Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Time Ladies Please

The idyllic and peaceful Northern town I drive through often has a reputation. Not all is what it seems. It has a reputation for a good scrap.

Last week it was the turn of the ladies. Forty of them. From neighbouring towns, bashing seven bells out of each other. "I was sitting in the club drinking my pint when I heard a noise," said one of my passengers. "I looked down and what a sight. All these women screaming and punching. Aye there was blood on the pavements. There was blood on the pavements the day after too."

So is this unusual behaviour in 2010? Not really. You have to look at the history of the place. When their past revolves around Romans, Border Reivers and Coalmining there is bound to be a feisty side to them.

"Aye," said the pensioner behind me wistfully, "those were the days. Several years ago I was in my car when some men came up and wanted a fight. One tried to pull me out of the car, so I closed the window, shutting his fingers in the the process and drove off. That'll teach yer I says." He laughed and did not seem overly concerned about the antics of the women.

"Aye they've got black bottoms, you know," an elderly lady joined in the conversation. All the other passengers sat bolt upright and listened more attentively.

"The women have got what?" asked another man."Black bottoms?"

"No not the women, man. Me tomatoes," she replied. "It must be the hot weather."

Chit Chat Can Be Innocently Awkward

There were two passengers directly behind me on the bus, seated on either side of the aisle. One middle to old age lady. One young man. Both were quiet until the young man broke the ice:

"So how's yer father?"

"He's dead," she replied. "He's been dead for over 25 years."

We past two more stops, before the youth plucked up courage to speak more.

"So how's yer 'usband? You are married, aint yer?"

"No," she replied matter of factly. "But I had a partner of 26 years."

"So how's yer partner?"

"He's dead too. He's been dead gone two months ago now."

"I'm sorry about that, I seem to have put both my feet into it, haven't I?" And with that he got off the bus.

All Flagged Out

"Whatever you do," said my wife, with a piercing look, "don't mention the football."

She was right, of course. Football in the North East is a touchy subject at the best of times. The colour of your shirt matters hugely. You only have to read Harry Pearson's fine book called The Far Corner to understand the capricious nature of football in this region.

Today, on such a beautiful and hot day, it felt that there was a black cloud swamping the Tyne Valley as I drove along it, following recent events in Bloemfontein. Even the cows looked more mournful than usual and the sheep were huddled together by the walls and not doing their usual mass escape onto the roads. Everything seemed to be pianissimo.

The biggest change was the sudden disappearance of flags, overnight. Patriotism at its finest, some sarcastically say. But then again it is unlikely St George will be rolling in his grave. It's also unlikely that he ever visited England, let alone fought any dragons. So he might even be pleased that his flag has been hijacked by the football fraternity.

For more advice on recycling your flag - look at the Daily Telegraph article:-

From a bus driver's perspective, it is fantastic not to see or hear these flapping plastic flags, perched precariously on the top of cars.

Peace at last.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Manchester...The Belly And Guts Of The Nation

Somewhere in Manchester 7.30am.

I didn't fancy reversing through the narrow gates into the school yard. "We've just had new ones fitted," said the teacher proudly. The prospect of reversing past the steel railings on the road which had already been bent by others who had tried before me, was not appetising. Seeing two more sets of gates beyond the railings and the odd angle needed to swerve into the car park I decided it looked foolish even for an expert bus driver to attempt. For the Accidental Bus Driver to have a go, would be akin to Benny Hill entering the Triathlon.

The teacher said nothing, but from her unimpressed look, she obviously felt I could have done better. I retired to the the seat in the park opposite the bus with the two pieces of toast I had been given by the Breakfast Club cook. I sat and watched commuter Manchester wake up, get going and pass by.

Well try to pass by. Because I was parked in the road, the double decker drivers had to inch slowly past. Glaring at me as they passed, instantly clocking me as the driver who had caused this obstruction.

If looks could kill.

Justice And The Common Potato

Today I was meant to be in court, but instead, bizarrely I am sitting next to an old bath filled with potato and tomato plants. The bath is in an unlikely place, positioned directly outside the main door of the Tachograph centre. I am watching them blow gently in the breeze while I wait for the mechanics to carry out their checks.

The centre is a busy place with buses and trucks coming and going all day. There are diesel fumes everywhere but the plants seem to thrive in this environment.

I am happy as to be where I am. I am here because the driver who I was going to be a character witness for has had his case thrown out of court and all charges dropped.

Oh joyous news.

Hot Money

"You're going to go the wrong way," cried the old lady. "Are you not figuring on going to Brampton?"

I was jolted back into full alertness and abruptly altered a gradual and gentle left hand turn at the T junction into an screeching right hander, which was uncomfortable for the passengers behind. "Bloody hell," said one of the college students who was awoken from his slumber. But all was well and the bus was safely back on its normal route.

I had been miles away, mulling over an aspect of the day not so long ago when I took some cyclists on a trip. When, at the end of the day it came to paying for the bus hire, the organiser had reached down the front of his cycling shorts and pulled out a wad of money wrapped in silver foil. "That's the best place to keep it dry," he told me with a serious face.

I've been washing my hands five times a day since then. I must be thankful as another driver reminded me that though it was an unpleasant place to store things - it could have been worse.

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

The car park behind the aquarium was overflowing with buses. The council had cut the number of coach bays down to two. So the buses had taken over the car parking spaces as there was nowhere for them to park along the seafront at Whitley Bay, apart from a windy spot a long way out of town, near the crazy golf.

The drivers pretended to be relaxed, but were nervously looking around every few minutes to see if the parking wardens were coming. They had one hand on the key, ready to fire up the engine and race away at the first glimpse of them, whilst holding a cup of coffee in the other and and balancing the newspaper on the steering wheel.

The sad fact was that even if they did speed out of the car park, the wardens would only have needed to type the numberplate details into their hand held computers and a ticket will be sent out the very next morning.

"They're complete and utter b------s," said the experienced driver from Gateshead, who came to ask me for some change. It was hard to be sure whether his red face was due to warden rage or sunburn. The driver illegally parked on my other side had the same pointed features as Stuart Little. An over-sexed Stuart Little as he spent his time ogling the procession of obese women who returned to the car park. Most were bouncing out of their floral crop tops. Every so often he would emit a noise similar to that from a character in one of the Carry On films.

I left him to it and went for a walk along the seafront.

I didn't have a worry in the world. I had managed to grab my coach bay. It made it a relaxing day at the seaside while I waited four hours for a Playgroup's annual beach outing to return. the only decision was whether I wanted vinegar on my fish n'chips.

Life can be brutal - but not today.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Men In Black

The forced removal of a brown, two day old, eaten apple core still with signs of teeth marks puts no bus driver in a good mood.

An apple a day might well keep the doctor away, but when it is stuffed into an ashtray, it is revolting. The older buses have ashtrays embedded in the seat backs. Though smoking has long been banned, they cannot be removed. The mechanics have drilled screws through the plastic to stop them opening, but always one or two are missed, or the screws are undone by some mischievous child.

Some bus drivers are cleaner than others. I looked on the sheet and swore under my breath when, not surprisingly, I found the man who drove it last always refused to clean buses point blanc. "I'm not paid to clean buses," he would say. "I'm paid to drive buses."

I arrived early at the school, which meant there was time to give the bus a quick mop. I had been to the school before and it was usually very relaxed. This morning, however, the atmosphere was fraught and fearful. It transpired that Ofsted had announced that they were paying a visit. The teachers were scurrying about at 7.30am. Files were being scanned. The final tidying was being carried out.

I watched from the bus as three shady looking characters in raincoats knocked on the school's front door at one minute past eight. All had briefcases. One had a black Eastern European looking hat. They looked fearsome - a cross between some secret policemen and the man who had come to run the meter.

I silently wished the school the best possible luck. It looked as if they would need it.

Bad Joke Day

It was a day for bad jokes. The little boy on the school bus said:

"'Ave you 'eard teh one about the bus driver? There was this bus driver, you see and he saw this man standing at the bus stop.

He had....

Three eyes.

No arms,

and one leg.

The bus driver stopped, opened the door and said:

Aye, Aye, Aye.

You look 'armless.

Hop on.

Arggghhh. It got worse.

When I stopped off at the Polish shop for my elevenses, buying a paczki (Polish pronunciation pont-ch,ski - a more delicious and slightly different Polish version of a doughnut) and a bottle of kefir (fermented milk), the man at the till said:

"My favourite joke is the one about a woman who goes to the garage with a problem.

'You have a flat battery', said the mechanic.

'Oh dear,' said the woman. 'What shape should it be?'"

I retired to the coach park for some peace. Normally it is a quiet coach park, between the castle and the railway line. My quiet moments could not possibly be disturbed.

They were.

By one of the few Scottish trainspotting, motorbike enthusiast, bus driver. "They call me the Steam Biker," he announced. He was a particularly genial driver, but every time a train past along the track, he identified it by name, number, date, company and whether the wheels had been cleaned recently.

Then his phone rang. "Chuff, chuff, chuff" went the ringtone. "It's the steam engine pulling out of the station somewhere in North Yorkshire. You have to wait for 14 seconds. It gets better. Wait for it......wait." After 14 long seconds, the chuff chuffs were supplemented with whoo whoo.

And with that he disappeared.

Not I, Mate

"Nothing to do with me, mate," said the road repairer, pointing his finger accusingly at his colleague.

"It was 'im."

The colleague scowled, removed his baseball cap and scratched his head while he figured out how to unblock the road. He had tried to take his transit van and towed water bowser up a steep hill. It had become grounded and the result was that the road was now blocked and looked likely to be blocked for some time.

After a little early morning sunbathing, I did manage to squeeze by. I inched past as my wing mirror brushed through the trees. You will remember I have a poor record when it comes to bus mirrors and trees.

The words of the council official in the Highways Department, who I rang last week, reverberated around my head: "Don't blame me, mate. It's not my fault all the trees are overgrown on the roads. Cuts, mate. Cuts. I only have one contracted tree surgeon for the whole of the south of the county."

As I passed the van I crashed into a deep hole in the road. I cursed the council's superhero cartoon character - Pothole Pete who promised much if you rang his 24 hour hotline. At least he's honest and never tries to pass the buck. He just doesn't speak.

Telephone Boxes Feel The Heat

You could hear a pin drop on the school bus. Perhaps this was due to the internal temperature of hitting 34 degrees celsius on the digital display (even with the fans on full pelt) and many had nodded off.

It had been a warm day but not hot. The North rarely got truly hot as there was always an icy breeze accompanying the sunshine. Many Northerners do not seem to like the heat and once it hits 70 the passengers mutter and moan more than usual.

Perhaps the sunny weather helped explain a phenomenon I observed on the route to Carlisle. Every phone box I passed was lacking a door. I cannot believe there is a demand for second hand telephone box doors, so it has to be a cheap form of air conditioning.

It was a refreshing change to the more normal shattered glass lying on the pavement after some youth has lobbed a brick through the window.

There is hope for the world.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Flapper

I've just seen a 'Flapper'.

No not a male version of a slapper, but someone who reacts in a certain way when they have missed the bus. On this particular occasion, I was the bus missed him. In fact it shot by the stop and him.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion. I was parked in the same stop picking up some other children on the school bus. He was waiting for the service bus to the railway station. I saw him coming in my mirror.

The Flapper also saw him coming. He put his hand out. The bus kept going. He walked out to the edge of the pavement. The bus kept going and as the realisation dawned on him that it was not going to stop, he quickened his stride. In rising panic this was supplemented by frantic arm waving and hand movements. He had a limp, so the trot turned into an ungainly gallop. The bus kept going, accelerated and passed him.

The Flapper's arms were moving so fast as he chased after the bus that he resembled one of those early pilots in 'Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines' and looked as if he might take off. Finally he knew he was beat, came to a halt in the middle of the road, through his briefcase down on to the tarmac with force and let out a howl mixed with a North Pennines swear word.

He soon realised that a busload of children were watching him. He picked up his briefcase and straightened his tie in an attempt to restore his dignity, before marching off towards the telephone box.

I felt a telephone call coming on. There would be a directive from the boss to all drivers when they return to the depot. Good news though. It put the schoolchildren in a good mood. They would not be unpicking the stitching of their seats or trying to dismantle the plastic 'Fasten Your Seatbelts' signs that morning.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Waiting For Godot? No Just Cyclists

It's been nine hours since starting out this morning. I've had my fill of the crashing waves hitting Tynemouth beach and the black dots amongst them who my passengers mistakenly thought were seals, because no human in their right mind would be in the freezing North Sea.

But they were the crazy surfers. Much admired by my passengers, the equally crazy lycra clad Scottish cyclists who had decided to cycle from one end of Hadrian's Wall to the other in a day - a total of 102 miles.

I'd been following them in a bus, in case anyone couldn't go on any further or wanted a rest. But none of them did. Quite an achievement. Equally admirable was that many of them had quietly raised several thousands of pounds for various charities.

It could not be described as onerous work for a bus driver. Yet waiting around can be tiring. It is the inability to relax as the phone might ring at any time requesting the bus to move to a location.

But now there is hope. It is after 10pm. They will be back at their campsite by Midnight and I will be home by 2.30am. The bus has taken on a multicultural air. The ravenous cyclists are devouring a mixture of chop suey, shish kebabs, fish and chips, burgers and deep fried chicken.

My dinner? It's waiting for me, but I suspect I'll be having it for breakfast.

There's Rarely Any Anxiety On The Valium Run

"Have a bad day," the large, cocky and charmless school boy said to me as he got off the bus at his school

"What are doing, man?" The old woman shouted at her daughter who snapped back: "What do you think? I'm just miles away, laughing at myself."

There was a roe deer fawn standing in the middle of the road around one corner. Around another there was a man wearing only a pair of shorts looking like a typical English lobster after a day in the sun. When he turned round there was an enormous tattoo down his back. It was a Gothic style cross, stretching from shoulder to shoulder and from the nape of the neck to goodness knows where.

A Romanian Big Issue seller stood outside the betting shop in the tiny Northumbrian market town where I took my lunch break. There was also a Romanian looking accordionist stationed on a stool outside the Co-op playing the Harry Lime theme from the Third Man radically out of tune. They were strangely out of place as this town is very poor and it is difficult to imagine many coins being thrown in the box.

Still it brought a breath of fresh air to the town. The acoustics were good and the notes, even if they were not the right ones bounced beautifully off the public toilet block opposite the musician. If you shut your eyes for a brief moment you could imagine being on some Mediterranean street. Until the piercing Northumbrian wind, the smell of bovril fried fish and chips and the sound of "'ere we go, 'ere we go" coming from the folk sitting outside the pub round the corner stated otherwise. The sun and the lager were warming them up nicely in preparation for the upcoming England-Algeria World Cup match.

One of the regular passengers did her usual trick of giving me her fare of £3 in a plastic cash bag of 1p, 2p and 5p bits. A Czech bus driver on Hadrian's wall gave me some cans of Czech beer because I told him I thought the Czech Republik had very delicious knedliky (dumplings) and I was close to being manhandled by a group of Amazonian women with backpacks who demanded a free ride for their planned walk.

So it was far from a bad day. Unusual because it is on the route most of the bus drivers detest and call it the Valium Run. It is an eleven hour shift and there are complaints of it being boring with a lack of passengers.

For some reason, whenever I land 'the Valium', something out of the norm happens. Maybe Bill Bryson should have sat behind me on the bus when he wrote:

"He had the sort of face which makes you realise God does have a sense of humour."

A Bus Driver's Advice For A Quiet Life II

Use your heaters wisely for a peaceful trip:


A Bus Driver's Advice For A Quiet Life

One of my experienced colleagues who has been driving for decades knows every trick in the book. I love listening to his pearls of wisdom. He is the Forrest Gump of the bus industry. His motto is:


Teacher Puts Children In A Jam

The teacher did nothing to help the government's healthy eating initiative for schoolchildren when he announced to the group of seven year olds on the bus. They were on their way to a school trip and discussing the disgusting contents of their sandwiches and what they should do with them.

"When I was a boy," said the young teacher who bore an uncanny resemblance to one of The Proclaimers, "I didn't like jam sandwiches. Come to think of it, I didn't like bread, butter or jam. So when school used to give us them for lunch, I would take them home and hide them behind my wardrobe."

The children sat in stunned silence.

"After several months," he went on, "there was quite a whiff and my Grandma said she was going to have a look." He smiled wistfully.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Grandma, I said. But she did and I got what for."

When I cleaned out the bus that night, there were many sandwiches still wrapped in their clingfilm. It was tempting to stick them behind an unfriendly neighbour's wardrobe, but I was halted by the still vile memory of a so called friend who deposited a kipper under the spare wheel of my car many years ago.

Back To Reality In The School Car Park

The child ran off the bus and was sick in the hedgerow. That was before I had even started the engine let alone gone off down the highway. Was my driving so bad that the mere thought of it was enough to send a child running into the ditch? Or could it have been my over zealous use of furniture polish that morning to try and hide all previous noxious odours?

Whichever view you take, it did not bode well for the two hour journey ahead back to the school.

"Oh well, back to reality," said a teacher raising her eyes towards heaven. She was to say it a further five times on the journey and it was a relief to arrive at the destination.

Seeing the parents lined up on the pavement and the cars parked so that the bus could not get anywhere near the school, she gave out one final 'reality check'. It was raining. Hard. The parents looked in no mood to hang around. I leapt off the bus and tried to unload the luggage fast.

Sure enough 'back to reality' smacked me shortly after unloading the last bag, when a mother came up to me, frantically gesticulating and on the verge of hysteria.

"You've gotta help me. I want you to be a witness," she yelled. The teachers who were standing next to me looked skywards, at the ground, pretended they were not there or tried to creep round the corner of the bus. They'd obviously heard all this before and knew what was coming.

"It's him again," she continued. "He's driven off with my boy. He's done it again."

I zipped my lips and tried to creep round the side of the bus myself and only got as far as the emergency exit before the lady buttonholed me. "And you will witness it before I ring Social Services.

As a tabloid journalist might have said, I made my excuses and left. The reality was that you couldn't see me for dust.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

An Eight Year Old Sees It As It Is

Driving over the brow of the hill on the A69 dual carriageway there was a bus parked in the lay-by. With their backs to the road, standing on the verge were ten men in light coloured shirts hanging over their trousers.

"What are they doing, Daddy?" asked my eight year old daughter.

As we drove nearer, it dawned on her what they were doing. It was a typical stag party. It was typical behaviour.

"Ooh that's disgusting," she said. "But I suppose it is better than them doing it in the middle of the road."

Pragmatism at its best.

North Western Hospitality

I was looking forward to my fish and chips in Cleveleys, followed by a gentle stroll along the seafront on this perfect cloudless day. It was not to be.

The place was heaving with trippers. There was one ridiculously small coach drop-off bay, which already had two buses in it. I had to drop the ladies at the bus station around the corner, subjecting myself to unfriendly glares from the double decker service drivers whose bays I was blocking.

The seafront was packed with buses and there was nowhere to park, so I drove two miles out of town and parked in a residential street. My fish and chips went for a burton. The only parade of shops for miles offered a corner shop with a closed kebab shop on one side and a boarded up off-license called The Offy on the other.

My lunch ended up consisting of discounted to 75p Chunky Turkey Breast pieces and some little known brand of German chocolate. Everything else in the shop was sugary.

"I want sweeties, and I want them now," yelled the spoilt four old in the queue in front of me.

"Well you can't have them, luv," the mother gently told the child. "You've got heatstroke and you know sweeties won't make your heatstroke any better."

The child amazingly quietened and nodded in agreement. I made a mental note to try that one on my two girls the next time they demand sweets.

I looked around the estate I had accidentally found myself in. It was a different world. It looked very poor, and yet so close to one of Britain's most visited tourist spots. England mania had gripped the area. Flags flew outside most houses and on the roofs of most cars. Everyone wore a red football shirt. Many women seemed to have died red hair and many men had the St George's Cross died into their David Beckham No.2 cut.

I returned to the different world of Cleveleys and immediately seemed to be met with trouble. Two old age pensioners who were minding their own business walking gently along the pavement, for no apparent reason fell over backwards into the road, landing very close to my bus.

Crunched mirror. Fluffy bunny ears. Falling pensioners. Was this day jinxed?

Double Talk In Fleetwood

I read a book once which said, in business, if you want to unsettle an opponent, simply repeat the last five words of every sentence they speak. I tried it once and it was true. After repeating five sentences, the person across the table started foaming at the mouth and screamed most expletives from the dictionary at me.

Sitting on the bus outside Fleetwood Market, I became the victim for the first time in my life of this dreaded technique. I suppose it was a case of 'what goes around comes around.'

An old man and his wife, wearing straw hats, tweed jackets, white shoes and carrying walking sticks stopped by the entry door. They looked it up and down, turned and said:

"My word. What a lovely bus," he said.

"My word. What a lovely bus," she said.

"Yes it's a lovely bus," I said, not wishing to enter conversation, because a bus driver's rest periods are sacrosanct. It was not worth pointing out that though it was a nice three year old Volvo, it looked like a Rolls Royce, when it was compared to some of the other 'buckets' parked alongside.

"What a lovely bus," he repeated.

"What a lovely bus," she repeated.

"Magnificent." I said hoping they would go away.

"Aye, it's magnificent."

"Aye, it's magnificent."


"Aye, it's beautiful."

"Aye, it's beautiful," said the wife.

"Is there any chance we can hire it for.......?" I closed the door, hid by pretending to pick up some rubbish in the seat behind and listened to them clunking down the pavement with their walking sticks.

"Well I never - what a rude driver,"

"Well I never - what a rude driver," I heard them say as they headed for the fish and chip shop.

Fluffy Bunny Syndrome

"I only bought some scone cutters. They came in a pack of four, so I will be up all night making scones," said the lady as she was discussing the merits of Fleetwood Market.

It is a huge market, but the WI's verdict was that it was quantity over quality. The younger members of the party managed to find some flashing, furry, pink and purple bunnies' ears which they were going to wear on a charity run.

They tried them out at the Services on the way back. They had a remarkable effect. Every truck driver slammed on their brakes and gave way to these ladies. The truckers seemed to be mesmerised by this apparition of elderly bunny girls. Not what they expected to see. Especially at a Service Station on the M6.

I'm thinking of getting a pair myself.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Mile High On The Golden Mile

"When the bus stops I'm going to get myself ready do something to that driver. I've got hot flushes and I'm just gonna take off my jersey," I overheard the lady in the second row behind me announce to the other ladies.

Usually this would be enough to send any bus driver's pulse racing. But the reality was that the lady, though one of the youngest of the party, was close to being given her bus pass. The other ladies from the WI around her were well into their seventies and eighties.

"How many people can you get into the bus's lavatory?" Another octogenarian piped up. "Do you think we could join the Mile High Club?"

"No, pet." The voice of reason at the back brought the debate to a close. "You may well get into the lavvy, but you certainly won't get out. We'll have to call the Fire Brigade. Then we'll never get home."

And so it went on. Who says life is dull when you reach pensionable age? This lot of ladies are inspirational and a joy to drive. There is never a dull minute and they take their bus driver under their wings. I've never felt so safe.

Having crunched my mirror earlier that morning with 53 eagle eyed witnesses behind me, I felt that my driving was under scrutiny. So every time I passed a tram along the Blackpool promenade without managing to hit it, I could hear a deep exhalation of breath.

"The first one who spots Blackpool Tower wins a quid," declared one of the ladies.

"I see it. I see it. Over there. Over there," yelled the excited woman in row 3.

"No, no," said another. "That's not the Tower. That's a pylon."

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Yellow Peril Has Arrived

Why oh why do we try and copy everything American?

But hold on. Don't be too dispirited. There is always a British twist.

I was sitting in the local rural school car park in daydreaming mode, when the peace was shattered by the arrival of this hissing and burping yellow thing. It was a glistening yellow vehicle. The only thing which let it down was the number plate, which earmarked the bus at over 15 years old.

On the destination board, it read: "SCHOOL PARTY". As this particular school bus route had a history of troublesome children, you would have thought the last thing the driver needed was a party on the bus.

The Americans would wince at the British impersonation of their famous school buses. Not least if they knew that the driver in between driving buses was a dog walker, cleaned the local shop and community hall, looked after sheep amongst other things.

So there is a benefit. Inside the yellow peril is a luggage rack which is large enough to put a bale of hay into. This will save time, if like something that happened in the past when the driver was seen unloading hay out of the boot half way through a school run.

Rule Britannia

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Perk Up The Peacock

I've just had the shock of my life.

Coming so soon after the crunching of the mirror, as a driver for several days at least, you tend to drive more cautiously. On a road in MAMOFA (Miles And Miles Of FA, as my brother describes most rural areas) a flash of elongated green, black and blue plumes shot in front of the bus and tried to run across the road.

I braked but caught the peacock in the nether regions, causing it to fan out all its feathers and leap four feet into the air. It was not a pretty sight. Aerodynamically unsound I think. The possible equivalent manoeuvre for an aeroplane would be similar to pulling the handbrake on at the same time as opening up the throttles.

But happily the bird seemed fine as it flew over the stone wall. I never knew peacocks could fly. It makes one think what dodos would have done if they had not become extinct before the invention of buses.

The Accidental Bus Driver Crunches His Mirror

I'm in the doghouse.

I caught the mirror on some trees coming out of a car park. It bent. The electrics stopped working. It's an expensive mirror, on the expensive bus I was let loose on with a local WI trip to the seaside.

"That'll be your mirror," was the helpful comment from the lady in row 3.

It's been coming for a long time. Each time I am in a near miss or see a dent in the bus made by another driver, I think there but the grace of God go I. In fact I saw a bus reverse into the front of another bus in a coach park last week. The thing which really amazed me was not so much the actual accident - that can happen to anyone, but by the reaction of the driver who was sitting in his seat watching a bus reversing into him and about to shatter his windscreen.

Now, call me an idiot, but I'd like to think if I was sitting in my driver's seat and saw a bus reversing periously close towards me, that I'd be out of that seat like a scalded cat or would be frantically sounding the horn at the least.

Yet there was nothing.

I drove by immediately after the collision to see the driver still sitting in his seat, looking quite unperturbed and methodically picking out shards of glass from his lap.

The lady in row 3 shook me out of my daydream. "Will that be deducted from your wages, dear?" she asked, half jokingly and half hopingly I suspect.

We'll see. Because the mirror was not broken, the amount of pain and bad luck will be restricted to seven months.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

You Will Tell Me What You Had For Breakfast

Someone told me they were surprised by my writings. "There's an awful lot of vomit and violence," they said. I am afraid that is the nature of much of the work I do.

There were two firsts this week. Little Dennis was unfortunately sick while we were still on the motorway, long before the windy roads. The omens were not good. they were made even worse when the teachers interrogated the wretched Dennis in front of all the other children.

"So what did you have for breakfast, Dennis?"

"Well I had sausage, egg and bacon and I had a bowl of chocolate...."

"A bowl?" replied the teacher. "I don't think so. It was more like a bucket." All the other children. "And what did you wash it down with........" continued the teacher. The more information which was more forthcoming, the more queasy the other children seemed to feel.

It was not a happy morning.

Football Mad In Teeside

"I used to be Chairman of Darlington Football Club," said the school janitor as he made me a cup of coffee. "No I didn't really," he went on addressing my obvious puzzled look which must have hinted at wondering why a football club chairman was working in a primary school.

"We're all football mad though." I knew that, having passed a house in Darlington plastered in England flags. What was even more impressive was the huge Irish flag which flew from the bungalow's chimney.

There was a For Sale sign outside the front door and similar to the butty vans in Northumberland, flying flags from different countries alongside each other, I suspected he was sensibly widening the appeal to passing trade.

Summer In County Durham

You know summer has come when there is a row of wheel trims stacked up against the village signs. What could their significance be?
- a car boot fair?
- an art installation?
- fly tipping?
The next day they had disappeared. I went a few miles up the road before I saw them. They were sticking out the rear of a horse drawn gypsy caravan.
Ah! That explains it - it's Appleby Fair time.

Patriotic English Flags - Or Chinese Plastic Tat

Maybe it is because I get a grandstand view from the bus driver's seat, but there seems to be more and more cheap plastic St George's Crosses lying in the ditches by the roadside.

The quality is so poor that they do not hold up to the speed trials they must endure on top of the average Northern England fan. The fabric flags are frayed around the edges and the red has weathered quickly and softened to an orangey pink. More common is the sight of two white sticks on top of the car roof minus the flags which have fallen off into the ditch.

Even if England do win the World Cup, there is going to be a mass discount sale in July as every shop you go into seems to stock this football tat.

The English flag has been hijacked by football. You rarely see it flying except on top of the odd butty van in Northumberland. The owners wisely hedge their bets and fly the Scottish Saltire alongside.

Apart from the clean-up bill for getting rid of these flags, there must be some benefit to the economy. Well, naturally, but not our economy.

China 1 England 0, I'd say.