington from this area which may or may not be West Hackney (perhaps Shacklewell? perhaps still Stokey?) until I got to the Rectory Road train station, a place I’d never been to before although it took me only around 20 minutes to walk to it from my house. Actually, a little bit longer, as I had gotten a cup of coffee at Bodega 50 on Allen Road.

I boarded a train, wondering how many other people boarding the train were like me–not the usual commuters of the Rectory Road train station. I wondered how late they would be, how inconvenient this trek was to them, how they were thinking about getting home in the evening eventually.

It then occurred to me that I wasn’t sure which stop to get off at.

Interestingly, this alternate route probably took only about 10 extra minutes, though I was 20 minutes late–mostly due to getting coffee in a shop as opposed to Coffee8 and I slowed myself down while composing tweets, taking photos with my phone and generally standing still while looking at a building I never noticed before, going “Oh!” and thinking about how, had I not gone this new way, I might have never come across it properly. With the Canonbury Overground station likely to be horrendous during the Olympics, this bus strike route may also wind up being my Olympics route in to my job in Bethnal Green, unless I can purchase a bicycle beforehand and, most importantly, learn how to ride the damn thing.

What was your bus strike commute like? And do you have a favourite bus? Anyone else hate the 43 as much as I do?

More posts on movement and moves to come.

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