I have a love hate relationship with buses, I like when they come on time and I really like getting the upstairs drivers seat. I’m not so keen when they get stuck in traffic, and I can feel rage rising within me when people keep on pressing the bus bell, even though it has been pressed already and the bus is stopping. I also struggle to deal with bus stop etiquette, or should I say the lack of bus stop etiquette. For a nation renowned for our orderly queues we seem to be very bad at getting on buses. I was waiting for the 158 at Stratford bus station the other day and nearly got crushed in the stampede when it arrived. I was particularly shocked by the sweet old lady who nearly took my eye out with her elbow as she boarded. When I finally made it on to the bus, I headed upstairs to find that the drivers seat had already been taken, so I sat a few seats back and glared at the back of the occupants heads willing them to move from my favorite seat. The bus made it’s way slowly through Stratford and headed towards Leyton, the polite electronic bus lady announcing each stop as we approached them. I was gazing out of the window waiting to hear the bus lady tell me my stop was next, when I realized the bus hadn’t been moving for a while. It had stopped in Leyton near the Antelope pub and a fair few people were elbowing their way on and off. The traffic in front wasn’t moving either so it looked like it would be a while before we’d be on our way. Trying to decide if I should just get off and walk the rest of the way, I looked out of the window again and immediately got distracted by the beautiful building that was looking back at me through the window.
The building in question, Etloe House, was once home to Cardinal Wiseman, the first Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. I’ve walked past it hundreds of times but never really stopped to look at it properly. There’s a large tree directly behind the bus stop, so my view of the white stucco house was partly obscured by the still bare branches. I think that’s why it grabbed my attention, it looked eerie with the dark branches in front and late afternoon grey sky behind. I’m sure if I had passed it as a child I would have been convinced Etloe House was haunted, no doubt I would have seen its castle like outline every time I closed my eyes and screamed for my parents. I wonder what local kids think of it, do they see this grand old house and make up stories about it as they pass by? or does it simply blend in to the mixed architectural landscape we have in this corner of London, is just another building to them, special but ordinary all at the same time.
The traffic cleared and the bus eventually moved away, I could see the house for a while longer but as the bus continued on its route the house vanished in to the distance. I got off and walked home past St Saviours Church and started thinking about some of the other lovely old buildings we have in and around Walthamstow. The Ancient House and St Mary’s in the Village, the old Warner family residence at the bottom of the high street, the dog track, Alms Houses, and the big houses that have long since been turned in to flats along Hoe Street and Wood Street. All of these buildings are just part of the backdrop of E17, blending in because we are used to seeing them. But, when you stop and think how much history they have seen, and the stories they could tell, you realize just how remarkable they are. So I’ve decided, the next time I’m on a bus I won’t let my self get bus bell rage and I’ll try not to let the elbows bother me. I’m going to look out at the windows and doors that line the streets, day dream about those that once lived behind them, and marvel that these grand old buildings have survived to tell their tales.