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Memoir inspired by the route of the no. 12 bus in South London

23rd March 2020

Between the Stops by Sandi Toksvig, memoir inspired by the route of the no.12 bus in South London.

‘some of the greatest trips lie on our own doorstep’Memoir inspired by the route of the no. 12 bus in South London

I have a deep-seated affection for the no.12 bus which transports the South Londoner “up West”, to wit to Oxford Circus. Now, it starts at Dulwich Library but in my youth it would plough further to and from the suburbs and I would hop on it at Horniman Museum and get off at my school in deepest Sydenham. It’s a route I know (knew, I suppose) well and therefore I was delighted to come across this memoir.

I listened to it on Audible and had the pleasure of the author reading it herself. It is poignant and very funny in parts, truly engaging and perceptive. You join the author at the first stop at Dulwich Library and follow her delightful meanderings as she actively and metaphorically hops on and off the bus. There are the people she meets on the bus, the crumbs she has to endure from her neighbours’ snacking, the music blaring, the stabbing, the wacky conversations… all beautifully dovetailed with memories from her childhood and teenage years.

It painfully comes through how, as a child and young woman, she felt quite lonely after she came from the USA to the UK and has little positive to say about her experience at boarding school. Her time at Cambridge University was little better. It was a true battle for her to come out without castigation and I am glad to say she is now happily married. She has  clear thoughtfulness and intelligent responses to events and people.

Her passion for women’s equality is palpable, and time and again she will reflect on the iniquitous place that women still continue to have in society, evidenced by the singular lack of blue plaques dedicated to women. Similarly there is a depressing dirth of roads named after them. Men in contrast have had to achieve very little in order to be celebrated. But that is an on-going story.

The format allows her to ponder all kinds of things and feed in delightful snippets of her own history. A trip to Sudan left a deep mark on her, a trip with John McCarthy in a boat was illuminating (sea sickness was a thing). Famous people (some of whom she recognises) pass through the pages; the vagaries of hosting Bake Off are entertainingly described and there is a wonderful and jaunty amble through the history of South London, with innumerable well-researched anecdotes. Elephant & Castle probably didn’t derive its name from a mispronunciation of ‘Infanta de Castilla’ (disappointingly something probably much more pedestrian lies behind the nomenclature). Goose Green (yes, probably geese were assembled there), through Peckham (did Boudicca venture through Peckham Rye?), on to Camberwell and Lambeth (there is evidently some history of lambs being brought to market here) and on up to Oxford Circus – there is history aplenty and a plethora of curiosities. In the Victorian era much of this part of London was still pretty rural which is hard to imagine in the 21st Century. There is SO much to see and explore from the top (front right seat) of the no.12 bus as it rattles along its 12.4 km route.

A joyous and uplifting memoir, poignant and sad in parts, that I am truly sad has come to an end. I just wish my review could do justice to the curiosities, observations and humour that the author has brought to the prose! I now feel a little bereft not to have her charming and dulcet tones on tap. Enjoy! A great book if you are contemplating a visit to this part of London or have ever hopped on (and off) the no.12!

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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