Some things you come across in Paris are beautiful. Some are unusual. And some are just weird. I mean, what on earth is a perfectly good classic old 'Routemaster' bus doing painted an amazingly silky jet black and towering over my Lady Eiffel so menacingly?!
These buses are synonymous with London and a rather sad anouncement recently said that they are finally being all but withdrawn from service. Only a couple of lines will be kept going 'for the tourists'. But I'd say for the Londoners too.
There is an indescribable charm to these old beasts. There is just so much character oozing out of every fixture. The nose is irreplacable, with it's little driver's cabin sitting alongside the half-engine bonnet. The grill and headlights are unmistakable. And then there's the trademark open platform at the back with its strurdy pole where so many millions of communters over the decades have either enjoyed the open-air ride with the bicycles and pedestrians whizzing by, or have managed to hop aboard with a run and a leap, just as it was pulling away.
So different to the relatively personality-free red boxes we have today.
And then there is that other great difference: on the Routemasters there are two employees: the driver, and the 'conductor'. This is always funny when teaching English because in French conducteur means driver, so that confuses them. In English, as often happens when there was already a word for the French meaning, the new word has been perverted to mean something else, related, but not the same.
The conductor is the man or woman who has (or had, at least) this cool little machine which a little handle which would be whipped round, magically producing the appropriate ticket, which as a little kid always intrigued me.
Not forgetting the immortal trade mark cry of "Any more fares?! Any more fares?!"
If you look very carefully at these shots, maybe blowing them up by clicking on them, you can see one where Mr. Routemaster's bright red slip is showing - can you spot it?!
It's strange how we can get emotionally attached, and sometimes enslaved, to inanimate objects, if they have come to symbolise an important enough aspect of our lives such as our childhood, or our school days, or our relationship with a particularly place, even if they are technically completely outmoded.
Nostalgia. How many films have we seen the proud and stoic Routemaster featuring in? How many tourists have frissoned and delighted at their first site of the famous red London bus? And how many more will be sad if it brightens up those drab grey streets no more?
© Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free 2005