Thursday, 30 September 2010

I Suffer From GBDD, Not ADHD

On the day that Cardiff University has announced that ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is linked to genetic variants, I am suffering from GBDD. This is more commonly known as Grumpy Bus Driver Disorder. It has no link to genes whatsoever and is brought on by annoying children, as was the case this morning.

When one little girl pressed the STOP buzzer constantly and two other little girls kept repeating to each other: "Shut up you're speaking Irish to me." "Shut up yourself, no you are speaking Irish to me." "No you are speaking Irish to me." "No you are speaking Ir.............." and so on and so on. It was like a stuck record.

By the time I reached the school, I was in a thunderous mood.

A pensioner proved to be my release valve. "It's quite ridiculous the council turning this bus into a school bus and not allowing other passengers on as they used to. It is this effing extreme view that everyone must be a paedophile."

He smiled, leant on the bus and prepared to deliver the succour punch:

"I only wanted to throttle the little b......s sometimes. I certainly never wanted to do anything else to them

Wasp Trapped

A wasp travelled with us on the hour and a half trip to Durham. It was enraged when the doors opened and it found itself so far away from, in the middle of a city and a different county.
Little wonder that it tried to sting more than one person.

I sometimes wonder about the insects we carry across the channel, when we return from European trips. you have to think that they are in line with their human counterparts and must be disappointed with the British food, climate and general attitudes and behaviour.

If they are lucky, they will not have to suffer long, before some obese rook or magpie will hoover them up.

Sixth Formers Rise Above The Peat Bogs

State High Schools take a lot of stick.

I drove the usual rowdy school run down to the urban school which was the standard of behaviour was the usual. Actually they are generally very good. When something does happen, the drivers have to see the 'Chocolate Fireguard', who seems to be the teacher who deals with problems on the buses.

"Nothing will happen," said one of the children. "He's as good as a wet day in Blackpool." The child was right. The teacher seemed to like the the quiet life and little ever happened.

This day I was dutied to take the sixth formers to Durham University for a conference on peat bogs. Now you might think that was enough to stretch any teenagers attention span to the limit. Certainly, when I was a teenager, I would have watched paint dry in preference.
But these sixth formers were amazing. Quiet, interesting with something to say for themselves and an ability to rise to the occasion. They could have passed easily for university students and looked more mature than some of the other students who were huddled into groups, hatching preposterous plans for Freshers Week.

"How was the conference?" I asked, expecting a lot of venom and yawning motions as a response.

"Oh it was good," they mostly said.

They had undoubtedly not being reading anything by the New Yorker contributor, E.B.White, who also wrote Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web. He once said:

'Deathliness should be arrived at in a ..haphazard fashion. Loving fame as much as any man, we shall carve our initials in the shell of a tortoise and turn him loose in a peat bog.'

I must make a mental note not to mention anything about carving initials to the rowdy children on the return school bus later on. They will not be so patient as the sixth formers and the deathliness of the bus trip will be alleviated by a mass carving on the back of the seats.

All Singing All Dancing Can't Compete With The Knackers

Recently I spotted one of our old buses running around on a school run. The colours and logo were the same even though it was being operated by another company. Whether they had been lazy or whether they had struggled to remove the transfers, it's hard to know.

"It's a lovely old bus," said the driver. "but I am one of the few who drives it. The other drivers look at the work sheets in the morning and if they see they are rosta'd to drive it, they create hell and refuse to drive it. The problem is all our other buses are top of the range and they have got spoilt."

"Typical coach driver attitude," sneered another driver, "they think they are a cut above us others."

Is this true? Well, sometimes. You always meet one who thinks he is the best. but that is in any sphere of life.

The company I drive for has a wide range of buses. All our drivers are equal and just get on with things. Any driver drives every bus.driving the old knackers can be fun. It is a challenge and at the end of the shift, you feel as if you have achieved something, rather than sitting at the helm of some state of the art, computer driven, wondrous beast.

Very litle goes wrong with the old knackers, and if it does, usually the fault is easy to spot and fix. The computerised super machines are like modern day celebrities and tend to sulk when something goes wrong.

And with the advancement of winter, I know which bus I would prefer to drive on the snow and ice in the North Pennines.

Beauty can be skin deep.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Constipation, A Druggist And A Weaving Library Van

I inwardly sigh as the odd combination of the Library van being forced to reverse in front of me and the little boy in the seat behind telling me a risque joke.

"What does a constipated Maths teacher do?"

The Library van lady driver looked scared when she crossed the bridge and came face to face with my 57 seater bus.

"He works it out with a pencil."

The Library van lady driver struggled to find reverse gear.

"What's a very constipated Maths teacher do?"

The Library van veered wildly back down the road, narrowly missing the stone bridge.

"He works it out with logs (logarithms to an ignoramus such as myself)."

The Library van eventually sought sanctuary in a muddy lay-by. The lady driver was relatively cheerful when you think she has just suffered such an inconvenience.

"Do you want to take the dumb test, Mr Bus Driver?" piped up another child somewhere down the back.

I didn't.

But I did because it is always better to play along and keep the little dears happy. of course I failed the test miserably and, in their eyes have been consigned to the scrap heap for thick bus drivers.

The test was interrupted by Anxious Andy who shouted:

"Stop. Stop. Mildred's become a druggist. We've got a druggist on board."

"What are you talking about, Andy?" I asked.

"She's supplying us all with Strepsils. She's a druggist. Mildred's a bad druggist."

having failed the dumb test, I was a little unsure whether this was a malapropism or a genuine understanding that druggist is the American equivalent of a British pharmacy or chemist. I suspected the former.

"What is a druggist?" I said, just double checking.

"It's someone who deals in croakcane, canaletto and calpol." He replied.

"Ah. Have you been having some anti-drug education at school recently?"

The rest of the bus laughed. Andy was silent. I looked in my mirror to see the yellow Library van again weaving backwards down the road. In front of it was a tractor.

Monday, 27 September 2010

How To Tell Where A Bus Has Been The Previous Day

"Inspiring Healthier Lives" trumpets the strap line of the Government's Healthy Schools initiative. They try hard in schools and offer many healthy alternatives. Outside the school gate the trouble starts. If the Schools Minister had seen me cleaning up the schoolchildren's breakfast that they had thrown onto the bus floor, he would have shivered.

The bus was strewn with the usual extreme sugar sweet wrappers. There were half eaten iced fingers, half eaten sausage rolls, a half eaten toffee apple and the piece de resistance was a half eaten jumbo chilli donkey salami stick; the one which looks as if wallpaper paste has been added to hold it all together.

Yes you have guessed it, it is my turn on 'garage duties', to clean the insides of the buses between driving the school run. The other buses gave off hints as to where they had been over the weekend. The condom under the seat - stag or hen party. The bin liner full of beer cans and bottles - Pisspots saturday night booze tour. The grass and mud - the ramblers Sunday ramble. The racing Posts and scrunchled up betting slips - a day at the races.

The very worst, though is placing your hand under the seat and it becoming glued stuck to the floor by landing on some chewing gum or some other unmentionable from the night before. It's an unglamourous business cleaning buses.

Car Crash And The Philosophical Bus Driver

"They're not wired up straight," said the farmer, leaning over the bonnet of his Land Rover and surveying the scene. There was a concertinaed car embedded into a farm gate. The car was barely recognisable and had suffered terminal damage. The wall on the other side of the road was no more. Slabs of stone and clods of earth were strewn all over the road. The driver was standing on the verge earnestly speaking into his mobile phone.

"The good news is that wall which was falling down already will be rebuilt. The lucky bugger who owns it will get a new wall on the insurance." The farmer grinned.

It had been a poor morning. The mist, fog and usual Cumbrian rain had made the roads greasy. The car must have been doing one hell of a speed as it came over the redundant railway bridge and one can only imagine the driver's horror when he lost control and realised he was about to crash, He was blessed to survive without a scratch.

It was not a shock. Over the last few months I had seen this particular vehicle bombing along over the fells. He had often overtaken my bus, demonstrating feelings of untold rage and pent up agression, having turned the corner and found me and my bus trundling along. The cheek of it. Fookin' 'ell. No bloody bus is going to get in my way. And so they had to try anything to get past at the earliest opportunity.

"Aye," said a local lady at the depot. "Me husband is the same. I can feel him putting the foot down and cursing under his breath."

The clouds lifted when another driver decided to change the subject and proffer some of his home grown bus driverly philosophy:

"How long's a piece of string?"

When he was faced with a string of blank looks and inane suggestions, he went on:

"It's twice the length of half of it."

The ensuing silence was predictable.

Worst Tattoo Award

One of the drivers was telling me about some of the tattoos he had seen in his many years of driving buses.

"The very worst has to be this woman who had a tattoo stamped on her arse which read


Sunday, 26 September 2010

We Beat The Germans To The Buses

When you park between buses in a coach park at some tourist attraction, you never know who you will meet. Yesterday, on one side was a German school trip and on the other, bizarrely an English driver who had lived in Germany and spoke near fluent German.

The German driver looked wrecked and despondent. "It is good because in three days time, I retire," he said. "I look bad but not as bad as the children I am carrying. It was the sea crossing and the English roads" he continued, making wave motions with his hand to demonstrate quite how rough the North Sea was.

"They were ill all over my bus," he said, possibly hoping to put me off my breakfast. "And as they are teenagers on my bus, I am not allowed a schnapps dispenser on board." He drove off towards the Scottish Highlands looking even more downtrodden.

His bus was spectacular. Old, but a Bova full of technology and general German quality and efficiency. There was even a lift at the back, capable of carrying half a tonne weight, but used mainly for disabled passengers.

The reason British buses pale into insignificance in comparison, is because the Europeans are prepared to pay for these technological innovations and added comfort. The British want their travel for as cheap as they can get it. In the North, especially, they fight over the last 50p to ensure they have got a bargain.

Then again, when it comes to transporting children, perhaps an old British 'knacker' wins everytime over a German super beast. Particularly after a rough crossing or a switchback road. The results are the same, but the British bus will be easier to clean.

Bus Companies Don't Get Mad - They Get Even

When the time for re-tendering council service contracts comes up, the air is fraught with nervous bus companies putting in quotes to run the allotted routes. More and more it has become an aggressive debacle as cash starved councils are forced to accept the lowest price to offer value for money to their council tax payers. In principal this is fine, but in practise it is a public punch-up between the quality bus operators and an increasing number of 'cowboys' who creep out of the woodwork, putting in insulting prices for the routes.

It means that a bus company can do a fantastic job, give a reasonable quote yet lose its contract to another, often lesser company who have put in a ludicrously low quote which can only mean that they can operate the route, at beat at break even. Though money is saved, everyone else usually loses. The service goes down, reliability and punctuality lessen and there are an increasing number of complaints from the general public.

One company recently lost a route where they worked to 98% reliability. They accepted it, but one week before the changeover was due, they put the drivers' wages up by 10%. It caused consternation for the new company and ill feeling amongst their drivers. this was because the contract stated that the knew company had to honour the previous company's drivers' salaries.
Therefore the new companies wage structure was thrown into disarray as the drivers on this particular route had to be paid a higher hourly rate than other drivers on other routes. This caused animosity and grief. All very satisfying for the outgoing operator.

The bus world can be a dirty business.

Code Violation On The Wintery School Tennis Court

It was by chance that the Arts Teacher was looking out the window on the snow covered grounds of the school. On the tennis courts she spied a pupil, dressed in a warm coat and hat, oblivious to the world as he was listening to some music through his earphones. With a stick he was drawing a full sized set of male genitals which stretched from one baseline to the other.

What do you do in that situation? I have been the first to criticise the way in which many schools I have seen deal with their children in an inconsistent way. They either seem to ignore them, hoping the problem will go away or scream at them.

So you have to admire this Arts Teacher. She walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned whiter than the snow and expected the worse. But instead, he heard the teacher gently say:

"That's very good. The composition is excellent. It is very lifelike. The lines and the brushstrokes are most competent."

He grinned broadly.

"Now here's a new kind of brush for you," she said handing him a snow shovel. "Would you mind developing the picture in a fuller way?"

He cleared the whole court of snow obligingly, taking his punishment with grace. The teacher should get a job anywhere.

Return To The Land That God Forgot.

It was such a beautiful, crisp autumn morning that I quite forgot that I was on the Valium Run. The depot was deserted and the sun shone through the cracks in the dilapidated old building. The sparrows were in chirpy mood and all was well with the world. The thought of trundling up and down a hilly route between the 'Land That God Forgot' and a notoriously volatile Northern market town for the next 11 hours was pushed to the back of my mind.

Why I am moaning about the Valium Run? I have no idea. I must practise what I preach when I live by the motto that - it could be worse. Apart from the length of the day, there are so many plus points and I always come back feeling you have met extraordinary people and seen some extraordinary events.

I hadn't been on the Valium Run since August. I was greeted, touchingly, like a long lost explorer. "Where've you been?" "'Ello fella." "Watch yer." and "Me tomatoes are struggling" were some of the salutations. Followed by what was new, the same and general complaints about modern day living. This little rural route is like a community day centre. Everybody knows everybody, except for the odd rambler or tourist.

A passing holidaymaker fron the South was surprised: "Excuse me for saying, but this is the last of the 'Old England' I know."

So little had changed. The glass door on the telephone box was still missing.

"I've looked everywhere but ah canna find it," said one of the passengers. "It's a mystery. And do you know what, they took the door but they left the screws and the hinges. They're still there."

The old wooden hut on the disused railway track was no more. It had been torched. "Aye it's just the bairns up to their high jinks. They are just having a warm up for bonfire night in November"
They were more concerned about the new bus services from other bus companies as a result of the council's 'value for money' strategy when re-tendering the bus service contracts.

"It canna be cheaper for the council. We now have five school mini buses in the village every morning, half empty, when there used to be one. Now the other new timetable means that you have to wait for an hour and a half for a connection." That is a challenge. 90 minutes spent in the Land That God Forgot, where the only thing to do is stand in the bus shelter and count the number of hairs on the back of your hand.

The local market town looked to have suffered from the downturn. Four shops had closed in a month. The place has a depressed atmosphere, unsurprisingly. This did not affect the anarchic driving at speed through the centre of town and 'law of the jungle' parking, i.e find any double yellow line and dump the car, leaving the wife in the front seat in the unlikely event that a policeman or traffic warden appears.

As I drive into the town, an elderly lady steps into the road and rotates her arms in frantic helicopter rotation movements. Her coat flaps wildly in the wind and she threatens to take off. I have been forewarned that she might be angry as the bus had not appeared the day before. An investigation was inconclusive as to whether the driver had cut a corner and gone off for an early tea break. I was dreading having to take the flack for someone else's misdemeanour.

"Eeh, that's the third time the bus hasn't come. And I missed me doctor's appointment." My heart sunk, expecting the worst verbal lashing. It didn't come.

"Never mind," she said and smiled.

How can anyone not like the Valium Run?

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Oh Deer. Scrap At The School And The Chocolate Fire Guard

The day should have just been another DDSA day. It wasn't.

The hobbling baby deer wandering aimlessly along the white lines in the middle of the road put an end to that. It looked as if it had been hit by a car. The fawn took one look at the bus and darted off to the verge and lay half hidden under a bush. As it was on such a dangerous corner all I could do was drive slowly past and warn the fast cars coming in the opposite direction. When I returned there was no sign of the fawn or any carcase, so it must have gained sanctuary in the neighbouring pine trees. Nature has a way of healing.

Another strange event happened as I was passing a church with several black limousines parked outside the lych gate. An ambulance sped past with its lights flashing and drew up alongside the hearse. The paramedics jumped out and ran into the church, carrying breathing masks and oxygen cylinders. How ironic. I could only presume there had either been a miracle, the vicar or one of the congregation had taken ill, or they had gone to the wrong address.

The afternoon school run was a catalogue of near misses. Not my fault. Two cars overtook the bus on blind corners and a boy racer came round another corner on the wrong side of the road at a conservative 60 mph. There was a screeching noise as his wheels locked up under his emergency breaking. He slid over the wet road but narrowly managed to avoid the stone wall. He lives to fight another day.

The school itself was a more chaotic version of Picadilly Circus. Children swarmed like ants between the buses, buses moved like elephants between the children. A fight broke out amongst some spiky haired boys. Two peeled off and punched each other on the top of a beech hedge. The hedge gave way and the others piled in. The fight was short lived and the group disbanded, shaking themselves down.

Then I noticed a teacher standing on the pavement watching all the chaos, but doing very little. "that sounds like Mr Bloggins," one of the children on the bus announced. "He's as useful as a chocolate fire guard."

Then the rains came. And they really came. The mist descended and the roads turned into rivers. It was like driving through a water splash at a theme park. Deep concentration was required. It was not so easy as some of the girls started to sing an out of tune Macarena.

Just another day.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

DDSS When It Comes To Urban School Trips

"How are you today?" one driver asked another.

"DDSS." He replied

"DDSS? What's that?"

"Different Day Same Shit," came the answer.

Indeed, in my case it had begun exactly like that. Not much happened on the usual school run until a buzzard flew out of the trees and into the side of the bus. The air was full of feathers, but it must have been a tough old bird as it recovered and disappeared back into the wood. Perhaps it was an omen of the shape of things to come.

Having dropped the children I had 45 minutes to get to another school in Tyneside for a trip to an outward bound centre. Turning a corner through some woods a taxi was on the wrong side of the road, overtaking a tractor. Idiot. A close call tends to wake you up and I was alert for the rest of the journey.

Urban school and urban children are a law unto themselves. Once we were loaded up, the teacher said that I had to reverse the bus past the school fence so that the children and parents could wave us off. I refused as reversing buses with children on board is a thorny issue. It is a grey area in law and ill advised unless absolutely necessary. So a great British compromise was arrived at and I turned round and did the drive past. It was like feeding time at the zoo, with lots of little arms poking through the fence.

We hadn't gone more than a mile before the teacher yelled down the bus: "Jimmy. Shut yer mooth. It's constant. And I've got to put up with it for three whole days."

"Miss. Miss." shouted an anxious voice.

"Yeah. What is it?"

"Jason's just been sick all over Courtney's shoes." The children trilled "Ewwwww" in unison and the teachers disengaged from their involved gossiping and rushed to the back of the bus.

Before they had got halfway, the anxious voice added: "just joking.

And so the trip continued. "You're a monster the boy sitting directly behind me shouted in my ear. "You've just run over a dead bird. I'm going to report you. And for frightening them sheep too."

I later heard him discussing with his friend what sort of birds were sitting in the fields. "I don't know what they are. Are they some sort of dove or pigeon?"
"Are they some sort of game bird, driver? Maybe they are chickens."

"Pheasants," I said.

"Oh really? They look like doves."

We past a medieval castle in the middle of some woods and the teachers perked up.

"Look out the window at the castle children. You might like to know that is where Miss Rigsby, your teacher at school, got married in the summer."

The silence was broken by another small voice. "You don't tell me that Miss Rigsby had to get married in the woods, do ya?" The children laughed.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

I'll Have A Pint Of Extra Strong Mints

A worrisome story came out in the bus park yesterday.

A friend of a driver was driving their car into Tyneside when they were stopped by the Police.

"Just a routine check, sir," said the policeman as he leant through the window. "But I'm going to breathalyse you."

"Why did you do that?" asked the motorist after he had passed the test.

"Well, sir, you smelt of mints."

"Oh," replied the driver, "can you tell me what the legal limit is, two Polos or three?"

The policeman was not overly amused.

Buses And Bananas

There is a new school bus in the area. It is an old service bus, painted bright yellow. The children have nicknamed it the 'Big Banana'. It is the future of school buses as some bright spark has designated that we should yet again copy America and paint all our school buses yellow.

On the bright side, the uniformity of yellow will mask many old buckets currently used on school runs. This particular bus is not so good for our beautiful Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, because when it breaks down, it is parked on some remote rural spot and clashes badly with the purple heather,

Talking of bananas, another bus developed a problem where the fan went through the engine and resulted in a large oil slick pouring out over the road. breaakdowns are not fun. It happened to me occasionally. the last time was outside a railway station in winter. The temperature dropped so rapidly that the diesel froze and therre was nothing I could do, except to light a fire under the diesel tank. You feel a right banana as no traffic can get past and you sit there suffering the anger of motorists.

Winter is coming soon.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Ever Wondered Why Tall Men Drive Buses?

Tall bus drivers are an anomaly.

Handy in the quiet times for cleaning the buses. They can reach the top deck of double deckers with ease. Useful on the road for aggressive passengers or difficult situations as people tend to back down when you get up from your seat and they see the size of you.

There are two oversized drivers in the company I work for. I am the shorter of the two, standing at 6' 6 1/2". The other driver is 6' 8". He has been driving for many years and has seen practically everything.

"A happy bus is an empty bus," he extols as his motto. If there is a problem he acts swiftly and diffuses ugly situations by his size, stature and sense of humour. The difficulty arises when smaller drivers come to drive a bus which has been driven by a tall driver. He has to spend several minutes adjusting the seat, the mirrors and other controls.

But you have to remember why tall people like to drive buses. It's because no tall person in their right mind would want to sit on a bus as a passenger. Like the low cost airlines and the trains, it is nigh on impossible to squeeze into the seats. The only guaranteed seat in the bus with guaranteed legroom is the driver's seat.

It's first class travel.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

What Can You Do In Carlisle In 7 1/2 Hours?

In the my last post I mentioned that driving the Carlisle service commands a 7 1/2 hour break between driving and that some drivers found that there was not much to do in Carlisle. I disagree.

The City of Carlisle has one of the most evocative histories of any city in the UK and yet today it is largely forgotten. It is a great survivor. The Roman Emperor Agricola built a fort and named it Luguvallium in 78 AD, the Celts took over and called it Caer Luer, the Saxons defeated the Celts, the Vikings sacked it, the Saxons regained it, King William Rufus built another castle, the Scots briefly took the city but thereafter often laid siege but failed to take it, the Dominican and Franciscan monks arrived, the Border Reivers, Kinmont Willie, Johnny Armstrong, Belted Will, Bold Buccleuch, Jock o'the Side, Dick o'the Cow and others came and went and the city suffered a devastating fire, the Black Death and other severe outbreaks of plague. In the English Civil War Carlisle was staunchly Royalist, but was finally starved into surrender by Scottish soldiers. In 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie took the city then lost in quickly. From then on it grew, boomed and declined. Now it has a population of around 105,000 and survives well.

Though they have tried hard to ruin the place by building a hideous Civic Centre, create a terrible traffic system and knock down some attractive streets to construct an ugly shopping centre, the place still maintains an air of charm. You feel you are in a border town with an interesting past, particularly on market days when the Scots once again descend and mix with the Cumbrians.

There is a fine castle, a fine cathedral, the fine St Cuthbert's Church and three fine museums Tullie House which promotes all Cumbrian and Border things, old and new, the Guildhall Museum. Carlisle United have been going since 1904 at their Brunton Park ground. Racing began in Carlisle in Elizabethan times and the present racecourse has been operating since 1904. Red Rum was a frequent visitor, on his way to winning three Grand Nationals. There is a Turkish Bath, a Citadel designed by Thomas Telford and Sir Robert Smirke, an imposing Victorian station and a large market.

There are many hidden places to eat, foods from all round the world. Here are a few:

For sandwiches: Sandwich Mill, Shaddongate(near the chimney) for the best Cumberland Sausage on a specially imported French baguette.
Alexandros Greek Deli, Warwick Road for delicious bread.

For coffee: The little coffee truck, parked on the platform at Carlisle Station.

For atmosphere: The cafe in the market for all the characters and regulars who come and go. The Polish shop sells excellent ponchki and breads

For lunch: Zeytin, Lonsdale Street - good Turkish Cypriot food
Ruen, Crosby Street for good Thai and Lao food.
La Pergola, Castle Street - old fahioned Italian restaurant

Out of town: The butty van just off Jct 44, in the first lay-by on the Hexham road.
The Truckstop on Kingstown Park Trading Estate.

Then the afternoon can be spent in the library writing or looking at Britain's best book and cd shop - Bookcase in Castle Street. Or a siesta on the back seat of the bus.

The next time you are heading North on the M6 and see the signs for Carlisle, stop and see for yourself.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Carlisle Is United: No Whinging Poms

The Urban Dictionary ( a 'whinging pom' as: " A person of British origin who will consistently complain about any situation they may face. They are emotionally unable to deal with any sort of adverse condition without commenting negatively upon it. The typical 'whinging pom' can be often located in such global locations such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada. Though also found in multiple other locations in high concentrations (such as the USA), they tend to countries that at least pay lip service to their beloved monarchy."

Regretfully this morning you did not have to travel to the Antipodes to find a whingeing pom.

It was the sort of morning you didn't want to get out of bed. The weather forecast had cocked up again and the 40 mph winds seemed at times to exceed 60. The windows felt as if they were about to implode. It was 6am and the first morning that it was dark at that time, signalling that the commencement of the SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)season was imminent.

The depot was eerily noisy when I started the engine of the bus I was due to take to Carlisle. Every rivet of the 1908 German building groaned. Every hole in the brickwork produced a high pitched whistle. Every tile on the roof seemed to concertina. Fortunately there was no danger of the windows imploding, as there were very few panes of glass left. Previous winds had done their work.

The college students looked miserable. The few lucky enough to shelter under a bus shelter were morose at best. The others exposed to the elements on the open moorland looked like drowned rats. The bus I had been instructed to take was ancient and in its early life had been charged with delivering crew to their aircraft, clocking up the odd miles on flat runways. She, too felt downhearted about the Cumbrian weather and demonstrated her angst by steaming up all the windows. The visibility on a clear day was not good, as the wing mirrorshad obviously been designed to spot taxiing Boeings, Airbuses, Tupolevs and Ilyushins. Today it was impossible to see anything and you might as well have shut your eyes and prayed.

It just got worse. The council had brought forward the departure time of the second school bus which was coming along the road behind me. The soaked students couldn't identify which bus was which and flagged me down. The wrong students boarded the wrong bus, before realising that the right bus was soon to appear. I was doubly late.

My bus was buffeted by the winds and everytime she went through a puddle, the fan belt squealed in protest. She detested the wet. In the recent past she had gone through a deep flood and the water had been sucked up into the air intake, blowing up the engine and stopping in the middle of the newly formed lake. The driver had endured a soggy walk home, only to face the music from a very cross bus company proprietor, who was condidering the forthcoming bill for a new engine.

So it was no great shock to turn a corner and find the road was flooded. A mini-flood. I had to inch the bus through the water, not wanting to have to face the wrath of the owner as a result of being the second driver responsible for the destruction of an engine. A deep exhalation of breath followed and a relief that the worst was over.

No it wasn't. Around the next corner was the 'ROAD CLOSED' sign, a narrow road for a diversion and the mother from Venus on her way back from the school run in a silver sports car. She tried to race the bus, turned the corner off the main road and then blocked us both in. She tried to reverse, mouthing 'F's and 'B's as she went into the ditch. I mouthed 'thank you' and waved as I passed only to see more 'F's, 'B's, 'C's and 'W's. Lip reading can be a handy tool when you drive buses.

The traffic in Carlisle was at a standstill. It always is when it rains. It is the capital of Cumbria, the wettest county in England and being situated on the River Eden, it floods regularly; though since the last catastrophe in 2005, the council and Environment Agency have built up an array of defences. Usually, having dropped the college kids, the day is at your leisure. The return trip is not until 4.55pm so barring trips to Volvo or ATS to pick up parts or tyres, there are 71/2 hours to play with.

Some drivers go shopping. Others go to the cinema. many find it boring and hard to know what to do. One takes his fishing rod and goes fishing on the River Eden. One goes train spotting, as the railway line borders the coach park. One sleeps and complains when there is some other job to do, and says that he is a victim. A victim of sleep deprivation. I go to the library and write.

Today, however there is another job to do for another bus company. The boss meets me at the coach park to explain what is neede. There is a strong smell of chocolate from the nearby McVitie's factory, which is still known locally as Carr's, founded by Henry Carr in 1831 and home of Carr's Water Biscuits. The wind was obviously blowing in our direction. Having explained where the schools I have to cover sre, registering my blank looks each time, the owner suggests that he will send one of his drivers down to show me the way.

"Don't worry about this driver. He's a bit of a Sergeant-Major, but that's just his way."

In fact he was fantastic. He had been with the company for 35 years and had a good sense of humour under the normal 'don't waste words' Carlisle persona. "I'm an 'as 'n when driver. I drive as and when I am required." He knew Carlisle like the back of his hand and showed me how to avoid all the pitfalls, of which there were many on this route.

"We've had a bit of trouble on the route," he said. So when we stopped outside the school gates, he handed each sixth former a leaflet headed:


It went on:

"There have been a number of instances of bad behaviour,rude language and general lack of respect.

This leaflet is to inform you that this will not be tolerated.

Failure to behave will result in you not being allowed to use this service."

This was then reinforced by a teacher who came onto the bus and said some stern words. What a great school. This should be used as a template and sent to all schools countrywide, particularly the ones who dive for cover, never say anything and hope the problem will just go away.

As a result, it was a peaceful trip. The students were like quiet, polite and even smiling. Perhaps it helped that the Cumbrian grey and black clouds vanished to be replaced by blue skies and brilliant sunshine.

But it all goes to prove that there is no point in becoming a whinging pom, when the day starts off in a bad way. As I say to my friend who has the more problems and burdens to carry than anyone else I know...........


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Benefits Of Gales

The weather forecast was not right. So that's not unusual.

The wind was strong and gusty on the early morning school run. The evidence of the hurricane strength winds of last night were everywhere. Four trees had blown over onto the route. But amazingly, the local farmers had been out and chopped the wood which had closed the road. Neat piles of logs lay either side of the road.

The most telling sign was the sheep. Their fleeces looked ruffled, as if they had been through a blow dryer. They wandered aimlessly over the fell and behaved as if they had experienced a rough night. Even the children were tranquil. This was truly the calm after the storm.

It is the first day I have driven a bus through bad weather for several months. Surprisingly satisfying as it felt like a challenge. All seemed to go swimmingly. There were no delays. Cars and trucks respectfully reversed when we met in the narrow parts of the journey where it was not possible for more than one vehicle to pass. There was no Mexican stand-off which is usually the case. Angry motorists usually scowl and spit blood when you a bus with passengers on is not allowed to reverse. I don't know if it is law, but it is always a plausible excuse.

What's more, driving through the rain and wind cleans the dirt off the buses. There will be no need to clean them today.

I wish there were more storms.

Automatism: It's Hard To The Floor

A bus driver told me that if I had any sort of accident that I should plead 'Automatism'.

"What the hell is that?" I asked.

"It works," he said. "Look it up." So I did.

It seems, according to the BBC News website that it is 'essentially a legal defence, arguing that a person cannot be held responsible for their actions because they had no conscious knowledge of them.'

Further investigation showed there were two types of automatism - insane automatism caused by "disease of the mind" and non-insane automatism which was viewed as being due to external factors such as being hit over the head or stung by a wasp. In 2002 there was a test case where rock star Peter Buck from the band REM was acquitted of attacking air crew on a transatlantic flight.

This sounded marvellous. Too good to be true. The next day I quizzed the driver more and asked if he had known any successes.

"Well no," he said. "But we did try it with another driver who had just crashed his vehicle. He was a little slow on the uptake so we teased him. He was well known, allegedly, for having a big dick. So we told him to plea automatism."

"How?" he said.

"It's simple. You were driving along and were distracted by a pretty girl walking down the pavement and let's say that you had a 'romantic dream'. This dream caused your erection to ram down on the accelerator and make the car lurch, causing the crash."

Though he was again slow to comprehend, it proves that bus drivers' quick wit complements Victor Hugo's dictum that 'imagination is intelligence with an erection'.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Saturday Night - Bus Driver Style

The drivers in the school bus park had been out at the pub on Saturday night. It is an important part of a bus driver's life. But there are rules and everyone is expected to buy a round of drinks or two or three.

One man did not which caused animosity amongst the others. The solution was to buy this miser more and more drinks. When he could hardly stand up, they turned him upside down and emptied his pockets. He was then bundled into the boot of his own car and one of the drivers who had not been drinking drove the car back to his home, leaving him in the trunk.

His wife would wake to the sound of loud banging coming from the car boot. This happened many times and the wife was left scratching her head and wondering how he got there. She never figured it out.

Another man received even worse treatment. He had the habit of falling into a deep sleep and being impossible to wake. So he was taken in his car to the local car wash. The windows were wound down and he was sent on his way. It worked. when the car appeared the other side there was a wet figure, but wide awake.

Who says bus drivers are dull?

When Nature Calls

The gales have begun early. The rain has turned heavy. branches and leaves litter the road and even a few trees have been downed. Nature is showing us that summer is over. The curlew have disappeared. The grouse have began behaving strangely, running precariously along the road.

There is a loud bang. An idiot pheasant has flown into the windscreen. It is a fortunate pheasant with a hard head as it flies away apparently unharmed. This is the start of the season. The season of strange behaviour of the avian kind.

"Wow!" said the boy in the seat behind. "That was the same noise as the Cumbrian Wrestling at the Show yesterday."

The girls at the back were not so calm. one came running to the front.

"Hurry up! Holly needs a poo."

It's going to be a be a long winter.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Aye Aye. Me Loaf's Gone Up

News that a BBC commissioned piece of research states that the North East will be the least resilient to economic shocks and will possibly suffer the worst in the forthcoming spending review, is hardly surprising.

Between school bus shifts, I had a lunch break in the local town. There is a bench, brilliantly situated just outside the shop which acts like a magnet and people seem to appear out of nowhere, sit and start talking. You hear everything.

"It's very bad," said one elderly man. "It cost me £1-80."

"What cost you £1-80?" asked a lady who was hurrying to her parked car with her fully laden shopping bags. Her acute hearing had made her stop abruptly.

"Me loaf of bread.It's disgusting."

"Aye, it's disgusting."

"And what's more it was yesterday's bread and it was half price," wailed the man.

"Never!" replied the lady who had dropped her shopping bags in shock. "It cannot be true."



"Aye," said another passer had stopped and joined in.

It was the time to leave and I left the increasing crowd shaking their heads and 'aye-ing'.

This is the sometimes little world of the North. Perhaps of the South, East and West too. The Government's going to have a tough time when the cuts start appearing in this little town.

"The thing is," said another lady, "I can buy me bread for 70p from this shop and it tastes just the same."

As I walked back to my bus, I heard a chorus of "Ayes."

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Return Of Poo

It is a mistake when you have to take one of the better touring buses on a school run. There is always one who finds the microphone and switches it on.

"I just want to say something," Low-life Lenny announced to the whole bus as he figured out which direction the ON switch should be placed.

"Esmerelda smells of poo."

It had been brewing. The children's jokes had been getting progressively worse. Starting with jokes about sheep with no legs and wonky donkeys with three legs, it was not surprising that poo was next on the agenda.

It had all begun so well, too. It had been one of those beautiful autumn mornings. The warn orange sun fell gently over the last gasp of heather bloom. The bracken was caught between green and brown. The trees were thinking about being on the turn. The valley floor was shrouded in mist and all roads teemed with coveys of grouse.

It was one of those mornings where you were glad to be alive.

The good news continued when I found out that the girl whose mother would ring up the office and scream down the phone if the bus was more than one minute late, was not on the bus anymore.

But now, I fear, after the euphoria of the first days back at school, the general behaviour will degenerate. There will be plenty more poo.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Chinese Chickens And Headless Chicken Mentality

Thankfully that's over. The first day back on the buses.

"Shall we pay him some holiday money?" said one of the bosses.

"I wouldn't bother," said the other, "he's on permanent holiday." It had begun to feel like a permanent break as I had been away for nearly a month. A combination of school holidays and what was generally a quiet time on the buses made it the perfect time to disappear.

The first day back was going to be a doddle. The local school bus was a fairly relaxed affair and though the lanes were narrow, the Flying Pig, an old midi-sized bus was assigned for the route.

But shock horror. The morning began with the news that the Flying Pig was required for another route, owing to another small bus being in the paint shop. One of the smarter executive coaches was all that was available. No fun at all, creeping around the narrow lanes where the visibility was nil due to the overgrown trees and expecting a branch to ruin the paintwork at any time.

It would be the one day around the sharp bends and narrow stone bridges I met a delivery lorry, three sets of tree surgeons, four pick-up trucks, a late for work mother with her head down, two amorous doves and a partridge in a rowan tree.

"Watch the Chinese chickens," yelled the children as I nearly ran over a family of pheasants. The waddled up the road before flinging themselves to safety over the side of a bridge.

The bus park was chaos. Teachers and children getting on and off the wrong buses, running around like headless chickens. Buses were heading in every direction, hesitant and cautious of knowing which way they should be going. I got a rocket from a parent for running early. In truth they had probably not ventured out of their front door, due to the heavy rain so it was unlikely they could say whether I was early, late or outrageously late.

I've volunteered myself for two more weeks of this. What could I have been thinking of? But, hey. It could be worse. Opportunities won't knock but I will be an expert on the stupid lives of Chinese chickens.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

It's Showtime In The Hills

It's Showtime!

No not a Broadway spectacular, just the local village show. Don't underestimate it as the competition is fierce, particularly in the cake making category. There seems to be murmurs of discontent over this year's winner. the bone of contention is whether icing sugar is permitted to be dusted over the Victoria sponge, or not. The judge is always caught in the unenviable crossfire and subsequent mutterings.

"I make the best scones and cakes in the world," said the village's oldest inhabitant. "The only thing is that the judges don't realise it." A Highly Commended was a disappointing result.

The tent displaying the local home grown produce never fails to disappoint. The leeks are humongous. The cabbages were the size of medicine balls. And if there were people who still doubted climate change, they only had to look at the proliferation of chilis, peppers and garlics. Eagle eyed passers by were pretending to admire the vegetables, but in reality were seeing who had won what, who had beaten them and their finest produce and whether there had been any funny business or inconsistent judging. It was intense under the smiles.

The elderly belly dancers were at their very best. They seemed to be gyrating at a more productive and faster rate. No doubt aided by the swarm of midges which lurked around them all day. The midges in this village are world famous. When they bite they really bite, sending grown men into gibbering wrecks. The midges' Scottish cousins are no match at all and seem barely out of nursery school by comparison.

The beer in the pub flowed freely. Too freely. In fact it ran out. The chairs and tables were taken by people holding victorious dogs on leads with different coloured rosettes attached to their collars. The owners looked knackered having walked their pure breds around the dog show arena and were recuperating with a pint of whatever.

The dogs, however were tetchy and itching to take part in Dog Show 2 or as Harry Hill would have described it:

"But what's best? There's only one way to find out............FIGHT!

The owners held on tightly to their leads, ignoring the growling, snarling and flashing of teeth, as they calmly swatted at aggressive wasps with their other hand, which were intent on a dip into their beer. Occasionally there would be a yell which drowned the noise of the dogs as someone was stung.

The auction of produce at the end of the show is always well attended. The bidding is fiercer than that you see on Bargain Hunt. They will go to any lengths to get that prize marrow. I, of course, misbehave. I try to up the bidding as the proceeds go back to the show which is run by a core of selfless, hard working volunteers. But this year I was collared by one of the wives just before the auction started:

"Last year my husband had to pay £6 for a pork pie," she said looking a little nervous. "I hope he won't do that this year."

Fortunately the pork pies were taken home by their makers and not included in the auction. I did however manage to get someone to pay nearly £3 for some turnips.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Darth Vader Causes Nocturnal Chaos

What is the definition of aggro?

It could be six bus drivers stuck in a small room, for a week, in some far flung European country. In this cramped room were bunk beds which would try even the most patient. Imagine having driven 20 something hours to be shown that this was your accomodation for the duration of your stay.

The lavatories were situated in another block some distance away. When one of the drivers wanted to go the rest were woken up by creaking of wooden bunk beds and floorboards.

One of the drivers had a problem with sleeping and needed to wear a mask at night. One night he had the urge to go and crept out of the room, still wearing his mask. He arrived at the toilet block, pushed the door and to his horror confronted another occupant witting there. As there was no electric light the only means of getting around was with a torch.

There was an ear piercing scream which woke up all the drivers and the rest of the tour group who were asleep in other dormitories. Everyone rushed to see what the problem was.

"It was very frightening," said the person, "I thought Darth Vader was coming through the door.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Jessie Knacker And The Maybe-etta

The school holidays are coming to an end. Quel dommage. Next week I will be back on the buses. The school buses. Batten down the hatches.

My wife tried to console me. "I hope it will not be like the buses which arrived at my primary school. The children from Jesmond rode on such a terrible bus that it was known as the Jessie Knacker."

The North East is full of affectionate names for their buses. In County Durham there was one called the Maybe-etta. It was so unreliable that the people waiting at the bus stop would say: "Maybe-etta come or maybe-etta won't."

More often than not it didn't.