Monday, 28 February 2011

Expect The Unexpected: Ol Man River Silences The Passengers....Temporarily

"To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect," said Oscar Wilde.

Well damn and blast Oscar Wilde. He's exposed my inadequacies by saying that. There was absolutely nothing to suggest that an evening of Paul Robeson songs that my wife dragged me along to on Friday night would be anything other than two hours of purgatory.

Two hours of Ol' Man River, a song or two from Showboat could not think of any other songs he might have sung. It was going to be desperate.

How wrong could I be. It was amazing. 90 minutes flew by and I freely admit that I was on the edge of my seat for the whole performance. It took the form of a monologue about Paul Robeson's life, interspersed with his songs. What a man Paul Robeson was. Singing was a small part of his life. He graduated from Columbia University Law School with a top degree, became a lawyer, a nationally renowned football player, an actor, taking the lead in Song Of Freedom and The Emperor Jones, Shakespearian actor - his Othello was the longest running Shakespeare play on Broadway, spoke fifteen languages and felt that the famous had a responsibility to fight for social justice and peace.

By choosing to be a political activist he fell foul of Senator Joe McCarthy and was blacklisted, had his passport revoked and was close to becoming a non-person. He was under surveillance by the FBI and the CIA and his beliefs were publicly condemned. He visited and became attached to the Soviet Union. Likewise he often went to Wales, to the Rhonda Valley.

"I learnt my militancy and my politics from your Labour movement here in Britain...." he said.

Paul Robeson was far from perfect and was considered a thorn in the side by many. But he was a man way ahead of his time. A forerunner of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. His songs I find myself humming whilst driving. Swing low sweet chariot, Joshua fit the battle of Jericho temporarily silence the passengers.

"Ol' man river. Dat ol' man river," I start singing, "he mus'know sumpin. But don't say nuffin'. He jes keeps rollin'. He keeps......"

" Oh do shut up, driver," a voice pipes up from the back, snaffling out all singing.

So is this going to be a bad week. I think not. Expect the unexpected.

The First Cut Is The Deepest - Bus Route Disappears

It's begun.

There's a story in the Newcastle Journal today about a bus route being axed - (

"People have approached me practically in tears because they are so upset about it being withdrawn," said the local county councillor John Shuttleworth.

It is a sad day. This will only be the tip of the iceberg. But the routes I drive will have a different reaction from the passengers. I think it will be more forthright and angry. They are the sort of passengers who will not lie down and take a decision that they disagree with lying down.

The school child was waiting in the usual spot and glared at me, looking daggers as she boarded the bus. It was the first school day after half term.

"You're late," she said coldly. "Later than usual." Off she walked rudely down the bus.

Perhaps the council could be persuaded to terminate this route early.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Signs Of Aggression: Danger Of Death In The Countryside

Spring is just around the corner. The nights are longer, the mornings are lighter earlier. The bulbs are sprouting. The noise of the birds dawn chorus is deafening. The first peewits (lapwings) have started to come in. They are conglomerating and circling over the fields, performing their aerobatic dives. The air seems altogether lighter, and though it is still cold at night, and though there will be a sting in the tail of winter yet, there is hope for warm days.

Driving through the countryside, there have been noticeable changes. Mainly in the proliferation of aggressive new warning signs. All the electricity pylons used to have signs saying something like: "DANGER High Voltage". Now there is a picture of a man being struck by a thunderbolt and the words: 'Danger of death'.

The people who live at the next road end have also upgraded their warning signs. Gone is: 'Beware Of The Dog'. In its place is: 'Our Dogs Bite. Enter At Your Own Risk'. Another neighbour has red letters on a white background saying: 'No Scrap Dealers Beyond This Point. Thank you'. And if you are a dog, it is even worse, for a large chunk of the summer months the gates onto the moor have signs confining dogs to leads or banning them altogether.

In another tree there is a sign which says: 'Warning You Are Being Watched'.

The Campaign To Protect Rural England try hard to stop cluttering up the countryside. But they are on a loser. That is because with rapidly changing demographics and population shifts, the countryside is fast turning suburban.

It could be worse. There is some hope. Believe it or not because of the cuts. Some of the road signs are invisible as the trees and shrubs have grown up around them. There is a lack of manpower and money to cut back the foliage on the verges.

As I drive past, I am usually so enthralled by this wondrous act by default, that I fail to see the low branch until it whacks into the mirror. The springtime feeling disappears as I think of how I will explain the cracked mirror to the mechanic....

...."What have you broken now, you....

Friday, 25 February 2011

Headbanging Down The Yorkshire Cave

Where do you offer to take your children on a half-term outing when you are 6'6 and a half inches tall (or 1m 99cm to the more progressive)?

To the caves, of course. White Scar Cave near Ingleton, North Yorkshire. Why is it called White Scar? I can only guess that it is named in honour of tall people. I lost count of the amount of times I hit my head on the rocky ceiling which would have left me with a long white scar on my forehead, but for the hard hat I was wearing, which took the brunt of the clashes.

It is a great place to go. I've been to a few caves around the world where they are either religious sites, overcrowded with tourists, have millions of bats flying in and out or they seem to focus on putting pretty coloured lights on shapes made by the stalagmites and stalactites. 'This is Tony Blair...Ronaldo...Marilyn Monroe...Bono...', they would say on the guided tour.

"If you start seeing all sorts of different things," the guide at White Star Cave said, "then you've been down here too long."

"That looks like Harry Potter," piped up a small boy.

"Been down here too long," repeated the guide.

What I liked about White Scar is the naturalness and the history. The main cavern is breathtaking. It's natural beauty, formed over millions of years is awesome. The guide is excellent. She hit the right note between amusement and a history lesson in geology. The best thing was that her enthusiasm for White Scar was infectious. The history is well documented along the half mile route to the main cave is well explained.

It was not until 1990 that some tin miners from Cornwall completed a passageway by dynamiting the rock and the general public could gain access to the 100ft high Battlefield Cavern, so called by the first lady who found it and thought the large boulders strewn on the floor resembled the aftermath of a giants' battle. The lighting is minimal and the sounds of the cave and the rushing water of the underground river are magical. It is a special place.

"Duck, Daddy," a voice yelled on the return trip.

Too late. There was the sound of an elephant entering a porcelain shop, as my hard hat connected with the 200,000 year old rock. There was no excuse for me hitting it as yellow stripes had been painted on all the low spots.

The guide looked worried. "See up there. That stalactite was broken off by a clumsy tourist."

I exited the cave as fast as possible so as not to be labeled as the second elephantine tourist. My children looked as relieved as the guide. For once their Daddy had avoided shaming them.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The City Bus Tour: Welcome To The University Of Life

It was only two hours. Two hours driving all week. It should have been a breeze.

It was a City Tour for a University. As I rolled up to the main square, lines of people queued for the bus. Some were wearing shirts with 'BUDDY' displayed boldly on their backs. Was this the right place? Or had I mistakenly landed in a group of American tourists.

It was the right place and the Buddies seemed to be acting as mentors. I sat in my seat and silently acknowledged my dimwittedness as someone explained to me that most universities in Britain now run Buddy schemes to make new students feel at home.

A variety of ages boarded the bus. These were potential students and their parents, having a good look around before deciding which university to go to. We set off. Two students were giving the guided tour. Neither got the hang of how to use the microphone and the bus was filled a noise similar to heavy breathing in Nightmare On Elm Street. I listened to their spiel. It revolved around where the next drink was coming from mainly. Every bar, every nightclub, every pub of any note was mentioned.

After several minutes of this I stuck my oar in. Firstly in a helpful way - 'that's the best dim sun restaurant, that bridge was built in..., that is a statue of....'etc etc. Then the more mischievous information came out. 'That's the baby ward at the hospital, that's the police station, that's the law courts.'

There was nervous tittering from the back of the bus from the parents, who did not know how to digest this new information. There was audible relief when I stopped short of telling them where the Sexual Health Clinic could be found. The two student guides stared at me with their mouths open. They changed the subject swiftly by telling an awful Maths joke. In their haste they managed to pull the wire out of the microphone.

Silence. Mission accomplished. Peace at last.

Thought For Christchurch Bus Drivers And Operators

The events in Christchurch need no extra comment. The pictures speak for themselves.

Amongst all people of Christchurch, spare an extra thought for the drivers and staff of Leopard Coachlines.

All connected with the UK bus industry will be thinking of them.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

An Afternoon With Big Momma

Half term is here. Hooray. I can't think of a more fun time in life. The children are back. They are winding down from their hectic school lives. It's a time of laughter. It's a time of togetherness and catching up on things. I only wish it lasted for more than a week.

There are no buses. No school buses or school trips, so it is a chance to go to new places in the car. Everything improves at Half Term. The traffic halves because there are no frantic mothers on the school run, taking no prisoners as they are worried about being late. The standard of driving seems better too, with mainly business folk hurrying to their destinations.

Yesterday brought a visit to the Chinese restaurant, followed by the cinema. The problem of being a rural bus driver is that there is a high probability that you will run into one of your passengers. I did. Several, in fact. And that was why we went to see Big Momma's: Like Father Like Son.

It was both the correct and the incorrect choice. Right in that I guessed that none of my rural passengers would go and see Big Momma. Wrong, because the reason they didn't go to see it, was because it was such an appalling, lowest common denominator film. A cross between Some Like It Hot and a film about rappers; Nuns On The Run meets Fame; The Nutty Professor and Stomp The Yard, the jokes came from Zoolander or Scary Movie.


The children loved it. And in every rotten movie, there is always something good. In Big Momma there was one of the most puerile pieces of slapstick when he/she dances on a table. Big Momma's legs fly in the air in a computer generated way, lands flat on the table which promptly disintegrates. The whole cinema roared with laughter. It went on for some time too. I laughed long too. My sides hurt. I still laugh thinking about it. But then, one man's meat is....

As we left the cinema and ventured back into reality, I heard a voice behind me:

"Hello Mr Bus Driver. And what are you doing here?"

I have to thank 107 minutes with Big Momma for my disingenuous reaction of pretending to have been deafened by the surround sound blasting out rap music, and the quickening of my pace as we strode out towards the car park.

Monday, 21 February 2011

A London Bus Driver Merely Scratches The Surface Of Life In Manila

The Philippines - one of the greatest places on earth. I have a passion for it and have been lucky enough to have been there several times.

Oh no no - it's not what you think. None of that nudge, nudge - wink, wink stuff. Before you start, I go to stay with a woman in her eighties who has a house in a village in the provinces and in Manila. I live their life, eat what I am given and do whatever they do. They look after me and act as minders, telling me when there is a dangerous situation, which there can be.

Manila, for me is a special city. Noisy, steaming hot, prone to monsoons and flooding, smelly, polluted, bustling and at times shocking. That's the part I prefer, the old part of the city. Then there's the new pristine part of the city. Makati - the banking district, with its steel and glass skyscrapers glistening in the sun and air conditioned offices. It could be anywhere in the world - New York, Canary Wharf, Tokyo - they all look the same.

Makati doesn't bustle. Life there is all very ordered. It is where all the ex-pats gather and, to me, though it is essential to the economy, it is not the true Philippines so hence, I don't go there very often.

So imagine my excitement, when looking at the TV schedules, there was to be a programme (Toughest Place To Be A Bus Driver - BBC2 -20 Feb) about a London double decker bus driver being dumped in the centre of Manila and told to drive a Jeepney, the ubiquitous Philippino mode of transport, modified from the World War II American Jeep. This should be a great programme and I sat halfway out of the armchair in anticipation.

It wasn't.

It was so so.

The longer it went on, annoyances crept in. Grumpy Bus Driver Syndrome came out in the violent form of me banging the arm of the chair and making various McEnroe, 'uou cannot be serious' accusations at the television screen.

The good parts were that it captured some of the colour and frenetic life of Manila. The people, the houses and the way they lived were true to life. Thereafter it descended into mediocrity.

Mediocre because it became a documentary more about the bus driver from London. He seemed a nice person and it would be interesting to see the outtakes of the film, which might show more of life in Manila. He started making pronouncements on life there. Then he started crying, no doubt genuinely, but it brought the documentary down to soap opera status. He cried in a house. He cried on the Philippino Jeepney driver's shoulder. They cried together. He cried at sunset on a beach looking out to sea.

Now, call me insensitive, but I felt it devalued the show when there were so many other things which could have been filmed and let the audience decide for themselves. Manila is a tough place. It is hard to find a solution to the 15th largest city in the world. A city with over 11.5 million people and 15,500 people per square kilometre. The World Health Organisation are seriously concerned about the population explosion. What can anyone do? It is a massive problem. People have tried and failed. People are still trying. One thing, for sure you cannot do is apply British principles to it, as some of the programme did.

On the plus side, driving a Jeepney was a brave thing for a London bus driver to attempt. Manila traffic is awful. I know. I have tried to drive one. I couldn't fit in the seat and I kept scraping my knees on the sharp edges of the doors as I tried to get in and out. The only way, in the end was to manoeuvre myself through the window with the door shut. this London bus driver was nearly as tall as me, but with a more robust frame. he managed it. Either it was a specially converted vehicle or he must have broken the seat.

He did well and maintained a sense of humour throughout Good for him. The documentary makers, however only scratched the surface. Where were the children selling cigarettes or newspapers for the odd peso? Where was the traffic jams where everything comes to a grinding halt for hours? Where was the Philippino point of view? Philippinos talking about Philippinos?

A Philippina once crossly told me: "I'm fed up with watching English films about the Philippines. All they focus on is the slums - Smokey Mountain (the rubbish dump in Manila), Tondo and others. But I tell you something - at least the Philippino homeless have roofs over there heads - unlike those in London."

The interesting thing would be if there was a Part 2 of the documentary and the Jeepney driver is flown to London and told to drive a double decker bus. But as life stands in Britain, I suspect, it would be too expensive, not offering enough 'best value' for the viewer and because of the amount of the filming which would be spent on Health and Safety issues and driving licences, CPC's etc, it would be so boring that no one would watch it.

I wonder if the Jeepney driver would enjoy it?

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Football Fans Hammer The Windows - But There's No Alcohol Allowed On The Buses

As we traveled down the M6, there was always a temptation, to avoid the monotony, by thinking of other subject matters. That's why I thought about the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc) Act 1985 and amendments from the Public Order Act 1986.

Well, no that was a lie. I had no intention of thinking about these two Acts of Parliament which involved reading through the reams of paper to see how much a bus driver might be fined if he didn't obey them.

I was prompted by the amazing sight of a convoy of what must have been around thirty buses from the same company flying up the motorway in the opposite direction. They were a firm from West Sussex who were hauling Crawley Town FC supporters to watch their side play in the FA Cup at Old Trafford against Manchester United. The press had been buzzing over the past few days over the possibility of the minnows from the lower league putting up a giant killing performance against the Champions.

The other driver started chatting about the responsibilities of drivers when taking football fans. He had been in some bad scrapes with several fans from the North. "They're animals, man," he said. "They get paralytic, argumentative then they get frustrated and start hammering on the windows. Some were so bad - no driver would volunteer to drive them."

"Trouble is - all the onus is on the driver. It is abundantly clear that alcohol is not allowed on buses on the way to 'designated sporting events' and you can't stop anywhere within a 10 mile radius on the way to or on the way back from the ground."

He knew of a driver who was forced to stop on the way to a football match. He finally managed to cajole the fans out of the pub and back onto the bus, but arrived late at the football ground.

"Why are you late?" asked a Policeman, who boarded the bus. The driver was just about to launch into a well prepared speech, littered with excuses when the Policeman added:

"I'll just stop you there, sir. Before you say anything, I think you should know that we have noted that you were viewed on the CCTV at the Such-and-such pub, between the hours of ... and..., so I suggest that you turn this vehicle around and take this vehicle from whence it came."

The driver was stunned. But he had just been let off by a generous Policeman. It could have been a hefty fine. He turned the bus around and retreated in a cloud of smoke. Frantic hammering on the windows was heard as it disappeared out of the city.

Thomas Telford - What Would He Think Of Ice Hockey And The Punk Rocking Gamers?

Have you ever been to Telford?

It is a bizarrely fascinating place. Not just a new town or the largest town in Shropshire, Telford is situated a mere 30 miles from Birmingham, with a population of 162,000+. It didn't exist until the sixties and wasn't renamed in Thomas Telford's honour until 1968. Embarrassingly the Americans had recognised his worth over a century earlier, when the North Pennsylvania Railway Company named a railway station after him in 1857.

I went there twenty years ago. I detested it. Yesterday I returned. I loved it.

It was something to do with the design of the town which achieves great space and a feeling of being a rural conurbation with roads concealed by avenues of trees. There is a certain grandeur. Even the buildings are interesting in a new town sort of way. It seems to have come of age.

The best bit is the statue to Thomas Telford, the civil engineer, canal builder (Ellesmere, Shrewsbury and Caledonian canals being amongst the most famous)and bridge builder (Menai Straits Suspension Bridge). Outside the law courts, Andre Wallace's intriguing work, made in 1987 consists of large steel letters and the great man leaning on one of them, with his coat hung over another -

I was there because of transporting the Whitley Bay junior ice hockey team who were playing Telford at the only ice rink in the West Midlands. These guys are dedicated to the extreme. They have to pay large subs to cover the cost of equipment, training, tuition and transport. Then they have to travel vast distances on buses for their matches. This trip was one of the longest at nine to ten hours driving, through hail, ice, blizzards and fog. They only spent two hours in Telford.

"What will be the score?" I asked them before the match.

"Well it will be 15-0. Then we will have a fight. (usual ice hockey players behaviour on the rink - it's a tough, physical sport)."

They did neither.

"We were 5-2 up," said one of the supporters quietly after the match, "then they did a Newcastle United performance in reverse and Telford won 6-5."

"It's a long way to travel when you get beat," said another.

But they were a nice lot of players. Cheerful and peaceful. They shrugged their shoulders and smiled as we began the journey home. It was difficult to get out of the coach park as it was next to the International Centre, which was concluding a large Computer Games conference. hundreds of people came spilling onto the pavements in fancy dress, dressed as their favourite computer games character.

Not being young enough, I found most of the costumes to be unidentifiable. Sleeping Beauty may have been around, so maybe the Mario Brothers. The rest seemed to have come out of a 1970's Punk Rock concert in the 1970's.

That's me though. I must be getting old.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Return To Bradford And The Naughty Night Nurses Fall Foul Of Scottish Law

I felt guilty when the busload of children looked at the floor in shame.

"I hear that on the journey up,^ said the teacher firmly, ^someone ripped a plastic bit off one of the seats. We do not want a repeat performance on the way back. What do we say?"

"Sorry Mr Driver," the bus trumped in unison. I felt fleetingly guilty because, because the Donkey is ageing fast and bits fall off her regularly. So it may not have been a child. The guilt soon disappeared when they said sorry. It had the air of a rehearsed performance which they had used on numerous occasions in the past.

No that is unfair. They were well behaved and the teachers had a good rapport with them and rarely raised their voices. That was not the case with the driver I was talking to while waiting in the coach park for our respective schools to turn up. He had just returned from Scotland on the 'trip from hell'. On the trip there had been student doctors and nurses.

"They were disgusting. Lying on the floor, holding a tube and a funnel whilst one of them poured a bottle of vodka down their gullets. I said to them they were doctors and nurses, people in positions where people look up to them. So what they said and two of them got off the bus and stood on the pavement drinking cans of cider."

The driver went on. "I told them I wouldn't do that if I were you. So who's going to stop us they said. At that moment a Policeman was passing in a car. He screeched to a halt, did a U-turn, jumped out the car and arrested them, carting them off to the cells for the night. I did warn them - the law's different in Scotland. When they say 'No Alcohol On The Street' they mean it."

They continued misbehaving all night and the bus started swaying down the motorway on the way home. The house music had been cranked up to the maximum and they were dancing on the seats.

"Right that's it, I yelled at them," he continued. "When a handbag and a stilletto came flying down the bus and nearly took out my ear 'ole, I told them to get off the bus.

But we paid for it - you can't do that. they said.

I can and I will"

And he did,

Thursday, 17 February 2011

There's Little Peace In The City Of Peace

Which city in the UK is the City of Peace where you can find a Cenotaph. a Workers' Memorial Plaque, the Bhopal Workers' Memorial Day Plaque, a Hiroshima and Nagasaki plaque, a 1932 Ukrainian Famine Memorial, a 1986 Chernobyl Disaster Memorial, amongst other things?

Bradford, of course. A brilliant place. Not that I saw any of these sights. It was dark when I arrived. It's the food, though I've enjoyed best. Especially the Kashmiri cuisine. It's delicious.

"Be careful," warned one of the other bus drivers when I told him where I was going, "you'll have curry for breakfast down there."

He was nearly right. The schoolchildren brought containers filled with curry and boxes piled high with warm samosas. The aromas permeated through the bus. They were still there the next day. Proper cooking, with proper spices. I closed my eyes for a minute, I felt I was transported to a warm street, somewhere on the subcontinent bustling with hawkers selling every kind of food.

I was awoken out of my dream by a blunt Yorkshire voice:

"Eeh 'ello. 'Ello luv. Mr Coach Man? Are you in there?" It was a worried mother. She was standing over me with her arms folded. "Mr Coach Man - you drive carefully. Remember it's our children, you are driving." She smiled, but the threat was there.

"NO CHOC-O-LATE. I said NO CHOC-O-LATE," said the teacher. "How many times do I have to say NO...." Good, I thought. This is a school which has properly drilled its children and would mean a sick free trip over the winding roads later in the journey.

"But you can eat any other kind of sweet," added another teacher. Oh no, I thought, it will be bad later.

"That's very nice of you to bring a cake," said another teacher to a child, "and cut it into seven slices to share out. Hmmm maybe later....oh alright then." My heart sank.

We departed and drove up the motorway. There has to be a new kind of grit and salt being used on the roads as it is hard to see out of the windows because it is caked on and no amount of screenwash seems to shift it. Another driver swears that he put some down outside his door and the salt is eating in to the concrete slab and nothing has stopped it. It is still eating into the concrete.

"You've had a bad winter," I thought the teacher said to me. I half heard her and wasn't sure whether it was because of the noisy engine or the broad South Yorkshire accent.

"Yes," I said, "but nothing we're not used to, and the snow's not been bad."

"No not WINTER," she said agitatedly, "I says WINDA. I meant your window is bad."

It was one of those trips.

Garry Richardson Mended The Donkey's Radio

The downside of the Donkey, is that the radio reception in it is iffy. That's not to say that the radio is not good. Quite the opposite, the state of the art radio, dvd player. cd player and stereo sound system make it a much more pleasurable experience travelling in the old stalwart. It's just that the aerial misbehaves and halfway through a good tune, or in the final 200 yards of a neck and neck horserace, or just as Rooney is about to score, the radio dies.

This produces apoplexy on the Alf Garnett scale of things. Short of thumping the dashboard and shouting obscenities at passing motorists, there is nothing you can do. You just have to wait for it to receive again.

This morning was a fraught one. There had been a freak snowfall on the high ground. Four inches of snow had fallen and was lying on the final 300 feet as I drove up to the summit. I tried it out in my four wheel drive car first and when that started spinning in the wet snow, I chickened out taking the bus over the top and went around the long way, meaning an extra 30 minutes on the journey to Bradford.

This was great. It didn't matter how late I might be, it meant I would have an extra half an hour listening to the Dark Lord's (Alex Lester) good music on Radio 2. Dr Feelgood were making the bus vibrate:

'A black cop gave me a shove with his gun
Said up against the wall and don't make a run
They've got me on milk and alcohol
They've got me on......................................


The Donkey was left with the dissonant sounds of my dreadful bass voice....'milk and alcohol', singing a cappella, but more in the style of the karaoke evening down at the local pub.

The radio's silence continued for nearly an hour as the tuner searched automatically. It finally connected with a voice. The voice of Garry Richardson reading the two minute sports news on Radio 4's Today programme.

Garry Richardson is a genius. Often a comparatively and unknown genius, for someone who has been one of the lynch pins in BBC Sport for the past 30 years. You can tell how well he is thought of from the banter with John Humphrys, Sarah Montague, Justin Webb et al, quite unlike any other sports presenter.

He hasn't deviated from his hard line of questioning, sometimes called Paxmanesque, asking the same question three times. That was the same in the 1980's when sometimes I used to share the BBC Sports Room at Broadcasting House, preparing our respective scripts. I use the word 'share' liberally as he was the sports professional going onto the Today programme and I was the humble contract worker for Radio 2.

It's strange how life pans out, I thought as the blizzard subsided and was replaced by heavy rain smacking into the bus's windscreen. I hope the BBC properly recognise the amazing service he has given the BBC. From my perspective, it is amusing to know that a voice from the past can syill influence my life. His voice was the one to buck the radio back into life.

That, at the very least, deserves an award.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Mat & Pat, The Donkey And The Icebreaker Dog In The Farmyard

The farmer's sheepdog confirmed the fact that it was a return to wintery conditions again. As I made the school bus run late, by chatting about many things with the farmer, there were loud cracking noises coming from behind him. Noises which were similar to a bough breaking off a tree, though this was unlikely as there was hardly a breath of wind.

It turned out to be the old sheep dog who was bashing the icy crust of one of the farmyard puddles with his snout. After five attempts, the ice broke and he was able to lick the brown liquid, lurking underneath.

The bus I had been given today was 'the Donkey'. Steady but sure, sluggish at the start, but not bad when it reached cruising speed. There were no complaints as it lethargically hauled itself over the hilltop. The sheet ice and the frozen rain did not seem to bother it. Nor did the freezing fog, which was the worst of all weather conditions, because you knew that some local was hairing up behind you in a souped up old banger. Fog waited for no man. They overtook the Donkey whether they saw much in front or not.

The children were quiet. Quieter than at any time I had driven them. The Donkey had the added bonus of being equipped with a DVD player. The children perked up as they saw the lit up screens inside the bus, meaning there was a screening of some film:

"What is it? What is it?" said a little boy in fever pitch excitement. "Star Wars? Mall Cop? Batman?"

"No - much better," I said. "Pat & Mat." There followed a long pause of mixed bewilderment and disappointment.

"Who are Pat & Mat?"

"They're Czech. The very finest cartoons......"

"Awwwaaa. I suppose I'll just have go to sleep."

Pat & Mat are fantastic. They work every time and within thirty seconds there are hoots of laughter from the back of the bus, regardless of age. I start laughing when I see them...and I am nearly half a century old. Czech animation has always been the best in the world, and Pat & Mat() typify this. They are not so well known in Britain, though have been around since 1976 and were way ahead of the likes of Pixar, Wallace and Gromit and the like.

"Very nice," said 'jack the lad' as he descended the bus steps onto the snowy tarmac, "but on the way back can you PLEASE put on Star....." I closed the door, successfully blocking any more demands and drove away.

Monday, 14 February 2011

St Valentine And The Red Rose Of Disappointment

I claim there ain't
Another Saint
As great as Valentine.

So wrote Ogden Nash.

It was patently obvious that he had not been travelling on a bus, when he wrote this. Today, on St. Valentine's Day, the atmosphere on the morning school bus engendered feelings within me of hostility towards this saint who supposedly sent a farewell note to his gaoler's daughter.

"I demand to know who he is," said one girl to another for the tenth time. She was not talking about Valentine, but the girl who was sitting behind her. "Who's she going out with? I'm going to find out who it is."

All of them were at it. It was an antagonistic morning.

On the return trip in the afternoon, several of the girls appeared on the bus carrying a single red rose. "They cost £1-50," said one. "But it wasn't romantic at all. The guy who gave me it was the smallest guy in the school. It would happen to me."

"You were lucky," said another. "I got given this rose and another boy grabbed it and stuffed it down his trousers, which took a little of the gloss off it."

Schooldays are the best days of your lives......maybe that should read except on Valentine's Day.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

You're Crackers, Man

I'm excited beyond belief. I've been acknowledged.

I went to some party, the other day, and someone said to me:

"I've heard about you. I was told that there was someone eccentric living in the neighbourhood."

Now, you can take this two ways. Either I could have viewed it as a gross insult and something to get upset about. But, thinking about it, that would have been disingenuous. What he said was true. For a start, at the risk of incurring the wrath of my fellow drivers, being a bus driver could be considered eccentric. Being an accidental bus driver is yet more evidence. Baring all and writing about it in the public arena confirms it.

But I am happy. It means I am not one of the masses. In some way I stand out. Maybe, even maybe, I or my antics might be remembered. To that end I have prepared my epitaph, as said to me on many occasions by other bus drivers in the North East:

'You're crackers, man."

Friday, 11 February 2011

Seize The Moment, Seize The Day, Seize Anything You Can

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Oh really?

That was the delusion I was under when I awoke this morning. Fresh in my mind were the new techniques for safe and skillful driving, I had learnt yesterday on the course. Now was my chance to get behind the wheel of the bus and prove to everyone what a great driver I was.

Seize the moment! Seize the day!

The near miss of the garage doors as I exited the depot somewhat dampened my enthusiasm. It was more of back in the old routine and seize whatever you can get your hands on. Some things rubbed off, though and I took good notice of the weather conditions, the surface of roads and I looked further ahead than usual, anticipating potential hazards. All textbook stuff.

The children did not notice any difference at all. In fact they thought I was worse than normal.

"Where's Bradley?" I asked one of the other children, when Bradley was so obviously not at his stop.

"Well there's a long story there," said a little boy. "He's hurt his arm."

"How did he do that?"

"Well that's where the long story comes in," he continued. "Some say he tripped over a stone or something. Some say someone stuck a leg out and tripped him up. And some say he tripped over a crack."

"Oh yes,cracks," said another child. "We do have cracks where we walk, you know"

"Bloody big cracks if you ask me," said another.

I left them to their discussion about the state of paths and pavements. The comfort of the classroom and the ease in which we were able to identify problems began to wane. This was reality - big time.

Ghost Bike And The British Love Affair With Cellophane

I came across my first Ghost Bike today.

Chained was this bike, painted all over white with bunches of flowers around it. At first I thought it was a piece of public art by some wacky sculptor. But a passenger informed me it was a memorial to a cyclist who was killed there.

Apparently the idea was started in St Louis in the U.S.A, and there are now well over 100 ghost bikes all over the world. It is an brilliant idea, and now I know what it is, it is thought provoking.

What lets it down is the lack of care and the peculiar British love of flowers wrapped in cellophane. The flowers were long dead, frosted and drooping. Is it a sign of our national lack of imagination that we cannot be bothered to take the flowers out of the wrapping or put down fresh ones? Perhaps it is no different from the sight you see at many graveyards these days, after a night of high winds. Nestled up against the railings are every variety of colourful plastic flowers and cellophane which has been forcibly removed by the gales.

GBDS - Grumpy Bus Driver Syndrome? Well, maybe. Having visited other parts of the world, there is never anything more beautiful or emotive than seeing a flower, au naturel. When I go, I want one solitary hydrangea flower on my grave. I'll request that my equally tall friend and fellow bus driver will read the last tights so that he can say:

"Right you are then flower."

Back To Bus Driver School

The British love certificates.

It was like a light bulb going on in one's head, as I sat in the leviathan bus company's portakabin which had been turned into a classroom for bus drivers. "There's tea and coffee over there for you to make yourself a brew," said the instructor, "but don't all go at once." That wouldn't have caused many problems if we had all gone at once as we were only three.

Around the wall were many certificates for various training aspects to do with bus driving. I never knew there were so many. I started to wander off and thought how many certificates I had piled up in a drawer back at home. There's one for pattern cutting, one for sewing machine skills, pr in marketing or was it marketing in pr - I forget which, one for driving minibuses, one for first aid; even one for nose picking and a dodgy degree from the University of Diddlysquat in America.

Today I got another one.

Safe and Skilled driving. Ha ha. From what I've written - safety? I've been pretty safe so far. Skilled? Debatable. I was dreading this course. I thought it would firstly, be boring. Secondly it would go through the dross I knew anyway, and like a typical bus driver, I was sure to know everything as a result of so much experience. Thirdly and more worryingly, that it would highlight my weaknesses and show me up to be a rotten driver, as the end of the 7 hours of training, there was a drive round the town in a service bus with the instructor putting you under a microscopic assessment.

"I don't mind crossing hands occasionally, but both hands must be on the steering wheel," said the instructor,"but I will not tolerate palming with one hand."

"Watch the curbs. Treat them like an imaginary fantasy woman on a first date," said another driver. "Gently brush them. Don't mount them."

My driving was not so good.

"What's the speed limit along this road?" shouted the instructor from the back of the bus. He had to shout because the rattles and noises of the bus made it possible to hear very little.

"Observational question."

At the time I was struggling to get used to the bus, which was totally different from the buses I usually drive. By the passenger entry door, there was a very small mirror. So small that it is difficult to see anything at all. The sun was getting low and was bright. I had just missed hitting a woman who had ran across the road at the last minute and the lights had turned to red, quicker than I expected meaning hard braking was needed. So I missed seeing the speed sign as I struggled to negotiate the parked car on the corner of the smaller road I was turning into.

I suspected it was a trick question and for a millisecond considered giving a bus driver-ly 'either or' bullshit answer, but instead blurted out:

"30 miles an hour."

"No - 20 - it's 20 - 20 miles an hour," the instructor corrected. I could hear the disappointment in his voice. he had asked my other two fellow drivers who were sitting in the back with him, waiting their turn to drive, and they had infuriatingly answered 20 mph.

"Well I was only doing 20," I said lamely in an attempt to restore a modicum of dignity.

"Not the question I asked. Besides you were a bit too close to those parked cars too," he added. The other drivers did far better. In the past some of our drivers had viewed this assessment as a competition and source of personal pride and esteem. The last time drivers were sent down on the course, one went into a deep depression when he was marked down more for making more errors than a (in his view)less experienced driver. Months later, it still hurts him.

But I'm over it. Being marked down from excellent to good on observation and safety margins, is not so bad. I enjoyed myself. It is a course all bus drivers must do. Car drivers could benefit too. I know I can get complacent and be a Mr Know All, having experienced so many things on the buses.

One thing which fascinated me at the depot was the way in which the drivers deposited the day's takings in huge machines come safes. It was slightly more advanced than our method of counting the change on our knees in the driver's seat of the bus and folding it up in a waybill, hoping that the paper did not rip and all the coins would scatter across the floor.

"Not like the bus driver when we were on holiday in Greece," said the mechanic on our way home. "He looked at the note I was offering him, slammed the cash tin closed and said......

.....'I am a bus - not a bank."

If only.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

My Hair Straighteners Are Missing

"What a joke!" cried the teacher as she put down her mobile phone. "They've found some of our luggage and say they forgot to load them onto the bus. "What am I going to do?"

"Well you've not got anything important in your case," said another teacher in consolation.

"Yes I have. I've got me hairdryer. What am I going to do without me hairdryer? And me hair straighteners. And me eyeliner. And me other make-up......" The list went on and on.

This was the vivacious school trip I had taken a couple of days ago. They were returning home to Tyneside. They weren't as lively as they were on the outward journey.

"I'm just knackered," said another teacher. "All I want is me bed." But they were still full of beans.

As we neared the school I drove through a cloud of birds, similar to Alfred Hitchcock's movie, 'Birds'. There must have been tens of thousands of crows swooping down onto the green patch in the middle of a roundabout. they narrowly avoided all the passing traffic and for a moment the view out of the front window turned black. It was a mesmerising sight.

"Oh that's just the fish factory," said one of the teachers. "happens every day between 4.30 and 5.15pm. The factory lets some smell of frying fish oot of its chimney and the crows come and investigate. In gfact there's not quite so many as usual."

We rolled into the school gates. The car park was full of eager parents meeting everyone with the same greeting.


"Aye a'reet, man. You a'reet"

It is always good to get a group to their destination without incident. There were no sicknesses either, which was a bonus and contrary to their outward journey. Luggage dropped. Bus checked. It just left for me to say goodbye...........

I was interupted by the urgent voice of a child somewhere down the back of the bus:

"Miss. Miss. Ermintrude has wee'd in the seat. Ermintrude has widdled......

"Yes that's quite enough Georgio.........Too loud Hamid........Let's go"

I inwardly sighed. You can't blame the child, who must have been in mental agony worrying about the consequences.

That's life. I don't think I used all the Detol earlier in the day. The teacher who was concerned about what she would miss in her missing luggage, was still making a list:

"...........ooh and I've left me house keys too........"

Paintballers Do It 'Til Their Paintballs Burst

The driver appeared in his car at the depot. There were several hints that this was a part time driver who has a passion for America and would really love to be siting on a beach in Florida rather than being here today. "Paintballers do it - til their paintballs burst" blazed in day-glo green lettering from the bumper sticker. Attached to the aerial was a gridiron helmet with Mickey Mouse ears sticking out the sides. This, though, was mild, as this driver often rolled up in an old US Military pick up truck, which used to tow planes at one of their now redundant British air bases.

The local school run had a Christmas feel to it. The children's breakfast normally consisted of a packet of crisps and a can of some high energy drink. Today the bus was littered with After Eight wrappers. Either these were a leftover from Christmas or there was a buy one get one free on at the local supermarket.

As I had warmed up the bus, I wrote out the tachograph disc, opened the front of it, as I do everytime I get into a bus, and the whole thing came off it's hinges and wires protruded out of the dashboard. It had happened on my very first morning and had induced blind panic. This time there was a milder form of panic as the words of the mechanic echoed around my head:

'Don't worry - that'll just be the newness of it."

If I was having problems, it paled into insignificance compared with another driver. There was a hive of activity in the office. A hive of activity so early in the morning, usually spellt trouble.

The driver had left at 4 o'clock in the morning to pick up a school and bring them to an outward bound centre. There was another bus waiting at the school, when he arrived. Both buses seemed to have been booked for the same job. All hell broke loose, The school tried to find a way out of this nightmare and potentially costly situation. It got worse before it got better.

"It's a beautiful place where you are going up North, isn't it?" our driver had casually said to the other driver.

"No I'm not going North, I'm going West, less than an hour away." he replied. It dawned upon them that not only were there two buses from different companies for the same job, but one of the buses was going to the wrong place, had quoted for this and was not looking forward to the prospect of losing money by taking them twice the distance for the same price.

Our driver took them. I met up with the bus when it returned to the depot. I had to clean it up inside for a fast turnaround as it was taking another load of schoolchildren down to somewhere in Manchester. It was an unpleasant task. They had not told anyone that some of their children had been sick down the back of the bus.

C'est la vie. Pass the Detol. Prime up the the mop and get on with it. The day was about to get more varied.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Cornish Brie Creates A Stink On The Highest Bus Route In England

It was a fair warning.

The brushes which covered the holes of the bottle bank were frozen solid.I had to use brute force to push the empty whisky, wine and olive oil bottles into the receptacle. It was not a sensible thing to do at 7 o'clock in the morning. I could feel the pairs of eyes glaring at me from behind the rustling net curtains of the cottages between the bus depot and the bottle bank. There was often no sign of life in this area until after 11am. I could imagine the oaths and curses being sent my way.

When I walked back to the depot, the mechanic and another driver were cursing each other.The mechanic was not in a good mood. He had been away until late sorting the Flying Pig's problems out. It had been the onboard computer which for some reason had only allowed the battery to be charged intermittently. I make it sound like the computer is as sophisticated and thinking as HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is just a bus.

"Typical mechanics," said the driver, half in jest and half with a bitter twinge, "always blaming the drivers. You mechanics never make any mistakes."

"Yes I do," the mechanic replied defensively. "I got up and I'm here today. That;s a mistake I've made."

I left them wrangling. I had tried to speak to the mechanic before, offering some inane witticism. I backed off quickly when I realised he wasn't in the mood as he said: "Now then, I hope you are going to choose your words carefully". Three buses breaking down in one day was enough for anybody. But that was yesterday. Nothing could go wrong today.

It did.

The bus which I was driving had a peculiar electrical fault. For no apparent reason, all the electrics stop. As a result, the engine stops, the lights go out, the steering gets heavy and the bus comes to a halt. It was a problem when it happened as I was down a narrow lane with a truck coming fast in the other direction. The bus started and off we went, No damage was done. It just left me with the uneasy feeling that it might happen again.

But nothing was going to spoil this beautiful day. After the floods and the black ice, the sun came out. It was warm too, like a Spring day. How lucky I was. I was on the way to Hexham Market Day service, over the tops. It is the highest bus route in England. The passengers are characters and have developed their own way of operating the service. Woe betide any driver who tries to alter the ambience.

When the bus is parked in the coach park, the door is left open so that passengers come and go with their shopping. Some open their flasks and read their paper. some have a three course packed lunch on board. One driver goes off to the swimming pool. Another always takes his wife and goes off for a slap up meal. There is plenty of friendly talk and it is more like a club outing than a bus service.

"I hope the Council dinna cut this service. We rely on it. And we would miss the crack," said one passenger.

"I want you to remember to stop at my house on the return journey," said another old lady with strong bifocals. "The last time YOU drove, you shot by the house and I had to walk a quarter of a mile." She came closer and squinted so that she could focus better before realising that it was not me but another driver who had done the deadly deed.

"I'm notorious or famous," said another passenger, staring out the window and not listening to the others,"but I never know which."

I went to the supermarket and cleared my head by buying some strong smelling Cornish Brie. I stashed it in the overhead lockers. The aroma was so bad that it permeated th bus interior within minutes. The pensioners started sniffing first themselves, then their neighbour. They carried a look of 'is it me? Surely not. It has to be her." The higher the bus climbed, the thinner the air became and the greater the smell. It was a small mercy that it was winter. Summer would have caused the cheese's eviction.

Back at the village, they all disembark, arms weighed down with carrier bags. The worried old lady is left. "That's my house over.....STOP....urghh you've gone past it. Typical bus driver."

Monday, 7 February 2011

An Upside Down Sort Of A Day

It was an upside down sort of day.

The school run happened. Fighting through the spray from the vast quantities of water which had accumulated on the roads. The rivers were roaring. The rain kept coming. The children huddled in small groups at their pick-up points. They looked miserable. Even more miserable than the sheep did yesterday.

The rain continued. Mid morning, when I was on the local service, there was a cry for help from another driver who had been delayed by some floods. "The water was up to my knees," he wailed. he had to rush off on another job and asked if I could run his group the last five miles up the road.

I had to abandon two elderly ladies at the bus stop. They were vaguely angry in an understanding way. The school from Tyneside took precedence. The local ladies would have to wait for fifteen minutes. It turned out to be a great journey. The teachers were the most ebullient I had ever met. No rain or floods would dampen their laughter and lightheartedness.

"Eeh, what do I do with these baggy pants?" one of the teachers shrilled. Of course they were a city school who had arrived at the outward bound centre, unprepared for the weather conditions. The outward bound centre had seen it all before and had wellies and macintosh jackets and trousers at the ready. The first attempt at putting on these clothes was a disaster. They were all ill fitting. So the teachers spent the next ten minutes swopping various items.

I thought of the pensioners freezing in the bus stop with the hole in the roof.

The teachers finally rearranged themselves and sat with difficulty back in their seats. They were like balloons in their restricted extra waterproofs.

"Things like this must make your day," one of the teachers leant over and said to me.

"No comment," I replied, knowing full well that I would be driving them back to there school in a couple of days time. I know what's good for me. They returned to their conversation about the food on their holiday in Turkey.

"Eeh that big white thing that looked like a wobbly lump of lard was disgusting. But I liked those fried chicken triangle things. They were lush."

The great advantage of having happy teachers on the bus meant that there was a ripple effect and all the children reciprocated. They were bubbling.

On return to the town, there was no sign of the pensioners. I was in the proverbial. They must have taken a taxi and sent a bill to the company. The boss would not be pleased.

He wasn't. But not because of the frozen pensioners. Another bus had been passing through the town and had picked them up. No, the boss had many other worries on his mind. A driver had parked too close to a bus and when he opened the door, it had smashed an indicator light. The Flying Pig had died in a puddle ten miles away and to cap it all, the old Bedford had given up the ghost five miles in the other direction.

So my day was not so bad really.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Saturday Night Drinking And The Glue Comes Unstuck

It's Saturday night.

Two of the regulars have been out on the town. They've had long sessions.

"I've been visiting the office," one lady said. (The Office was code for the club.)

"I've had one or two," slurred the other lady.

"Oops there goes my shopping." said the first as she knocked over the plastic bags and all the food spilled onto the floor.

"Excuse me, driver," said a third regular bus traveller. "When I have a drink, it does something funny to the glue in between my false teeth. It goes all mushy and I canna speak properly."

I drink therefore I am(according to W C Fields)

I drive buses therefore I am, too.

The True Smells Of The Countryside

Sister Of Flying Pig had developed a pungent smell. It was traced to the rubber surrounding the driver's side window. It smelt like last night's garlic prawns at the local Spanish Tapas Bar.

I hadn't noticed it for the past few months. But today, it is back.

Now all buses develop their own character and distinctive smell over time. None have ever had this aroma of stale cooking. Maybe it is the result of a chemical reaction. Perhaps it is the rain. Or perhaps there is the slimmest chance that someone could have rubbed some garlic sauteed prawn heads into the rubber.

Food is visible at many points along the route. 'Take-Away Corner', an attractive wooded corner near a river has been littered with polystyrene fast food boxes. There are half eaten sausages, pizzas, floppy batter and congealed chips. The standard could not have been good the previous night, necessitating the hurling of polystyrene out of passing car windows.

Ah those searching the bracing air of the countryside on the morning dew, should beware.

A Football Match On The Bus: The Depression And The Geordie Fightback

It was the needle match. Newcastle Utd vs Arsenal. I watched the black and white shirts as the occupants hung out of the window as the Newcastle bound train pulled into the station.
"They're all drunk, man," said a youth who had been on the same train. "They're drinking cans of beer and singing."

This was the start of an all day commentary of what sounded a remarkable football match. The passengers who boarded, had radios glued to their ears and became more and more depressed as an annihilation of the Geordies seemed likely by the Londoners.

0-1 "Eeh, they don't make them like they used to. If yer needed a centre forward they would just call down the pit."

0-2 "There's too much money in the North east clubs and too many Cockneys running them. The Geordies dinna like that."

0-3 "They're all spoilt. Paid too much, man."

0-4 "Bloody effing, useless, effing effers......"

All the passengers heads were down. They searched in deepest closets of their minds for any appaling story they could find to do with footballers:

"I worked for a well known footballer, once," said one man, "landscaping his garden. There was a young lad with me. The first morning when he saw his god, he ran up to him, calling his first name and asked him for his autograph. The next morning this footballer fired him. He was gutted. 'Anyone who works for me calls me MR - - - - -' he says."

Then an amazing transformation happened. Newcastle Utd began a fightback. The black and white shirts began to raise their heads.

1-4 "Well at least it won't be a whitewash."

2-4 "Aye that's more like it. A bit of Geordie pride."

3-4 "Ay, Aye. Now we're ganning. Bloody marvellous."

4-4 You could hardly hear yourself speak. Then above the noise came the voice of reason and hindsight. "I told you they'd give a good show. Never had any doubts."

Oh yeah?

But who cares? The market town and the bus will be peaceful and good natured tonight. They will all be full of footballing tales of bravado, similar to that on Lee Ryder's Newcastle United blog - Blog On The Tyne:

'All in all, this game was an example to everybody in any walk of life...don't give up on anything.'

The Usual February: Leaky Buses And Sheep Like Mops

The torrential rain meant only one thing where the Flying Pig was concerned. It was time to get wet. This was partly because of the intensity of the rain which was near tropical levels. To be truthful the blame lay firmly at my door for failing, dismally. to park the Pig on a hill, facing up, so that the water could run down to the back.

Every corner I turned, I got wet. Wetter than usual. As the Pig had been parked for quite a long time on the flat, a reservoir had accumulated above my head, in the destination board compartment. Instead of the normal power shower, it was like having a bucket of water tipped over my head. Anyway, to be thankful for small mercies, it kept the schoolchildren amused.

The Eastern European student stopped winding up the girls. The champion gymnast stopped using the rails as parallel bars to practice reverse pirouettes on. The brothers stopped poking each other. The older students, whose self-imposed 'grandmother rights' of sitting in the back row of the bus, normally led to all kinds of shenanigans, were ominously quiet in between water falls, in anticipation of the force of the next deluge. This was a price worth paying.

That was on Friday. Yesterday was even wetter. The local river resembled the Amazon. Fallen trees and branches littered the road. There were floods everywhere.

Fortunately I had traded the Flying Pig for a bus which didn't leak. I enjoy the bad weather on the Vallium Run. It is exhillerating. The noise of the water smacking the bottom of the bus. The spray flying into the air, giving the feeling that you are on the watersplash at Alton Towers rather than on a service bus route. It brings out the best of the passengers too. There is some vitality in the moroseness of their chats about the weather.

"It's not looking good," said one.

"Aye, it's not looking good," repeated another.

"No it's not looking good," echoed the first passenger again. "Not looking good at all."

"Snow's on the way."

"Aye, just look at them sheep o'er thar." I looked. They seemed more miserable than usual. Water was running off they're underbellies in streams. They looked like mops before they had been squeezed out.

"No no the look of them," the passenger corrected, "the fact that they are so low down on the fell. It means snow's coming."

It's been right in the past. Just feels too mild for snow, but we'll see.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Blocking Buses Cause Cantankerousness

The trouble with coming back late is that you cause GBDS - Grumpy Bus Driver Syndrome the next morning. Because you have had to park your bus at the front, it is impossible not to block someone in. Some drivers feel offended by such a move.

"You should 'ave 'eard 'im," a driver said. "He was stomping around, muttering to himself - effing this, effing that and effing the other. Are you alreet? I says. Aye I'm fine he says. Anything the matter I asks. Nothing he says."

Well, it is a nuisance arriving in the depot, finding your bus is hemmed in. It is extra work, having to start up the other buses and moving them, before you can get onto the road. I was on a day off, so I missed the moaning and the complaining.

This morning, I spied the driver entering the depot and thought it would be right to apologise for causing an obstruction.

"No," he said in a cheerful tone. "there was no problem. I wasn't bothered."

Bus drivers, at times, are an unfathomable breed.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Dee-Dars, The Smell Of Crisps And The Sensitive Stomach

The young Dee-Dars (nickname for people from Sheffield meant to refer to the way a Sheffielder pronounced 'thee' and 'tha') were pretty good on the return journey. Considering they were filled up with crisps, Kit Kats and bottled water, there were remarkably few sicknesses. One boy who looked pale before he boarded the bus and one girl who was sick, just as the bus pulled up at its destination. This was usual as she had done exactly the same on the outward journey.

"Ooooohhhhh," said a teacher. "The smell of those cheese and onion crisps are making me feel queasy."

Not half as nauseated as I was feeling. There was one child, sitting near the front, who had, let's say, a sensitive stomach. The smells that were emitted, I found so intolerable that I had to keep opening and closing the window and turning the air conditioning on and off. I was in such a poor state, feeling green around the gills, that the aroma of cheese and onion, salt and vinegar and prawn cocktail acted like an air freshener.

"Don't worry dear," said the teacher to the child who was sick. "You told us before. Well done. Good girl. I'm so pleased I am going to award your team three Plus Points."

"Awwwww, Miss," one of the boys cried out. "Can you tell her to do it we can get another three points?"

"Quiet Sylvester."

The city of Sheffield is large and rambling. It seems to go on forever and every traffic light saw me coming and switched to red. As we passed Hillsborough Stadium, the bus broke out into song. There were two songs being sung at the same time. Two rival football songs and support seemed to be divided down the middle for Sheffield's two football teams - United (the Blades) and Wednesday (the Owls).

"When the reds, oh when the reds, oh when the reds go marching in....." The other chant was indistinguishable.

Apart from the girl who was sick, the relief of the children at being back home was evident. The parents were in an even higher state of excitement and crowded around the door of the bus, hardly leaving any room for the children to disembark.

It should have been a gentle return journey. It wasn't. The winds decided to blow a gale, meaning I had to grip the steering wheel firmly as the bus was buffeted and pushed around on the motorway. The foreign truck in front of me started swaying and there was a noise like a bomb going off. One of the back tyres on the trailer exploded, destroying his brake lights in the process. A shower of debris was flung into my path and the sound of large chunks of flying rubber and plastic hitting the front of the bus were unnerving. The driver did not seem to notice and the truck carried on regardlessly. Only by flashing my lights did the driver notice and pulled over onto the hard shoulder with smoke trailing behind him.

It was hard to see whether any damage was done, when I got back to the depot. This was because all the light bulbs have blown and there is only one still operative, making it difficult to see your own nose, let alone do anything.

"Good news," the boss had said when I asked him if they were due to be replaced. "We've got the new ladder (the old pre-war ladder had finally come to the end of its life, when the brave fitter had last tried to change the light bulbs and all the wooden rungs had broken)......

....we're just waiting on the bulbs to arrive."

That great Spanish philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno once said: 'Man dies of cold, not of darkness.' Too right. That's it. I'm off home.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Two Smacks In The Mooth And When's An All Day Breakfast Not An All Day Breakfast?

"He's improved," said one driver about another while waiting to do the school run. "He used to be cocky, but it looks as if someone's goven him two smacks in the mooth, as he's a lot better. It's good to be back to some straight Northern talk again.

I had the big bus. It was not ideal for carting the schoolchildren around the narrow lanes. They didn't mind as there was a DVD player on board. Mall Cop kept them quiet, apart from the odd giggles, for the whole journey.

On the afternoon journey, I mistakenly changed over DVD's and put on Tom & Jerry. There were boos from the back of the bus. One child got off and said:

"Can you put Mall Cop back on and take off this rubbish?" Damned cheek.

Back at the depot, the boss was fielding a call from a frustrated driver in Ireland who stopped at a transport cafe. On the large advertising board outside it clearly stated:


Sausage, fried egg, Irish bacon, potato cake, black pudding, white pudding and much, much more.

He went in and ordered the appetising sounding breakfast.

"Sorry. No," said the man behind the counter. "We don't serve that at this time of day."

"But it says 'All Day'," he said becoming a little exasperated.

"Ah yes. But not at this time."

It would only happen to him.

Top 10 Sweets A Bus Driver Detests

Sweets are a bus driver's nightmare. They seem to get into every orifice of the bus and can be found in varying states of decay, years or decades lateer, depending on the age of the vintage bus. Here is a list of my worst:-

1. Any form of chewing gum or bubblegum.

When you are checking and untangling the seatbelts, some dear child has stuck one under the belt latch.

2. Any fruit chew or chewy sweet wrapped in paper.

They melt and a chemical reaction occurs where both the paper and the sugary sweet merge into some forms glutinous mulch.

3. Any long chews in hard to remove wrapper.

The children can only peel off tiny shards which they drop on the floor and leave the bus looking like the floor of a hamster cage.

4. Any hard mint.

The packet invariably rips and all the sweets tumble down the aisle to the footwell under the driver's seat, making a sound like the balls rotating in a lottery machine.

5.Any toffee.

They melt and merge nicely onto the seat covers.

6. Any form of lollie on a stick.

They are always invariably only half eaten and stuck somewhere.

7. Any chocolate

It again melts beautifully and gets everywhere when you attempt to clean it up.

8. Any dust, sherbert or powder.

When you walk on it, there is a noise like walking down a frosty woodland path in deepest winter.

9. Any gum

Not only do they melt, but they smell of vinegar and sweet petrol.

10. Any fried eggs, lips, milk bottles, berries, flowers, pigs, dogs etc

They are the cheapest there it means they are the most and by their innocent schmaltzy appearance, they do not look likely to cause the most hassle for a bus driver. They always seem to be half eaten. The pigs have their heads bitten off, the bottles are without their tops. One bite is enough, before the children go onto the next in their pick 'n mix.

I have now taken to carrying a bottle of liquid handrub. It's a temporary end to permanently sticky fingers and smelling like a sweet factory.

Arithmetic Proves Testing For The Maths Teacher

The children piled into the bus. The teachers looked flustered. There was no need as they were 'old hands' at this trip and had done it on numerous occasions.

"There's not enough seats," one panic stricken teacher said, walking up and down the bus. "Oh this is going to be very inconvenient. We will have to squash up together. What are we going to do with all the sick buckets? We'll have to rest them on our knees."

"How many are you?" I asked gently.


"That's fine as this bus is a 49 seater and the other has 57."

"No, no it's not fine - there are no seats on this bus," she continued in a high pitched voice.

"I'm not great at maths, but I think 49 + 57 = 106, take away 96 leaves 10. There are 10 free seats on that bus."

"But there are no more seats on this.....oh.....". She sent four children onto the other bus. I think she may have been the Maths teacher, too. Her mention of the sick bucket made my heart sink. That was always a bad sign for the twisting roads we had to negotiate later in the trip. "The good news," she said "is that most of the children have taken our advice and have taken travel sickness tablets. These tablets last for two hours."

Two hours later we had only travelled forty miles, as the traffic had been at a standstill. "Oh dear," said the teacher, never mind they can have some air when we stop at the service station." The omens were bad when I cleaned the bus after they had got off. The floor was littered with half chewed sweets, sweetie wrappers and the crusts of pies, quiches and sandwiches. The omens got worse when the teachers encouraged the children to have a snack, before heading up to the last bit of the journey, over hills and round hairpin bends. 'No please don't do that' were my thoughts, knowing what an awful journey was about to be undertaken.

I drove slower than I had ever driven over that road. Under the circumstances, the end result of:

Children and teachers fine 47 Children sick 2

was better than expected. But they were nice children. They chatted, said please and thank you. What more can you ask for? The teachers were friendly too. "We only have one rule," said one teacher. "The children can do whatever they like. But they cannot sing. You wouldn't like to hear that."

Thank goodness for the DVD player then.

Psycho Paddy And The Dirty Red Lights: A Bus Driver's Guide To Saving Face

The other driver I was with is a good bloke. He is a great driver, never gets flustered and quietly does his job. As we sat at the Service station, drinking our Costa coffee, we unwound by discussing the icy roads, the near misses and the times we had been genuinely frightened by other drivers when on two man jobs and sharing the driving.

"He never saw the red light as we were driving through this French town," he said, laughing now, but obviously not at the time. "I didn't want to alarm the passengers, when I saw that he wasn't slowing down....'red light' I said light....light over there is red....RED light....RED LIGHT....RED....OVER THERE....STOP!!"

But it was too late and the bus carried on. A car which was minding its own business, legally proceeding on green, had to brake furiously as a bus flew in front of him. In true Gallic fashion, there was plenty of horn blowing, verbal abuse and exposing of the middle finger.

"Do you know what he said as an excuse for shooting a red light? He said he couldn't see the red light as it was....dirty. Dirty? I ask you. Anyway there was another of our buses following and it had to jump the lights too, otherwise they would have got lost."

There was another driver who would frighten the living daylights out of other colleagues. Psycho Patrick was an excellent driver but took risks. He was known as Psycho Paddy for his appalling antics which always came after losing his temper. Boy, did he have a quick temper. He terrified another driver once by coming down a mountain road in the Alps and seeing a roundabout at the bottom, he accelerated rather than breaked.

"I shut my eyes," said the other driver. "I thought - this was it. I am going to die." But as the bus went sweetly over the roundabout, Psycho Paddy lost his temper when he saw the quivering wreck of a driver holding his hands over his eyes. He could not understand what the fuss was all about.

Bus driver mentality is very similar to the Asian habit of 'saving face'. They do not like others seeing a possible chink in their armour. I know - you have seen it and read about the times I crunch the buses. I always want to play it down and hope it will disappear, leaving a remnant of a tarnished reputation to rebuild.

'Wants the horse to be good and at the same time want the horse not to eat hay' (a Chinese proverb). Or in other words....nobody's perfect.