One of the main reasons to stay fit is so you can run for a bus and catch it. I've always prided myself on being able to catch just about any bus I want – even if I miss a stop I'll sometimes run for the next one. In the last couple of years this has been getting harder. But recently I tried the North London Fathers' Triathlon, in which one runs for a bus after completing two even more gruelling events.
It was a midweek night and I was waiting at a Green Lanes bus stop for a 341 or 141 to take me up to the Salisbury for a few beers. The fog around Clissold Park had been collecting all afternoon and now lay in a thick band over the little river valley that was the former course of the Hackney Brook. All of a sudden there was no traffic. No cars, buses or cyclists. Had everyone decided to watch Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest on the telly? After what seemed about half an hour but was probably 20 seconds, a white van steamed past seemingly anxious to get into more normal territory.
I’d seen some of the Steaua players earlier in the day, sauntering around Oxford Street in their smart tracksuits and pointing out their favourite Christmas window displays. "Good luck tonight," I said.
"Ah, you must be a Tottenham fan!" smiled one (he looked like the midfield general).
"No, I’m not. I said ‘good luck’ from the perspective of a neutral who wishes you to enjoy the atmosphere of the Greater Blackstock Road area. I hope you have a good experience and possibly go for chips afterwards. I don’t care about the result."
But they’d already stopped listening. I have that effect on professional footballers. Like the time I got Bob Wilson’s autograph when he came to my home town in the mid 70s and I wanted to know why he didn’t play against Leeds in the 1972 Cup Final but he was looking away, off into the mid-distance at Arthur’s Tuck Shop at the edge of the market place (though it was actually owned at that stage by Derek Marwood who possibly had kept the ‘Arthur’ sign up for a bit in the hope of getting some ‘goodwill passing trade’).
It was about 20 minutes later that a 341 appeared. The driver looked nervous. Clissold Park had almost disappeared. Green Lanes no longer seemed part of a city. The bus sped up the slope towards Manor House – then after the crossroads we slowed down as if the driver knew he was in familiar territory. At the Salisbury the London Pride was off and the gents toilets weren’t open. The silent TV on the wall played a tape loop of Vladimir Putin sitting down at a table before at last the football results came in. In the end I hoped that the Steaua players had gone back to their hotel for Bells whisky miniatures, rather than searching for chips in the Highbury Vale fog.
I’ve always prided myself on my ability to catch a bus. It doesn’t usually matter how far I have to run, I always make it just in time. But yesterday I was defeated. Near the Kieser Training gym, at Mornington Crescent, I saw a 29 coming down the road and started a slow jog in preparation for the big sprint to the bus stop. Maybe it was because this was a bendy bus that I got it wrong – but I left the sprint too late. When I got to the bus stop the doors had closed and the driver ignored my ‘palms out’ gesture of possible negotiation.
As the bus pulled off I suddenly felt old. This just doesn’t happen to me. Then I made a crucial mistake. “I’ll wait for a 253” I thought to myself. But the 253 comes down from Euston along the parallel road next to the tube. By the time I’d worked this out I’d been waiting for 15 minutes. I decided to run down to Camden High Street to the next stop. But my legs had gone.
This morning I was sitting on the top deck of a no. 19 bus. Around Highbury Corner the conductor started to whistle the tune to Andrew Gold’s ‘Never Let Her Slip Away’. He whistled it from there all the way to where I got off near to the old Penny Black pub on Exmouth Market/Rosebery Avenue (can’t remember what it’s called now – something like Le Cafe Pretentious). I said to him “I haven’t heard Andrew Gold’s ‘Never Let Her Slip Away’ for about 20 years. Cheers for that.”
“Was it by Andrew Gold?” he said. “I just know the tune. I had no idea who it was by.”
“You should listen to it and learn to whistle the intro. It’s got these lovely off the beat organ chrods.”
“Thanks, I will,” he said.
Seemingly out of the blue, my friend Lee asked me yesterday if I knew that The Clash had recorded the London Calling album in Highbury. It’s the kind of anal-retentive conversational nugget I usually love to hoard away for a rainy day but on this occasion I was out analretentived. Apparently it was at Wessex Studios, at the old church on Highbury New Park. Maybe it’s St. Augustines. When quizzed Lee admitted he’d seen an article about it in the Independent a few weeks ago. But I feel a trick was missed in The Groundwater Diaries in terms of local history and the punk influence on hidden London.
What Lee didn’t tell me, and which I had to find out myself at the University of The Clash’s history archive, was the mention of Blackstock Road’s bus in the song ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’:
“Sing, Michael, sing-on the route of the 19 Bus
Hear them sayin’
How you get a rude and a reckless?
Don’t you be so crude and a feckless
You been drinking brew for breakfast
Rudie can’t fail”
The little print shop next to The Gunners pub has collapsed. For several days workmen* had been gutting the building and digging down into its foundations, presumably in a madcap attempt to burrow into the public bar of The Gunners and steal some valuable signed photos of ’71 double-winning skipper Frank McClintock. Blackstock Road was closed for a couple of days so the buses had to come down our road. On Monday morning, as I tried to confront the usual nappy shit, Weetabix globules and The Tweenies at full volume, some people looked down into our sitting room from the no. 19 bus and collectively let out a sigh of relief that they weren’t me.
* I use this term loosely – it was actually just a few blokes with digging equipment which they were obviously using for the first time.