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Page last updated at 09:07 GMT, Monday, 12 July 2010 10:07 UK
Meet the people who drive and use London bus number 36

By Robert Elms
Top Deck Tales, BBC Radio 4

Buses are the lifeblood of London, flowing through its often sclerotic arteries in an unknowable tangle of routes.

Robert Elms
Robert Elms

They take millions of people to school or work, night and day, occasionally or always, some going just a stop or three, a few all the way. Spend any time in this city of ours and you will develop a bus to call your own, a route which becomes part of your life, your bus.

Our bus for Top Deck Tales was the 36, New Cross to Queens Park, one of the longest, busiest and most varied routes in London. It links both sides of the river with the centre, and makes its way through a myriad of neighbourhoods.

Every bus has tales to tell, but the 36 is bursting with stories, as it is always bursting with people, who have made travelled from all over the world, only to find themselves on a journey on a London bus. We sat on the top deck and took in their tales as we rode across town.

Marcellin and Natasha Figaro at New Cross Gate garage

Marcellin: We both drive the 36. There are quite a few relationships between drivers - some in the open and some undercover. I saw Natasha on the road and I liked her. Then I approached her in the canteen and it all kicked off from there.

Bus drivers Marcellin and Natasha Figaro
Marcellin and Natasha Figaro met as number 36 bus drivers

Natasha: Most people take us for granted. Men in suits are the worst. You know, every single one of them rings the bell and it really winds you up. I think we should have a special bus driver day to remind people of what a difficult job we do. If drivers felt more appreciated they wouldn't be so grumpy, they only need a little bit of love!

Marcellin: We're looking forward to retiring soon to my native island, Nevis. I've built a house there and now my dream is complete.

Natasha: My dad is from Trinidad and my mum from Jamaica but I'll go anywhere in the Caribbean, me - as long as it's warm!

Sally Butcher of the Persepolis shop in Peckham

We've brought a little taste of Persia to Peckham. Because of the alliteration it was that or Pimlico and we went with Peckham. I am actually from Essex but I have a Persian husband.

Does Peckham deserve the reputation it has got?

Sally Butcher of Persepolis
Sally Butcher tries to make passengers on the bus smile

If you are talking about the artistic capital of London, the funky foodie capital of London and the most colourful place I have ever lived then, yes, it certainly does. But if you are talking about all the rubbish they write in the news then not all.

We sell "I love Peckham" T shirts and bags and things and it is my particular delight to try and make people on the bus smile because so many look miserable. I sometimes feel like waving at them but they just think I'm bonkers.

Junior Smart, of the Camberwell SOS Project for young offenders

I was one of those young kids, I had made a big mistake and I found myself in prison for ten years. Actually I was glad that I was sent down because I was dealing with so many drugs I could have created around 20 or 30 addicts. Many of my old associates died in the time that I was inside.

Junior Smart
Junior Smart takes the bus to visit schools and council estates

I decided to work for the St Giles Trust because I was so shocked by the numbers of young people turning to knives and guns and basically killing each other.

Do you think you have stopped people being in gangs, even saved lives?

I take the bus to go into council estates and schools and I might bring a crime victim with me and young kids bury their face in their hands and make declarations like "I ain't ever going to carry a knife again."

In the past four years, we have worked with over 400 young people and only 12 of them have gone back into prison over that time so I am proud that we are making such a staggering difference.

Richard Weight, author and historian, at the Oval Cricket Ground

I went to school just up the road in the early 1980s. Instead of getting on the games coach we used to climb through a hole in the fence, get on the 36 bus and come to watch county games. We used to have fun barracking the outfield players.

Richard Weight
Richard Weight used to take the 36 to the Oval Cricket Ground

One day a man kept insulting Robin Jackman, one of Surrey's great bowlers. Everyone laughed the first time but this happened all throughout the afternoon and sometime after tea Jackman had had enough.

He started striding over from the wicket up to the back of the stadium and the bloke suddenly realised that Jackman was going to hit him. So he legged it out of the ground.

By a wonderful coincidence a 36 bus just stopped the moment he ran out and it was the old Routemaster so he jumped on the back and as Jackman was shouting at him - he waved at him and shouted one more time, 'Jackman you are crap!'

Phil and Zav, on a night out in Vauxhall's 'gay village'

Phil: I'm a writer and he's a human rights lawyer. We come down here three times a week. This area used to be the great pleasure grounds of the 18th Century.

The Vauxhall Tavern's been here for decades and you have to see the drag shows on Sunday afternoons when they have the South London Action Girls society - SLAGs for short. But there are fantastic discos here too, my husband and I actually met on the dance floor.

Phil and Zav
Zav (left) and Phil take the bus to Vauxhall's nightlife spots

Zav: We're going from here to Tonker which specialises in big boys.

Like Tonka toys ?

Phil: Mmn - Giant babies. You get the occasional leather queen looking around and wondering what has happened to the other leather queens.

Zav: And there are bears - the big fat hairy men.

Phil: Yes we did get the bus here. Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, said anyone seen on the bus over the age of 30 is a failure in life and we embrace our failure don't we?

Hassan, tourist from Kuwait, on the Edgware Road

My family and all my cousins come to London on holiday for two months every May and June. I am not going to lie to you, we come down here every day. Sometimes we go out of town for a tour but at the end of the night we're always back on the Edgware Road, to sit smoking the shisha pipe - the hubbly bubbly. Apple or grape flavour are my favourites.

Hassan from Kuwait
Hassan enjoys the pleasures and delights of Edgware Road

Then we go for a little meal - some hummus and stuff in one of the Lebanese restaurants and you get to meet so many people.

Lots of pretty girls?

Aha, this is the point! I am telling you this is why we come to London! It is very nice, we like it. And the 36 bus is doing us a big favour. It's cheaper than black cabs and so easy with the Oyster card.

Top Deck Tales is on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 12 July at 20:00 and on the iPlayer afterwards.

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