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Tuesday, 17 December 2019

When the present is unspeakable, give me the warm glow of nostalgia – every time.

The 447 bus that has maintained a close hold on my affections for over 60 years 

I am still not free to talk about the shit-storm that has enveloped my Sherlock The Musical enterprise. And that, largely, accounts for my silence over the past few months. Once upon a time we were a happy creative band dreaming up a musical in a pub. It was so easy. We hardly even bothered to agree terms. That was our first mistake. But we got it off the ground, launched it, sat and enjoyed the rapturous applause of packed houses… And now look at us: no one of us talking to the other – except surreptitiously or through lawyers. No money coming in. Just bitterness, feuding, accusations and legal threats flying like wind-blown leaves across an empty stage. Cast members hurled aside on a whim. Remind me never to go near a theatre again – at least not as a writer. And I may well be saying the same about the fair city of Cologne in due course. These things can leave such a bitter taste in your mouth.

Some time soon, when the lawyers have decided how to proceed, I will be free to talk about it in detail. Right now, I am withdrawing into nostalgia.

I found this model on eBay and had to have it. The London Country Bus service 447 served the tiny little world I grew up in, in darkest Surrey, from birth to age 6. Never mind what this model says about going to Woldingham and Caterham. That’s simply wrong. This bus served Reigate, Redhill, Meadvale and Merstham. I know: I lived in all four places. Later I went to school at Caterham and took the 411 bus there, term after term for seven years, and it was a double-decker. The 447 was my bus, for my neighbourhood.

But I forgive the model-makers. They got the number right, and that's what matters right now. I have never forgotten the numbers – four four seven – nor eradicated their consoling cadence from my mind. And whenever I think of them I see in my mind’s eye this beautifully compact vehicle in all its holly-green glory. I hear the gentle purr of its engine, the swish of its tyres, but most of all I see the welcoming yellow light that illuminated so many a night-time fog, that hove cheerily into sight on so many frosty evenings. I remember how I stood, Sunday after Sunday when church was over, bare legs shivering below the hem of a cold mackintosh. And I remember clambering eagerly aboard to be enveloped in a warmth, a fragrant smoky warmth, that matched anything we ever cooked up in our own draughty living-room.

In those days – I’m talking about the 1950s – there were a number of public spaces that offered more heat, more colour, more comfort, certainly more diversion, than the homes most of us grew up in. There was the cinema, of course; there was the pub – although that was a pleasure reserved uniquely for adults – and there was the bus, especially the single-decker London Transport bus, red or green. To settle into those firm, upholstered seats, to reach out and grasp the heavy, chrome-plated rail of the seat in front as the tightly fitted doors closed and we swung away from the kerb, was to revel in a rare kind of luxury. A memory to hold close and cherish.

So now I have this beautiful model on my window-sill. I am managing to ignore the incorrect destinations and concentrate on the numbers. Four four seven. A magical combination; music to my ears.

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