100

Yemisi Blake

16 January 2015 – 28 September 2015

For over a century, motorised buses have appeared on London’s streets. They have come to be, perhaps, the most recognisable icon of London and an integral part of its landscape and culture.

Commissioned as part of Transport for London’s Year of the Bus celebrations, 100 is a poetic and graphic exploration of the bus. 100 comprises one hundred one-line poems, each offering a different perspective of life on the London bus – from the buses’ role in the First World War, to first generation Caribbean bus drivers in the 1940s, to first experiences, favourite routes, and contemporary experiences of travel. The artists viewed the bus is an example of public space made manifest through its function as a social meeting point, a series of fluid relationships which of which change from stop to stop.

At the outset, Bernard and Blake said:
“We imagine these relationships as an assembly diagram, each group interlocking with many others to create the shifting social textures of a bus journey. Usually these diagrams are used by engineers to show how objects physically fit together. We would like to apply this idea to the bus, its routes and people.”

Through 100 the artists have created a record of collective memories tracing over the city; mapping the networks and intersections between the city, the buses, drivers and passengers, both historically and today.

100 was developed through a research period that Bernard and Blake undertook in summer 2014 during which the attended a series of public open days organised London as part of Year of the Bus.

100 is on display in at North Greenwich Bus Station, Kingston Cromwell Road Bus Station and Walthamstow Bus Station from January 2015. An accompanying series of three posters can be seen on the London Underground network.

Explore the stories and inspiration behind 100 by clicking on the highlighted lines below.

1. Shell and shrapnel, the city falls silent.

2. Open air to everywhere.

3. 1959, it was like everything else was black and white and the buses were red.

4. Bussed to battle at the pace of butterflies.

Being on the B-type is a different way of looking at the world. Butterflies and bumblebees fly past you. Working with a 100 year old bus is like going back in time.
Tim Shields, London Transport Museum Curator.

During World War One, almost one-thousand B-type buses played an essential role in bringing troops to and from the front line. They were also used as makeshift hospitals and even pigeon lofts. Considered to be the first successful mass produced motor bus, prior to its WW1 service, 2500 B-types were carrying Londoners across the city. The vehicles, not built for combat, were capable of a top speed of 12mph and could carry 16 passengers inside and 18 on an uncovered top deck. However, the fleet sent to the front line were painted khaki green, had some adjustments for reinforcement and could carry 24 fully equipped infantrymen and their kit.

100 years on, London Transport Museum have marked the start of the First World War by honouring the unique contribution of hundreds of London bus drivers who went to the Western front with their buses. In doing so, the museum has restored a B-type Battle bus to operational order, and have toured it around the UK and Western Front locations in Belgium and France.

On 4th August, the day Britain first entered the war, we attended a wreath-laying ceremony at Merton Bus Garage. As part of the event, the restored B-type took members of the London Transport Old Comrades Associations on a short trip around the local area. The comrades, who had made their contributions during the following World War, had never ridden a B-type before and spent time reflecting on the experience of the previous generation.

We spoke to Comrade Iain Aitchison, who shared his experiences serving in WW2 and his career as a bus driver when returning to London.

5. Battersea Bridge to Sloane Square, £50 note for an 80p fare. He never changed.

At Potters Bar Bus Garage open day, there were many stall holders who travel from around the country selling photographs, models, publications and other bus memorabilia. We meet Edwin Kingsley from Wiltshire, who mainly sells bus photographs from 1910-1975. Edwin used to be a bus conductor on the number 19.
YB

‘If I had to choose one route, I think I’d stick to the one I worked on, the 19. Because you got a complete overlook of every class of person. In North London there were people who had to work hard for a living and then on the South-side there were people who had far too much money. I remember a chap who used to get on at Battersea Bridge and go to Sloane Square, and he’d always give me a fifty-pound note because he knew I didn’t have enough change in the float for an eighty pence fare!’

Images and audio © Yemisi Blake & Jay Bernard

6. Warm breath against cold glass, phone numbers wiped onto windows.

7. You don’t know me, but I sit across from you everyday, and your kids talk to my kids.

Image: Yemisi Blake & Jay Bernard

8. On the night bus are the other lives of people beside us; their other selves go out to meet our other selves.

9. This bus was once a tram, which was once a trolley, which was once a horse & cart. All along the same points in space.

10. Don’t impinge on my personal space! Don’t ask me intrusive questions!

11. We exchanged vows on an old Routemaster and spread the train along the lower­deck.

Inspired by a family who visited Stockwell Bus Garage Open Day. The parents had been married on an old Routemaster. They had brought their kids to see the buses that day.

12. Some people stand at bus stops waiting for non-existent buses.

13. The first thing I did when I arrived in London was jump on a routemaster.

This line was inspired by a conversation with a woman we met at Stockwell Bus Garage Open Day. Growing up in Brazil she studied English Literature and often saw references to London Buses, specifically Routemasters. When she arrived in London, a trip on a Routemaster was top of her list. She attended the open day with her partner, who is a bus driver and their two children.

14. Nah bruv, I love my grandma.

15. 1986, the instructor’s notepad slaps the dash/ I slam the brakes/ test my nerves against the skid pan.

In the summer we met Derek, General Manager of Stockwell Bus Garage. He described taking his bus driving test in his early 20s and how he rose through the ranks.

Video Source: School For Skids (1947)

16. Caribbean hands recruited for the motherland, navigating potholed streets, no gold in sight.

In response to the labour shortages after the Second World War, London Transport began recruiting staff from abroad. At the invitation of the Barbados Government, a recruitment drive was started in the Caribbean in 1956. This saw thousands of people emigrate from the Caribbean to settle in the ‘mother country’. British history, laws and culture would have been familiar to many of the migrants as most Caribbean education systems were based on the British model. For many who travelled, Britain had been portrayed as a land of wealth and fortune. However, arriving in London presented a very different reality. The war had scarred the city, life for Londoners was hard and prejudice was experienced widely.

‘There weren’t many black people with houses and there weren’t many white people who would rent to black people. Even though there were “To Let” signs outside, the owner would say the room had gone.’

– Chris Hope, recruited in Barbados as a bus conductor, 1961

It was through working for London Transport that many of the city’s Caribbean residents started to lay the foundations of family life in London, build social networks and claim a space in British society. Black bus conductors and canteen staff became a common site, and later bus drivers too. The sense of family and other social elements of London Transport helped to facilitate a welcoming space for the new arrivals. Staff days out, boxing clubs, cricket teams and beauty pageants all contributed to one of the most diverse working atmosphere in the country. Many Caribbeans who arrived in the 50s and 60s had planned to ‘go home’. However, the majority stayed, and second, and third generations have also built their working lives on London’s Buses.

‘Dad used to take me to the canteen at Thornton Heath bus garage on Saturdays because I liked the cherry pie there! I didn’t consider working for transport as a teenager. I wish I had now. I really, really like my job as a bus driver and look forward to going to work…
There are some miserable people out there, but I believe you can make your own day.’

– Deborah Dennis, bus driver, daughter of Desmond Dennis who worked for central distribution

17. As daylight fades, I reel blinds down, 29 becomes 221.

For a few years, I had to catch the W5 from the first stop on its route. I remember watching the driver sitting the cab, filling in a route card and reeling the destination blind down to Harringay to Archway, Sometimes they’d go too far and have to reel backwards or do another complete cycle.

Looping is a theme we encountered throughout our research process. From the physical journey of the buses, to our weekly schedules; old paper ticket rolls, to new stop announcements, the bus network is a series of cycles that brings together people and machines.

Image © Yemisi Blake & Jay Bernard

18. School bus shenanigans, backseat sliding, peering down the driver’s periscope.

During our research, we asked passengers to share their early memories of London buses. Lots of people went straight back to their school journeys and being mischievous at the back of the bus.

19. Folding tickets with phone numbers written on the back.

20. Sprinting for the last bus, the satisfaction of taking a seat, shirt sticking to your sweaty back.

21. Clippies clean cut from dark navy trim, peaked cap, boots and badge.

Clippie is a bus slang word for female conductors.

Source: Clippies Aka Women Bus Conductors 1941

22. The smoking street seen through a diamond.

During WW1, the windows of London Buses were covered with wooden sheets to stop them breaking from the impact of bomb blasts. Diamon apertures were used to allow passengers to see the streets and where they would need to alight. Often driving in darkness, the drivers were also unable to see very well and would ask passengers where they were and call the location out so the whole bus could hear.

Source: London Transport Museum

23. Small wings spread across the battlefield.

24. In memory of the men of Merton Garage, who gave their lives in the great war.

Inspired by a commemorative plaque at Merton Bus Garage.

25. You are complete/ you are growing/ you could be magnificent.

26. I dreamed I saw Joe Clough last night, turning the corner, out of sight.

Joe Clough was the first black bus driver in London. His name happens to have the same number of syllables as Joe Hill, a Swedish labour organizer eulogised in a beautiful song by the same name, so we switched them around. The version I know best is sung by Paul Robeson and goes “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me / said I but Joe you’re ten years dead / I never died said he / I never died said he.” Whenever something is difficult, desperate or unfair, it becomes less so when you think of men like these.

Source: London Transport Museum Blog

27. We run about 120,000 miles per week.

28. Yo, driver! Open the doors.

Image Yemisi Blake & Jay Bernard

29. Round the houses and back again.

30. Running everyday from early morning to late night.

31. Pull the cord, press the button, bells punctuate the route.

32. A misplaced step traps a skirt, a surprise sight. Screams everywhere.

33. Gotta be the front window seat, man.

34. Tree branches rattle against the glass.

35. White strikes of lightning divide the view.

36. Can we pause for a moment to reflect on how much that chatupline has failed

37. 6th August 2011, empty shelters, footsteps all the way.

On the day of the London Riots, thousands of people walked home from work, school and other locations, passing bus shelters on their way. The city’s buses travel night and day, through the toughest weather conditions. It takes an unprecedented event to bring them to a halt.

38. The top deck is a radio station of overheard conversation.

39. A takes about 4 hours, B about 3/4 of a day, C nearly 24 hours.

40. Please do your sightseeing unobtrusively.

41. I'll be honest, I prefer to push in than queue.

42. OI BRUV, I SAID BRUV

43. Mind how you go!

44. We’re here in winter when the barmy breezes blow.

Inspired by from a comical song about an old London bus conductor by variety performer Norman London

Source: Norman Long 1936

45. At the end of my shift my clipper coughs commuter confetti.

46. Flashing lights between passing drivers.

47. On summer scorchers, I let the bus slide, bring out the sandals.

48. Then she learned the English verb ‘to go’, and had no trace of nerves.

At one point during this project, we wanted to put all the one-line poems together, creating a map of experiences and ideas, counter to a purely practical map showing locations and routes. The two examples above were for Walthamstow, where we envisioned filling one of the stops with five such panels. After some technical considerations, such as the fact that we couldn’t use opaque vinyl, we ended up going with contravision, a form of vinyl that still allows clear sight through the windows, thereby allowing us to spread across more of the station.

49. This roof is going to be frying pans.

50. In normal times the great red monsters are so much part of the landscape.

51. Burst shopping bags send tomatoes tumbling down the aisle.

52. She leant her head on the shoulder of a stranger.

The number of times people fall asleep and inadvertently lean against someone they don’t know. The reactions are manifold, but many more people tolerate it than you’d expect. The exhausted commuter, the random stranger – part disturbed, part touched.

53. White Christmas snow, cold waits for no man.

54. My other bus is a B-type.

55. Open top tells a different story.

56. Playground conversation spread across the back seats.

57. Is this seat wet or cold?

58. My mum could tell you all the routes to the moon.

59. 29, 10 min, 341, 4 min, I’ll be home by 7.

60. Searching for my oyster card/ I perform the autopat down it’s always in the last pocket.

61. Yes! My rucksack needs a seat of its own.

62. Do your doors open outwards?

63. Can the ten tonne giant tilt 28 degrees?

Inspired by archive footage of the tilt tests that buses have to undergo before being deemed road worthy.

Source: Bus Tilt Tests 1949

64. Sometimes I wave at strangers, just to see if they’ll smile.

65. Frankly, I can’t see what we could possibly have in common.

One of the inevitabilities of working with people and the idea of social space is that you will come across those who find your work – and sometimes you – incomprehensibly foreign. During our first bus garage open day, I got talking with a man about his vast model bus collection. Many of the visitors to the open days are passionate enthusiasts and have been all their lives – collectors, archivists, friends of the London Transport Museum. When I suggested that we exchange contact details in the hope that we might continue the conversation, he looked at me and said these exact words, “Well, I can’t see what we could possibly have in common.” Hasn’t that run through all our minds when scanning our fellow passengers, especially when they seem strange or unsociable or unhappy. But there we are, everyone together, with as much right as anyone else to go about our business.
JB

66. From St. Paul’s take a number 13 bus (on weekdays only) to The Monument 5 minutes.

How things have changed – a poster advertising a short story as its best asset. It was intriguing how many of these posters emphasised reading, writing and literary culture.

67. The 140, the 90, maybe the 295, 266, the 207. That’s my local area now.

68. Wanna help? Leave me alone and change the way you think.

I got talking to Josh Dennis who is consultations officer for TFL. He also happens to be a wheelchair user. We got talking about his work, his experiences of the buses. In a moment you couldn’t make up, a man who was walking past suddenly jumped into the conversation and proceeded to tell Josh that he knew someone else who had “trouble walking”. Luckily, Yemisi managed to distract him immediately, but it was a good example of how infrastructural change that allows independence for disabled passengers must be balanced with an understanding that unsolicited acts of “kindness” where none is needed can be very annoying.
JB

69. The paved roads that day were so treacherous to motor traffic as to make the drivers who had to use them tremble with anxiety.

70. A line of dominos stacked by traffic lights.

Domino is busman slang for a slow driver.

71. Our Gala Charm Girl rides the 88.

In 1971, the first Miss Great Britain beauty contest was televised. This sparked a popular trend for all sorts of beauty contests in the early 1970s. One of several staff competitions held by London Transport was the Gala Charm Girl contest. The competition was one of the events at L.T.’s annual sports day held at Osterley. In 1977, there were 60 entrants. The competition was won by Jamaican-born 23-year-old Pauline Bartley, who worked as a conductor on route 88 running from Stockwell garage.

Source: 20 Century London Website

72. 9 is the only 1 left.

73. How do I know I’ve lived? Not a day goes by when my hands aren’t covered in engine oil.

74. Yesterday it was 42 degrees in this workshop.

75. Pushing on the pedal or punting a penalty, I’ve got a sweet right foot.

76. If we can’t kiss, we can’t hold hands.

Not too long ago, I was seated behind a couple who were kissing softly and teasing each other. At one point, one of them withdrew a bit, so the other said “if we can’t kiss, we can’t hold hands.” It struck me because it both expresses and withdraws affection, is both a tease and barbed with insecurity. Divorced of its context, it suggests a slippery slope – an awareness that if one ordinary thing suddenly becomes socially unacceptable, then it becomes easier for the next ordinary thing to become taboo as well. I don’t know what the relationship between the two was like, but that line was intriguing, and it said a lot.
JB

77. What date in Trafalgar Square does this bus travel to? And does it come back to the present again?

78. Don’t envy the motorist. Become one yourself.

79. Those London Tigers really can fly.

London Transport used to have a staff flying club. The club emblem was a tiger head with London Transport Tigers written around it.

It had over a thousand members, owned three planes. Staff could learn how to fly and gain their pilot’s license. The air base was open to everyone, including women and families too, 6 days a week.

Source: Flying Busmen 1949

London Transport used to have a staff flying club. The club emblem was a tiger head with London Transport Tigers written around it.

It had over a thousand members, owned three planes. Staff could learn how to fly and gain their pilot’s license. The air base was open to everyone, including women and families too, 6 days a week.

Source: Flying Busmen 1949

80. Be watchful when waiting for the W10.

81. She was built when steel was short, now we speak of beautiful concrete.

We started our project with an interest in the bus as a social space, where people from all walks of life traverse the city, moving in and out of each other’s stories, observations and histories. However, focusing on the vehicles quickly lead us to other parts of London’s bus history, such as architecture and design.

Our first research trip was a visit to Stockwell Garage Open Day. The garage was constructed in April 1952. At the time, there was a shortage of steel so concrete was used instead of steel girders that had previously been the norm. This constraint lead the architects to design a 120m long roof, supported by ten shallow two hinged ribs, leaving no need for pillars, and therefore an unobstructed parking space that could originally hold 200 buses. The innovative and unique design has since become a grade II listed building.

The open day attracted hundreds of people, and the open design of the garage gave the whole event a feel of an arcade. We set up a table amongst the rows of buses that were on show, and invited people to respond to a series of bus questions that lead on to full blown conversations.

I came today because?
What is your earliest memory of a bus?
What’s your favourite part of the bus to sit in?
What’s your favourite bus route?

We meet bus spotters, parents who had passed on their passion for buses to their children, a couple who were married on a London Bus and a woman whose first experience of the Routemaster was through studying English Literature in Brazil. It was our first day, and in a few hours, we’d already collected such a diversity of voices that the challenge of how to these conversations became apparent.

We decided that the driving force for our project should be stories, experiences and memories that bus staff, passengers and enthusiasts shared with us.

Image: Yemisi Blake & Jay Bernard

82. A touch of the switches sets the brushes spinning and the water spraying.

83. To touch one’s brakes was disastrous, and to attempt a high speed madness.

During the Regent Street cavalcade, we spotted a group of people crowded around a bus with its engine cover.

84. She braved the fires of wartime London/ only to end on a bonfire of peace.

85. If it doesn’t pass this 77 point basic check, it’s not leaving this depot.

86. Back seat, bottom deck, warmed by the engine.

It’s very helpful when independent, local filmmakers produce work that speaks directly to what you’re creating. Night Bus (2014, dir. Simon Baker) is about that preternatural beast, and introduces us to some of those unknowable but familiar figures who travel in the early hours. My favourite scenes were between two young Muslims, humorously speculating on what kind of hairstyle might be tucked under her hijab, and an emotionally tense scene between two women on the upper deck, nestled together, related, but being torn apart by circumstances. One of the women is Sophie Anderson, who starred in Break My Fall (2011); I enjoyed her wounded performance in conjunction with the more comic scenario happening just below. This location on the bus – the back seats at least – as a place of relative privacy, for sweetness and anger.
JB

87. Is that Shillibeer I see?

George Shilibeer designed and built two London omnibuses at his workshops in Bloomsbury, after seeing the success of the hail-and-ride omnibus services in Paris. Launched the first London bus service from Paddington to Bank on 4 July 1829. His success was quickly imitated by other operators. Unable to compete, Shillibeer went bankrupt and spent time in prison for debt.

Source: London Transport Museum

220px-George_Shillibeer

88. Tree branches rattle against the glass.

89. Oooh, I love it! I just love writing about buses!

90. For years the horses jostled with motors for the slim streets.

91. Oh my god! It’s the voice of the bus!

Emma Hignett is a British voiceover artist, best known as the voice of London’s buses. We met Emma during the Year of the Bus Regent Street Cavalcade event and interviewed her about how decided on the accent of the buses, the rhythm, and her experience meeting passengers and travelling in the city.

92. The W3 pictures a panorama of London/ mum points out Big Ben.

93. I’ve told you my whole life story and we’ve only just met.

94. As a kid I’d try and sit on every seat as fast as I could.

Is there a more literal representation of how we overlap when using public transport than the bus seats themselves? Midway through the project we played with the idea of designing moquettes (the material that covers the bus seats), that would be based on conversations, patterns and importantly the idea of looping and repetition. How many times have we sat in the same seat on the same bus without realising it? How many times we do we share the same route to work and back with people we never notice?

Image: Yemisi Blake & Jay Bernard

95. I’m the third generation to steer this wheel through the streets of Streatham.

After the Regent Street cavalcade, I was heading home and about to get on the 109 in Streatham. As I boarded the driver noticed my red Year of the Bus t.shirt and called out to me. For the next five or six stops he told me all about his experiences as the son of a bus driver who was himself the son of a tram driver, and all three of them – son, father and grandfather – drove the same route through Streatham.
JB

96. You see your bus driver in the supermarket. So you nod, smile or say hello?

97. Meet the artist, an ultramodernist. He pours the paint on because it’s effective and quick.

98. Running my fingers along the edges of saver tickets. No food for the week ahead.

We got the idea of using red, white and black from these bus saver tickets – something about the clean lines and unexpected shape – and some of the early posters we saw at the very first open day in Stockwell. At one point we considered blue, yellow and red, just like the Travel Enquires poster, but somehow it wasn’t as strong.

 

99. Sometimes it takes my whole body weight to wind the crank.

100. That cloud of deodorant is heading for me.

Comments

  • OrigMusic ‏@OrigMusic
    Great art / poetry Exhib at #walthamstow bus station. #e17. Panels of writing to celebrate 100 years of the bus

  • Aisling ‏@_AislingF
    Check out the 100 Project #AOTU by @yemisiblake and @Brrnrrd @aotulondon #walthamstow

  • Bartley Rock ‏@bartleyrock
    Dear @aotulondon, please keep the ‘100’ project at Walthamstow Central bus station for as long as possible, it’s beautiful and uplifting :)