The London Years: The night bus (3 of 20)

“What’s your name”, he asked and when I told him he turned around to his friend and said “Why are all Sofias like that? Look at her eyes, you girls are trouble”. Which Sofia burned in his mind – I wondered – riding the N29 from Euston to Wood Green.

Don’t know what’s going on? I’m leaving London soon so this is one of my 20 London stories – a celebration of 20 years of my life here.

Route N29, Arriva London, HV117, LJ13FBN

Back in the times before the night tube, uber and (admittedly) a better income – there was no avoiding the night buses. This is all probably before I got accustomed to the idea of going out and concluding the merriment earlier. Greek culture being a late culture, it was quite a shock to see people already drunk and going home at ten in the evening – a time that back in Athens I’d just be arriving to dinner with friends.

I’m not a big drinker. Maybe we should start there. It was always difficult to adjust to the UK’s drinking culture and this was a particular problem with most jobs. Socialising was for Fridays at the pub and even though I stood my round, I was always asked why I didn’t seem to be drinking as fast as everybody else – nursing my half pint for the evening. I prefer going out to dinner or coffee (I am mediterranean after all) and when I do go out drinking I look for a cocktail bar. Which, I’ve learned, can be a pretentious preference in Old Blighty, because the British class system frame of reference just gets applied to everyone, whether you grew up here or not.

Since at most times I was sober then, it was a particularly interesting people watching experience to be riding the night bus. Waiting around along with the drunk, the rowdy and the plain exhausted for a ride home which is somehow not as entertaining without the benefit of a few pints. At times there was singing. The smell of fried chicken or vinegar (from the fish and chips, obviously). And there was banter – so much banter – between the lads and the girls. I remember very few angry people – even though they were there. The night bus – at least the way I remember it – was the place where people tried to squeeze a bit more fun out of their evening.

I must have taken the night bus with friends or boyfriends sometimes but the times that stick in my mind are the times I was alone. Out with some friends or out on a date and then a walk to the bus stop. Don’t ask me why, but at most times a little bit melancholy. It felt like I was doing a quintessentially London thing while not exactly enjoying it. Which, to be honest, can be said about a lot of London things.

There was this party – I think it was around 2013 or 2014. There usually was some drama with a boy but I seem to think that on this occasion I was single and got invited to a party somewhere around Euston Square. There were Greeks, so many Greeks, some people I knew and some people I didn’t. I remember loads of rooms, a tiny terrace where I had a cigarette. I remember speaking to people but I have no idea what we said or who they were.

I left late – this was rare but I do recall this need to stay out very late, to feel that I had fun, had a drink, partied. I hadn’t. But I needed the pretense. I walked across the road and waited for the N29 – that and the 243 being the two most useful London bus routes I know, always having been a North London gal.

I sat upstairs – front row, left side. That’s always my preferred seat. A few years before that, sitting in the same seat, I had met a French boy in a spectacular way. He came on the bus at Angel, we made eyes at each other, he waved at me as he was leaving and we both smiled. We saw each other the next week, same time, same bus, same stop. I was fully turned in my seat waiting to see if he would come, he run upstairs, saw me and came straight to me breathless. “I almost missed the bus and I was worried I’d missed you” he said and I laughed. He had dimples. He was smart. It was the most underwhelming love story ever because even though we had a movie worthy meeting we had zero chemistry. He’s the only person I sometimes miss having a drink with – so smart and such incredible energy.

Anyway, back to the N29, two guys were sitting behind me joking around in Greek and I was still buzzing from the party. I turned around and surprised them a bit. I only remember one of them clearly, he struck me as perceptive, intelligent. He had this boyish face and he spoke up, freely, no funny business, just plain socialising with a random stranger.

We had about 45 minutes to kill till the last stop and we exchanged stories – where we studies, what we did in London, how long we had been there – this being the obligatory conversation for every immigrant meeting another immigrant. And he had a Sofia and I never asked what she did for him to be so obviously impressed by that woman – there was a thread that went from his head back to a Greek city in the North where she was from. He made my night, it was honestly the only joyous and genuinely fun night bus ride I remember – when I was not merely the observer. But he had a story and I failed to get it.

London is like that. You bump into people a lot and then you lose them, you forget, somehow you never see each other again. Like the night bus crowd. Friends for 45 minutes and then… you might always wonder or you might just forget.


My #20LondonStories

  1. Grexit/ Brexit 
  2. The way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach
  3. The night bus 
  4. Words save our lives… sometimes 
  5. The rest is noise 
  6. How not to bite your nails in the Officials’ Box 
  7. Always have a sister 
  8. Greek London 
  9. This green and pleasant land 
  10. The bridge of aspiration 
  11. The knight in well travelled armor 
  12. Carpets in the toilet and other adventures in housing
  13. Moments in Art 
  14. The NHS hunger games 
  15. In nocte consilium
  16. The friends we found, the friends we lost
  17. Blogging tips for beginners 
  18. Lord of Gondolin, Bane of Gothmog, mighty beater of his headboard, conqueror of the slide, aka our child
  19. γνῶθι σεαυτόν
  20. How to leave London

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