Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Pungent Puns In The Snowdrifts

It was a disastrous day.

The Northumbrian Water website proclaimed:

"Due to the weather conditions, Kielder Winter Wonderland has been cancelled....." Whatever next? Will the Long Blondes re-release "Christmas Is Cancelled" and be the Christmas No1?

The media are rolling out the snow puns again. "Snovember. Snowvember. It's Snow Joke. An Avalanche Of Complaints. Are You All White........." They can only get worse from here.

I've jumped into the car for another try to get over the top. I've found a cd of old Christmas No 1's. Spike Milligan comes out of the speakers....

....'I'm walking backwards for Christmas
It's the only thing for me....'

The trouble is I've found another snowdrift, so I will be walking back long before Christmas.

Dimwit Marooned In The Snow

"Isn't it so beautiful?" the rambler said cheerfully.

My response was less enthusiastic. Deep inside there was an inner voice a la Vicky Pollard saying: Yeah but, no, but yeah but, no....

Seeing twenty black grouse perched in a tree was magical. Seeing the red squirrels leaping between branches and the hares scampering across the snow in search of any vegetation was wondrous. Hearing the children's happiness as they sledged down the hill was fantastic. As were the biblical skies, the glints of sun and the sparkling snow and icicles, between the blizzards.

Otherwise it was stressful. Today is the best day. I have only dug myself out of the ditch once, on the way to the depot. I tried. Yesterday it was twice. Sunday was the worst. It was thrice and a hairy skid on a sharp corner into a bank of snow, only to bounce back onto the road and continue. It is stressful driving in the snow.

The white builders van came past me sideways. The grim faced driver struggling with the wheel. Either pride or fear kept him going and he refused to give up. He made it up the hill, before reverting to more normal builders van tactics and tailgating the rest of the cars in front of him.

So why am I skidding all over the place when I have a four wheel drive car, which should fly over these slippy conditions. The answer is that, as you will remember, because of my dim wittedness of losing the keys, the four wheeled drive vehicle is parked outside the depot awaiting the services of an auto electrician. So it is the wife's car I am using which does not cope so well with the snow. I am marooned temporarily.

Where is the auto electrician?

Stuck in the snow, of course in another town. Maybe the car will be back on the road by Easter. It will be snowing again by then.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Frozen Fingers And The Kiss Of Death Fuel Cards

The good news was that there was no snow on the west side of the country, making the drive less stressful. The bad news was the thought of returning to the ice and snow of the hills.

The depot had lost its water supply. The pipes had frozen solid. Therefore it was impossible to wash the buses. They were a two toned dirty black and grey colour with accumulated grit and salt they had picked up from the roads. The yard in front of the main entrance was covered in several inches of ice and really was like an arena where ice hockey is played.

Even worse,the diesel tanks were empty. No diesel delivery was due until next week, so none of the buses could be refuelled at the depot. Therefore it meant a stop at a Truckstop and using one of the fuel cards which are kept in a folder on the bus.

The relationship between fuel cards and me can only be described as kiss of death. I can never get them to work. The pin is always invalid, the card never works or I do not press the right buttons at the right time. My heart sank when the boss said I had to refuel on the way back from Lancashire and at the cheapest place.

The first Truckstop at Junction 38 on the M6 was a bad start. It was automated. It would not recognise the pin number and after so many attempts blocked the card. One down. The other two truckstops were in Penrith and the results were worse. The first was fully automated and did not seem to take any form of known fuel card, except perhaps for Russian ones. The second had a shop next to the pumps.

The shop was crowded with truckers in black beany hats, blue overalls and fluorescent waistcoats sheltering from the cold and standing in a circle telling jokes. There was silence when I entered and a dozen faces turned to stare at me, like the scene from a Western where the Sheriff enters the saloon in Dodge City.

"Which cards do you accept?" I asked.

The man who was sitting on top of the ice cream freezer took my wallet and one by one took out and examined the cards.

"Nope.........nope...............nope...........nope.................er.........no. Sorry mate. You'll have to go to the services or otherwise it is Carlisle."

Great help. Carlisle was 17 miles away. Plus the extra 20 miles to do the round robin trip to the depot would negate any savings made on the cheaper fuel prices.

As I left the shop, I felt a dozen sets of eyes following my every mood. I satisfied myself that it was fortunate that this filling station was not automated as by that time my fingers were so cold that if they had been asked to type in any sort of pin, then undoubtedly another fuel card would have been blocked.

Though the bus is now running on empty, I suppose I am grateful for small mercies.

Schooldays Are The Best days Of Your Life?

"See you in the grave, Syd," said the little girl sitting behind me in the bus. "That's what I said to him as I launched myself on the zipwire.

"I'm afraid you have the school chatterbox sitting behind you," said the teacher.

She was spot on in her description. This girl talked non-stop for the near three hour journey back to Lancashire. It was like an episode of Coronation Street. They were the most streetwise children I've met yet.

"You're disgusting George."

"Why's that?"

"For having a crush on Katy."


"Katy's going out with Dick."

"I thought Katy was going out with Syd."

"No Syd's gay."

"Don't tell Katy."

"That's alright, she's well fast asleep," said another boy sitting in the front row, who had just finished stabbing his neighbour with a sharp pencil."

"Yeah she's always well fast asleep." repeated the school chatterbox.

"No I'm not," came a little voice from two or three seats back. "Don't worry Carly - I won't kill 'im until we start school again on Monday."

"My Mum will kill me too, I've ruined my best trackie bottoms."

I drove over a bump in the road.

"Woo hooh. Tickle my tummy," yelled the chatterbox before returning to gossiping about who's going out with who. The boy in the other front seat cried out as George inserted the pencil into his hand.

Schooldays are still the best days of your life.............the jury's still out.

Bernard Matthews And The Oil Tanker Drivers Icy Glare

My faith was restored that the world has not gone mad, well in the North Pennines at least, as I watched the oil delivery van stop halfway up the icy hill. The road was like a skating rink, steep and one which no driver of a large vehicle would attempt to climb. The house at the top was nearly out of heating oil and in dire need of a top up.

"Are you stuck?" I asked him.

"No, mate," he said with a look of disdain, shovel in hand. "Just waiting for the ice to melt. I've walked up the top of the hill and spread some grit down the road."

Sure enough in ten minutes he had driven his oil truck at top speed up the hill, turned around in a narrow muddy gap and was filling up the oil tank. The no nonsense good Samaritan passed me further down the road and gave me another disdainful look.

I made a mental note to keep my trap shut in future, and not question the bizarre or the impossible. As I drove off, the news came over the radio that Bernard Matthews, the turkey millionaire had died - and on Thanksgiving Day too when there is a turkey on most American tables.

Ask no questions.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Ice. You'll Get There Quicker In A 4WD

Has this country gone mad?

Yes there was a bit of snow. Yes there were some blizzards for a short while. A plane overshot the runway at Newcastle airport. Some cars went into the ditch. Durham City was closed for a bit as a car had slewed into a bollard. There were some traffic jams. But life went on.

Conditions were nasty. But the good news was that the gritters did a fine job and kept most of the roads open. The weather improved and at times the sun was warm enough to make the snow melt. The place looked beautiful.

So when you read the papers today, you could be forgiven for thinking you were not in the same country as they were describing. It was Domesday.

There is a school of thought amongst the old folk in the North Pennines which says if the roads are that bad, you shouldn't be on them. That may be being wise after the event, but this time there seemed to be plenty of warning from the weather forecasters.

I will find out later. I'm driving a bus down to the North West. It could be interesting.

"Never worry," a local farmer once told me. "You will get there quicker in one of those new fangled four wheel drives. Not because they're faster. They're heavier and slide better - so you will go quicker."

As he told me this, he was nodding at the recent hole in his stone wall.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

There's Trouble Brewing When The Buses Are Cut

The cuts are definitely coming. In what form? That is the question.

Every time I open a newspaper, there seems to be some dramatic headline:

"Rural bus passengers to suffer as subsidies are cut", screamed the Daily Telegraph.

"Cuts to rural transport subsidies planned", screamed BBC News Highlands & Islands.

"Bus subsidy cuts could hit low-earners", screamed the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"Darlington cuts hit bus subsidies", screamed the Northern Echo

"Dismay at plans to cut rural bus service cash", screamed the Lancashire Evening Post

"Cuts fears to rural bus services," screamed the Falmouth Packet

The language used in some of the articles was even more scaremongering. "Beeching style cuts", "this stealth hit", "a triple pronged attack", "prisoners in their own villages", etc etc........so in one respect it is consoling to know that it is not just the Vallium Run which is facing cutback.

There is no doubt that some people cannot live without a bus service. But they are in the minority and so many of us have become reliant on cars. The Government and the Councils have got the upper hand when it comes to cutting rural bus services. They know that there will be some complaints, but due to the fact that the countryside is sparsely populated, they will be small in number.

But prenez garde messieurs! If you read your history books you will know that the countryside has in the past been a hotbed for revolution.

Batley - Land Of Singing And Cheerfulness

It's 4am. I'm on my way to Batley, South Yorkshire. I'm not sure what to expect. All I know about Batley is that it is the birthplace of the late pop star Robert Palmer - you know, the one who sung Addicted To Love, Simply Irresistible, Every Kinda People, Bad Case Of Loving You and Some Guys Have All The Luck.

The only other knowledge I had about Batley showed a rather skewed view of the place and was undoubtedly unreliable. It was Monty Python's view of the town in their sketch about the Batley Townswomens Guild

(viewable on You Tube:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrDr4DL_A_U ).

I saw more than I bargained on of Batley when I arrived at 7am, in the dark and dank Yorkshire gloom. It was so gloomy that I went round the town centre four times before figuring out where the school was where I was meant to pick up at. I became quite intimate with the menus in the windows of the local Indian and the all day breakfast offer in the cafe called Hot Nosh.

But that was where the gloom ended. The school was one of the nicest I had been to for a long time. Having visited many schools now, I tend to get a feeling about the place before entering the front door. This seemed to be a happy school.

And sure enough it was. Welcoming staff, happy children, enthusiastic parents. It was a multicultural school, but all the children got on and the journey was cheerful all the way up the A1. The teachers never had a cross word.

The Head came onto the bus and said "God Bless You" to the children. The parents, in their enthusiasm to have one last look at their offspring came out of every side street to wave goodbye.

"Parent Alert! Parent Alert!" the teacher said loudly and the bus cheered and waved at them all.

The arm waving and raucous as they sung all the hits of JLS for the first hour.

"Oh lord," said the teacher in the front seat.

The hits from Oliver took up the second.

"Oh this cannot be happening," said the teacher, shrinking into her seat.

Abba songs from Mamma Mia completed the trip. It all too much for the teacher and she disappeared altogether. "I've told them that it is illegal to be sick on this bus. Action will be taken," she said tongue in cheek. Two corners from our destination a little voice two seats behind her cried: "Ooh, I'm not feeling too well."

"Oh no," the teacher said, grinning. "You cannot be serious. Suck your cheeks in. You'll have to 'hamster' it. 'Hamster' it!" It worked and we arrived without any sickness.

The river was swollen following the snow and rain and the children looked worried as we crossed the bridge. "It's cholera river," one child said in alarm. It's strange how children see the world sometimes. The muddy brown water obviously resembled some dirty, diseased river to them. Maybe they had been listening to the news of the cholera outbreak in Haiti. As they got off the bus, their infectious cheerfulness returned and they all started singing "Tis The Season To Be Joyful."

"Not yet it isn't," said the teacher, burying her head in her hands as she headed off into the Cumbrian cold.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Sheep Were Right

Nature's barometer is correct.

It's snowing this morning.

The sheep being low on the fell were giving a strong message.

Maybe the Met Office should observe.

Dumped Horses Block The Road

Having dropped off the last passenger, it is a race to the depot and then back home. There is one last town which has to be driven through, up a step hill and through a narrow gap between buildings. A large driver in a baseball hat parked in the middle of the narrows so that nothing could get past. I hooted the horn and a figure with a face of thunder walked at snail's pace down the hill, as if to make the point that no one was going to hoot at him and get away with it.

Ah well - back to 'The little World Of Don Camillo." It was no great hardship. The other drivers coming down the hill were in far more impatient mood. A girl could not wait any longer and overtook two cars in the queue in front of her. She met me face to face and had to reverse back up the hill, nearly crashing into the lamppost.

It took 5 minutes to clear the blockage. It would be plain sailing back home. I was thinking of that nice glass of wine,sitting by the fire.

Having washed the bus, refuelled it and put it to bed,I started driving through the fog over the hill, homeward bound. A large horsebox passed me going the other way. Strange I thought to myself. A strange vehicle on a strange route at a strange time. Oh well.

Around the next corner two shabby and malnutritioned ponies appeared out of the fog, trotting and whinneying down the road. They must have been dumped by the people in the horsebox I had seen.

I couldn't just leave them, as tempting as it was. The top of the hill was cold and the rain was turning to sleet. So I called the local riding stables who came out, caught them and took them to a field for the night. I had to follow them back as there was a planned rally over the hilltop, with a speeding rally car due at any minute.

"I'm glad you called us," they said. "Some of these animal charities put them straight down. Because of the recession, people can't afford to keep their horses. We see more and more of them dumped."

How fortunate I am to live in the North Pennines, with such selfless people.

Last Bus - The Inebriation Express

"I'm pissed," announced the woman in a slurred voice when she weaved her way onto the bus. "Guess how long I've been in the pub? Go on. Guess. Guess."

"I've no idea," I replied as politely as I could, looking at my watch and joyously thinking there was only 50 minutes of the shift to go.

"6 hours."

This was the last bus on the Vallium Run. This was no different from other Saturday nights. Passengers used to bus as a mode of transport to the pubs and clubs. In the centre of town there had been a parked fire engine and police car. There were several yellow jacketed personnel trying to yank the door of a car open. On one side of the street stood a group of distressed people, women holding babies and men with furrowed brows. On the other there were onlookers who had vacated the the pubs and were standing on the pavement, pints in hand, ghoulishly watching what was unfurling.

I have no idea what it was. It must have been dramatic for them to leave the warmth of the bar.

"I'm waiting for me boyfriend," the woman went on. "Hopefully he won't come and you can leave him behind."

He did come and a bizarre inebriated conversation occurred between them. At one stage I thought they were going to come to blows.

"So who's yer other boyfriend?" he began by asking her.

"Well he's not well. Not well in the head. He's just got back from being sanctioned."

"You mean sectioned."

"Yeah, wel no, dunno. No"

"Well then who the f***'s the other one?"

"Well 'e gets on the bus. He picks his nose. He's always picking his nose. It's not nice."

"I'm ganna see 'im the next time and f***ing ganna................."

"Well there's 'im too. The one who mows the lawn."

"What the f***, I'm ganna............." Fortunately the bus arrived at their stop. I opened the doors and looked out the side window, being unable to look at this well gone couple, for fear of losing my composure.

Behind me I heard a crash and two bumps as the woman's legs gave way and her bottom bounced heavily down the bus steps. She got up, supported by the boyfriend, smiled, tried to wave and fell over again.

"I love yer t'bits......" she said to him as they disappeared down the street.

The Chance Of Snow Causes A Satellite Mix Up

"Drive on, driver." The passenger's voice jolted me out of my slumber. "Don't stop for him. The silly old sod. He's not worth picking up."

It had been a beautiful start to the morning. The hawthorn bushes along the roadside had lost all their leaves. The abundance of red berries had acted like marker lights, guiding the way through the mist and fog. Even the mobile phone mast, disingenuously disguised as a monkey puzzle tree, on top of the hill, emitted attractiveness rather than the everyday pulsed radio waves.

The wretched man looked grateful when I ignored the passenger's advice and stopped. "Snow's on the way," he said. "I can feel it in my bones."

I think he may be right. I had already seen signs that morning. The local wholesaler in town had hung up orange sledges and snow shovels on his shop front. The sheep seemed to have worked their way down from the hilltop and had congregated by the road. That was a sure sign of snow; it was nature's barometer.

The conversation on the bus had degenerated. "Do you have Sky Tv?" one passenger asked another.

"No I have this new Freesat thing."

"Don't you get overloaded with those tatty European channels?"

"No I have to pay for them. I like them. Actually they are quite good."

Following a silence a perturbed voice said: "No I didn't mean THOSE kind of channels. I meant the shopping channels."


Bus Shelter Becomes A Mud Hut

Saturdays on the Vallium Run are dead as a doornail. I hardly took a fare for the first six hours of the shift. Though there were a number of free passes, it probably doesn't augur well for its future. Selfishly, I prefer Saturdays. The passengers are more relaxed. There are no school runs to do and generally the more extraordinary events seem to take place.

I arrived at the bus turning circle to find the passengers facing the other way. They were examining the metal and glass bus shelter. It looked dirtier than normal.

"Aye," said one bystander, "it's the young 'uns up at it again." There had been a mud fight the previous evening. After the fight, they had decided to redecorate the shelter. It was caked with mud, inside and out, from top to bottom. The windows were smeared and had ceased to be functional.

"Now, there's no need to be like that," said the old age pensioner, when I suggested it wouldn't make any difference, that no one could see out of the bus shelter windows, as soon there might be no buses.

"It's not the first time the bairns have had a go at the shelter. They painted the other one black, one night," continued the passenger. "It was only because one of the residents saw who it was and threatened to ring the Police, that we now have a mural inside, with orange butterflies on the black background."

This was to set the tone for the rest of the day.

"I've just bought a bag of potash," said the same passenger on the return journey. "£6 it cost me. £6! I told him I could get it for £3 in Carlisle. 'Ah you have to get there and back - it will cost you' he said. No it won't, I said, I'm a pensioner. I pay nowt."

A Lithuanian Truck Driver And Some Hillbillies

"Effing hillbillies," sneered the Middlesbrough driver who had just reversed into the precarious car park to pick up his group of schoolchildren. "Look at them just standing there," he pointed at the organisers who were huddled in a group. "They might have helped and guided me back." He was an angry bus driver.

According to the map I had been given, the bus driver who brought up the school party I was about to collect was just as angry. The map which the office always print out for their drivers was covered in letters, dates, road numbers, crosses, arrows and various comments. Written in large letters, at an angle across most of the map was: TOTALLY WRONG PLACE!. There was an accompanying sheet of handwritten paper with angrily scrawled alternative set of directions and comments, rendering all the paperwork useless.

I gave up and looked at my good old fashioned road map (2008 Edition).

Sat navs and these computerised maps have their limitations. People forget that the computer's job is to take you the shortest way, regardless whether that is a farm track over a mountain. Around the next corner I met more anger in the shape of a Lithuanian truck stuck under a disused railway bridge. His sat nav had failed him and he was taking out his frustrations on his wife or girlfriend who was trying to help him reverse into the narrowest of gateways.

As I drove slowly past, I watched the girl shrug her shoulders in a subservient manner to the red faced truck driver who was leaning out the cab window and giving instructions. His words were muffled as they struggled to make it past his walrus moustache.

I won't be asking Father Christmas for a sat nav.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Mr Motivator From Yorkshire, The Floral Dance And A Tooth

I'm paying homage.

I'm paying homage to a band I remember well from my childhood. A band which had a multimillion selling hit in 1976. Only Paul McCartney and Mull Of Kintyre kept them off the Number 1 spot. They were not a band which any teenager at the time would have admitted liking, but nonetheless with their rendition of the Flower Dance has secured the Brighouse And Rastrick Brass Band a place in music history.

I'm lost in Brighouse in deepest Yorkshire. I'm lost because I have tried to find a way round the M62 which is at a Friday night standstill.

"Now children, welcome to the world of adults trying to get home," said the teacher as we joined the queue.

It had been a good journey, because of the relaxed nature of the teachers. They rarely raised their voices. The lead teacher was so relaxed that he put his sunglasses on and his earphones in and meditated in the warm afternoon sun. He was in complete control. The children behind behaved immaculately.

He was a motivator, in between meditation sessions, gently challenging his group.

"What's that town we are passing?"

"I know I know," came a voice from the back. "Is it Oslo?"

"No Jamie, that's in Norway. Try again. Look out to the right children and particularly Sharon. You'll see a farmer on a quadbike pulling a trailer with two sheep in it."

"Where? Where? We can't see them."

"Well that's because you are all looking out to the left."

When we arrived at the school, he had organised everything. The children had clear instructions as to the procedure for going home and how to pick up there luggage. There was no crush, as there usually is, of parents fighting to secure their child's suitcase and children wandering off in all directions.

Before the children were allowed off the bus, he leant out the bus door and gave the parents a pep talk: "In all my time as a teacher, I have never known children take to a school trip with such relish. They conquered many fears, did many things and behaved well. You should be very proud of them." The parents clapped and cheered.

This teacher is going places. Prime Minister, one day perhaps?

"What's it now, Johnnie?" he asked. "What's that clacking noise on the floor of the bus? Is it a pen? Is it a coin?"

"No," replied an anxious voice. "Me tooth's come out.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Scrabbling Around For £1

By default, there was a social experiment performed on the school bus this morning. A £1 coin was spotted by two girls under one of the seats. As they talked about it, an opportunistic boy leant across the aisle and grabbed it.

All hell broke loose. War was about to start at midnight.

For once the Accidental Bus Driver demonstrated a modicum of wisdom and ordered the boy to hand it over on the understanding that it would be handed over to the school Guide Dogs Appeal.

"Spoilsport," he said as he left the bus, giving a sideways look which could have killed at 1000 metres.

On the return journey, the boy had forgotten all about his lost £1. The younger children had not. I found two scrabbling about on the floor. When they saw me they straightened up like lightening and looked sheepish.

"Just looking for something........"

"Er thought we had lost our gloves," the other quickly interjected.

It is consoling to know that Sterling is trading comfortably.

Boy Quashes The Modern Day Saint

Each day I do one particular school run, there is a house I pass which always has its front door wide open. Rumour has it that if you are ever in trouble, you can knock at this door and are guaranteed the owner will try and help you. A modern day saint?

"Nah," said the little boy on the bus. "He just likes to know what is going on."

A Royal Engagement Trumps 40 Years Of The Sun Page 3 Girl Amongst The Sheep Pooh

It was yet another strange day. The announcement that Prince William was going to marry Kate Middleton to some extent overshadowed the milestone of the 40th Anniversary of The Sun Page 3 Girl. The Sun was unlucky. More often than not, this would have been headline news. I bet they could have throttled Prince William for his poor timing.

Nonetheless there was plenty of comment on BBC Radio Tees. "It's just plain dirty", said one member of the public, referring to the Page 3 girls, not the Royal couple. "It's a classic weapon of mass distraction when you consider the other news about job losses", added another passer by, not sure in his own mind to whom it referred to.

It was 6am when I heard this. Once again venturing over the high hills to pick up a school in Teeside. The snow and the ice had vanished and had been replaced by warmer, strong gale force winds. The school was in another narrow street. Too narrow for coaches that the janitor sent me round to the road on the far side of the playing field.

"Very simple," she said. "Go down to the rugby club, turn around, come back up again and park by the roadworks."

I followed her instructions to the T and arrived at the roadworks, just as the workmen drove up in their van. Two stockily built contractors in hard hats ambled menacingly up to the bus. I feared a bollocking was about to be forthcoming. They leant into the door and said:

"Where are you off to mate? School trip. Oh that's nice. Don't worry about us - you stay as long as you like. It is so cold that we are in no hurry to start work today." They walked back to their van and had an early morning tea break.

The city kids were as streetwise as ever. "I'm feeling sick already" said one as he boarded the bus. "I 'ad a big bacon sandwich for breakfast," added the next boy to board in a loud voice. The other boy turned greener. The teacher was a minimalist when it came to tact.

"Come on boys," she said, "I've brought a brand new bucket with us and I don't want you to fill it up." We all turned green.

Fortunately, the other teacher saved the day. "Now children we are going to play the ABC game. You think of a topic and we go through the alphabet. For example if you choose countries I would say America for A and you might then say Belgium for B." This kept them occupied for most of the journey. They managed to exhaust Football Players, Football Teams, Football Managers, Football Grounds, Football.....Football.....Football......

When there was no more to squeeze out of football, Jack The Lad suggested something new. "I would like the category: People who ain't still here," he said to the other children who took up the challenge with gusto.

"I want E", said one girl. "E for Elvis."

"And I want G", Jack The Lad hurriedly proffered. "G for Jesus"

The game came to an abrupt end as we reached the highest point of the journey and the last of the snow was lying by the side of the road where the snowplough had pushed it a few days ago.

"Look at that," said Jack The Lad. "It's sheep pooh."

"SEAMUS," yelled the teacher,"I'm gonna grab your ankles and dangle you in the river when we get there.

"Are we there, yet?" chorused the girls on the back seat. For once this most hated of phrases on a school bus trip seemed to relieve some of the tension.

Buses - Poetry In Motion

Last night I was sitting at a table in the Hyena Comedy Cafe, Newcastle, listening to my wife read her poem to a large audience. She had a poem published in the Iron Book Of New Humorous Verse (IRON Press 2010 - available at all good book shops) and this was the launch party for the book. Her poem was called 'Jobs bloodbath at Goldman Sachs' and ended with the verse:

"I'll not have the boys go to school in a ghetto,
I'll never, not ever start shopping at Netto"
She looked down at John for one last time
And there on his forehead she read 'sub-prime'.

I am so proud of her. It is a great achievement, writing verse which really is very funny. Often, like many others I've tried, failed miserably and given up after the first line:

I wandered lonely as a bus driver
That floats on high o'er oil spills and the general public...

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day
The billowing bus winds slowly over the lea......

Leyland Leopard! Leyland Leopard! burning bright
In the bus lanes of the night.......

Total disaster.

But where I have failed others have succeeded. Poetry seems to be the fashion on the buses. Here are a few links to bus companies and public corporations which have encouraged the placing of poems on buses:



(East Yorkshire)



.........and so it goes on. People have time to burn on buses, so why not read poetry. It alleviates the boredom of the journey to work on the No. 681. Maybe I should have another go and rebrand myself as the Poet Laureate of the buses.

On second thoughts it would be more prudent to leave it up to someone who is good at writing poetry - my wife. Besides there is not enough time to concentrate. I am being distracted at the moment by the teachers behind me who are discussing the latest beauty therapy.

"I went to Appyfeet last week," said one lady.

"Was it a good film?" asked the other.

"No it wasn't a film - it was these nibbling fish. They nibbled off all my dead skin and corns around me big toe."

"How disgusting."

"No it was rather pleasant actually. A tickling sensation."

"Rather you than me."

I silently agreed and went back to composing some truly terrible poetry in my head.

Is The North Of England More Irish Or Chinese?

I may have said this before and forgive me if I have, but an Irish friend and neighbour from County Wicklow, once told me he liked the area where we live and where I drive buses, because it is the nearest he has ever found to the Emerald Isle. This little corner of England has a way of doing things and going about their daily lives which could have come straight out of John Ford's charming film, The Quiet Man.

So it will not be a complete surprise to you that a fellow bus driver was talking about his trip down a narrow lane recently. Halfway down the lane, he met the local service bus. A town size bus, meaning there was very little room to get by. As they inched past each other, the service bus driver opened his window and handed a timetable to the other driver, before driving off, not saying anything.

The timetable was to let the driver know when and when he would not be welcome down this lane. Very sensible and possibly more Chinese than Irish it was the finest example of saving face.

Heavy Frost, Silent Night And The Crashed Chocolate Wagon

It's 4am and all is white.

That's a bad sign, particularly when you are in a bus. It means the council have not gritted the roads. The roads were glistening like a paparazzi photo shoot. The bus wheels were flitting across the road in more concerning and aggressive movements. It is a eerie sensation when you hit black ice in a bus. Everything tends to go silent. All you can do is grip the steering wheel and wait for the crash.

This morning there was no crash. I drove slowly. "Like an old granny," as one bus driver likes to tell me. At the first sign of a slide, I was ready aim for the verge to try and get some grip. The further down the hill, the more the frost eased up, until everything became green again.

At the bottom of the hill, when the danger had passed, Chris Evans announced, belatedly and unhelpfully over the radio, that he had got up this morning and had to scrape his car windows. I thought, you're lucky, mate. Try scraping your windows at 4am in the North of England. He would never had made it to the studio on time.

I picked up a school in Yorkshire, who were a noisy lot of children. "They're not nasty or malicious or anything, just silly," said the teacher. When the bus started rocking up the A1 to three songs being sung at the same time, I had to agree. It is difficult to switch off when behind you there are tone deaf children singing 'The Wheels On The Bus', 'Silent Night' and 'We Will Rock You' in painful caterwauling manner.

This continued for a longer time than anticipated, because of an accident on the motorway which delayed us for an hour and a half. A chocolate delivery truck had crashed into another truck. By the time we reached the accident, the chocolate wagon was being towed away.

"Aw nooo," said a visibly agitated child. "There will be a shortage of chocolate this Christmas. What shall we do?"

No comment, I thought.

Bah. Humbug.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Key To A Bus Driver's Life

The Walter Mitty moment was just the beginning.

In the past, I have never been very good with keys. I've stranded a group of American tourists in Stratford-upon-Avon as a result of dropping the bus keys in the long grass whilst taking some exercise on my driving break. I've been unable to turn the keys off or stop a bus because there were no keys. I had left them on top of the diesel tank in the depot. I even locked my then six month old daughter in a bus, in the depot with the engine running at 6 o'clock in the morning. A gust of wind had slammed the main door shut while I was carrying a bag full of bottles and Heinz baby food for the day out.

So do not be surprised when I tell you that I have lost my car keys. When I was driving the Nelson Society around a couple of weeks ago, a hole developed in my trouser pocket and they slipped out. They are somewhere in Northumberland. Somewhere within a 100 miles radius. I've looked everywhere. Believe me, everywhere, down to unpicking the stitching of my underwear.

It is unfortunately a Japanese car which means it will involve tow trucks, computers, main dealer replacement keys and the cost will be about two and a half weeks of bus drivers' wages.

I am going to appeal to Private Eye and ask if they will run a 'busdriverballs' fund.

When Walter Mitty Met The Merry Widow

I sat back in the theatre seat and shut my eyes.

What does a bus driver do on his night off? He goes to the opera, of course. The operetta to be precise, as it is a performance of The Merry Widow (Die Lustige Witwe) by Franz Lehar; the well known tale about a rich widow in Paris and the attempts of her fellow countrymen at the Embassy to find her a husband and keep her wealth in their country. It was a colourful affair - good music, colourful set and costumes, fun and only one attempt to update it from early 20th Century Edwardian Paris to modern day times with a joke about Whitley Bay.

Great you might think. A wonderful way to relax.

But I started seeing similarities between opera at the theatre and driving buses. Yes really. The seating was the same, side by side in rows. The seats were cramped. The attendant who stood at the door and asked for your ticket was similar in manner to an inspector. The rush to the bar in the interval was similar to the rush to get off a bus after a trip and the queuing was no different to Victoria Coach Station. Even the merry widow herself sounded like one of the pensioners I took on a trip recently.

I seem to be having a Walter Mitty moment. T will start counting the hairs on the back of my hand next. A holiday beckons.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Flying Pig And The Short Asses

"The short-asses have buggered the seat," a driver once announced when he was late leaving the depot one morning. History has repeated itself and here I am in the Flying Pig, with my knees wrapped around my shoulders as the seat is stuck in the short-ass driving position. It is unfair to criticise as I am in the minority. There are only two drivers, over 6 feet tall, who need the seat back. The rest require this position. Some even need a cushion so that their feet can reach the pedals.

Today is worrying as the seat won't move a centimetre. Each time I touch the clutch pedal, there is a crack as my knee crashes into the plastic console. It's going to be a painfully slow school run. The wind is still strong. So strong that the skylight in the roof magically opens on its own accord. It sounds like a champagne cork popping, before there is a rush of cold air whistling through the bus. There's a leak too. Every so often drips of cold water drop onto my head.

It's just another normal North Pennines winter morning. The wheelie bins are scattered all over the place. Some upside down in the ditch, others laying prostrate across road ends and driveways. The Flying Pig is buffeted from side to side. Being a small bus, like a small plane you feel every last bit of turbulence.

"There's Hilda," one of the children pointed out as we drew into the school coach park."She's in my class."

"That's nice."

"No it isn't. She doesn't like me."

The winter has only just begun.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Could This Be The End Of The Vallium Run?

The news which came over the airwaves as I was driving to the depot was understandable. Outside the car the snow had vanished. It had been replaced with gale force winds. As the winds bashed the car, I nodded my head as I heard that the latest Greater Manchester Police 'spy' balloon, known as the Eagle Eye Blimp, costing £80,000, was to be scrapped and all the parts sold off, because it could not be used sufficiently because of the city's weather conditions.

A day on the Vallium Run was just what the doctor ordered. Driving along Hadrian's Wall in 85 m.p.h gusts would surely be the cure for any ailments. My optimism was dashed as I went round the first corner and there, standing on the roadside was a youth doing a good impersonation of the Grim Reaper minus his scythe. He was wearing a hoodie beneath an oriental copy of a Driza-Bone. It was a struggle for him to open his mouth against the wind, but he eventually did and grunted out a "Mornin'"

The 'Land That God Forgot' was even windier. The queue in the bus shelter looked even more miserable than usual.

"I wasn't going to take the bus," said the pensioner, "but me chauffeur let me down." Pensioners rarely take the first bus down as it is before the 9.30 permitted start time when the council allow free travel on the passes. They had to pay. He did. The second pensioner tried to sneak onto the bus and professed innocent ignorance when I asked for his money. It was an easy situation to get out of as I put the onus on the fact that the other pensioner had paid and if I was to allow him to go on free, then he would have to fight it out with the other man, who was twice his size. He paid.

"Yes me chauffeur," the first pensioner went on. "I rang 'im and' said 'would yer gi'me a lift inna toon'. He looked oot da window and said 'nah, I'm not going oot in that."

This phrase was repeated most of the day. One woman had to be dragged off the bus by her carer who was waiting at the town centre bus stop. "I'm not getting off this nice warm bus," she said as she was pulled down the steps.

The talk on the bus was of the recent council meeting about the future of the Vallium Run. It was held in a village hall in a windswept village and not advertised as an open meeting. But little goes unnoticed in the hillside communities and a few locals barged their way into the meeting and were allowed to sit at the back and listen.

"It looks like curtains," said one of the better informed passengers. "They want to pull the service. The rest of the day was spent listening to concerned people in fear of losing their public transport. Some thought they would have to move house. It was a sad day. This is the first indicator of how bad the proposed cuts could be next year. It would be unthinkable to end the Vallium Rum completely. Surely there is a good old British compromise which will allow a cut down service whilst saving money. The thought of rural communities being cut off from the world would cause social turmoil.

As if the omens did not need reinforcing, it was disheartening to find that the temporary traffic lights at the roadworks had blown over and were stuck on red. After a few minutes I set off. The van around the corner at the opposing set of lights had been stuck too, had waited,then decided to go - exactlt at the same time as me. We met in the middle. It should have been a Mexican stand-off, but he was a generous driver and squeezed into a narrow turning.

Around the next corner there was a dangerous branch hanging low over the road. I stopped and hacked it down. A car drew up and a worried motorist leant out the window: "Are you alright, flower?" she asked. "Thought you might have broken down and needed help."

And so the day continued, in the usual bizarre way that can only happen on the Vallium Run. I met a Hungarian gardener who put me on to Waitrose as they had the finest Hungarian Paprika Sausage, an American woman tourist who was the mistress of understatement when she said: "Say it's a little breezy in these parts" and I finished the day to the massed sounds of of car alarms down the town high street, which had been set off by golfball sized hailstones in a recent downpour.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Dutch Army Visits The Surreal Village

The day was breathtakingly beautiful. The air was thin and each inhalation made me wince as a sharp pain hit somewhere deep inside my lungs. I was on top of a hill, in the middle of nowhere or MAMOFA (miles and miles of eff a). The sixth form students were on a Geography trip. Even though it was a sunny day, they were shivering and moaning.

This was due to the fact that they were dressed for an afternoon's shopping at the Metro Centre. T-shirts, the thinnest of trousers and hoodies and no gloves or proper hats. They were looking at the lead slag and collecting samples of zinc.

The sixth formers had not distinguished themselves that morning. Only half of the class had turned up. "This is lamentable," sobbed a teacher. "what's their excuse this time? Where's Hernia?"

"She's in Disneyland," replied one of the students.

"Disneyland? What the hell is she doing there?"

"18th Birthday Party."

"What about Nausea?


"Ill? She was fine yesterday."

"Gigi's where?"

"In Glasgow, she's touring the clubs. There was a big party there."

"Gloria's booked her driving test."

"How convenient. Gilbert's sick too, though I thought I saw him walking past the school this morning. Anyway here comes Roger, but what the hell is he wearing?"

"Sorry, sir. Can I run back home. I've forgotten my coat."

So we were late starting. Not before the organiser had forgotten the keys to the village hall where they were going to have lunch. We had to turn around and retrieve the keys. But by the time we had returned to the school the 'school dinner' delivery van was blocking the way and a surly driver was unloading pallets of various maets.

The organiser asked him to move. With much animated arm waving and scowling, he glared at me, threw a tray full of meat down onto the ground and jumped into the cab of his truck. he didn't even bother to close the doors and we watched him zoom off round the school coach park with sausages falling out onto the tarmac.

The students had done enough zinc studying. Two hours in the North Pennines was enough. They were frozen. Now we had a boring situation. The village where they were to have lunch was only a mile away, straight down the hill. But because there was a narrow bridge which the bus would not be able to get over, it meant an 8 miles detour. I suggested they walk as they would do it in half the time, it was a lovely day and it was downhill all the way and not very taxing.

"I'll have to ask the students what they would like to do," said the teacher. No don't do that I thought - just tell them." The obvious occurred.

"Put your hands up if you would like to walk."


"Put your hands up if you would like to ride on the bus."

Enthusiastic arm motions filled the bus, of course. "Typical," said the teacher. Typical teacher, I thought.

So off we went on the twenty minute detour. The village they went to is a very picturesque place, but one with a strange attitude. Whenever I go there something bohemian and surreal happens. Today was no exception. The shopkeeper looked put out when I asked whether there were any sandwiches. The awkward silence meant I had said the wrong thing, so I hurriedly bought some midget gems and rushed out of the shop. The sweets were so old that they needed the bus ignition keys to prise them apart.

As I came out of the shop there was an angry driver in a German sports car, deliberately trying to make a point that the bus was unwelcome and parked far too near his house. In protest he parked the car outside the house, but away from the kerb, which would make it difficult for the bus to manoevre past him. He was an elderly man. Many people who drive sports cars seem to be over retirement age. Perhaps they are the only people these days who can afford the insurance premiums. He looked at the bus, made a noise akin to clearing his throat and disappeared into his house.

At that precise moment the Dutch Army drove round the corner and blocked me in. Three
strange looking half-tracks and trailers appeared. "What the hell........." said a surprised student.

"Don't worry they are on European exercises," said the teacher. "I saw the vehicles last night parked outside a Premier Inn."

They would have trouble staying in this surreal village, I thought. The pub was closed and there was a dispute between the publican and the villagers over to the future of the building. Pub or private house?

I watched the Dutch Army go round the village green for the third time, failing miserably in their map reading exercise. Welcome to Britain.

Snow Comes Early - The Skidding Has Commenced

Winter has come early again this year. This is the third time the surrounding hills are white, covered in snow. Oh dear, it will be skiddy on the drive to the depot. I have to ascend to nearly 2000 feet, before descending to the second highest village in England. It can be hard to get over the top, even in a 4WD.

Sure enough, there are skid marks all over the road, and serpentine wheel marks where cars have tried to get up the hill and have found the only way is to jink the steering wheel from side to side.

"I've had many ladies in recently," the local car dealer told me. "They all told me that there four wheel drive cars were not working properly. Let's go for a test drive, I said. well we went and the speed those ladies went, it was no wonder that they thought their 4WD wasn't working. They jammed their brakes on at a sharp bend and we went straight into the ditch."

People forget the fundamentals of four wheel drive cars. They're great at getting through bad conditions when they have something to grip on. When they hit ice, because they are heavier than normal cars, they skid faster and the momentum works to spin them into the nearest ditch. You can be lulled into a false sense of security.

You can imagine what buses are like on the ice and snow. No doubt you will be reading about it in this blog in the coming months. I have to warn you, my record in snow and ice is not good. I've been stuck in snowdrifts and had skids on ice numerous times. In my defence, you have to expect that when you drive over the highest bus route in England in midwinter.

It's bound to be good reading.

Drenched Hiram B Birdbath Takes Consolation In Dayglo

I'm the subject of a complaint from our new driver - Hiram B Birdbath.

One morning last week, it was exceptionally wet and hard to see much. The early morning service I was driving was ploughing through the puddles. I did not take much notice of the motorbike coming past me on the other side of the road and continued ploughing through the puddles, and regretfully through one particularly deep patch of water, just as Hiram was level with the bus. The result was that he took a drenching and was not too pleased when he reached the depot.

I thought he was avoiding me for the past few days. Now I know why. On the plus side, it is gratifying to know it was not so much because I smell.

One of my relatives used to tell tales when I was a child of splashing pedestrians with his car. He would tell them with relish, which I now realise verged on the sadistic. One which sticks in the mind is of the hitchhiker who was sheltering under a tree on a bank, just above a roadside puddle. He indicated as if he was stopping to offer a lift, the hitchhiker walked away from his shelter to the kerb, at which time my relative accelerated through the puddle and soaked the man.

He has had to tone down his behaviour these days. The law takes a dim view of splashing people and there are some large fines around. Hiram seems to have tried a new offensive against bus drivers like me. He has invested in a very bright dayglo fluorescent jacket in the hope that we will see him better.

As Voltaire said: "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."

Good luck, Hiram.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Whirly Birds Deflect From A Hole In The Socks

Until I saw the helicopter, the most exciting thing which had happened to me this morning was the discovery that I had a hole in my sock. Driving buses is an unpleasant experience when you have a hole in your sock. Every time I touched the accelerator or the brake, I could feel the blood flow to my big toe being restricted, inside my Size 15 bus drivers' standard issue 'Made In Vietnam' boots.

The helicopter was a distraction to the discomfort. It appeared over the hilltop at zero level. The only warning was the panic stricken sheep running over the hill towards me, seconds before.For a moment the machine stopped, hovered then lowered its nose towards me. Having watched too many James Bond films, for a fraction of a second, I thought it might shoot.

But this is 21st Century North Britain. Not Afghanistan. It was a helicopter contracted by the electric company. Not an Apache or a Hind. But what a skill the pilot demonstrated. He was flying up and down the power lines, so I presume, his passengers could examine them. He was giving them the ride of a lifetime. I can safely say the pilot was a male as I could see him vividly as he hovered so close. If I could have lipread, it would have been possible to make out what he was saying.

Then he was gone. Sideways he vanished over the next hilltop, skimming the top of the pylon. Bus driving seemed mundane in comparison.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Look Before You Leap

'Look before you leap' is essential advice for any bus driver or any passenger getting on and off a bus. I'm fortunate to have had plenty of practise and training in how to avoid stepping into something unspeakable when I disembark from the bus.

That is because I have a very old dog at home. As you will know, old dogs are very good at being lazy or registering a strong protest when something displeases them. The object of protest which usually confronts me when I leave early in the morning on bus duty, comes in the form of a large turd deposited just one footstep from the back door of the house.

I was grateful for the training I had had earlier, because when I parked in a lay-by on some busy dual carriageway, I managed to avoid stepping on a Home Pregnancy Test with my left foot and a used condom with my right. I couldn't stop wondering if both items had been left by the same couple. If so they have confounded science with their speed.

Lay-bys are becoming the repository for many stranger and unpleasant items being dumped by the side of the road. It is becoming less and less good for your health stopping in these roadside parking places.

This one was bad. Apart from the general aroma of stale wee wee, there were some redundant fridges, three piece suites and congealed pieces of pizza with the half moon shapes of teeth marks. There also seemed to be something which looked suspiciously like diesel soaked cat litter, being the residue of the red diesel when the red colour has been taken out.

So the next time you are thinking of stopping in a lay-by, put your wellies on before stepping out of the car. And, good luck.

Friday, 5 November 2010

How To Sit Out The Long Waits

New technology means a bus driver need not be bored rigid anymore, with those long waits for their passengers to return to the bus. What do I do to keep my mind enriched and stop it from vegetating?

1. I invested in a power inverter. This was supposed to be a piece of magic which would let me run my computer or charge a mobile phone or plug in a tv. So I plugged the inverter into the bus's cigarette lighter point.

All hell broke loose.

The dashboard lit up as every red warning light came on. The warning buzzers sounded. Smoke started billowing out of the power inverter, the plastic casing melted before there was a series of flashes and bangs and the inverter blew up.

No one told me that different buses ran off different power supplies. Putting a 12 volt power into a 24 volt bus power outlet creates unplanned fireworks. As my memory tends to have good and bad days, I have destroyed three power inverters.

2. Any bus driver should download the free download of the computer game called Bus Driver - http://www.busdrivergame.com/ Though I am far too old for computer games, this is very addictive and fun. The time seems to fly by.

3. I turn on the DVD player occasionally and watch the latest blockbuster. Though once I forgot to turn the engine over and when the movie ended the battery was flat.

The very best advice for any bus driver sitting in a coach park with a long wait on their hands, is to seek out any foreign bus, particularly German. They have the latest kit. Satellite TV, Microwaves, fridge freezers....... you name it.

Vorsprung durch technik applies to buses too.

Too Fat For The Driver's Seat. Moi?

I am fast becoming self-conscious.

There has been a fair bit in the media recently about fat bus drivers. Take the last item on the News Quiz on Radio 4 tonight, where Sandi Toksvig said:

"Before we leave you, here's a cutting from the Daily Mail sent in by........'Industrial action is being threatened after two Blackpool bus drivers were suspended for being too fat to use the driving seats> Unite's regional organiser said I hope we can all sit round a table to talk about this."

Likewise the Daily Mirror carried the story -


The Mirror did not check their advertisement placement very carefully, as you will see, for far to close for comfort to this story is a chance for readers (including bus drivers, I suppose) to win a year's supply of ice cream.

I'm beginning to feel a fraction of insecurity creeping in. I've broken several bus seats, but have always put it down to the age of the seat, poor design or another driver who should take off some weight. Never myself. But perhaps I am the one to blame. Am I just another fat bus driver?

I've always been careful what I eat. When on a two man job, the other driver's face normally falls when I suggest some sushi or a salad for lunch. Their eyes betray their disappointment at missing out on the full monty, the all day breakfast or some other wholesome offering.

It's going to have to be the cabbage soup diet for me. Though that will be most unpleasant for my passengers.

Same Puddle As Last Year....And The Year Before

The return journey was equally tentative.

The puddles were deeper. The rain more torrential.

And sure enough, the flood where the bus had blown it's engine two years ago, was back again. This time only a little flood, 10 inches to a foot deep. I was going slowly as I could hear the boss's voice ringing in my ears at the thought of having to ring him to tell him that another engine had been blown up.

"Tool. Idiot. Bloody Tool. Effing Tool."

I had some help as one of the passengers, a beautician training at the local college, wanted to get off the bus, right in the middle of the flood. It was hard to know where to stop. I thought it would not go down well if I asked her to take off her shoes and socks, roll up her trouser legs and wade through the rising water. So I had to take a risk and park the bus in the middle of the road, on a blind corner with the hazard lights flashing, where there was an island of tarmac.

I opened the door and prayed there was not a local boy racer zooming around the corner on a wetland aquaplaning adventure. There wasn't. even the local boy racers don't like getting wet. The bus groaned its way through the puddle. The fan belt screeched like a Harpie.

But we made it. The good thing about a very wet day, is that the bus gets a good wash. It was going to be an early night.

Rain, Rain, Sunderland Women, Father Christmas And More Rain

The reports on CFM Radio, the local Carlisle station, became progressively more nervous as the day went on. "I'd just like to remind you that it is almost a year to the day that the last terrible floods happened."

The rain worsened.

Reports came through of a woman having to be rescued from her car at the unfortunately named Paddle School, somewhere near Cockermouth. Keswick seemed in danger of flooding. Other warnings throughout the county were in force.

I looked out of the bus window. The coach park was filling up with water. In one corner, wretched council workers were putting the finishing touches to the bonfire for the firework spectacular. In another corner a procession of learner drivers and their instructors were hopelessly performing reverse manoeuvres through steamed up windows in the empty parking bays.

As if that wasn't enough a bus load of students from Sunderland drove into the coach park in flying wash of spray. They were on their way back from New Lanark and wanted a refreshment stop at the shops. "I know I'm a long way from the shops," he wailed, "but I was arrested the last time I came here. A policeman did me for unloading and stopping in a bus stop. Must have caught him on an off day."

At that moment to cap a truly bizarre day, there was the clip clopping sound of several horses. A carriage and four horses was driven into the coach park. They were black horses and the carriage looked demonic, similar to something out of a Hammer House Of Horror film. The coachman was invisible with his face buried deep within his black cape. Everything was glistening in the rain.

As the coach past, a dim light could be seen lighting up the passenger in the carriage. Silhouetted against the interior was a figure with excessive beard and floppy hat. It was Father Christmas, of course. He must have been on his way to open a store, turn on some lights or some other commercial venture. How the organisers would have been horrified if they had seen him driving through the coach park and being mistaken for a dark knight.

It is pleasing to know, as I write this, that there are only 49 Days 11 Hours 55 Minutes and 36 Seconds until Christmas.

The Bus That Doesn't Like Getting Its Wheels Wet

"Where are the Goldfish?" mocked the auto electrician as he examined his soaked feet.

He had just removed the plastic cover to one of the rear light assemblies. He was looking to see why one of the brake lights was not working. This could have been a contributory factor. The effect of driving around with your rear light housings being akin to a fish tank may or may not have blown the bulb.

The electricians early morning mood was blackened at the thought of having to cope with the rest of the day with soaked feet. But it made him work faster. Possibly the thought of a forced tea break might have been appetising.

It had been a bad morning. It was a damned if you do, damned if you don't sort of morning. The bus I was taking had a history of not liking the wet. It was the bus that had begun life on the flat and well drained tarmac of Heathrow Airport. What can only be described as a similar act to Black Beauty being sold to the gypsies, this bus suddenly found itself on top of a wet and windswept Cumbrian hilltop. No wonder it took umbrage at the change of lifestyle, finally making the ultimate protest when going through a deep puddle of blowing up its engine.

Trust me to be given this bus to take to Carlisle on the wettest day this year. The rivers and burns in the high hills had burst their banks. There were puddles and mini floods all over the place. I drove tentatively. I drove so tentatively that the school bus which leaves 10 minutes behind the service bus, came hurtling down the road and sat impatiently in my slipstream. The driver is a great bloke and mixes his full time job as a farmer with part time bus driving.

He was in a hurry. As I stopped to pick up a passenger, he overtook. He was in a hurry, grim faced, he must have been worried about his sheep and the pummelling they must have been taking in this cyclone. I kept on driving tentatively, trying to avoid the deep puddles and rivers that were appearing down the side of the road. It was a good chance to think of excuses I would make to a Policeman or VOSA inspector, if I was stopped.

"Do you realise you have only one brake light working?"

"Oh really Officer? I had no idea. It wasn't like that when I did my walk round check before leaving the depot. It must have just have happened."

Then it would be in the lap of the gods as to what sort of mood they were in and whether they were going to take action and be over zealous as to the precise wording of the law. Today, they would most likely be raindrenched and in a raindrenched frame of mind.

It was a relief to be discussing fish with the auto electrician. At least I was legal again.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Stop Those Sheep

I am not driving today.

I am improving my driving technique, however, courtesy of the BBC Science Unit. The following may link may be informative to all you other drivers too, as you test your reactions:


I find it very lifelike as there are always brain dead sheep wandering in front of my bus.

An Early Morning Gash In The Big Banana

Stating the bleeding obvious. being at a loss as to what to say next and being as observant as a beetle, tend to be things which occasionally overrun each other. Certainly that was the case today when it was my turn to stand on the road with my little girl and wait for the school bus.

It duly came ten minutes late as usual. This is due to the driver discussing various farming matters with some of the mothers at various stops down the route. It doesn't matter as the children always get to school on time, so what's wrong with a bit of farming community chatter?

As the Big Banana, so named because of its lurid colour scheme, hurtled round the corner and came to a hissing stop, I failed to notice the gash down the side. So pronounced was it that you could make out the company colours of the previous owner of the bus. It looked positively streamlined and improved its image.

"How's your day?" I asked the driver naively and innocently. The returning glare could have withered nettles an 50 metres.

"Bloody awful," came the reply in broad West Country accent. "Caught the gatepost this morning. Bus was parked at the wrong angle. Put a dent right down the side."

I reddened and pondered what to say next. It was perhaps the wrong time to jokingly mention that this hideous yellow bucket looked a little more attractive. So instead I lamely said:

"Oh well, we all do it."

At least it was truthful. As a reader of this blog, you will know it was truthful and autobiographical. A dent in a bus was usually due to an error by the Accidental Bus Driver.

Was it a consolatory remark?

Judging by the speed at which the Big Banana took off up the road, the answer would have to be no - it did not make the driver feel any better. I walked back to my house, walking on air. It is nice to know that others dent buses too. Not just me.