Thursday, 30 December 2010

Fallout From The Christmas Party

In the near distant past, i.e. when I was young, the office party would throw up something controversial or bring a hangover where something would come out of the blue which felt like being smacked across each cheek with a pair of wet fish.

I've had a cancelled engagement, a postponed wedding, been involved in a stampede in Trafalgar Square, been hit in the eye by a loosed champagne cork, been one of five men and one hundred women at one office party and had to walk three miles through London rain as all the taxis were taken.

The bus drivers' office party was not like any of this. As described before (The Bus Drivers' Christmas Office Party) it was a tranquil, amusing and fun affair. Nevertheless a strange thing happened.

"You're in the doghouse!" said one of the drivers. The one who I seem to have a jinx on and strange things seem to happen to him when I am around. So strange that he has taken to concealing a crucifix on him, which he produces in the style of Peter Cushing brandishing the crucifix at Dracula.

"What have I done this time?" I was thinking of angry motorist or passenger.

"I know tomorrow night you were meant to go out to a Pizza restaurant in Durham (40 miles away). And I know that you are not going - you cheapskate and that people are miffed you are not going."

When someone who has no connection with a part of your life outlines vividly every item, there is only one way to react. My jaw dropped and I must have gawped for an embarrassing amount of time, even more than was usual.

"How the hell did.........................................?"

I did find out at a later stage. He knew as a result of a chance meeting, in a strange place with someone he had never met before who made a chance remark and two and two and four add four made eighty-four.

The next day, blow me down, it happened again in reverse.

A chance remark with a friend's daughter led to a conversation about a university Geography trip, an evening in a pub and meeting an octogenarian bus driver who amused the students until the early hours of the morning. Of course, from her description there could only be one driver like that in the UK and up until recently he drove for the same company as I did. And it was.

He, too, was at the office party, looking as if he would be out driving a bus tomorrow morning, looking 25 years younger than age - 85 years old. He had kept the boss up until three in the morning, in the same pub that the students had met him with never ending balloon glasses of brandy.

Is it surprising? No, not really. It's a small world after all........

What Can't Be Cured Must Be Endured

"I've wet my bed last night," a passenger said loudly, going into far more personal detail than was necessary.

"No you didn't," his wife was quick to correct him and restore some dignity."That was just yer sweating the lurgy out."

The Vallium Run, in line with other remote rural bus services, acts as a Doctor's waiting room where all ailments are openly discussed. There is something about buses. They seem to give people a confident and secure platform to vent their spleen and other problems with their innards. I feel I have been given many personal guided tours of passengers bowels. You can't get away from it.

Today's Vallium Run is a particularly unhealthy bus. So far there have been 3 severe headaches. 4 aches, pains and shivers. 10 variations on a cough from the sound of someone politely clearing their throat during an intermezzo at the opera, to the full blown industrial smoker's barking version.

I'm spluttering and sneezing myself, so fit in nicely with the clientele.

"Are you full of cold, dear?" asked one concerned passenger as she noticed I nearly drove into a wall as a result of serial sneezing. I feel I could write a book from all the advise and miracle cures and remedies I have been offered. The people who seem to be the fittest are the passengers who sneak into the pub for a lunchtime tipple of some spirit. I can empathise with this as years ago my Chinese doctor friend told me to treat whisky or brandy as a medicine and take a teaspoon before you go to bed. No more than that.

"Oh that's great will it help cure my problem?"

"It will keep your blood moving," he had said.

"Yes but will it help cure my illness?"

"Oh no. There's nothing I can do about you. But I can give you something which will get the greyhound you own to win some races."

I therefore take the advice for cures from the passengers on the bus with a pinch of salt. I'll handle my cold in the only way I know - the grumpy bus driver syndrome way.

The Flying Pig Suffers A Post Christmas Breakdown

Cancel what I last wrote.

It is far from peaceful and only lip service is being paid to the joyous.

I am sitting on top of a cold Northumbrian hill. I am not alone. I have five others sitting beside me.....and a dog. With such breathtaking views, we should all be happy. The sun is shining. It is fractionally less cold than usual and all is well with the world.

All is well with the world but not with the bus. The Flying Pig has given up the ghost. She started to make high pitched whistling noises, refused to go more than 20 mph and expelled clouds of black smoke. She struggled to the next bus stop, gave one last ear piercing scream and stopped. I picked up the mobile and dialled the mechanic.

"What have you broken this time?" said an irritated voice.

The boss came on the phone. "I've contracted a well known bus company called HRS."

"HRS? That's a new company on me." I replied. "Where are they based?"

"Well no actually they're not a bus company. I've despatched Hiram B Birdbath in the other bus. HRS - Hiram Rescue Services is on the way."

Hiram, the assistant mechanic was like a hot scalded cat and arrived 25 minutes later. Not a moment too soon as the passengers were muttering under their breath. I hadn't improved their mood by pointing out that there would be no refund or chance of compensation as they were all pensioners and were on a free trip anyway. This was the local bus company - not British Airways.

It had started so well in the morning. It was the first service to run since Christmas Eve. It was the first frost free drive to the depot. Even the the six inch crust of ice in the drivers' lavatory bowl was showing signs of thawing.

Then the post Christmas problems began. The bus I was due to take had a loose wire and therefore no tail lights. I had to swop to the Flying Pig, who demonstrated signs of a Christmas hangover by refusing to go above a crawling speed. A sign of things to come. The exhaust brake seemed to be temperamental and stuck on occasionally.

In the end it was not so bad. Thanks to Hiram, the service was only 45 minutes late. Two ladies ordered their husbands to bring the car and rescue them. A local man and his dog had just come along for the ride to kill time and he seemed to be enjoying every minute.

"Aye, 'tis good crack, 'tis," he kept saying, before his stomach started rumbling as hunger descended. "Aye I could eat a scabby horse."

When we finally reached our destination, the last couple got off the bus and turned to say:

"Thank you so much. That was exciting!"

In a way, when you look at the average dull events which occur on the Vallium Run, then I suppose it was..........exciting.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Dogs On Buses Are Not Just For Christmas

It's quiet and peaceful.

A true bus driver's Christmas. No services. The schools are on holiday. The ordinary services are reduced and there are very few, if any, private hires.

It's paradise.

"I will honour Christmas in my heart," said Charles Dickens, "and try to keep it all the year." It could have been said by myself, in the perverted and unrealistic delusion that peace and goodwill will continue on the buses for the next twelve months.

It started on Christmas Eve with a 'shaggy dog' story. A tale about a frozen Cairn Terrier in Glasgow with icicles stuck to his hairy coat, who sought warm sanctuary on a bus, curled up and refused to move. Nothing like a shaggy dog story to warm the cockles of your heart.

Buses are often great places for dogs. Great for the odd dog fight too. Many times have there been snarls from the back of the bus and the odd bite. I even met my wife as a result of the dog I was holding outside the door of the double decker bus. The cuteness of the dog helped to divert attention away from the abrasive bus driver, and I have much to thank that dog for after thirteen years of marriage.

Here's a Happy Christmas link of how I might be decorating my bus next year

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Bus Drivers' Christmas Office Party

It's Christmas Eve and all is well.

It shouldn't be as it is the night after the bus drivers' 'office party'. It was a fine affair. It started well. £20 in the kitty and the drink flowed. Fine buffet food, with a Thai flavour as the publican had learnt to cook on a beach near Phuket. Great company. The 80 year old and 86 year old bus drivers came. They had only recently retired, but the stories were still fresh in their minds and we all sat in silence and listened to the days of proper snow and hard bus drivers.

Then the evening degenerated. The publican went off to the chapel to sing some hymns. She obviously knew. The drink began to loosen tongues. The humour became sharper and more funny.

"I'm worried about these two bald bus drivers sitting next to each other at the bar," said another driver.

"Why?" asked one of the bald drivers.

"Because from the back you look like a baboon's arse."

"Lucky I'm not there with them too," interjected the boss. "Otherwise they might mistake us for the sign on a pawnbrokers."

And so it went on. One of the drivers who happened to be a farmer had been seen in a photograph in the local paper of him amongst many other farmers, bidding at the auction mart. The boss had posted the picture in the office and asked each driver to place a X over the farmer they thought was the bus driver. A variation on Spot The Ball. Needless several crosses were placed on the sheep going round the ring. It was presented to the farmer driver at the office party.

The stories kept coming. But I left to jeers early. I got off lightly. My head was in good condition this morning. As I left, my near equal height colleague gave me a smackeroonie on my earhole and I disappeared back out into the Alpine climate.

My breath froze and I thought, how blessed I am. There are not many Christmas office parties like that.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Scrooge The Bus Driver And The Debt Collecting

I felt like Scrooge.

I had to ask someone for money. A customer asked earlier in the day if they could pay later. That was fine, until on the last bus there was no money forthcoming. I had to go and chase the person up the street. After a scowl and some muttered curses of dubious festive cheer, I got the fare.

At first I felt guilty. As if I had ruined someone's Christmas. As time went on I hardened and felt no pity whatsoever. Why should anyone go without paying when everyone else did?

I've been debt collecting in a past life. Several times. Plodding up the stairs to a flat at the top of a tower block in South London, when the lift was out of order was not fun. Standing at someone's gate waiting for some money and hearing the jangling of coins as various family members searched their purses to come up with some offering, was not fun either. Sitting next to the Credit Controller of a company I used to work for was educational, but not fun. He was talking to a debtor in his hospital bed on his way to theatre for an operation. The Credit Controller had managed to secure the debt somewhere between the pre med and the general anaesthetic.

The only one who used to enjoy debt collecting was a friend who came up with a sysytem where two people went collecting; a tall one and a small one, preferably a girl. The tall person knocked at the front door and when the debtor answered he would say nothing but point over to the little person who was standing by the car ripping telephone directories in half. What the debtor never realised was that the middle pages had been cut with scissors, meaning that any old fool could have torn them.

It is difficult to carry telephone directories on the bus. They would inevitably fall down from the roof racks and there would be multiple claims from the passengers for head injuries.

I think I shall continue to be like Scrooge.

Australian Coach Tour Breezes Through The Snow

The roads were worse along Hadrian's Wall. They were white and looked dangerous. But they weren't. The snow was hard packed and little salt had been used which meant there was good grip to be had.

There at one of the tourist attractions was a Dutch bus, full of Australian and Canadian tourists. Contiki Tours, who specialise in holidays for the 18 - 35 year olds, were fantastic. They had climbed up the hill, along some nasty, slippy roads and went walking along the Wall.

The driver came from Melbourne and was full of enthusiasm. "Yeah the roads aren't great but no worries." The passengers were full of vitality and the tour guide was joking with them. It seemed so happy, I instantly wanted to join the tour. I would have if they had bent the rules for the upper age limit.

After so much appallingly awful news stories from Heathrow Airport, St Pancras Station and most of the Motorways in Britain, it was a breath of fresh air to meet some happy travellers. Maybe some Aussies running our transport network might be a good solution in the future.

"We're off to Scotland now. Edinburgh," said the driver. "The A1 is closed. The A68 is closed, we hear. The M8 is not too hot either. But she'll be right and we will get there."

My day had improved no end. This enthusiasm is infectious. It came to an abrupt halt when I picked up a passenger.

"And how are you today?" I said in my most positive voice, wearing my broadest smile.

"Not bad," came the monotone and depressed reply. "It could be better, though. This weather - I'm fed up with it. And what's more............"

My mind wandered off and I dreamt that I was 34 and a 1/2 again.

(By the way if you are between 18 - 35 here is the link

Doctor, Doctor I've Got Wind

The moon shone brightly over the snow covered moorland road. It was so bright that you did not need headlights to see the way. Perhaps it was so bright in anticipation of the forthcoming lunar eclipse and the winter solstice. The road again sparkled, as if there were a thousand photographers loosing their flash guns at some creation coming down the catwalk. It was 'effing taters' as my cockney friends used to say (cockney rhyming slang - taters short for potatoes - potatoes in the mould = cold).

It was not the sort of day to stand around. On arrival at the depot, this was confirmed on examination of the driver's lavatory. Not only had the water in the bowl frozen, but it had been covered with a dusting of snow, courtesy of the hole in the roof directly above the bog. For a brief moment it looked as if it was a Christmas decoration, before reality kicked in and the deep frost started to get into the bones and cause pain.

The Flying Pig was there waiting to go on the Vallium Run. The other bus had exhaust problems and needed a day with the mechanics. The Flying Pig was a rattly old bus which following an eleven hour shift, made you feel as if you had been on a treadmill for all that time. At least it was good in the snow and the heater worked - sort of.

The Flying Pig is so noisy that it is impossible to hear what the passengers are saying. One came onto the bus carrying a large suitcase which I carried onto the bus and rested on the seat behind me. When he got off the bus, he looked anxious and said:

"Back." Or so I thought he said. I ignored him.

"Back. Back." he repeated more agitatedly.

"Back? Back where?"

"No bag."

"Back? Where? What do you mean?"


"I can't go back. This is a bus service. Where....."

"NO! BAG. BAG. BAG.........Oh never mind, I will get it myself." With that he grabbed the case and stomped off the bus.

It was going to be one of those trying days.

It did get more trying. The driving conditions were not great. The freezing fog froze up the wing mirrors. The heater struggled against the Arctic temperatures. The day was long. The bus had not been cleaned and the floor was littered with scrunched up pieces of paper, which turned out to be terrible jokes from the inside of crackers like:

"Doctor. Doctor. I've got wind!
Can you give me something?

Yes. Here's a kite."

My mind was diverted by a passenger who piped up: "Excuse me driver. But can you tell me if the buses are running on Boxing Day?"

"I have no idea," I replied in my most helpful, concerned voice.

"It's just, you see. that the other driver told me on Saturday. But I was drunk and I've forgotten."

I went back to reading the rotten jokes.

Blue Lights And The Smell Of Marzipan

Here's a thought.

Not a very profound thought but a thought nonetheless.

I have finally worked out what is making me feel colder than usual. It is not the sub zero temperatures. That is nice dry cold. It is not the snow. That makes the place look beautiful. It is not watching people's breath turn into white clouds as they scuttle along the street.

It's these new blue Christmas lights you see everywhere. It makes everywhere look and feel even colder than it actually is. I know it's psychological, but particularly at this time, any gold, yellow, orange or red lights are welcome as they give off a warm glow.

My sense of smell seems to have been heightened in this freeze. The smell of roasted chestnuts is appealing. As is the smell of burning coal and watching the smoke rise out of their chimneys. Even the passengers seem to smell nicer. I had a lady who smelt of marzipan yesterday.

"Have you been making Christmas cakes?" I asked her.

"No dear, it's the new perfume my son-in-law gave me."

I know my New Year's resolution is already going to involve something to do with tactfulness.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Hold Onto Your Eyebrows In The Saturday Night Punch Up

The Land That God Forgot has had a mixed history. It's population had ebbed and flowed depending on whether the local heavy industries were open or shut. These days the population is down and many of the houses are occupied by commuters, families or retired folk. There are also a number of holiday cottages around.

One part of the culture which has remained constant is the liking of a good drink followed by a punch up. The local volatile town is famous for it and convoys of cars or busloads arrive from other towns in the area and attempt, successfully in most cases, to bate and stir the locals into action.

"Let's yer know you're alive," the youth told me on the Vallium Run yesterday. "Aye," he said through rose tinted specs, "a lad lost an eyebrow on Saturday night. Bitten reet off."

"Aye," said another passenger. "Times don't change. The doorman got a reet hammering the other night, as he wouldn't let some folk in."

It can only get worse over the coming days. It's the office party season. I felt one eyebrow followed by the other. It was consoling to find they were still there. I have another duty to do on Vallium before Christmas. Perhaps I should revise my fancy dress to include some ski goggles. The eyes would be safe, but my big nose might just be too tempting a target.

Feng Shui Comes To The Volatile Town

"What's that?" said a passenger as we went through the volatile and misbehaved town. "What the bleeding hell's that new shop?"

The object of fascination was a new shop, not open yet, whose facia stated: 'Oriental Body Shop'.

"Is it a Chinese garage?" asked one lady.

"Naw," said another. "It's a massage parlour."

"Can't be. It says acupuncture, feng shui and all those other Chinese things in the window. Must be a Chinese person running it"

"No it's a local person from one of the pubs."

"Oh - it could be THAT sort of massage then." And that's how rumours start in this neck of the woods. It will no doubt be a great and valued business helping to cure all kinds of ills such as back pain and stop people from smoking.

"I had a Chinese doctor, once," said the passenger, returning to a less scandalous topic. "He was so expensive. Wanted to charge me £120 a month. I wasn't having that."

The discussion came to an abrupt end as a very old lady was reversing her car into the middle of the road, while looking only in the opposite direction and failing to notice my bus bearing down on her. She had a fur hat pulled down halfway over her eyes. Under the hat you could just make out that she was wearing glasses. I stopped. When she was in the middle of the street she finally turned her head and saw a bus feet from her door. She jumped a foot in the air in shock. Her glasses were knocked sideways by the force of her head hitting the car roof and her fur hat ramming down completely over her eyes as a result.

"Aye, that's drivers for you aroond here." The passenger sitting behind me audibly sighed. "Don't look - just pull oot."

The lady driver rearranged herself, gave a nervous wave and grin and drove away with the car jerking up the road.

Santa Claus The Bus Driver And The Black Ice

I had a bad thought as I continued on the Vallium Run.

The school bus coming the other way up the road was different. Same bus, different driver. It was being driven by Father Christmas. I had just passed a rescue vehicle which had been driven by a man in a green hat and jacket who was perhaps meant to be some sort of grown up Elf.

Ha ha ha. How I laughed inwardly about what would happen if Father Christmas went off the road and had to be rescued by an Elf. I sarcastically raised my eyes at the infantile passion the North East has for dressing up. Any opportunity they are at it. And now, so close to Christmas, every shop assistant is dressed as a fairy or a Christmas decoration, every refuse collector as a reindeer with a flashing red nose and sparkling antlers and every bus driver as Santa Claus.

Then I had my comeuppance. The next corner, under some giant Wellingtonia trees, there was some black ice. The bus skidded, but more by good luck than skill, righted itself and continued along the road in a straight line. My heart pounded. Serves me right - think evil thoughts and.......and all that.

I am now considering joining them. I may dress up. The trouble is that I don't have anything so simple as a Santa Claus, Elf or fairy in my dressing up box. A Gendarme, Arab Sheikh, ponytailed country and western star and a tomato. None are really very Christmassy and I may end up with a punch in the nose for someone who thinks I am taking the piss.

It needs more thought. Maybe just a sprig of holly will suffice.

The Season Of Goodwill Overrules Grumpy Bus Driver Syndrome.......Eventually

"I'm well wrapped up today, I am," one of the pensioners greeted me at the first stop on the Vallium Run. She needed to be. The promised ten inches of snow had not materialised. Something akin to the Alaskan tundra had, however.

It was minus something low when I had arrived at the depot. The cold had not put a fellow bus driver in a very good mood. He was grumpy at best, and descended towards being thoroughly pissed off as the first light of morning began to glow. The reason was that the last driver had not cleaned out the bus and so he had hurriedly grabbed a brush and was sweeping out the vast array of sweetie papers from the last school run.

Having accused every driver who entered the depot, he wandered off to his bus, head shaking, eyes fixed firmly on the ground, muttering "Fookin' this", "Fookin' that" and "Fookin' lazy .....". He jumped into the seat, slammed the door shut, revved the engine and slithered on the depot forecourt with the back end lurching wildly from side to side and disappeared in a cloud of snow and ice down the main road.

Yesterday I had come across another grumpy bus driver who had lost it altogether, slammed on the brakes, got out of the seat, walked down the interior to the offenders who were misbehaving and yelled:

"I've had it up to here..........." before berating them for a full three minutes. The situation wasn't helped by another bystander who joined in and finished the diatribe by saying:

".......and if you continue to do this, you will have to deal with me, and you wouldn't like that."

The bus was silent, apart from the gurgle of the vintage engine. Everyone had been stunned into silence. The old school bus adage of 'keep 'em hot in summer and cold in winter' did not seem to work on this occasion as the heaters were either not on or didn't work and the windows had ice forming on the insides.

The driver returned to the driver's seat, rammed the accelerator pedal. The vintage engine erupted into life and went from the gentle gurgling sound of an old bus, to something that sounded like a World War 1 tank. It again disappeared in a cloud of snow and ice.

Washington Irvine was right when he wrote: "Christmas! Tis the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial fire of charity in the heart." For the very next day, the same bus driver on the last school bus trip before the holidays had gone to the trouble to give the children individually wrapped parcels of sweeties.

It really is the season of goodwill - even on the buses.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

And Now For The Weather........

We haven't talked about the weather for at least two days. This is disgraceful and shameful. I'm British.

Up here in the North Pennine hills, you have to expect wild weather. Four seasons in one day often. When you drive buses, the weather is a big part of your life. It affects all that I do. My moods. My fears. My humour.

Recently it has been more volatile than usual. Last week there was three foot of snow.Then it all but thawed in a day and I was driving along flooded roads. then it froze and the roads were like skid pans. Now we are back to snow and the severe weather warnings and forecasts of heavy snow.

I'm no the Vallium Run tomorrow. For once, if the conditions are treacherous, it should be far from dull. A seat of my pants ride. I'll let you know.

The Sign Of The First Flake And It's Off

Don't you just hate it when people cancel at the last moment?

Well it's not surprising really. This school is a serial canceller. It always seems to book adventurous trips near Christmas, then at the first sign of any ice, snow, frost or heavy rain, they cancel.

I was half expecting it as I did the early school run down a road which had whitened with the snow. It had come thick and fast. The wind was blowing and the roads were drifting. As the first snowflake fell, I knew the outcome.

It had been a rush to get there. What usually happens in the bus industry is that companies try and save time and money by combining runs. The tour was meant to leave at 9am. Fat chance. I would never get back from the school run until 9.15 at the earliest.

When you are in a hurry, everything conspires against you to slow you down. It was the wrong level crossing operator on today. The one who derives some sort of pleasure by keeping the gates down for longer than necessary. He is well known to all bus drivers. He would happen to be working today. Then there was a slow bus. A slow truck. A very slow and petrified motorcyclist. And to cap it all a loose cow on the road. On top of that the roads were slushy and slippy , and it was still snowing.

I needn't have bothered. The school had stopped the trip by the time I had reached the car park. The other trips were cancelled too, so when I got back to the depot, there was a gaggle of drivers standing around twiddling their thumbs. There were too many drivers left for the school runs which were left, so I voluntarily chose to have the afternoon off.

What did I do?

I put some snow tyres on my car so that I can get to the depot tomorrow morning, if the forecast is to be believed. They are Polish snow tyres. They have to be good.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

What's All The Stink About?

"I don't like smelly old bus drivers," a passenger once said to me.

As soon as I could rushed to the back of the bus and started sniffing the air and smelling my parts which might have smelt and caused grief for my passengers. As far as I could tell, I seemed relatively fragrant. The bad aroma must have emanated from someone else. But it left its mark and has made me ultra sensitive to personal hygiene matters and I fear that I suffer from bromidrosiphobia (an irrational fear of having bad body odour).

Today it is not I but another passenger who is suffering. In fact the passenger is suffering so badly that a complaint has been directed at the driver. The driver works for another company and is on a tour. There are several days left on this tour, so who knows what is going to happen? One way or another, it will be resolved, either by a bath or by an argument or possibly both.

The passenger should take small mercy from the fact that the temperatures are below freezing. Imagine what the aroma would be like in mid July. It is an unpleasant thought and will put you off your turkey.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Not Fair At The School Fair

It was the school fair last night. The auction of promises was a competitive affair, with eager bidders hovering around the bid forms ready to outbid whoever had rudely placed another bid.

I'd made a promise. The promise to drive a bus for free. The bus company had generously donated the bus for nothing, provided the person who won the auction paid for the diesel they used.

Who should place a bid?

Oh no. It was only the local bus company owner.

"Yes I thought I would give my staff a cheap day out." Charming.

"You may have a few back seat drivers."

The thought of having a load of bus drivers sitting behind giving advice or making derogatory comments was purgatory personified. "That was close", "Look Out", "What are you doing?", "I wouldn't do it like that" etc etc was not something to look forward to.

I was saved by the bell. Another person outbid the bus company owner. Phew.

Pot Calling The Kettle Black And The School Run Mummies

Beware, it is the mothers silly season.

From a bus drivers' perspective, following a car driven by a stressed mummy on the school run, starts the alarm bells ringing and it is worth leaving an extra gap. They tend to do some silly things. It can only be due to the pressure they must be under with screaming and whining children, the radio turned up high to try and distract the monsters, getting to the school on time and thinking about household chores, husbands, holding down a job and many other things.

But now there is the added equation of Christmas shopping. The rush, having seen the children through the school gates to grab the opportunity of six hours shopping is irresistible. They tend to put the foot down and drive with furrowed brow.

I met one on a tight corner next to a narrow stone bridge. She came hurtling down the hill and at the last moment jammed on the brakes realising that she could not get past. We were stuck. She froze in panic. I inched past and we went on our way, no doubt cursing and muttering ancient biblical mantras.

"Bloody bus - shouldn't be on the road."

"Damned women drivers......shouldn't be on the road." Though I didn't say that at all. I knew the lady well. In fact she was a great friend. I will no doubt 'pull her leg' and embellish the story to it's most unbelievable, when I next see her.

It is a great pleasure I get from being a bus driver. You are often anonymous, particularly if wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses. You see many people you know doing the most extraordinary things and driving standards from the excellent to the downright dangerous. They never tend to look up and see who's driving the bus.

I know who pick their nose the most. Who examine themselves in the mirror while driving at speed round a hairpin bend. Those who smile, those who frown. The capable drivers, the lunatics. There is no doubt people's personalities do change when they get behind a wheel. Driving a large vehicle, I'd like to think has helped to calm me down. But I cite myself in earlier days of being impatient and harassed when getting into a car. It's a bit of the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps the conversation I had with my then 3 year old daughter typifies my past attitude:

"Oh my God."

"You can't say that. Oh my goodness would be better."

A long silence ensued before a little voice piped up:

"Daddy. Does that mean I can't say bugger either?"

Daddy froze like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He'd been rumbled. There was no way out.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tulips From Amsterdam?

Coming off the motorway at the busy Durham/Sunderland junction, I noticed there were two Dutch trucks parked on the bridge. One was an ordinary delivery wagon and the other was one of those huge flower delivery juggernauts you see parked on the pavement in any town or village in Britain.

As I passed them the flower delivery driver leapt out the back of his truck laden with bundles of flowers and foliage. He gave them to the other driver. It was not the usual behaviour of truck drivers. It goes against the grain of a stereotypical trucker. Naturally my mind started wandering and thinking of reasons to explain this unusual scene:-

Was it a gesture of friendship?

Did the flower delivery have an excess of flowers and when he saw his fellow countryman decide to make a gift in a 'comrades across the water' moment?

Did he buy this large quantity of flowers and foliage to decorate the inside of his truck?

Was it true love?

Were they tulips from or to Amsterdam?

.......and so on and so on. Who knows? And, quite frankly, who cares? It is hard to stop the mind playing tricks or making mischievous suggestions.

Ah, simple pleasures for a simpleton.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Painful Wait

There was nowhere to park while waiting for the pantomime to finish so it meant going back and waiting at the depot. Five drivers sat in the office looking at their watches at various times.

It is hard to relax when the clock is ticking and there is little to do except chat. As no one liked the waiting around, the talk turned to the question of was there or was there not a bus drivers' equivalent to soldiers deliberately shooting themselves in the foot to get out of doing something.

"Whey aye," said the senior driver. "I saw a driver, once deliberately put his foot behind the wheel of a truck and wait for it to drive over it. He hoped that as the wheel would go over quickly that the pain would not be too bad. But it was bad luck - the truck stalled. He still has a limp and the company refused to pay any compensation."

There was laughter before the silence returned and examining of watches to see how much time had elapsed. Still two hours to go.

A Magpie Sets The Tone For A Trip To The Panto

The magpie flew across the dual carriageway in front of the bus.

One for sorrow.....

I saluted him, doffed my hat and muttered under my breath: "Good morning Mr Magpie. I trust you are well. And I trust your wife is well too. 10..9..8..7.6..5..4..3..2..1..Zero." Depending on your view, it either negates the bad luck or is superstitious claptrap.

I was on my way to Newcastle. You will remember the recent tale of a school trip to the theatre (see Dangerous Don, The Teetering Bus And The Worrying Thought Of A Trip To The Theatre). One which the drivers were dreading as the centre of Newcastle was plunged into chaos as a variety of buses came to collect hundreds of hyperactive children from the pantomime. It was cancelled due to the bad weather. But it has now been rearranged for today.

And it lived up to all expectations.

The screaming children on the way to the panto was headache inducing. The two girls sitting behind me asked in between screams:

"Are the roads safe to drive on, mister?"

I sucked my teeth and held off making a sarcastic remark like; "Please remove and put on the life jackets from under your seat" in favour of a simple "yes they are safe."

Sure enough when it came to picking them up at 4.30pm, Newcastle City Centre was in the grip of rush hour. It was gridlock thanks to the extra twenty buses which had hogged all the bus stops close to the theatre. An old man appeared in the road emerging from between two parked buses. He raised his arm as if to wave. At the last moment two fingers were extended and there was some bad tempered mouthing of "......... off."

The service buses were stuck in the queue too. They grew quickly impatient and blew their horns in frustration. The only manoeuvre possible was to go round the block. I went around three times. Then as if by magic, the roads cleared, the buses vanished and my school party appeared.

There's nothing quite like an afternoon at the panto. Oh no there isn't.

You Got Off Lightly, Mate

I had been due to take a party of hardened clubbers on a Saturday night piss-up to Newcastle. But the weather threatened to turn sour and simultaneously another driver stepped in when a different trip was cancelled.

"You got off lightly, mate," he said at our first meeting since the trip. "It was very slippery then the snow really came down. They began to regret going. One of them got arrested for accusing the take-away owner of being shortchanged and they were late coming back. There was an audible sigh of relief when they made it back through the snow."

"But I thought one of the party was related to one of the gritter drivers," I said, "and he would come out if the roads were bad."

"Oh yeah.....right."

Shop Signs Along The Bus Route

There's a book available dedicated to funny shop names. Shop Horror The Best Of The Worst in British Shop Names by Guy Swillingham (Fourth Estate 2005):-

It's a fun read. Being a bus driver, you cannot fail to notice the odd named shops you pass everyday. When I was a child I always giggled when driving past Sitting Pretty (Bathroom + Lavatory Shop), Well Hung (Curtain Shop) and Boti (Curry House). My sense of humour has remained puerile and so here are a few more I have passed recently:

Jiggery Pokery Shop - Tea Shop and Antiques

Stagger Inn - Pub

Captain Magic's Nosh Wagon - Butty Van
Scotty's Stotties
Hale's Kitchen

Tantastic - Tanning Salon

Runwell Chop Suey House - Chinese Restaurants
Dong Dong
Well On Chop Suey House

Tasty Turk - Take Away

Arc and Saw - Builders

Deb N Hair - Hairdressers
Chas N Dye
Chop & Change
Fringe Benefits
The Head Gardener
Head Masters
Tete A Tete

The High Plaice - Fish And Chip Shop
The Cod Father
Barkin Shark
Bait Box
Chip Ahoy
Northern Sole
.............................and finally
Frosts Famous Fish N Chip Shop - not funny because of its name but because of it's advertising slogan:

"If It's Fresher Than Frosts It's Still Swimming"

There's Plenty Of Snow In London - London, Ontario

The Police are getting strict about people not clearing the snow off the tops of their cars. They have been stopping drivers and issuing them with a ticket, a £60 fine and 3 penalty points. "A number of forces have dismissed as an urban myth claims that they were dishing out fines," wrote Robin Perrie in yesterday's Sun. Obviously our Police force were not amongst these.

A driver was being ticketed as I drove past. The Policeman, however missed the driver who had cleared two circles in his car windscreen of no more than the size of bottle tops. He was squinting through them like a submarine commander in a war film. He also missed the bus with two feet of snow on top of its roof.

To put things into perspective, look at what's happening in London, Ontario:-

They say the snow in North America often arrives over her one week later. So there's plenty to look forward to.

Not Waxing Lyrical

It's been a long time since there has been the perennial winter problem of diesel waxing and bringing big vehicles to a grinding halt. The formation of wax crystals in the fuel freeze and block the fuel pipes and fuel filters. The solution used to be to light a fire under the fuel tank and melt the crystals, but I suspect Health and Safety frowns on this these days.

The problem is back and there is one bus company in the North East which has suffered badly from these problems. Maybe it is due to their geographical location and being down in the bottom of the valley in a frost bowl, or maybe it is the vintage nature of their buses. Either way it is an annoyance.

Standing in the -10 degrees this morning on the roadside with my child, waiting for the school bus made us move from side and stamping feet for fear that if we stopped moving we would be frozen to the spot. The Big Banana was late. The Big Banana did not turn up as it had broken down again. Another bus did come, driven, impressively, by the bus company owner who scowled when I told him what I thought he should do with the Big Banana. The suggestion was to light fires not only under the fuel tank, but inside the bus, so that all the parents would be spared the sight of this horrible and unreliable bus coming along the road to pick up their children.

I suspect the suggestion will be ignored.

Monday, 6 December 2010

10 Bus Drivers' Excuses For Not Driving A Bus Through The Snow And Ice

1. I can't be bothered.

2. My brakes are frozen solid. The air bags are faulty.

3. The general public are in even more aggressive mood than usual.

4. I'm shit scared I will hit the bollard I hit last week.

5. My feet are like blocks of ice as my socks are stiff as boards and my shoes have a hole in them.

6. The diesel's frozen and I can't start the engine.

7. My knees are knocking after the skid I experienced yesterday.

8. The heater's broken, I can't see out the windscreen.

9. If I have another dent, my wages will be docked.

10. For the typical bus driver's wages, I'd rather go back to bed

Tact Is The Better Part Of Valour As The Big Banana Dies

For once the boot was on the other foot.

How nice it was to hear another bus driver spout a long list of excuses as to why the school bus was forty-five minutes late when it only had five miles to travel and the roads were clear and free of ice. I thought of the many times I have had to squirm and extricate myself from receiving a berating from an angry parent for keeping them waiting by the roadside, so I was as polite as I could be.

Anyway it didn't matter as the bush telegraph had worked and most parents up the valley had got wind of the rumour that the bus was not going to come this morning. The parents had bundled their children into the back of their cars and driven them to school themselves. Some had stopped and picked up waiting children on the way down.

When the bus did actually arrive, there were only a few children left to transport. The driver was a straight up and friendly bloke. He said the reason why he was late was simple - the usual school bus - the Big Banana had broken down and was in the garage, the regular driver did not like driving the other bus, the yard had been cleared just enough for a motorcycle to get through the gates and he had therefore got stuck.

After a morning like that I felt that tact was the better part of valour and I kept my trap firmly shut and passed no comment. Besides he redeemed himself on the afternoon run and arrived five minutes early.

If Don Camillo had run a bus company in the North of England..........

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Scottish St Nicholas And The Italian Calpol

I must stop writing - 'it was a bizarre day'. Of course it was. You will have noticed that bizarre days and me are like magnets. But, to be pedantic, it was just as bizarre as yesterday....and the day before....and no doubt tomorrow.

So today, in a bizarre sort of way was positively normal. I did not get stuck in snow once. The snow began to melt. The roads were not slippery. People seemed to be driving sensibly. Everything seemed right in the world.

It was no coincidence then that the trip I should have been doing was cancelled. I should have been taking an ice hockey team for their match in the Midlands, but it was postponed. They couldn't get on the ice because of.....yes, you've guessed

Therefore I had the day off. So the day unfolded with a trip to Durham and being cajoled to help on a fundraising stall. It was at a Fair which was heaving with visitors. It was in a good spot. Between the sausage roll and the sticky toffee pudding stalls. But the visitors were disappointed when they realised all that was being sold were cds and tickets to a concert and nothing to eat. They shuffled on past. But my 6'6" bulk made it difficult for them.

"Are you in Durham on the 18th?"

"Nay, lad I'm from Yorkshire."

"Well no, well maybe, well yes actually," said another.

"Oh good you can come to this fantastic concert......" One ticket sold. The psychology of fundraising has always intrigued me and I have found through experience that the great British public are incredibly generous, but you need to nudge the money out of them through humour or gentle persistence.

Selling tickets on the bus next week will be far easier.

The day continued in its usual vein. A meeting with a Scottish St Nicholas, becoming embroiled in a parade by mistake and receiving surprised looks from all around, muttering under their breath: "Who the hell are they" and managing to find the only Italian chemist in a major supermarket who gave me a guided tour of where to get ingredients for good Italian food, making the mundane chore of buying a bottle of Calpol far more interesting.

Bizarre? Certainly not.

Friday, 3 December 2010

A Very Countryside Problem And Resolution

It all went so smoothly on the return journey. Too smoothly by half. Minor inconveniences of cars coming in the other direction, but they behaved themselves and managed to find a space wide enough for the bus to get past.

Then the wind blew up and the snow started to drift. The road was covered again. In places it was quite deep and the bus began to struggle. The last child had been dropped and it was just a case of turning around and hoofing it back to the depot.

Two corners later I was stuck. Embedded in a wall of snow again. The car coming the other way was also stuck. A familiar voice came out of the dark:

"I thought I might be meeting you around now, somewhere along this road." It was one of the teachers from the school I had just come from. He grabbed a shovel from his boot. I grabbed mine and we both dug. We dug for five minutes, after which there was room to get past. No one complained. It was just a typical countryside problem with a typical resolution.

Stuck In A Snowdrift In A Bus......................Again

Today has been a challenge.

It was always going to be when the local schools announced that, come hell or high water, they were going to open after four days of closure because of the snow. The forecast was for no more or a little snow, but for extreme cold and ice. That meant going round the long way to the depot. It took an hour to complete the roundabout way, over some equally steep hills, round some equally icy corners and over the top of some equally remote moor. In the moonlight I could make out lots of black dots. Shivering and starving red and black grouse.

The cold snap is beginning to really hurt nature. The hares and the barn owls are dying. There is nothing for them to eat. It has been one week now without food. No end seems to be in sight.

Cumbria was buried. I could hardly see the buildings or the cars. The county, or the North Pennines part of the county has passed unnoticed in the media frenzy about the British weather. You know it's cold when you co for a pee in the depot's lavatory and find the water in the bowl is frozen solid.

It was -12 when I took the little bus - the 33 seater back over the top. A heatwave compared with parts of the Scottish Highlands, but cold nonetheless. I was the only vehicle on the road. Madness? There was no alternative when you work for a company which has operated on the ethos that "We will get you there."

The route to the start of the school run took fifteen minutes on a normal day. Today the circuitous route took an hour. I had to go up the road I usually come down, turn around and then start the run. It is the only way. The snowplough looked as if it had been up and furrowed a way just wide enough for the bus. This was fine as the road in many places was not wide enough for two vehicles.

It was no surprise to meet the rush hour of traffic coming the other way. Three cars. They were worried and would not go slightly into the verge of hard packed snow to let me squeeze past. The only way was convoluted. It revolved around the bus reversing to allow a car into a gateway, pulling forward to let the car go on its way, reversing again to let the next car in and so on.

Idiotically I opened the bus door to get out to speak to a driver. I had to do this because the driver's side window was frozen solid. I disappeared into a wall of snow and when I reappeared I couldn't close it again. The shovel and the salt were positioned by the front, so I had to dig my way out.

On the next corner catastrophe happened. A yellow gritter came flying round the corner. It was him or me. There was no room for the both of us, so I chickened out and drove into a snowdrift. The wheels whined and made impressive whistling noises. The bus went nowhere.

The gritter drivers gave me a descriptive look which could have said: Bloody idiot. But they got down out of their cab and tried to help.

"Great," I said in an annoying way, trying to lighten the mood of the situation. "At least I haven't got to walk far to collect some grit."

"No," they said without a flicker of a smile. "We've run out. We're empty." But they dug. I dug. The small bag of salt might just be enough to get the bus moving again.

"Just a minute," one of them said as he leant into their cab. I thought I was going to have to sign a formal complaint about a stupid bus driver, collect a bill or worse. But they handed me a box of council workers' baby wipes.

"It's good for your hands, mate."

An hour later, three skids, two blocked roads, some more snow and ice and I made it to the school. Only four children had caught the bus. But that wasn't the point. The service had run. It had got there, only 12 minutes late.

I felt I had conquered the North West Passage. It is sad what small events give man such pleasure and a feeling of importance. But don't hold your breath. There is the return trip to do yet, this afternoon. The wind is getting up. That's a bad sign and will mean drifting and possible blocked roads.

Think of me in your nice warm offices and homes.

Cockney Bus Driver's Tonic For The Sick

'Get A Job You Scrounger!" hissed the beginning of the Daily Mail's headline.
'Woman Bus Driver's Extraordinary Rant At Passenger On Crutches.' It continued.

She allegedly shouted at the man on crutches and made him move to another seat where he was in agony. Who knows what really happened. In her case,m according to the bus company, she has been taken off the road.

I have lost count of the number of passengers I have wanted to throw off the bus at best and do something worse to in more serious cases. But I keep things under my hat. I am there to serve. I drive a service bus.

There used to be another driver I drove with who is sadly no longer with us. He was a Southerner and ran a business as well as driving a bus. He used to take the bus to the cash and carry in between runs and stock up, using the bus as a convenient delivery van. Underneath the abrasiveness there was a great character. I liked him hugely.

Once I had to swop buses with him. There was a particularly sick girl with some kind of bug sitting on the front seat. I went to the shop and when I arrived back at the bus there was a packed supermarket trolley by the front door.

From inside the bus I could hear the girl groaning and then this Cockney voice:

"Oi! You can't sit there."

"Awwwwwwwwwwwww why not?

"I need that seat for me tonics."

The girl nodded and obliged by hobbling down to the back of the bus. Then he turned to me:

"Now then. Come along. Load them all on. I've got a bus timetable to keep."

I argued not.

The Wrong Train Ticket

The other driver had an unusual experience the other day.

He had to go down to Norfolk with another driver to pick up a bus. They met in the cafe at Newcastle Station and talked while they whiled the time away.

"What time is it?" asked the driver.

"1020 something," replied the other.

"Shit. The train leaves in two minutes."

They ran, forced their way through the barriers, and reached the platform just as the guard was blowing his whistle. The other driver jumped on as the doors closed. The result was that one driver pulled away on the train and one sat on the platform, watching him pull away.

Then the terrible mistake dawned upon him. The other driver in his haste had only given him one half of his ticket. The ticket he had only showed his seat reservation. He got on the next train and told the conductor when he asked for all tickets from Newcastle. Amazingly the conductor was sympathetic and managed to ring the guard on the other train and confirm that the other driver was holding three tickets.

Who says the railways are in a bad state?

The European Ashes

Having recovered from the euphoria of digging out the bus, the school we were going to transport to the theatre, decided to cancel. It was mixed emotions. None of us really wanted to do this job. It was going to be a nightmare because of the unlikelihood of there being anywhere to pick up or drop off these children in the centre of town. But then again, we had toiled and sweated by digging out this bus for the purpose of this job.

So we had a cup of tea instead. As we did so the Funeral Directors drove their hearse and limousine into the depot. They had shared the undercover parking spaces at the depot for many years, but sometimes in the early morning gloom when I unlock the door, it can be unnerving to come face to face with a hearse.

One of the drivers started describing the dreadful paperwork involved with his uncle when he returns through one of the ports to the UK. He often drives around Europe in his campervan and on the front seat he places the urn containing the ashes of his late wife., She goes everywhere with him. It's a nice thought and something I could to mention to my wife.

But the one problem is the required form filling to bring ashes back into this country. It is also a security risk. Yet he manages and doesn't complain.

The Second Pragmatic Oil Tanker Delivery Driver

In the middle of digging out the bus, the oil tanker driver arrived. "Need any diesel?" he asked.
The depot manager jumped up and down with delight, as the tank had been empty for several days and in this weather he was expecting any driver to take one look at the ungritted road and run a mile.

This driver was different and took the risk, driving down.

"Oh no problem," he said. "I've got diffs on the truck. If not you can tow me out."

He reversed without a problem.

"Had four trucks stuck today though," he continued. "Any driver who takes a truck down an inappropriate road gets the instant sack."

I wonder if this will apply to us bus drivers, I thought, thinking of all the rotten roads we would have to go over the next days and weeks.

This looks like being a long cold snap.

Bus Escapes From A Touch Of The George Formby's

The car slithered for most of the seventeen miles down to the builders merchants in the town down on the valley floor. It was unpleasant or as they keep saying on the radio 'treacherous driving conditions'. This was the first morning where the presenters had stopped talking about the weather. Football had superseded the weather and the North East radio presenters were brimming with confidence that England was going to be awarded the World Cup in 2018. Too much confidence. It was a certainty, according to them.

The builders merchants were already open when I rolled up into their snow laden car park at 7.15am. There was one of their staff in a mini digger, clearing away what snow he could. This was difficult as there was a line of builders vans eager to pick up supplies. But he did his best. Even more impressive was that they still had bags of rock salt and grit. The little Ford Fiesta sank to the ground as it was loaded with 10 x 25kg bags of the stuff.

"Clearing snow around your house?" asked the helper who loaded the salt.

"No," I replied. "I'm off to dig out a bus." There was nothing more to say.

When I arrived at the depot, all the reports were true. The bus was teetering over a drop. The back wheels were raised off the ground. The front wheel was held by a small and suspect plank of wood. It was cracking. I was expecting the call of: "Run Lads!" at any time as me and two other drivers started digging out around the bus.

The snow was the least of the problems. It was the polar-like ice underneath which needed a pickaxe to shift. One driver arrived in combat trousers. Snow camouflaged combat trousers, similar to what the Russian Spetsnaz wear. That was as far as the similarity went as he was definitely no Spetsnaz shape. He looked though as he had seen some form of combat that morning as his hat, coat and trousers were dirty.

"Bloody car," he said. "On my walk to work this car came so fast past me that all the salt was sprayed over the top of me. I threw my shovel at him. But I missed."

It took three hours to dig this bus out. Then came the nervewracking part. Trying to drive the bus out. If he went forward there was the chance he might tip it over. If he went back he might have hit the gates before tipping over. Neither were nice choices. Two other drivers had turned up and he was getting different advice from four drivers now. Sensibly he ignored the lot. He seemed to pluck up courage, take a deep breath and shut his eyes as he put the bus into gear. It worked a treat and the bus slid and wobbled a bit, before hairing up the icy road. He stopped for no man. If he had he would have been stuck again. He made it with some great driving.

"Not like Dangerous Don," someone said.

"You mean George Formby."

"George Formby?"

"Yes, when his bus slipped into the lampost he was given the nickname of George Formby."

"Why was that?" I asked. By the other drivers looks I instantly knew it was a stupid question.

"Well George Formby sung.........I'm leaning on a lampost at the corner of the street."

Silly me.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Dangerous Don, The Teetering Bus And The Worrying Thought Of A Trip To The Theatre

"Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea! Err...." was Michael Caine's final line in the Italian Job (1969), as the bus teetered precariously over a cliff.

This is the scene which will greet me tomorrow morning in Newcastle when I arrive at the company's other depot. Well, it will be less dramatic. The bus will be dangling over a brick wall with a three foot drop rather than a cliff. I will hopefully have the means to move it. I should have a carload of bags of salt and shovels. The problem is that the bus is teetering over the wall at the entrance to the depot, meaning that no buses can come in or out. The problem has been compounded by another bus which has got stuck a few metres in front of the teetering bus.

This type of calamity has not befallen the company since Dangerous Don had bowled over a lamppost when the bus he had been driving had slid backwards on the ice. Don watched this whilst he unlocked the padlock of the main gate. The bus took off by itself as Don watched in horror. Damaging corporation property is always frowned upon and a bill for a new lamppost duly arrived several months later.

So who knows what tomorrow will bring?

It does not look good. Moving the teetering bus may be the easy part. Getting there could be a problem as the weather forecast is dismal. Then if we do rescue them the re is a difficult job to do. Four buses transporting a school to the theatre. It will be hell as there will be nowhere to park the buses, let alone find a drop-off point. As it is a special schools performance, there is the likelihood of many other buses heading for the same drop-off point.

"It will be challenging," said the boss. "But I know you like a good challenge."

I'll let you know tomorrow.

Thank Goodness For Shovels

Thank goodness for shovels. I've had mine by my side most hours of the day, short of putting it in my bed. It sits directly behind the driver's seat in my car. I dug out parking spaces in Newcastle three times today. I got some strange looks from passers by when I left the car in the middle of the road and leapt out with my shovel. I think they thought they were about to be assaulted by a madman.

The gritters in the city had done a good job. I passed armies of day-glo jacketed contractors clearing the pavements. Many snowploughs, small diggers and drain clearers. It was all hands on deck. Even the NE1 Street Rangers (according to the Newcastle City Council website) fulfilled their remit as a "rapid response 'clean team'", walking the streets with snow shovels. Their secondary functions of "launching a three pronged attack on anti-social behaviour, improving the business environment and providing a 'meet and greet' for anyone coming to our city centre..."

"Best job they've ever done," I overheard one man say to his friend as they stood outside a pub having a fag.

"Aye," replied the other exhaling, "but they've not deined to clear outside our pub's doorstep. Never mind. Fancy a pint?"

Yet it was a surprisingly pleasant day to drive around Newcastle. There was very little traffic. Plenty of parking spaces and very few parking wardens. The ones I did see were keener looking in shop windows and I suspect the cold had numbed their fingers and made ticket issuing a forlorn hope - so they had given up.

I was only here because the weather made it impossible to drive over the hill to the bus depot. I had driven my wife to a meeting. And if I had made it, there were no services to drive. The schools were shut, the other routes were impassable and the bosses spent most of the day trying to rescue one bus which was stuck on a steep incline.

They were exhausted. Their amazing hard work had kept buses moving, be it sluggishly all day. All the cancelled services were cancelled by other parties. The Vallium Run was ahopeless, but nonetheless they managed to squeeze two hours service out of it before it became too dangerous.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring.