Monday, 31 May 2010

Ants In My Pants

I have just returned from a school where there was an explosion in the ant population. They were everywhere.
"It's ever since we started this recycling lark," said the Head. "They like the scraps"
This cannot have been on the Government's mind when they set out their green agenda.

Now, here I am driving up the M6. Every few junctions I have a tickly feeling somewhere towards my rear end. I am thankful that they are not the biting red ants.

Honest Joe

"How are you?" I overheard a lady bus driver asking Joe, another school bus driver.

"Bloody terrible."

"And how are you, Sylvia?"

"Bloody terrible too." The bus proceeded to rock with laughter.

How refreshing I thought. It beats the usual insipid half truths people tell. 'Notbad, so so, OK and quite good' are cases in point and you usually have to take it as the opposite.

I wish more people would be forthright and say bloody brilliant or bloody awful. The world would be a better place.

Bus Company Owner's Daily Troubles

The immortal Scots comedian Rikki Fulton once wrote in his autobiography 'Is It That Time Already':
"Catch Twenty-Two...highlighted the daily difficulties ordinary people had to bear on certain bus routes." For the bus company proprietor, catch twenty-two seems to be a daily occurrence. The quandries that they face are usually out of their control.

This was not so with a local owner who ran into difficulties last week. Obviously deciding to get away from bus duties, he climbed a ladder equipped with a chainsaw with the aim of lopping a branch off a tree. Unfortunately he overbalanced and came crashing down, breaking his leg in the process.

To rub salt into the wound, a driver who was passing on a school run, saw him lying on the grass next to the road and assumed he had fallen asleep in the sunshine. He drove past.

I don't think he will be getting a Christmas bonus this year.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Travel Sickness On Trains? Naah. No Way.

Being a fairly experienced bus driver, I feel I am qualified to talk about travel sickness, having seen most forms of it. Train travel I thought was immune from this sort of behaviour.

How wrong can you be?

The wholesome Edinburgh ladies sitting at my table were hoiking back the bottles of German lager as they competed for space with their large laptops. But they were not the problem. It another large lady who had boarded the train at Peterborough.

She sat two seats in front of me. I watched her get up, sit down, get up, sit down as if she had ants in her pants. Finally she stood up and made a determined move for the aisle. As she came closer, she suddenly raised her hand to her mouth. Had she forgotten something?

Of course not. When she was level with my table, she chundered. All over my shoulder. Maybe like a bird shitting on a shoulder, this could be viewed as good luck. We shall see. At the moment I am only thinking about the cleaning bill.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Teacher Surveys Backfire

"What was the best part of the trip?" The teacher at the Glasgow school asked one of the 11 year old girls.


"Was it the rivers or the flying through the trees of zip wires?"

More silence.

"Or was it the food and the beautiful countryside?"

"Nah. None of that," replied the girl, breaking the silence. "It was staying up until 3 O'Clock in the morning."

The teacher was lost for words.

Scottish School History - The History Of Scottish Sweeties

I've never seen children eat like it, I thought as a jumbo bag of Maltesers exploded whilst being opened somewhere down the back of the bus. There was a sound like the balls being released into the lottery machine as they tumbled the full length of the bus and mostly came to rest by the gearstick.

"Mehr," shouted the children with delight. "There's mehr." Mehr I was to learn was Glaswegian for more and not the name of a German philosopher. The Maltesers kept coming. Well the ones which weren't crunched underfoot did.

When we arrived at our destination, the bus was a tribute to the history of Scottish sweets. There was practically pan drop, mint imperial, wine gum, jelly bean, Irn Bru chew, it was truly awesome.

The answer to why they were so ravenous for sweets and corn chips came later when I spoke to one of the dinner ladies at the school. I was complementing her on the great looking menu which was displayed on a board in the school entrance hall.

"That looks fantastic." I said. "You must have really good food here."

"Well hen," she replied. "Aye. But the problem is when you try to taste it. It's disgusting." No wonder they headed for the nearest sweetie shop.

Czech Out The Pink Pyjamas

Hamilton Services, just outside Glasgow is not one of the world's seven wonders. At 6.30 in the morning, it is serene but still not wondrous. On this particular morning, however there was an unusual Czech bus parked beside me. It seemed to be quite an old bus. This was masked by a beautiful panorama of the Alps or the Tatra Mountains on a cloudless summers day, which adorned both sides. There were blackened out windows. There was no sign of life.

The bus was grandly called: HOTEL BUS.

The Services opened its doors. As it did so the doors of HOTEL BUS opened too. Out poured some elderly Czechs in their pink pyjamas, dressing gowns and slippers. They proceeded for the toilets with their spongebags tucked under their arms.
The other truckers and myself gazed in amazement at this tour. Modesty knew no bounds.

It quite put me off my breakfast.

I've Been VOSA'd

VOSA (The Vehicle and Operator Safety Agency) are often the bus driver's worst nightmare. For sure they are a very important organisation, with an important job to do and for the most part they do it well.

But in all organisations such as VOSA, there is always the odd over zealous inspector who can make your life a misery. Though not seen often, bus drivers have multiplied the fear factor by 10 and demonised anyone from this organisation. All drivers have stories of varying truth of how they were stopped by VOSA.

"Guess what," said one driver to me. "They were sitting in their cars in the service station, with binoculars trained on the buses parked on the other side of the motorway to check the drivers really were having their 45 minute break and not doing other work."

My heart therefore sank when I saw the yellow high visibility jackets, milling around the school coach park where I was about to drop off.

"Would you park up, driver" the leader said in businesslike tones. "Now is there anything on this bus you know to be defective or dangerous?" I whitened. This was a rotten question. If I said no and he found something, I would be fined and if I said yes I was admitting guilt of knowingly taking out a defective bus. What do you do?

Luckily I had been watching Newsnight the night before and had taken a hint from some politician who was under fire from the presenter.

"When I did my morning walk-round," I said, "at that moment in time there appeared to be nothing defective with the bus." It seemed to work and he gave the bus a clean bill of health.

This was not the case with another driver. The inspector had walked round the old bus, boarded and said sarcastically: "So what make of bus is this?" The driver did not like his remark and thought the best way forward was to fight sarcasm with sarcasm. Pointing to the VOLVO logo on his steering wheel he replied: "Well this might give you a clue."

His inspection lasted a great deal longer than mine.

The next morning I was pulling into a different school in a different county and blow me down, I was surrounded by more yellow hi-vis jackets. This inspector was businesslike, but more polite, calling every bus driver, sir. His two assistants who he called Mork and Mindy were kinder natured too. The bus passed too and as I left the park I saw Mindy, closely followed by Mork trying unsuccessfully to flag down another bus. The driver had obviously not seen them. He would never have ignored them. Not 'alf.

Oh Deer, Oh Deer

May is the time where the trees start shooting. Well here in the cold Far Northland, everything is a month behind the rest of the country. Even in this particularly cold Spring, the lime green leaves are beginning to emerge.

Driving the bus along the moorland roads is a pleasure. There is plenty to look at, plenty to daydream about.......

Holy Cow! What was that great big brown blob that shot in front of my windscreen. Only a deer. I should have been more alert as this is the time where they seem to come out of hibernation, looking for food.

They have the road sense of a newly qualified driver. As Bert, another driver found out last week. He was daydreaming too, about the lovely Spring morning, when two brown blobs appeared in front of his bus. He hit one of them. In the bottom. The deer was catapulted into the air and flew at speed across the wall and disappeared down a steep wooded bank.

"Oh my God" Bert howled. "I've killed it." He howled even more when he saw the damage to the front of his bus. An extended stay at the panel beaters was needed to unwind the mangled metal.

He was nervous at going to look for the obviously dead deer, in case someone thought he was poaching it. The law clearly states that if you hit an animal such as a deer or pheasant, you are breaking the law if you pick it up. Anyone following can quite happily pick up any item of road kill without fear of invoking trespassing and other laws.

He slowly looked over the wall, fearing the worst. But there was nothing there. he went back to the bus, drove off and dreamt of a hobbling deer with no more than a bruised bottom.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Pregnant Pause

Never complain to a bus company about a driver if you have anything noticeable about you, which is different from, shall we say for ease, the norm. This happened recently to a pregnant woman who accused a driver of some misdemeanour. She said that it was not good for her overdue baby, which instantly identified her to the driver. It was on a rural route with few passengers so anyone, in whatever stage of pregnancy would be noticeable.

Life was frosty when she took the bus the next day. The driver gnarled at her and watched her struggle with her pushchair and bags up the steps. Hell hath no fury like a bus driver scorned.