Sunday, 31 October 2010

Halal Burgers Don't Tempt Rumblebelly And Thunderpants

There is a sea change in British take-away food. A new trend is sweeping this great British institution. This is in the form of Halal Meat.

When I walked past the shops, looking for something to eat in Newcastle, on every advertising board, somewhere was written Halal Something.

Kebab with Halal meat

Full English Breakfast with Halal meat

Fish 'n Chips and Halal Food

Halal Parmesan (a Middlesbrough delicasy - deep fried chicken in breadcrumbs topped with a bechamel sauce, more cheese then grilled in a pizza pan)

Even the closed up butty van parked in the coach park had written on it:

Tea Coffee Burgers Hot Dogs Cold Sandwiches and Halal Burgers.

An astounding change. Now it could be good if the meat is supplied by Newcastle's Muslim Butchers. They have good quality meat and are artists. I like visiting these shops to see how they beautifully chop up various cuts of meat.

Whether the food was Halal or not certainly would not have been a concern to the two very drunk men I observed leaning against the stone pillars of the Central Station, as I picked up my well behaved party at 3am. They were farting and belching as they struggled to figure out where the taxis were and where the hell they, themselves were.

They were similar to two fat choristers my father used to tell me about, who would make loud gurgling noises as they marched into the school chapel. They were named Rumblebelly and Thunderpants.

The Geordie version of Rumblebelly and Thunderpants suddenly leapt into some sort of life. They had spied me and my bus and maybe had thought it was their last chance of a free ride. They moved surprisingly fast and I had to take evasive action, closing the door quickly and driving off.

I watched them in my mirror as the bus gathered momentum. They overbalanced and fell into the gutter, still making rumbling and thundering noises, but gradually being replaced by staccato obscenities.

It was good to be heading back to the countryside.

Are You Correctly Dressed For The Big Night Oot?

Newcastle is famous for nightclubs throughout the world. It pioneered the 'Big Night Oot' many years ago and the streets are heaving with party goers going from club to club, bar to bar and pub to pub. The dress code is the same regardless of the weather. The colder the conditions, the shorter the t-shirt and the skimpier the skirt or dress.

The North East has always had a passion for dressing up. They grab any chance. Halloween is a great excuse. Throughout the day every shop assistant was either a witch, demon, hairy tomato or something out of the Rocky Horror Show. Tonight was even better. I walked along the pavement on St James's Boulevard behind an international couple, holding hands. He was an Arab Sheik. She was a Geisha Girl. The man struggling to keep his headdress on in the high wind and his plump partner stepping precariously in an attempt to stop her bulging deep red kimono from ripping.

On the way to the Kebab Shop, I passed three different classes from St. Trinians, two sets of Super Mario Brothers, a hairy male Pamela Anderson in orange Batwatch leotard and blonde wig, a banana, a chicken, both male and female naughty nurses and too many weird Halloween outfits to mention.

The town was heaving. The roads were filled with speeding taxis, desperate not to waste any time. Time is money on a Friday night. The Police and Ambulances came through on a regular basis, sirens blaring. A fight broke out with a group of men coming out of a faux Russian vodka bar. More sirens. More people running from all directions.

It was time for me to retire to my bus. I put the sleeping bag onto the back seat and dozed off to the sound of more sirens.

Are You Sitting Comfortably For The Big Night Oot?

Did you know that where you sit on the bus can define your personality?

Well that's according to Dr Tom Fawcett of Salford University who carried out an observational study last year. "We noted people's body language and whether there was any interaction with other passengers, if they were sociable or withdrawn or even anti-social," he said.
In brief, he divided the passengers into seven categories based on where they sat and they were deemed to be either forward thinking, rebellious types, gregarious meeters-and-greeters, independent thinkers, strong communicators, risk takers and chameleons.

I had always wondered about this. In the North, they are back seat sort of people. Whether you go to a funeral, church service, school nativity play, or on any bus, the seats at the back are usually taken first. I don't know what Dr Fawcett would make of this strong behavioural pattern?

So tonight's trip was no different. The staff of the outward bound centre were going on their annual piss up to the 'Party City'. Though the bus was only half full, the first visible passenger was in Seat 26 or 27. They were a good crowd though. Well behaved and with a good sense of fun. It's makes the long wait into the wee hours more bearable when you know the passengers will be at the right place at the prescribed pick-up time. 3am meant 3am.

"Candice has brought her own plastic bag this year," said the organiser. "It's good because she threw up last year." That was consoling, particularly as I looked in my interior mirror to see candice and others pouring some vicious anti-freeze blue coloured vodka alcopop down their throats. The men were more traditional with 24 packs of Australian beer.

I dropped them off in the centre, parked the bus at 8pm and checked over my pillow and sleeping bag in preparation for the seven hour wait.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

God Is An Unutterable Sigh, Planted In The Depths Of The Soul

God was much in evidence on the bus today.

I was travelling through 'The Land That God Forgot' past the village called 'God's Waiting Room'. What's more was that I was carrying a woman passenger whose every second phrase was: "Oh my God."

I shouldn't pick up these things, but being the nosey Accidental Bus Driver, I cannot help it. Particularly when it involves an 'off the wall' conversation with another teenage boy, about the state of the job market in the local area.

"Oh my God. How much?"

"40 hours for £100. 100 measly quid," replied the boy.

"Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.(said more slowly and quietly)"

"Yeah. It's pretty unbelievable."

"Unbelievable. I didn't think that was allowed. Oh my God."

"It isn't allowed."

"Oh my God. That's slave labour."

"Well he said if I didn't like his miserable £100, then I could shove it right up my.........."

"Oh my God (higher pitched and very loud)."

"And what's more I had to clean all the bedrooms."

"Oh my God"

"And the bar."

"Oh my God."

"And sweep the steps and wash all the outside."

"Oh my God."

"And be up working until way after midnight."

"Oh my..."

"And without a break."


"Yeah 40 hours for £100. Well, no. After I had paid me friends and family, it worked out at 40 hours for £40 "

There was no anwser. I thought she had fainted. She hadn't. God must have intervened. I had silently prayed for a stop to this tittle tattle and sure enough my prayers were answered. The woman and the teenager got up and left the bus.

An Oriental Sort Of Day

It turned out to be an Oriental sort of day.

My lunch break took the form of a search for the 'Reduced' items in the local supermarket. Those bus drivers who don't scour the shops for some bargain food have a flask and their own home made sandwiches under their seat.

My supermarket sweep produced a flaccid Chicken and Bacon Noodle salad. It was so old all the pieces had sunk and the resulting congealed mulch resembled more of a sherry trifle. The minimalist plastic fork disintegrated after one mouthful. Disaster. Here I was, parked in the windswept coach park on Hadrian's Wall with a perfectly useless mess of a salad. There is nothing more miserable than being hungry and staring at your food, wondering how the hell you are going to eat it.

But a strange coincidence saved the day. Earlier I had been to the charity shop and in a fit of madness had bought some vintage official Beijing 2008 Olympic chopsticks. I forced the noodle salad down with the wooden chopsticks. My rest period reading became the instruction sheet which was enclosed in the chopsticks box, written in typically appalling Chinese-English translation:


* Chopsticks' surface protect layer adopte nvironmental protection's paint, innocuity Tasteless, please reassurance usage.

* Chopsticks at use behind belike surface's paint fall off or calm down a part attrition seriously, please in time change. Suggest use time for six months.

As I read this, there was a knock at the bus door. Two Japanese tourists looked in amazement at this bus driver sitting at the driver's seat, chopsticks in hand sucking up six lengthy strings of yellow noodles, slurping loudly as I went. I stopped half way through a slurp, like some embarrassed, naughty schoolboy who had been caught doing something wrong by the teacher.

The Japanese looked unamused and asked: "Take we bus weywey stay-shun. Make how much pounds. Bus go stay-shun when hour? Tren to Carr-I when hour?

Thanks to my lunchtime reading I not only answered all their questions, but they were charged the correct fare, taken to the correct railway station and even got on the right train to Carlisle.

Who said Northumberland was not full of Eastern promise?

Bus Drivers Do Their Community Service

"Would yer mind bringing me back a Mirror?" said the old lady at the bus stop, handing me a 50p bit. "Thanking you kindly." She normally came down on the bus to the paper shop in town every day. Today the weather was awful and hence she asked for help.

This is a piece of the bus world which I am delighted to say has not disappeared in the North East. The community service side to buses. When I started driving on the Vallium Run, the boss instructed me to stop in the middle of the road by the newsagents and wait for the shop assistant to come out and give me the papers. They were wrapped in brown paper and held together by binder twine.

Further down the road at odd intervals I would stop at a farm gate, open the window and throw the paper out onto the driveway. In dry weather, of course. In the wet I would have to get out, walk across the road and place it in the mailbox. I would leave larger bundles in the village telephone box or bus shelter.

We used to transport more. Car parts between garages, for example. I wish people would use certain bus routes more for delivering items. There is a natural network for distributing any manner of things.

Maybe when the Royal Mail is privatised, they will look at this. But I suspect TNT, DHL, UPS or whoever the purchaser is will view the idea as counter productive to the profitability of their networks and sound the death knell.

Perhaps I will be confined to delivering the odd Mirror, together with 5p change on the odd occasion, as I did for the old lady who was waiting at her gateway in anticipation of her newspaper.

Bus Shelters Are Worrisome For Those In God's Waiting Room

Passing along the Vallium Run route, it is impossible not to notice the quality of the bus shelters. Brand spanking new bus shelters. Stone clad, well built, nicely designed with windows to see up and down the road. They are a credit to the Council's design team and fit well into the beautiful rural area.

The only problem is that nobody uses them. Or rarely. They never did use them, when they were ramshackle old wooden ones. The cost must have been substantial and there is a whisper going around the bus that there is more afoot.

The conspiracy theorists are convinced that a housing estate or major house building project is imminent where they live.

"Our village is known as 'God's Waiting Room'," said one lady. "It always has been due to the large number of old people who live here. Look at it - it's so beautiful. I'd like nothing better than to pop my clogs sitting in my chair in my garden."

Wouldn't we all?

No Change For Tweedledum And Tweedledee

Tweedledum and Tweedledee, two of the regular passengers were hiding in the bus shelter, keeping out of the rain. It was consoling to see them. They are regular as clockwork. In fact when they are not waiting at the same bus stop, you worry if they are allright and that something bad has not befallen them.

As usual they have no change. One gives a £5 note and the other gives a £10. I am a typically useless bus driver and carry very little change anyway. It got me into trouble once when a passenger with plenty of time on his hands, sat up half the night writing letters of complaint to my boss, the local newspaper and anyone else he could think of. He was incensed that by not carrying enough change that I was not offering the right service. And as I was a service bus driver, the title gave a clue as to what I should be doing - offering him a service. He banged on and on about how I should park the bus outside the bank and go in and get some change.

Finally the boss got fed up and sent a load of computer legal gobbledygook which stopped the late night e-mails coming.

Today, it went to plan as it normally does. As we went further down the road the old regular passengers got on the bus with the correct change. By the time we had reached the railway station terminus there was enough change to give to Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

They were happy. They always are happy.

Jump Start

Seventy-two hours prior to Halloween and on the very day it was announced that the Police would get extra training and weaponry to deal with a Mumbai style terrorist attack, it was understandable that I jumped two feet into the air, when what I thought could have been a masked raider silently strode into the depot at 7.30am. It was dark and this rainsoaked figure looked menacing in his fluorescent yellow jacket and motor cycle helmet.

I positioned myself close to the buckets and mops which seemed to be the only forms of self defence within reach. Quite how much damage I would have done to the assailant is highly debateable. I suppose the only consolation would have been that the Police would be given a lead to go on - a man in a motorcycle helmet who smelt of Flash floor cleaner.

I felt a little more at ease when I saw a pair of steamed up glasses beneath the visor. The figure grunted, raised a hand, before disappearing into a dark corner of the depot. It was just the new driver - Hiram B. Birdbath (with apologies to the moderately successful racehorse of the same name).

I needn't have worried. It was another bizarrely different start to the day.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A Weekend With Horatio Nelson - Part 2

"Desperate affairs require desperate measures." Yet another of Nelson's famous quotes rang around my head, when I returned to the depot and realised that I had a hole in my trousers and my car key had dropped through it.

It was a toss up as to whether I felt like a lemon or a prune. Either way the situation was hopeless. Stuck in the hills with the temperature plummeting to below freezing, was not a pleasant experience. Desperate measures were indeed required. So I called the wife and cried for help.

It had been an awkward day in one respect. Every hotel we went to with the Nelson Society had the same problem. They were not coach friendly. Turning around was awkward. There was no room. The roads were exiguous. It was as if they wanted the people but not the buses - a familiar problem.

What is wrong with these expensive hotels?

As an outsider they seem to be so accountant driven that they forget the basics of looking after their guests. All the hotels seemed to be overly busy with numerous weddings. Poor old Nelson Society suffered. One hotel took one hour for their starter to arrive. Another hotel had no parking as whatever parking there was had been nabbed by the wedding planners, the florists and the cake makers. Another hotel was staffed by politely off hand Eastern Europeans, adept at digging their heels in and refusing to help, yet smiling as they do so.

The last hotel we visited was the narrowest. This was made worse by the placement of a multitude of stone boulders and wooden posts.

"Where would you like us to park?" I asked (I thought reasonably) the assistant hotel manager.

"We would like you to park as close as possible to the front door," he replied unhelpfully.

"If we park any closer, you won't have a front door," said the other driver. The manager melded into the background and offered no more information. The best thing, the two bus drivers decided , was to ignore everything.

A Weekend With Horatio Nelson - Part 1

I thought it was ironic that Horatio Nelson had once said: "I cannot command winds and weather," as I watched a member of the Nelson Society lose the battle against the wind and fall flat on his face, close to the Collingwood Monument at Tynemouth.

The Nelson Society were holding their 2010 AGM in Newcastle and required two coaches to transport them around some of the sights in the North East where there was a connection with Nelson. The day before they had been for a Newcastle/Gateshead City Tour and a Battle of Trafalgar dinner onboard H.M.S. Trincomalee in Hartlepool Dock.

Today it was Collingwood's Monument, Davison's Obelisk in Swarland and tea at Embleton Hall. The road down to the Monument at Tynemouth is narrow and no room when you get there for parking coaches. It was unsurprising that an angry council traffic warden came banging on the driver's side window:

"You've caused consternation, coming down here. No coaches allowed here," he loudly announced. I resisted the temptation to question him about his use of the word 'consternation' as only three cars seemed to be affected.

Instead I thought I would lay it on thick and I said:

"We have some elderly members of the Nelson Society, some of whom cannot walk far. Are you telling me that you are going to try and ruin their emotional visit to Cuthbert Collingwood's Monument?"

To my amazement, he reddened, pulled his cap down, nearly saluted and said: "Well in that case I will let you ignore the double yellow lines." He disappeared as quickly as he arrived.

"That's it, you tell him," said a feisty Nelson Society member. They were an enjoyable group of passengers. Erudite, polite, enthusiastic and often to the point.

"I wish you would open the middle door and let us out. When we all have to come out the front door, it takes an eternity. It's all my husband's fault. he cannot move fast. he is a right pain in the bum."

I am sure she was guided by Nelson's famous words: "I could not tread these perilous paths in safety, if I did not keep a saving sense of humour."

This applies to a life as a bus driver, too.

One Week's Grace For The Nightclub Run To Newcastle

I couldn't do the late night Nightclub jaunt to Newcastle. I had something else on. The bos had to do the job. Therefore I was not the flavour of the month.

Even less so when one of the girls walked down to the front of the bus and announced:

"Will you turn the heating down, love? I'm sweating me tits off back here."

On arrival in clubland, she gave the boss two huge smackers and disappeared into a crowd of clubbers.

My dispensation is brief, however. I am out this coming Saturday, with a party to the same place. Their estimated return home time is 3 am. That will mean 4 or 5. So it is a case of an uncomfortable night on the back seat of the bus with a sleeping bag and a flask of coffee.

But I guess it could be worse. It is a roof over your head.

Mad Surfers And Geordies Go Out Into The Autumnal Sea

The coastline at Whitley Bay, though beautiful in its own curious way, tends to make you feel cold. The North Sea has a brownish, greyish unfriendly feel to it. The wind sweeps horizontally across the concrete promenade. There are few places to shelter.

This is what it is like in July. So imagine what it is like today. A brisk October day. Cloudless, windy, that razor sharp North Easterly. The waves were high. High enough and strong enough for some sport in the water and on dry land. Wet suited surfers were wading out to sea in search of the perfect wave. On the promenade children on half term break were holding onto the railings and letting the spray from the waves pounding the sea wall, fly up and soak them.

Madness. It couldn't get madder. Oh yes it could.

A half naked male teenager came sprinting down the promenade. He was without shirt, socks or shoes. cheered on by his supporters, he ran down the steps and ran 100 yards trying to outrun the ocean rollers. Of course he failed spectacularly and was taken off his feet. He fell head first into the raging surf. The watching crowd oohed and aahed, expecting to wake up tomorrow morning and read the headline in the local paper of: "Local Lad Lost To Freak Whitley Bay Wave".

But he survived and ran up the steps to a hero's welcome. He must have been in training for the infamous Boxing Day Dip where thousands brave sea temperatures as low as 4 degrees. A Northumbrian last year was quoted in the Newcastle Journal as saying:

"It got rid of all our Christmas excesses and felt like we had done something real and useful."


Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Lake District - A Hell Hole For Coaches

As I was driving through the Lake District, in my car, on a day off, I turned a sharp corner to find a huge coach, struggling to turn round. There were stone walls on all sides and narrow lanes. The driver looked panic stricken.

Poor sod.

I knew the feeling. The first time I drove around the Lakes, it was a petrifying experience. On every bend a car came round the corner towards, without reducing speed. I used to shut my eyes and wait for the bang. It never happened, the car always managed to squeeze through. Skilful local drivers or sheer good fortune - you can toss a coin for the correct answer.

This bus driver was sweating as he shunted back and forth, avoiding connecting with the stonework. He did well. So much better than I would have done. His passengers were long gone, looking around the farm Beatrix Potter once owned. I hope they give their driver a good tip when they return.

He has earned it.

Leading Americans Up Mr McGregor's Garden Path

"Say," said the large tourist as he blocked my way on the narrow pavement in Bowness-on-Windermere. The unmistakably twang placed him as being an inhabitant of America's Deep South. His wife's Texan drawl confirmed it.

"Is this the way to the Potter exhibition?"

"Yep," she continued, turning to her husband, "I am so looking forward to this Harry Potter exhibition."

As you will all know the Lake District is the home of Beatrix Potter, not Harry Potter. The exhibition I directed them to was 'The World of Beatrix Potter'. I thought ignorance was bliss and therefore left them to figure it out for themselves.

I still feel a little guilty as I imagine their horror when they found no Dumbledore, Hagrid, Voldemort or any Weasleys; only Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck and Mrs Tiggywinkle.

Even worse was the thought of them struggling to get past the crowds of Japanese tourists, who monopolised the stuffed exhibits by insisting that they stopped and posed for photographs at every one.

That's mass tourism for you.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Beggars At The Bus Station

City Centre bus stations seem to act as magnets for people begging. Maybe it is my imagination, but there seem to be an increasing number of them, of all nationalities. Maybe it is the economic downturn. Take Edinburgh, when I visited the other day. In the past there used to be competing pipers, busking at most street corners. They are still there but further along the pavement are beggars propositioning passers-by. I must have been stopped fifteen times in half an hour.

So it was no surprise to be stopped in Carlisle yesterday by a girl with studs in her eyebrows, nose, ears and possibly tongue.

"Can you lend us yer change?" she asked politely. But I disappointed her, because I think I have found a way to differentiate between the real hard cases and those who are just after money for drugs or booze.

"Come with me," I said. "Come into this shop over here and I will buy you whatever you would like."

She started to backtrack. "No don't worry, mate."

"Oh come on, you can have any food you like."

"Naw, I don't want to trouble yer," she said before running off. I think that was probably code for 'I want the money for drink or other illicit substances.' It is not a foolproof system, and perhaps it is foolish to make judgements, but usually the really badly off seem to be grateful for any kind of food.

I get to the other side of the bus station and I am propositioned again by a Romanian violinist playing some Romanian folk tune very badly. I give him some money, breaking my own rules. Hypocrite. but this was not done out of charity. It was appalling self interest - to get him to stop playing his cat's chorus and give me a minute's peace.

Monday, 18 October 2010

A Nasty Moment

I had a strange experience yesterday.

A man of ethnic origin leapt out of the bushes and started chasing me, some friends and our children, in the middle of a North Eastern city.

"I take your camera. You take camera." He cried over and over again. he was most agitated.

"I don't understand," I replied in a reasonable manner. This enraged him. He took out his mobile phone, shouted, "Police, Police. I ring Police," and then took down our car number plate details. My friends from the continent were unnerved by this man's behaviour.

What was his problem? Did he think one of my friends had taken a picture of him? She hadn't.

As we drove off the sirens of three Police cars came closer and passed us. That was quick I thought. Yhe Police after us so quickly.

I await the next stage. a New Zealand friend, who is tough and experienced with dealing with these sorts of people told me that night to forget about it.

"You should have looked him in the eye and said to him: 'F*** off! Rude letter to follow. That's what I always do and it seems to work"

The Redundant Bus Driver?

The bus industry holds its breath and waits for the Government announcement about cuts.

What will they be? Will the bus subsidy be cut? Where will the axe fall?

There have been tales of job losses in some big bus companies recently. The councils have been bringing down the prices to rock bottom prices and some small companies have been putting in ridiculously low tenders, hardly worth getting out of bed for. They will be running at break even, at best and at a loss at worst. Why? Perhaps they feel the need for cash flow, however derisory.

How will it affect us drivers? Will there be fewer routes?

So many questions. So many uncertainties.

If I had to guess, there will be fewer routes. The subsidy will be removed, making many routes, particularly rural routes unviable. But it is a political numbers game. There will be fewer complaints from the countryside because not many people live there. They would not dare cut the towns and cities. That would be political suicide.

So watch this space. The Accidental Bus Driver may become the Redundant Bus Driver. Who knows? I don't think anyone does.

Grumpy Ol' Man River

Theres's nothing worse, as we have already discussed, than a grumpy bus driver. The black cloud over the driver's cab seems to permeate down the central aisle of the bus and any passenger seems to be afflicted by the same bad mood.

"Ah, are you not well today?" said the pensioner, stating the bleeding obvious.

"Have you got a cold? Yes you have. You are full of you hear that Gladys. He's full of cold."

It is October. Transporting children is a hazardous business, particularly at this time of year when they spread their loathsome germs. This time I have picked up a rip roarer of a bug. This is the fourteenth day on the trot that I am coughing and sneezing. My voice has deepened and the only saving grace is that I can sing "Ol' Man River" with ease, which has the added bonus of making the passengers want to get off quickly.

"Is everything alright?" said the boss. "You seem to have changed." Of course I have changed. Everyone does when they feel unwell. I go quiet and keep myself to myself. I am saved from having to explain myself. Another driver walks past, 'full of cold'. He is grumpy, too. In fact even grumpier than me. His rasping muttering deflects the boss's attention.

"Are you alright there..........?"

I quietly vacate the depot and hear the unpleasant noises of throat clearing, before a return to under the breath mutterings.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Deep Doubts, Deep Wisdom; Small Doubts, Little Wisdom

I'll give you 'Feng Shui is the answer to all your prayers', as some people like to think.

Feng Shui is great. But you have to take it in conjunction with the rest of Chinese thinking, beliefs and general outlook. This is alien to European thinking and people have been misled by by the array of consultants and organisations who have cherry picked certain parts and generally taken them out of context of the whole.

If only Feng Shui was the answer to all problems on buses, it would be marvellous. There have been cases where experts have been called into bus stations where there have been a string of accidents to try and redress the Feng Shui. Claptrap. Making the access easier, improving the lighting or taking away an ill placed bollard would have been a cheaper option.

So GBDS - Grumpy Bus Driver Syndrome kicked in the other day when a passenger accosted me with the latest superstitious invention:

"Do you know, this month has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays?"

"No I didn't," I replied with too much fake interest.

I paid for it, because the passenger cornered me and went on and on:

"Yes it is interesting. It happens once in every 823 years."

When I got home there were 5 e-mails from different people with this information. Sensible people. They asked me to pass this message on to 8 people and I would get rich. It was reinforced and given supposed added value gravitas by a quote from Winston Churchill about opportunities and pessimists.

Being charitable, I feel people have lost their marbles because they are desperate and frightened at the forthcoming Government cuts in the UK. The atmosphere on the buses at the moment is so thick with fear and uncertainty that you can cut it with a knife.

The old aged pensioners are not certain if they are to keep their free travel or not. The young are worried about their studies. Everyone else fears for their jobs.

For once I am looking forward to November. At least people will have more of an idea where they stand. Feng Shui consultants will no doubt have a busy run up to Christmas. As for the buses - little will change.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Lunatics Have Left The Asylum

"There will be one or two more crashes before it settles down," a driver said to me.

I had just complained to him that I felt the standard of driving of car drivers on the road had recently sunk to an all time low. Speeding like wild cats, overtaking on blind corners, tailgating and braking violently were some of the things I have seen in the last two weeks.

"Remember - there is a reason for it," he went on. "At the end of June/July there are all those school leavers who have just passed their test in the summer holidays. They're new on the roads at this time. there will be a couple of crashes, before they realise it is a dangerous occupation, then things will get better.

I've only seen two crashes, so we're halfway there. There is a car flying in front of me. Five minutes later I catch up with him. The driver looks shaken. he has been careering around the sharp corner only to find an oil tanker, parked and delivering heating fuel to someone's house. He has obviously taken evasive action and missed the tanker, but it looks as if, to do so, he has had to scrape the other side of the car in some hawthorn bushes.


Beauticians Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

The college has always been popular for girls studying to become beauticians. In the past, they were instantly recognisable by their plain white tunics.

Now something has changed. their uniforms are snazzy, with purple and pink stripes and swirls on the black background.

"They're very expensive," moaned a student. "Cost us a lot of money."

She looked no happier when another passenger suggested another way in which she could earn some extra income to cover the cost.

"Seeing as you look like an extra out of Star Trek, perhaps you could get some work in the next series? They haven't written a beautician into the storyline yet."

She smiled un-gracefully. Maybe even through gritted teeth. It was hard to tell as the bus's interior mirror was dirty and everyone sitting behind me, seemed to be enveloped in fog.

Fumbling Through The Pockets For The Full Fare

The college students are fumbling in their pockets for whatever change they have. "I don't think I have enough," said one girl, but she was not so good at hiding a folded £20 note in the corner of her purse. she scowled when I said I had enough change.

For the past week, an edict had been sent to the students in the form of a roughly guillotined typed note, stating that if they did not have the correct pass, then they would be charged the full fare.

The takings tripled.


The ones who usually boarded the bus, saying: "I've left me pass at home" or "the council say it's in the post" look at the floor, say nothing, give a sheepish grin and then reach into their pockets and bring out the correct fare.

It just shows you.

Peeing On The Public Highway

I live a sheltered life.

Another bus came zooming into the coach park and screeched to a halt, two spaces away from me. Engine still running, the doors opened and a large driver came tumbling down the steps, hand held firmly somewhere around his midriff. He ran waddled to the rear wheel of his bus, unzipped his flies and peed on it.

"Dinna worry, mate," he said, talking to me over his shoulder as he relieved himself, "it's perfectly legal." The river of liquid ran along the coach park between our buses and started steaming as it hit the cold air.

"What's legal," I replied.

"Peeing in public, of course. You are allowed to pee on the back wheel of your vehicle. Goes back to the olden days when the law stated a driver of a cart could get down off his cart and pee against his rear wheel, whilst still holding the reins."

"I had no idea," I said feebly.

"Two other times you should be aware of, when it's legal. One's pregnant women and the other's any children under 5. They're both allowed to pee."

"Gotta be the kerbside though and if they expose themselves then they will be done for causing offence or committing a nuisance or some other law."

He went on. "They can't, of course, pee the wheel on the opposite side to the kerbside."

"That's illegal, is it?", asked the other driver who had overheard the conversation.

"Nah, but it's likely they'll get run over."

If only life was so simple. In my case modesty forbids and besides, I am too tall a target for a passing policeman. If I am ever in desperation, I shall resort to the old bus driver trick of lowering yourself into a seat, out of view and fill an empty plastic bottle.

Well, that's what other drivers tell me they do.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Maniacs, Lost Sheep And The Pea Souper

Autumn has come six weeks early. Today the conditions are lethal. It is foggy. Thick fog in places where visibility is down to less than 30 metres. A 'pea souper'.

So what do the local drivers do? They accelerate. It is petrifying watching them coming towards you, at speed, with faces like stone, chiselled in concentration. I do not understand the thinking. Somehow the fog gives them a feeling of security and invincibility. Maybe they feel they are enveloped in soft cotton wool.

The black faced sheep are safe from the maniacs. Their black features make them visible. But if they turn broadside and are facing the other way, it is nearly impossible to see them. The locals tend to be unapologetic if they run one over. It should cost them the going market rate, which they should pay to the farmer, but they tend to take the line that it is the 'silly bloody sheep's' fault.

"I was driving along the road, minding my own business, when I saw this sheep in the distance walking towards the road," somebody once told me. "The stupid sheep just kept coming, so I hit it."

This sheep, however was lucky and survived with no more than a sore behind.

20 Things Which Hurt A Bus Driver

Bus drivers are strange creatures.

On the surface they give an air of supreme confidence and people who are in control of the situation. Beneath the facade there are many things that go wrong and make us a little insecure. This can take the form of dented pride, mental torture or simple physical pain. Here is a list of items which affect me. I will let you work out which are pride, mental or agony:

1. Hitting your head on the skylight, folding TV screen or any protruding knobbly bit on the roof of the bus.

2. Ripping your favourite coat when it catches on the luggage lockers. Tearing the gusset in the back of your trousers, exposing your elderly striped boxers to an old folks mystery tour is worse.

3. Having an accident. Denting the bus in full view of your passengers, regardless of whose fault it is. It makes me wish I was invisible.

4. Hearing that another driver has been talking about you behind your back. If he has left the bus in a mess and failed to fill up with diesel, then that is a triple insult added to injury.

5. Slipping on the beer stained floor and ending up arse over tit.

6. Having to hold your breath and shut your eyes, whilst cleaning up some sick.

7. Losing your fingernails to the sharp edges to the seat, when replacing the seat belts.

8. Being told by a rude passenger, in no uncertain terms that you are a 'useless piece of shit.' The advice from another driver always echoes around the inside of my head in those situations: "Remember," he always said, "a happy bus is an empty bus."

9. Having to be a contortionist to clean the rotten smelling hell hole of an onboard lavatory. I dread the words, from the boss: "Go and drop the toilet." It is degradation at its most pure.

10. Trapping your pubic hair in your zip, when you are in a hurry at some Service Station.

11. Knowing you have three hours ten minutes driving to do, before you can stop for a break, when your sensitive stomach is playing up.

12. Losing the keys to the bus.

13. Having to suffer a long journey with some pungent smelling vagrant, non stop talker or farting child sitting in the seat directly behind you.

14. Drunks on the bus, which is often a prelude to a fight. Fighting on the bus is terrifying.

15. Being stopped by VOSA. On the spot fines are an increasing possibility.

16. Returning to the bus and finding a parking ticket on the windscreen or seeing a parking warden run up the street, punching madly into his hand held console as he sprints.

17. Having a Policeman jump out into the road in front of you, from behind a lamp post or shrub, holding up his hand in the "Halt!" position.

18. Nothing happens when you turn the key in the bus. The electrics are dead. The passengers are expecting you in 5 minutes. What do you do?

19. Being stuck in some city centre at 3am, with no sign of the punters. They had said they would leave at 1.30am and would be prompt. The surrounding mobs of drunken groups vacating the nightclubs make you feel most vulnerable.

20. The company refuse to pay the high parking charges in a town centre. You are banished to a lay-by on the town's bypass and subject to hours of excruciating boredom.

This is the life of a bus driver.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Someone Is Watching Over Me

A miracle occurred today.

Well it was my salvation. It was a nightmare for the boss.

The bus I had put a hole into the rear bumper was involved in an accident. On a school trip, some driver came haring round the corner and drove straight into the back of the bus. The back end was severely dented and the boot door, the lighting arrays and the bumper were severely twisted and mangled.

My little hole had disappeared. It had been swallowed up and incorporated in the far more serious damage. It is a slight lessening of the hook, if not being let off completely.

"I still want to remind you that the bit you hit was the only part of the bus I had had painted," said the boss. "I'll never let you forget that."

Not an absolute pardon, by any means.

A Tip Too Far

I went on another company's bus, where above the door was a notice about tips. It asked passengers not to pass a bag around because some people felt pressurised. It went on to advise those who wanted to give a tip, if they would quietly go and see the driver at the back of the bus and quietly slip something into his hand.

The nerve of it!

Tipping is everybody's personal choice. You can't go around telling people how to tip. It is a bonus and something you can't expect and pleasant when it happens. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.

"He's had a complaint against him," said the driver who had borrowed the bus to do the school run. "He's quite a character but sometimes can't keep his mouth shut. This time he went too far when a large lady got on his bus.

'Well love, he said to the lady, with an arse the size of that you will need two postcodes.
The woman was not amused and rang his boss."

I suspect there was no tip there, then.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A Peculiar Polish Day Off

What does a bus driver do on his/her day off?

As you already know by now, having read enough of my ramblings, I have had a mixed and varied life, both on and off the buses. So it will not surprise you to know that I have strong past connections with Poland. I have been there thirty-two times. My mother started a charity in 1980 and I used to go with her, driving trucks full of medical supplies and aid for children's hospitals.

So, today is a peculiarly Polish day.

The Consul General in Edinburgh has kindly asked me to a concert in St Giles Cathedral to launch the Chopin Anniversary celebrations. I get up and put on my suit, a twenty year old Polish suit I had had made by the Military tailor in Gdynia. I attach a Black Madonna of Czestochowa badge to my lapel, in memory of my mother who always wore it. She was not a Roman Catholic, but it always made her feel safe in a then, volatile country going through uncertain times.

I stop at Lidl in Carlisle for something to take onto the train. I buy Pretzels and Polish tomato juice. The stewardess on the Trans Pennine Express is Polish and comes from Tarnow. The bus driver outside Waverley Station is Polish too. The concert is Chopin, played by musicians from Krakow and Przemysl. The audience is predominately Polish. The reception in the City Chambers after the concert continues along the same theme. I meet Polish diplomats, lawyers, doctors and a priest who is an avid Newcastle United supporter. Many people are drinking Zywiec beer.

The atmosphere in the room is warm. The Poles and the Scots are similar in their outlook. The Vice Provost and the Consul General speak of the strong links between Edinburgh and Krakow. The reception goes on well into the night. It is a typically Polish affair. They like a party.

For me, it is paradise. Poland is one of my second homes. My Scottish side of me warms to the relaxed gathering and brutal honesty from the guests:

"Chopin is nice. He is Polish, of course. But I don't like this kind of music," said one lady, taking another sip of her wine.

It reminds me of some of the comments I hear on the buses.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Bang Goes My Credibility Again


The sound like an exploding balloon made the teacher leap into the air.

"What was that?" asked the nervous children. The main door flew open and then would not close properly, flapping in the wind. One of the air gauges dropped dramatically into the red.

I had to lock the door and as the brakes seemed unaffected, it was best to continue gently. We made it.

When I returned to the depot, I was greeted by the mechanic.

"What have you broken now, driver?"

"You're a disaster," said the boss. "This is the second time in two days you've broken the bus."

But this time it was not my fault. A piece of metal had corroded and caused the fault. It was soon fixed.


Which Town Are We In?

As we were driving through Barnard Castle, several of the children asked:

"Are we nearly there yet? Where are we? Which town are we in?"

"If you look at the shop signs," replied the teacher, "you will get a clue."

"Are we in Bridlington?," piped up one child. "There's a fish shop, we must be by the sea."

"Nah," corrected another, "we're in Oxford."

"No," said all the other children. "That shop said 'OXFAM."

Newspapers Are Never Sick

The teacher had got onto the bus with a pile of newspapers under her arm.

"A bus driver told me that if a child sits on a newspaper on a bus trip, they are never sick. We have been doing it ever since and so far it has worked. I don't know what it is, perhaps it is the friction or the sound of rustling. It just works"

It worked again on this trick. I'd like to think it was my cautious driving. But then again if there is some magic cure, then that would be paradise.

I will trial it over the next few weeks and report back.

York - The Friendly City - Even In The Fog

The Vale of York is notorious for fog in Autumn.

This morning was no exception. But it did not stop the lunatic motorists with a death wish from accelerating up the dual carriageway. York has become a very busy city. The re were already queues coming into town at 0645. The back streets are tricky places to drive a bus. the school I was due to pick up at was down a narrow street with parked cars, bollards amongst the narrow streets of Victorian railwaymen's terraced houses.

In view of my current record, I was particularly careful and proud of myself for not clobbering anything. I even managed to avoid the substantial, industrial sized wheelie bins within the tight turning circle within the school itself.

And, boy how lucky I was. this was the second friendly school I had visited in two days. As I sat in the staff room with my cup of real coffee, freshly poured from the cafetiere, a teacher smiled and said:

"You just relax and enjoy your coffee."

The parents came to wave their children off. the place was buzzing. They mingled with the passing office workers and shop assistants, dressed in their ubiquitous uniform of white blouse, black trouser suit and a knee length Inspector Clouseau-esque raincoat flapping in the breeze. The sound of clicking heels along the pavement was constant. The postman passed, peddling hard on his bike laden with three paniers, bulging with mail. He waved.

We departed. It was happiness personified. York is the friendly city.

Hotel From Hell

Having dropped off in Merseyside, tomorrow morning I was due to pick up a school in York. So rather than go back up to the depot and come back down again at 4am, the boss thought it a better proposition to stay in a hotel.

The last time I stayed in a hotel, you may remember, the mating pigeons made such a noise, that sleep patterns were inconsistent. Tonight, it was just the constant nocturnal trucks passing along the dual carriageway outside my window.

I was knackered when I arrived. I just wanted to park the bus and fall into bed.

"You can't park there," said the garage attendant as he looked at me parking in one of the only practical places. "It's more than my job's worth. Try the Little Chef."

After much head scratching, I finally managed to squeeze the bus onto the pavement by the restaurant entrance. It was one of the revolutionary, new Little Chefs which had had a makeover following a less than complimentary programme by TV celebrity chef, Heston Blumenthal. The bus, parked by the front door ruined the contemporary and pristine eatery. I hoped he would not make a flying night time visit.

"Nah," said the waiter. "We 'aven't seen 'im since e done out this place."

The hotel was a shit hole.

Something had gone wrong with the staffing and as a result there was litter, leaves and mud strewn over the carpets. The doors had scratch marks as if someone had tried to jemmy them with a crowbar. My room had not been made up. There was litter in the bin from the last occupant, no soap, coffee or any of the basics. The sheets and the towels were of dubious freshness and the bathroom had been lightly cleaned, though the plugs and the extractor fans were grey with grime and did not look as if they had been cleaned for months. It was akin to one of the continental package tour hotels, where a family have taken a video camera and posted the results on the internet. You don't expect it in Britain.

But when you are tired, you are tired. Nothing seems to matter. The complaints can wait until the morning.

Children Turn From Enthusiastic To Sad

When the children return to their school, following a trip to the outward bound centre, they are bubbling with life and longing to get home to tell all about their adventures. more and more frequently, for whatever reason, some parents are not there to meet their offspring.

Tonight, it is bad. There are a large group of them standing on the pavement, standing by their suitcases. Their enthusiasm has dwindled. They look sad. Little by little the parents arrive. The last one is picked up nearly an hour after the coach has arrived. The teachers make frantic phone calls and unselfishly try to keep their pupils' spirits up. The teachers are exhausted too and have to delay their longed for hot baths in their own homes.

It is something you cannot help observing, as you feel for these children. I try not to be judgemental as there are bound to be reasons in most cases.

In some, I fear it is the ugly face of modern life in Great Britain.

Pump Up The Volume: The Accidental Bus Driver's Alternative Guide To Hollywood Blockbusters

Returning to Merseyside down the M6 on a Sunday afternoon is a trouble free experience. The school I am taking is pleasant and well behaved. The teachers too. The children are shattered following their exertions at the outward bound centre. But they are a picture of health. When they arrived they looked like the average urban children, pale but determined. Now they were full of life and enthusiasm. Their eyes sparkled, their cheeks had a rosy hue and they smiled constantly. It is amazing what three days in the Cumbrian countryside can do, regardless of the persistent rain.

They settled down to watch a DVD.

There are two pull down TV screens in the bus. One above the driver's head and one halfway down the bus in the middle of the aisle. They have to conform with regulations which does not allow the driver to see the screen from his seat, for obvious reasons.

But you can hear every word, sound, explosion. There is no escape as most schools pump up the volume to the maximum and most films they watch are the latest Hollywood CGI blockbuster. The bus shakes, rattles and vibrates at each explosion or bang. This time the dozing teacher in the front seat was so shocked that she literally took off vertically and nearly hit her head on the overhead lockers.

As a placebo to keep my mind on the road I have devised a two part game:

1. I mentally mark the movie out of ten as to how good the dialogue is. It is surprising how revealingly poor most film scripts are and few make it above a score of three. From the oscillating waves that I feel through the steering wheel, you know the CGI effects must be first rate. But the speech - funny sounds sad, profound sounds shallow, romantic sounds like schmaltz and the serious points are patronising or condescending.

Conclusion: most Hollywood blockbusters are unadulterated garbage and I wouldn't speak to my dog in the same way as the actors speak to each other, deliveringsuch a plethora of moronic lines.

2. The use of the phrase "Come On".

It drives me demented. Every blockbuster, at some stage, makes an actor produce the line "Come On." Usually it is an American actor so it sounds like 'Cum An', 'C'mn' or even 'Carrrrrrr', depending on who they are being chased by. Narnia, Titanic, James Bond - you name it - they're all at it. So any film which stays 'Come On' free gets The Accidental Bus Driver's version of the Croix de Guerre. The list is small.

I exit the motorway to another "Come On". This time it is different. It is a camp English Estuary accent failing miserably to perform a Texan drawl. He comes across more as Austin Powers working down at the local Fish 'n Chip shop.

Oh, come on now, do behave.

Return To The Scene Of My Crime: Bobby Bin Laden To The Rescue

"It couldn't have been me. I have no idea how it happened." This had been my pathetic response to the boss when questioned as to why there was a bloody big hole in the back of his new bus.

I had joined the infamous BDLEC - the Bus Driver's Lame Excuses Club. Every driver I know has honorary membership of this well known phantom institution. The bosses have intimate knowledge of it and ignore it. They have heard it all before. The more elaborate excuses are stored in some deep corner of their brains. "It couldn't have been me" has been heard many times before. When I saw the bosses eyes glazing over, the mechanic raise his eyes to heaven and the assistant mechanic look downwards at the oily floor, prudence got the better of me and I changed my story to: "It must have been me."

Sure enough, when I returned to the field that resembled a coach park to pick up the same school I had driven at the time of the bump, there in a pile of rain soaked grit, at the rear of the area, were hundreds of white plastic pieces, glistening in the sun.

The evidence was incontrovertible.

The coach park is wide at the front, but funnels at the back and there was a drain in the corner which had contributed to the errors. When I had pulled away, even with the 'ferry lift' (a device which raises the bus so you don't scrape the ground) the stones hidden in the grit had done the damage.

A voice saying "Tool" reverberated around the coach park.

I offered my time free to fill and paint the dent. The boss went quiet, fearing that this will cause more damage then said:

"No need for that. We'll leave it to Bobby bin Laden."

"Bobby bin Laden?"

"Yes Bobby is our expert when it comes to these sorts of things. He's nicknamed Bobby bin Laden because he lives on top of a hill and keeps goats and all sorts of other animals."

"You're a tool," said the other boss. "What are you?"

I know, I know.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Defeated Cockneys And The 24 Packs

The punishment has begun.

Sooner than expected.

"I'd rather tie my thumbs together and hang from a tree," a driver once said to me when he was describing a job he was not looking forward to doing. I laughed at the time, but now I knew how he felt.

The Rugby Club. The infernal Rugby Club. A license for throwing up, heavy drinking, leaving the bus in looking like a landfill site with rubbish, bottles, cans and spilt alcoholic liquids flowing down the aisle like a waterfall. That was my past experience.

I've seen every kind of drunken behaviour. Emptying the bus toilet down the motorway, pissing in all varieties of lay-by, corporation flower beds, police station walls, old ladies' gardens and worse.

I was not looking forward to it. The option of hanging by my thumbs was looking more attractive.

The club I had to pick up at was an awkward place to take a bus into at the best of times. The roads were narrow. There were cars parked either side of the road. Many times you had to get out the bus and push their wing mirrors in or even stop and wait for a badly parked car to move. Once you drove into the lane, you were committed. There was no turning back.

I had checked the match kick-off time and worked out the best time to arrive, when I thought the post match traffic would be long gone. So imagine my horror when I had driven down the lane, narrowly missing the wing mirrors, to find that the match had just finished and there was a stream of motorists in a hurry to get home.

"You effing w****r," yelled a livid motorist as he wound down his window and nearly drove into the railway station wall.

The bus squeezed through and I sat in the side watching the passing drivers with faces of thunder. All was temporarily well.

I was due to pick up the visiting team and rush them to the station to catch their train back to London. The visiting team had lost the match. But in bus terms, a losing rugby team and a winning rugby team are the same. They either celebrate in style or drown their sorrows. The alcohol consumption remains constant.

"Can we stop at the supermarket, mate?" was the first question put to me by a Cockney voice.

I did.

"Right team. We have five minutes. Within four and a half, several burly members of the scrum were yomping up the street with plastic wrapped 24 packs of beer and cider. Unconventionally they also had iced cup cakes, more often with a church tea party than a rugby tour. Some had even been to the pub and had come back with half drunk pint glasses as souvenirs. One had gone to the garage and had only bought a non alcoholic high energy drink and a bag op crisps. This was a bad mistake. Not only did he bear the full brunt of leg pulling, but he also possibly risked a club fine.

They were a mixture of Australians, New Zealanders and Londoners, mainly from the East End. They were a pleasure to take. Friendly, polite, grateful and generous. Complimentary about the rival team, the hospitality and the beautiful countryside we travelled through. Most of all they were gracious in defeat. The coach was the ultimate professional and humoured the team. No wonder they were top of the league. Deposed after today's defeat, but surely that will be short lived.

"What did you do in the past?" asked one of the senior committee members, having spotted some notes I was writing about horse racing. I told him I used to work for a bookie.

"'Ere Fred," he said turning to his neighbour. "There's somethin' wrong there. You never see a poor bookie. E' was a bookie and now e's driving coaches. Do you think e' went bankrupt or somethin'?"

No, I thought, but it's too long a story to explain that the Accidental Bus Driver, accidentally became a bus driver. I had no intention of explaining that the Accidental Bus Driver is double entendre, given that I am prone to the odd dent and scrape (as you readers will already have noticed).

I watched as they disappeared into the station, still yomping, juggling and balancing their kit bags with their 24 packs. The one who had bought the high energy drink was even making an attempt to tidy the bus. I still unloaded dozens of empty glasses and cans.

I had a surreal thought. The station has recently constructed ticket barriers on the concourse. I wondered how these broad players woul be able to get through them with all their cargo.

Up and under, I supposed.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Another Accident For The Accidental Bus Driver

It was a bad start to the day, acceptable in the middle and piss pot poor at the end, when the Accidental Bus Driver lived up to his name.

3.30am and the depot is dark and locked. The new bus awaits, parked in the corner. The front door will not open. I think it is because of my naivety and lack of knowledge which is causing the problem, though later I find out it is just one of the bus's quirks. So rather than risk being late, I creep round the back and climb in the rear door. Not an elegant sight. A fatty such as myself puffing and panting and resembling one of the unfit contestants on Total Wipeout.

The additional price to pay was the mud and grease that I collected on the way. There was mud everywhere on my jacket, trousers, shoes and therefore many Size 15 muddy footprints down the aisle of the bus. It did not matter, because the weather was torrential rain from beginning to end and there was plenty more mud to gather.

The school in Merseyside were regulars and four hours later they were boarded and we were on the return journey. There chat was rapid:

"My Mum calls me Willie," said William. "I don't like it. I don't feel like a Willie."

"Are we there yet?" said another child. "I want me dinner."

"You mean lunch," replied the teacher.

"No me dinner."

"You don't say you want a 'packed dinner. It is a 'packed lunch'. So even when you say dinner it's lunch." And so it went on. As did the rain. It was tropical. By the time we reached the coach park in a field, the bus was caked in dirt.

I dropped them off and came back to the depot. The boss and the other drivers watched me reverse into the depot. They waved enthusiastically and seemed to be shouting hearty greetings, until I switched off the engine and opened the door, only to hear:

"What've you done? You've bumped the new bus - you idiot."

At the back bumper there was a small dent and a chunk of plastic missing. I must have driven over a bump in the field. My name was dirt.

"It's not the end of the world," said the boss restraining his anger. "I might like to remind you that the place you hit is the only bit of the bus I have had painted." I felt depressed. It will amount to weeks of teasing and jokes, after the anger has died down -the Accidental Bus Driver at it again.

I must remain philosophical. It could have been worse. My afternoon at Hexham races was curtailed as I felt I had to make amends in a small way by doing some cleaning. That proved to be the best decision of the day. The Irish dead cert that I was going to plunge my wages on was beaten a neck.

The money will have to go to another cause. The bookies' loss will have to be the mechanic's gain for the overtime due to repair the dent.

Oh well.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Dreaded Telephone Call

The phone went at home late on in the evening.

"Schedule's altered," said the boss. "One of our drivers is running late so you will have to do his run tomorrow morning down to Merseyside."

My heart fluttered. That meant I would have to get up at 2.45am, get to the depot by 3.30am and leave by 4am - an hour and a half earlier than the route I had been assigned for originally. The fault lay at my door as I had specifically requested an early finish so that I could get to Hexham races in time for the first race. I had a funny feeling about an Irish horse and thought I would open my tightly secured Scottish wallet and have a rare bet.

"You will be taking the new bus we have just bought," he said as an afterthought.

"Oh really," I replied in an unconvincingly confident tone. The Accidental Bus Driver being given this task, was he mad? Being the only driver to successfully bump into the main depot doors at the top and on both sides and having a record for other various scrapes and dents, did not augur well.

Still, onwards and upwards. Surely nothing could go wrong. On the positive side, I would be collecting my money from the bookies in a little over eighteen hours.

Nothing could go wrong, could it?