The Number 19 is an old-tyme doubledecker with a conductor who barely checks tickets and a set of back stairs that you’ll get thrown down if you don’t hear that same conductor whisper ”’old tight everyone” when the bus lurches off. It runs in a messy line from Finsbury Park, across the clotted centre of the city, down Charing Cross and over the bridge, until eventually the 19 terminates at something called the Battersea Garage, which may or may not also be a form of underground electronic music.
Never on time at the best of times, the 19 is prodigiously late when you need it, or when I need it, which is Friday afternoons at 1:00. The last time this happened was on my first day back in town, and after waiting twenty-five minutes with a few other scabby north Londoners, I made a great, stiff-upper-lipped outburst of disappointment by sighing louder than usual and lifting my arms up a few inches before dropping them by my sides.
I’m not supposed to be taking cabs, especially cabs with fixed prices, but five minutes later I was perched on the seat in the back of a spacious Black, watching the London streets roll by again (London streets!). I told the driver to head towards Farringdon Rd.
“And will that be the far end or the end closest to us, guv’nor?” he asked. And I said “End closest to us.” And I thought: “Oh yes. Thanks guv. Thank you.”