The night tube is here at last, but let’s not forget the special joys of London’s original nocturnal transport
Like literally everyone else who likes fun, I’m overjoyed by the fact that the night tube is finally opening on Friday. London having the world’s oldest underground railway system is great and everything, but all that splendid Victorian ingenuity is as helpful as a chocolate taxi when it’s 1am and you’re stranded two-and-a-half hours from home. I grew up in the London suburbs, so the sound of a tube station shutter sliding closed still brings me out in a cold sweat. ‘Oh, bad luck,’ that noise says. ‘You appear to have just missed the last tube. You do know what that means, don’t you?’
It means the night bus: a temporary nocturnal community of 80 people united only by a common destination. There will be somebody eating incredibly pungent fried food. There will be somebody sleeping covered in their own or somebody else’s piss. There will be a knackered NHS worker coming home from a late shift, sitting six inches from four lads who all keep saying the word ‘clunge’. There will be someone twitching against a fogged-up window who didn’t realise quite how incredibly high they were till they were exposed to the harsh LED lights of the N10. And of course there will be a driver, understandably pushing the engine to its limit so he or she can escape this mobile madhouse five minutes early.
In the club you were the king of the party: debonair, sophisticated, great at dancing. Now you are just one of the night-bus people, slumped in a seat trying to avoid the dribbly tide of vomit advancing and receding down the aisle.
I spent two years in my late teens doing this at least once a week, slogging from nights out to my bed in the sleepy south-west. At a conservative guess, I’ve spent about 300 hours on London night buses. I’ve passed out at London Bridge and woken up in Wembley. I’ve waited at Peckham for 45 minutes in the snow without seeing a single living soul. My earliest experiences of huge swathes of London were from the top deck of a night bus. I’ve formed lasting friendships up there, shuttling with other party commuters from the city to the sticks.
The night tube probably won’t be like that. It won’t have the claustrophobic camaraderie of the N87 barrelling through Battersea. Which is why I feel a weird sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that the night bus will never die. Some people seem to think that the night tube will make night buses redundant. TfL plans to run trains all night on 11 tube lines by 2021, including the DLR and Overground (Dalston to Shoreditch at 3am should be a laugh), making life easier and nights out better for millions of Londoners living in Hounslow and Hainault, Barnet and Balham.
But even after all those lines get 24-hour services at the weekend, the night tube will never be able to reach every single corner of the city. If you live in Sydenham, Ruislip, Roehampton, Muswell Hill or Beckenham, you’ll still be pretty much fucked after midnight. You’ll still face a long wait in the cold and an even longer rattle along sleepy suburban streets. And from now on, the people of the night bus will have something beyond that distant terminus to bring them together: bitching about all those jammy bastards who live on the night tube.
Want more ranting and raving? Read Kate Lloyd's column on why Pokémon is the new Tinder