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."

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