No.15 heritage bus review
Have you ever seen one of those No.15 heritage buses they keep running for the bus spotters? I'm on one from the Tower of London to Trafalgar Square today. You don't even realise that it's a vintage bus at first. You look around for the big-yellow Oyster reader to beep your card down and it's not there, and then a conductor comes along and says take a seat, sir (he actually called me sir), and he says he'll come round and give you a ticket later.
Back in my youth we had to pay 10p to travel on the bus. We had to cough up a week's pocket money or walk to school (or bunk off). And we didn't have contactless cards or travelcards or any of that nonsense, either -- it was cold, hard cash. Paid upfront. But not to the driver -- he was too busy driving the bus. What they had instead was a weary but cheery-looking conductor holding a heavy typewriter-like contraption around his neck with a load of buttons and levers on it. It looked like a Charles Babbage Difference Engine, and he'd punch some numbers on the front and feed a little ticket out of the side. But this guy today has upgraded to a Star Trek-style tricorder and is walking up and down the aisle mumbling "Tickets, please" at the tourists, confusing the hell out of them.
The interior is still decked out like it was in the 1980s. The seats are a lot more comfy and plush than the ones we have today (and they've still got the original cigarette burns in them). The only thing missing is the smoke upstairs. When I was a kid that was where all the smokers sat: upstairs at the back. Your mum would never let you sit up there because that's where all the menacing hoodlums lounged around with their hats on back to front, with their legs hooked over the next seat. That was their kingdom. That was their 'hood' (I'm pretty sure that's the correct word). The back of the bus was a very scary place when you were eight years old, but I'm safe today. I'm not eight anymore (I'm nine). There's just a couple of Japanese tourists up here today and I can handle them.
It's also got the original open platform at the back. Obviously you're not allowed to stand on it while the bus is in motion, because you might fall off and die. The newer models have got a forcefield door wrapped around them to stop you doing something stupid, but with these early models you either hold on or die. We were obviously made of tougher stuff in the 1980s. If you fell off thirty years ago then it was all your fault for not holding on tight enough. But if you fall off now then it's always someone else's fault for not looking after you.
The route isn't too bad. It's like a mini-sightseeing tour, but it's nowhere near as good as route No.11. If you want a proper sightseeing bus then plump for the No.11 bus to Westminster. Because all the No.15 does is the Tower of London, The Monument, the side and front of St. Paul's, Fleet Street, the Royal Courts of Justice and the Strand. Then it stops outside Charing Cross station and turfs everyone off.
Note: if you catch one of the modern No.15s, rather than the old-style heritage ones, then it will continue on through Trafalgar Square to Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street -- a much better sightseeing route. But unless you're a bus-spotter and really love your old double-decker buses, I would still rather get the No.11.
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