Suggs: Dumping the Routemaster: now that's what I call madness

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The Independent Online

This week, the famous Routemaster bus will finally disappear from London's streets. I'm disgusted that they are going. I was a supporter of Ken Livingstone, London's mayor, but I feel let down by him over this.

Much of my early life was spent travelling on buses and I did a lot of writing on Routemasters while watching the world go by. I used to get a Red Bus Rover ticket - when you could still get them - and there was this fantastic feeling of freedom at being able to jump on and off as the whim took you. It was intoxicating, as you went from one place to another. You'd get one bus down to Ladbroke Grove, get on another to Acton and then get on another to Friern Barnet. There are places I would go to just because I liked the sound of the name. I rode to Clacton Ponds because of the name, and marvellous they were, too. And, somehow, there was a special thrill about going to the end of the line.

I can't deny I made a bit of mischief as well. When I was small, we had these little metal things we called "Blakeys" that you hammered into the heels of your shoes to stop them wearing down. We'd hang off the bar at the back of the bus with our heels dragging on the road and sparks would fly up off them. The inspector would always be furious and chase us off.

So many memories from my youth are tied up with the Routemaster. Initially, just being on the front of the top deck was a wonderful feeling. Later, you used to be able to smoke upstairs, although you didn't really need to buy any fags. There there was always such a fug that you would go through the equivalent of three or four just breathing on a 20-minute journey.

You used to pay half-fare if you were under 16 and you would have these debates with the conductor about whether you were young enough, but then there would be the issue of smoking. If they caught you smoking, you had to be over 16 and should be paying the full fare. Do I pay half or do I smoke? I know these aren't in themselves reasons for keeping the Routemaster, but I suspect I'm not alone in having these memories. They are part of the city, and it's a tragedy they are to be lost.

With a Routemaster, there's that whole thing of being able to chase after the bus and wondering if you will make it. Is there a lot of traffic ahead? Will it stop at the lights? These days I have a scooter that I mostly use. But I much prefer to use the bus than get the Tube. You have that view and that perspective.

When Madness first got together and we were rehearsing, we were all pretty much on the No 29 bus route and we could meet up on the bus. We would get the same bus by synchronising our watches and catch it in order along the route.

A couple of Madness albums, in particular our second album, Absolutely, were mostly written while travelling on Routemasters. The song "Day in the Town" was inspired by them. The lyrics are all about jumping on and off. I seem to think I wrote some of "Baggy Trousers" while I was on the bus.

Banishing the Routemaster is unnecessary. I can understand the needs of disabled people, but there is no reason to scrap all of them. Why can't we have one in every four? The engines are still going strong, so it makes no sense. And, quite apart from the teenage thrills of it, the advantage of being able to get on and off where you want in a city as busy as London is obvious. The Routemaster is one of those fabulous icons. I think it's very sad it will disappear.

Suggs presents 'Virgin Party Classics' at 6pm each Friday and Saturday on Virgin Radio

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