The National Express: Moving stories on the buses

With 17 million people travelling on National Express coaches every year, it's become a national institution

“Take the National Express when your life’s in a mess, it’ll make you smile,” goes “National Express”, the 1999 Divine Comedy hit single about the UK’s original cross-country bus company founded in 1972. “All human life is here, from the feeble old dear to the screaming child,” the lyrics continue. And it’s true: this Christmas, National Express will be ferrying (well, bussing) people across the country and it is the only national travel operator running services on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

That’s not to mention the 17 million people travelling on the National Express each year and its sister company, The Kings Ferry commuter services. The services are proving more popular than ever this year, with two new routes being launched in North Somerset on top of the existing 36 commuter services between Kent and London. The company’s customers are a  microcosm of British society. But what are the stories behind the faces you see sat across the aisle from you?

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a singer-songwriter called Bruno after I boarded a National Express bus at Heathrow airport shortly after midnight. While getting the bus is a rare occurrence for me, Bruno, who splits his music career between London and Newquay, has been using the National Express every week for about two years. “It can be an adventure from time to time, whether the bus is late showing up, your driver’s mood dictates your trip, you spot a fellow regular traveller on your bus or you sit next to a very friendly stranger who you might chat to the whole way to kill time.”

And chat we did, about anything and everything while a suited and booted auditor, on his way to Plymouth to spring a surprise visit on a store in the morning, snored next to me. While Bruno admits he is always impatient to arrive at his destination and frustrated with what he describes as “a lack of focus on the comfort of us long-distance travellers”, it’s the company’s reputation that keeps him coming back. “It’s one of the UK’s most iconic and economical means of travel for everyday people. The pride and the professionalism of the National Express always influences me. I think it’s an invaluable British institution.”

But for travellers such as Tymn, who starts his journey with a walk along the sleepy Weymouth harbour to a row-boat that takes him and his luggage across the river to the bus stop, the National Express is his only means of travel to the capital – and the journey really is as good as the destination. “Travelling up to London is like the pull of a huge magnet. The pulse raises in anticipation. It is an ‘experience’, not an ordeal,” says Tymn, who welcomes the calm of the coach since he no longer enjoys driving and finds the train too expensive and overcrowded, which he never experiences on the bus. “The coach gives you a stress-free view of both town and countryside. Coming back, I love being driven down Knightsbridge in my elevated ‘room with a view’, eye-balling all the swanky stores as we head west into the sunset.”

Convenience probably isn’t a word that many people associate with bus travel but for Tymn, it’s the point-to-point service and minimal cost that makes the National Express unbeatable. “Getting off at Hammersmith is exactly how a travel interchange should work. I can cross the road from the coach stop and be straight on to the London Underground and often be in north London before the coach has arrived at Victoria.”

Boarding the National Express for sightseeing and commuting purposes is one thing, but when money is tight, and you’re smitten with someone living 153 miles away from you, it can save your love life. “With me living in London on a graduate salary and Dan in Cardiff, bus travel is really the only affordable means of seeing each other as much as we do,” says Jenny, who met her boyfriend, Dan, on a night out in the Welsh capital shortly before graduating from Cardiff University and moving to London.

“I simply can’t afford to pay for expensive train tickets or run a car. I’d rather put up with coach delays and all the screaming babies in the world in exchange for a cheap fare.” The couple try to see each other every two to three weeks and take it in turns to travel between the two cities. “Making so many journeys is often noticed by National Express, too,” Dan says. “A recent promotion sees a traveller getting a free journey when they make a journey 10 times. Since I’m making the journeys anyway, that’s a nice bonus.”

It's the affordability of National Express that is another big grab for Celia, another twenty-something, who regularly travels by bus between Exeter and London. “Travelling by National Express means I have more money to spend on the weekends on dinners and drinks with my friends,” Celia says. “I’m not fussed about the time it takes to travel on the bus. For half the price of train travel, I don’t mind it taking double the time.”

The subject of time is an interesting one considering that our fast-paced, 24/7 society means that people are often impatient for time to pass, especially when it comes to travelling from A to Z. But the next time you find yourself glued to your smartphone on the way to work or catch yourself eye-balling the barista for your morning wake-up call or screaming internally because your train is severely delayed, perhaps consider these final lyrics: “Don’t just sit there feeling stressed, take a trip on the National Express.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape