Ah, destination blinds, now there’s something to really set the vintage bus enthusiast’s pulse racing. Not destination signs, note – in the old bus game it has to be blinds.
When I drove RM1353 up to Edinburgh 11 years ago (only from Newcastle – RM737 would later come all the way from London) one of the first things I did with this amazing new 45-year-old toy was check all the destinations on the front roll. God that was fun. There were – and still are – quite a few, as you can see.
It was like a visiting a compressed universe of memory and association at my own pace. Each twist of the brass handle brought a fresh moment of suspense and revelation. And because they were ultimate destinations they darted all over the city, though concentrated in the west, centre and south.
Many were places I’d been so often they felt like part of an inner map – Notting Hill Gate (home), Shepherd’s Bush, Marble Arch, Victoria, Oxford Circus, Blackfriars…
There was even the weird realisation that maybe certain memories could relate to this actual vehicle. Maybe that time when (aged 11) I bought a tortoise in Shepherd’s Bush market and took it home on the top deck of an 88? It was a route I used a lot. Or going to Loftus Road to watch Chelsea play QPR? Other names were from the outer limits, like Mitcham (Cricketers Arms), Merton Garage… most mysterious.
For years a lot of these had existed not as actual places but only collections of letters and sounds. Until I was about eight the BDY after CRICKLEWOOD didn’t mean BROADWAY, it meant BODY. It wasn’t a corpse I pictured but something huge and nebulous and oddly benign.
With these proper old blinds, a lot of the pleasure comes from the unique texture, feel, sheen and even smell – they are made of paper and linen, and surprisingly durable if you keep water off them.
On the white end strip is printed an alphabetical code to identify which box the roll belongs in: it’s NN for ultimate front or back destination (just visible at base of top picture), KK for the side panel above the platform, LL for front intermediate. You even get date and abbreviated place of manufacture. Does AL stand for Aldenham or is that AD? Someone must know.
From service bus to dream bus. Our wedding couples get their own bespoke sign – sorry, blind – for the occasion and to keep afterwards as a special reminder.
These days the blinds might not be paper and linen but they still look pretty good as long as you stick to Johnston typeface. It has been used continuously on London buses and tubes for more than 100 years. Like Routemasters, it has certainly stood the test of time. Ultimate destination? Now you’re asking.
© Sam Phipps/The Red Bus