Saturday, 25 June 2011

Accidental Bus Driver Suffers His Greatest Accident In Life

I was walking along the sands on a beach in East Lothian several weeks ago, when I came across this extraordinary object.

It is an unremarkable jellyfish, washed up on the shore. But as you will notice, its internal organs seemed to be in the shape of a cross. A purple cross, in fact not far removed from the St Cuthbert's Cross that you will see in Durham Cathedral, a place which I have strong connections with and feel is like my second home.

You can read what you like into this. A sign? A coincidence? Just a jellyfish. It will mean something different to everyone.

The day before yesterday my father was killed in a car crash.

It has been a torrid time for me, my family and all who know me. It has been cushioned by the most amazing outpouring of shock, grief, love and humanity to which me and my family have been privileged to witness in our lifetime. I cannot walk outside my door without someone appearing out of nowhere with a hug or a squeeze, some tears, or some flowers, and words either verbal or written.

I am truly grateful for two things.

1. Having a magnificent father who was loved by all and leaving a legacy of kindness and respect.

2. Living in an area and a country where the people are so caring, loving and kind. In all the bad press we read about, there is still an underlying greatness and warmth in Britain,.

So, that's enough of that. I am writing to all my kind readers to say that the Accidental Bus Driver is taking a small break. You will not want to read about the day to day happenings of someone going through a legal process rather than driving buses.

But I will be back. With more of the same. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

A bientot.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Philip - Fastest Milkman In The North

This is Philip.

He is the milkman in the valley, in an era when it is a dying trade.

He is a hero. He deserves to be honoured. He is out in all weathers, all Bank Holidays and never lets anyone down.

He is always cheerful. He is adored by everyone. He knows everything about everything, everyone and everywhere. He always has something interesting and fun to say to you. He is always pleasant and kind about people. He loves his horseracing and his football. When you see him running earlier than usual, it is always the sign that their is a local racemeeting or a Newcastle United football match.

Aren't we lucky? Philip is the great face of the North of England. May the milk round continue for many, many years.

Tug Of The Heart Strings When The Children Fly Their Nests

It was a big morning.

It was the famous school trip - off to the north of the county, with the Year 4's for a two night stay in a castle.

The excitement was immense. the children were calm, the parents were less so. They were chewing their fingernails.

It was a momentous occasion. the children were nearing the end of their first school education. This was probably the first time many children had been away on their own in their lives. No wonder there is nervousness amongst the excitement.

The bus arrived. The children and luggage were loaded up. The whole school were leaning over the railings to wave the children off. They drove past to a crescendo of noise and waving. The parents turned away and got back into their cars. It was a symbolic moment. It was as if their children had grown up and flown the nest.

It will be nothing of the sort. They will be back in two days.

Air Of Financial Insecurity Along The Bus Route

Every year has its own catch phrases, which you hear repeated time after time. they could be: 'I'm loving this', 'flexible rostering', 'wake up and smell the coffee', 'blue sky thinking', 'I hear what you are saying,' and so on, and so on. You usually hear them from the mouths of politicians before they filter down to the general public. Often it is some form of American management speak or some form of corporate lingo which has been discovered on some training course.

This year seems to be different though. It seems to be more human. Whether it is because of the financial difficulties or not, I don't know.

On the buses, people have started saying: 'I can't take it (money) with me, so I'll ...' I seem to hear it every day.

'I can't take it with me,' said a lady, 'so I've splashed out on a new bath towel mat.'

'Oh my God, yer what?' yelled a student. 'All that money and she goes and spends it on a cruddy old bath mat.'

'Spot on,' said a voice from the back, using the second most used phrase of the year, and the one which seems to have replaced 'Champion' and 'Cushti'.

There does seem to be an air of financial fear around at the moment. All along the bus route there are shops shouting SALE with varying flags and banners, mostly in scarlet or shocking pink. Even the shop which permanently had CLOSING DOWN SALE had shown heightened urgency by CLOSING DOWN NEXT THURSDAY. That was two weeks ago and the shop is still open, but it is the thought that counts.

As I was looking at the shop windows, there was an audible clearing of the throat close to my left ear. That was a sign that a passenger was getting nervous I was going to drive past their stop. I sped up a fraction. enough to hear the pleasing result of hurried stomping down the aisle and some high pitched remarks like a novice cowboy on a bolted mustang:

'Whoa ... whooaah ... WHOOOAAAAHHH.'

I stopped at the bus stop and the passenger straightened his baseball cap and tracksuit.

'Spot on, mate,' he said as he vanished into the Cumbrian rain.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Turbo Ted And Albert Scuttlebucket Meet On The Back Of A London Double Decker Bus

It is strange how things pan out in life.

Only in the last post, you will remember, I was extolling the best of British design in the form of buses and especially how the bus used in the Italian Job looked so much nicer than the clinical modern day buses,

Well blow me down, as I drove over the hill to Durham, there was this row of vintage buses parked in a line in the Park & Ride. There were many people milling around, eyes bulging with delight and people wistfully shaking their heads and muttering, 'I remember when...'.

Who should be on the end but the boss. He had brought the old Bedford down to the rally. He had brought one of the retired drivers down too. He had driven for the company until well into his eighties and had brought down a photo album to show people about his life on the buses. Though many of the photos seemed to be of a kissogram girl at a past birthday party.

Turbo Ted was there too. He was another occasional driver for the company who had a passion for restoring old London double decker buses. As we sat on the back seat of the Routemaster, talking, an enthusiast came on and started firing questions. They became ever more personal.

'What do they call you?' he finally said.

'Lord Tom,' I said.

'Turbo Ted,' said Turbo Ted.

'Albert  ... Albert Scuttlebucket,' said the boss.

The man looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights, not knowing twhat the truth was, before ,making a speedy retreat.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Hang On A Minute, Lads, I've Got A Great Idea

Some good news from The Times. The De La Warr have commissioned one of our best known contemporary sculptors, Richard Wilson. He is going to recreate the final scene from the Italian Job, where the coach, loaded with gold bullion is teetering over the edge of a cliff.

This sculpture will be teetering over the Marina in Bexhill-on-Sea, voted Britain's third best seaside town to live in, in 2007. It is part of the London 2012 Festival, the finale of the Cultural Olympiad.

As an ignoramus I find it a great idea, and not surprising that something retro has to be done to show off the best of British design. Just look at that bus. Isn't it like a Rolls Royce in comparison to some of the insipid modern day designs? Perhaps there will be life size figures of the driver in the film - Big William and the gang leader Charlie Croker (Michael Caine).

This could be the start of a sculpture trend. Aeroplanes flying through bridges, trucks crashing into famous landmarks, cars upside down in flower beds ... the possibilities are endless. No doubt the Olympic cultural budget will be bursting at the seams to make this possible.

I look forward to more.

Farewell O' Vallium Run.

Farewell O' Vallium Run. Will I miss you? Not really. Eleven hours of trundling up and down the road, carrying the odd passenger was sometimes akin to watching paint dry. Then again every job has its down side and there were plenty of plus points. The characters on the run, the beautiful countryside where the light and the colours of the landscape were constantly changing.

It started out wet and dull, but very green ...

then the clouds lifted, the rain stopped and the sun came out ...

It was the usual Northern day. Four seasons in one day. Cold, warm, wet and dry. The only constant was the chill of the June wind, which varied from shivery to icy.

The passengers seemed sad to see the end of the bus route in its current form. They complained about the replacement service which would be a pale imitation of the current service. The introduction of any new service is always problematic, but this one with different times on different days, some buses roll up, some have to be booked and some only run as per demand, was challenging even the passengers with the most active brains.

It will sort itself out. There is no other option.

As a passing shot, one of the passengers is intent on giving a graphic description to their last visit to the dentist:

'He puts putty in my mouth. It's a nasty feeling. You see, he gets a large lump of putty and he rams it in my mouth ... that's when me arms and legs are waving all o'er the place. Then it gets worse ... he sticks ...'

Fortunately the passenger's stop comes up fast and it is not possible to complete the story.

So on my last run in the evening, I bid farewell to the Land That God Forgot, past the fields of buttercups which cover the redundant slag heaps and mine workings, past the caravan which never goes anywhere, the lay-by where some rubbish has been illegally left and the bus shelter where the pony is rubbing its backside against.

Will I miss it? I query again.

No I'll be driving through it on Monday, on another route. Through it. Without stopping. That's the best way to see it. 

My Wipers Are Knackered - It's Just The Newness

'You're late,' said the cross passenger.

'Yes I know, but I'm only eight minutes late.' I replied.

'You're very late,' she continued not letting me off the hook.

'I had an excuse. I had to swop buses because the wipers broke and I couldn't see a thing.'


'And,' I went on, 'it's not a good thing to go around in a bus when it's raining and being unable to clear your windscreen.


'And, and, and ...' I haven't the faintest idea why I kept trying to justify my lateness. I really couldn't give a fig. It was the last day I was going to do this run and if there was a complaint against me, well, quite frankly ... bad luck.

The complaints came thick and fast. The passenger would not let up.  It was therefore satisfying in a childish way to find that there was a large clump of nettles by the bus stop where the moaning minnie got  off.

The wiper had been fine earlier. It had been raining all morning and the windscreen had been clearing fine. I was in one of the older buses, when for no apparent reason one of the wipers started behaving erratically, increased speed, went round full circle before disappearing off the bus windscreen and started trying to clear the water off the passing trees on the verge.

The other wiper worked for a bit, before becoming confused and giving up the ghost. The rain did not stop and it became harder to see out. I had to slow down and therefore was running late.

I rang the office. 'It's not been your week,' said the boss. 'First you broke the tyre when you had a puncture, then you had the dent in the side and now it's the wipers. Whatever next?'

I dread to think.

Find The English Teachers Responsible And Fire Them

On my walk round check of the bus yesterday, before setting off, I discovered the above graffiti scrawled into the back of a seat with an indelible marker pen. I would not have been greatly pleased if I had found out who the culprits were, and would probably have handed them a cloth and some detergent for them to clean it up.

What struck me more was the rubbish English they had written, badly spelt and verging on illiteracy. I thought the bus company should write a letter to the Heads of the school which may have been responsible and ask them to sack the English teacher, who is failing miserably.

If not there may have to be extra curricula lessons on the school bus in grammar, spelling and how to remove graffiti environmentally.

Fat chance.

Northern Bus Drivers Just Love The Olympics. Will Other Northerners Love Them Too?

It sounded a great idea.

Being a bus driver at next year's London Olympics, it was intimated, was that dream job, according to the spiel which was put out asking companies to pitch for contracts.

Feeling guilty that everything at the 2012 games was bound to be London-centric, attempts have been made to make it look like a UK-wide 'aren't we all lucky to be involved in this historic event' type of thing. Looking under the gloss and veneer, this was really just a way to develop and regenerate an unattractive part of London and using sport as a way of paying for the new housing which will undoubtedly follow in the years after 2012. I feel this because, if it had really been about sport for all, then the amount this folie de grandeur is costing, would easily have paid for a new all weather floodlit pitch, tennis or basketball court in practically every town and village in the UK, giving the whole country a shot in the arm and potential for future gold medals.

But, no. It was not to be.

Anyway, where was I before that rant?

Oh yes ... Olympic bus drivers ... dream jobs ...

Some North Eastern companies have won the contract to supply buses and drivers for the Olympic Park. This is good news. The rumours though are flying around the coach parks in the North. Drivers being paid £900 per week. Two drivers for each bus. A luxury liner being moored up the Thames for the drivers and other staff and volunteers to sleep. Accommodation is free. Accommodation is not free.  As one of the sponsors is a fizzy drinks manufacturer, then any bus driver found drinking a rival brand will be liable for instant dismissal. On and on it goes.

£900 is the figure which is noticeable. That is a good wage for a North-Eastern bus driver. Probably three times the average. It is probably 1.5 times the average for a London bus driver. They will want their pound of flesh for that money and I suspect the shifts will be long, arduous and overrun the advertised time. But it is a once in a lifetime experience.

The alarm bells start ringing when you compare the bus drivers from Vancouver Winter Olympics last year to the proposed London drivers. In Vancouver, they seem to have been mostly volunteers (I would have applied if they had asked for volunteers. Naively, it seems to be more part of the Olympic spirit. I would have been fired too, for drinking some Chinese herbal jelly drink, too.) The large wage bill has already alerted the Unions and they have in many cases negotiated large wage increases or special payments for the Olympics.  Following a deal securing a 10% increase over two years and a £500 one-off payment for 10,000 Network rail staff, the unions who represent the Underground and the Buses are lining up for similar deals. The British Olympic Association hit the headlines yesterday when they announced their wage bill had risen by 17%.

There is a danger that the costs of the Olympics could spiral out of control. We will be paying for this two weeks of great sport for decades. Poor old North of England won't have anything to show for it - except for some happy bus drivers.

Why am I such a pessimist?

Because people have such short memories. Remember the Athens Olympics in 2004? You only have to look at the state Greece is in now. Hosting the Olympics hasn't helped them.

Will we be the same?


Thursday, 16 June 2011

Death Of The Small Independent Bus Company? Maybe, Maybe Not

Stop and think about what has happened to the bus industry in Britain, and you may want to fling yourself under the nearest bus.

We had the finest public transport network in the world. British made buses, smart drivers, conductors, routes to everywhere and an interesting industry full of different companies, colours and ways of doing things.

All, however, were of the same view that they were there to run the best possible public service.
1986 put paid to all of that. The deregulation of the bus industry had similar consequences to Beeching's cuts on the railways. The result now is that the service is adequate in most areas, but in rural areas it is being cut to the bone.

The car has taken over from the bus and many people have made it quite clear that they will not swop, regardless how hig running costs and fuel prices go. The bus companies have not helped themselves either. They have not upgraded their equipment, in line with the high standards expected by passengers. If you are going to lure them out of their cars, comfort, wi-fi, smart corporate image etc etc should be a priority. But there is a lack of will, money or desire to do this.

Hence Britain is left with a mediocre bus industry, which is steadily being reduced into four big conglomerates who will run everything. So much hot air has been expended by the politicians from all governments of the past twenty-five years.

Everything else, such as rural transport is being reduced or farmed out to charities. Everything is in a downward direction - less services, lower wages, smaller buses.

'Stop complaining,' said a local civil servant, 'otherwise you won't have any bus service at all.'

The truly sad thing is that none of the public, apart from the odd few, really give a damn. Life has changed. mediocrity has become acceptable. Everybody wants things to be cheap, a bargain or free. The councils have therefore spotted an opportunity to spend as little money as they can. They know, at the end of the day, the moans will be few and far between.

'I know, it's truly awful,' a passenger said to me. 'We're losing our bus, we're getting a rotten service as a replacement, it's going to cost more, none of us want it ...but what can we do?'

Now where's the nearest wall I can bang my head against?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Just Another Normal Day: Australia, Thailand, Kilmarnock and Carlisle

The freshness of the moorland tops was, for once enticing. The road was crowded with grouse chicks eager to make their maiden flight. When the car came over the brow of the hill they took off into the unknown and flew for twenty-five yards.

The smells changed as I descended into the valley. The rained on bog myrtle, heather and moss were replaced with a more humid aroma of manure. It was the season of muckspreading. Still. This year seemed to go on forever. Even the gentle country smell of horse or cow manure had been replaced by the rather more unpleasant pig and chicken. The bus still stank one hour after it had arrived at its destination.

It was one of those mornings where all fare paying passengers only had a £10 note. I have seen some drivers become apoplectic with rage. But I don't carry much change and tend to rely on other passengers further down the route paying with coins. When I have enough change, you walk to the back of the bus, take the £10 notes and give the passengers a mountain of change which will weigh them down for the rest of the day. They never do it again.

I went into a supermarket for my breakfast and handed the check-out person a £10 note. He looked disturbed and shouted for his manager'

'Machine's playing up.' he said. 'It won't tell me how much change to give the customer.'

The manager scratched his head and went back to his office. In a few minutes he returned with a calculator, tapped the buttons and announced, 'Give the customer £1-61.'

Well I never, I thought. Imagine if that happened on a bus. The bus would never get anywhere.

I returned to the coach park where there was a youngish spiky haired driver, chewing gum and spitting as he walked to his bus. He jumped in, roared the engine, quickly looked to see if anyone other coach driver was watching him and sped towards the exit. It nearly all went very badly wrong as he nearly smacked into the barrier. It didn't phase him and he went even faster. Ah, I thought, another sign of the times.

I went as quickly as I could for my lunch at Carlisle market. The thought of this delicious food, simple and freshly cooked in front of you has mad the day much more pleasurable.

On the way I went to the Gents. Standing by the basin were the long established cleaner and an eighty plus man in deep conversation.

'I'm off to Australia for the first time next month,' said the old man.

'Well good for you,' replied the cleaner.

'Aye it cost me £742 for the flights and £300 for the insurance.

'Well that's great - anyway remember - money - you can't take it with you.'


'And when you're dead, they'll just come and nick it out of your coffin.

'Aye...' I left them to it and went off to the Thai food bar.

I sat down at the counter and my steaming hot curry came along, with plate of rice and bowl of extra raw chilis in fish and soy sauce. I was becoming a regular as it was just put in front of me.

As I took my second mouthful, the mobile rang.

'What do you think of Kilmarnock?' said a voice. It was the boss.

'Well it's very nice.'

'Good. That's where you are going. Rail replacement job. Wait for my confirmation call.

There were several confirmation calls. First the job was on. Then it was of. On. Off. On. Off and finally off for good. Instead I walked back to the coach park. School was out. There were three aggressive young boys riding their bicycles and playing chicken with the coaches. As I came out one bike swished past and I missed it by a whisker. The boy stopped, looked up and grinned.

'If you do that again,' I said leaning out the window, 'you'll get flattened.'

His smile turned to a scowl. 'Why don't you f.....' His words became lost as they were drowned out by a passing ambulance siren.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Day Trip To The Scottish Seaside: 3. It's Nae Easy

I should have realised. Things were going far too well. The return journey was so trouble free and peaceful. There was little traffic and we meandered back through the hills towards England. We were only fifteen minutes from our proposed stop, so that the ladies could have their traditional supper stop and leg stretch.

I should have taken the warning when I passed a Scottish truck with: 'It's Nae Easy' written on the trailer. Because three minutes later a car started driving erratically around the bus.

'What's he up to?' said one of the ladies. 'I think he is drunk.' He drew alongside, unwound his window ann yelled:




I pulled over and sure enough one of the tyres had lost all its air. I unloaded all the kladies onto the hard shoulder. They lay on the grass and milled around. It looked like a picnic on a hot summer's evening.

'More like one sandwich short of a picnic,' said one person, bringing it back to reality with a jolt. Here we were stuck on a motorway, 24 ladies and 2 men, with trucks thundering past at 55 miles per hour. After urgent consultations with the boss, it was deemed better to try and limp off the motorway at the next exit. Limping at 20 m.p.h is not exactly much fun.

The ladies remained cheerful. 'Don't worry,' one said. 'It could have been worse. We could all be dead.'

We made it. 'What do I do now, while we wait for help to come?'

'Oh you'll think of something,' replied the boss. 'Tell them to sing some Karaoke songs, read them a story or ... or ... or ...I'll leave it up to you. You'll be very good at thinking of something ... tell them I will give them a free trip ... no on second thoughts tell them they can have you free but they will have to pay for the bus.

It took nearly two hours for help to come and put a new tyre onto the wheel. The recovery guy was great he worked fast and received a warm round of applause from the ladies when the had finished. the ladies were amazing. they never complained at the boredom of sitting on the bus.

'In all the years, we have been coming on these trips,' said one lady, 'this is the first time something like this has happened.

Some slept, some chatted, some had a cigarette break outside the bus on the verge. One major help was when one lady, who had obviously bought a job lot of nail varnish from a shop in Ayr, started offering a service for the others. It was not long before half the bus had shiny purple finger and toenails. The upside was that the air on the bus was heady with the lingering aroma of nail varnish, that it seemed to go straight to people's heads and most were in a happy mood.


Every cloud has a silver lining and as we set off again, there was a sunset which you only ever usually see descending across somewhere like the Masai Mara.

'You see,' I teased. 'If we hadn't had that puncture, you would never have seen this sunset.'

'Hummpf,' came one response.

'Shall we go home now?' I asked.

'No, no,' replied one lady. 'Can we keep going until the diesel runs out.'

'Hummpf,' said the others.

Day Trip To The Scottish Seaside: 2. Pure Dead Brilliant

'What's happened to Andy?' came the question at regular intervals throughout the journey.

'Andy who?' I asked lamely.

'Andy Murray, of course. We want to know how he is getting on at Queens.'

The ladies chatted the whole way up. About everyone and everything. When we were close to the Ayr coastline, the clouds began to lift. The chatter in the back of the bus became more intense at the realisation that the long drive up the twisty road of the long gone Scottish coal mining industry was coming to an end.

As we drove into the centre of Ayr the traffic increased. At a roundabout I got an uneasy feeling about the car  fast approaching from one of the side roads. The driver did not seem to be concentrating and did not look like stopping. He saw the bus at the last minute and stamped on his brakes. Just as I drove off the roundabout there was a loud bang from somewhere towards the back of the bus.

'What the bloody hell was that?' one lady said loudly.

Streuth, that damned car has hit me, I thought. But there was no feeling of a collision. I stopped the bus on the dual carriageway and rushed round to the back, fearing the worst. After Gretna, how would I ever persuade the boss that two accidents on the same day were not down to me. It would be an unenviable task which would result in weeks of teasing. But there was nothing. No cars embedded into the back of the bus. No marks, no scratches. No damage to frame, or tyres, or wheels or enging. A mystery.No other cars had crashed into each other. So I drove on, dropped the passengers and headed for my Mancini ice cream at the Royal Cafe.
It's times like these that happiness is a job like a bus driver. Following a little cleaning of the bus, the afternoon was mine. And to think that the hardest decision would be whether I would have my usual vanilla cone or venture out for a more adventurous Scotch tablet, Pink Panther, Heavenly Hash, Erotica or Blushing Bride. Life can be cruel.

Spending an hour cruising the shops, seeing the architecture and walking along the beach is just my sort of day.

Ayr had changed and remained the same. It was still beautiful, full of history and lots of interest. Still pure dead brilliant and able to deliver the occasional surprise.The demographics had changed and I found myself queuing in a shop behind the family from hell. The man was drunk. He had a face which was black and blue and looking suspiciously as if he had been in a punch up. The woman was equally drunk or drugged. The children were out of control and running around the shop stealing things. The uncles, aunts and cousins were all standing around issuing different instructions. they were after money. It was like a scene from Rab C Nesbitt. The counter staff giggled when the family left.

One of them looked at me and muttered 'low life'. I felt at home. Of course it takes one to know one.

I returned to the beachfront where the bus was parked for the last half an hour
 'Ice cream, darling?' said the lady behind the stall.

'No thanks, just a drink,' I replied.

'Irn Bru, darling? That'll be £1.' She took the note which was folded in my hand, before I could argue. Her dog watched me with a mixture of emotions but let me retire to my bus without any aggression.

The passengers fared better in their eating. 'Lovely, it was,' they said. 'We found a place which advertised a Pensioner's Special for £3-99. Lovely it was.'

And with that we headed home.

'But what's happened to Andy?' repeated the same voices.

Day Trip To The Scottish Seaside: 1. Whit's Fur Ye'll No Go By Ye.

Whit's for ye'll no go by ye is an old Scots saying which basically means - what's meant to happen is going to happen.

I felt this would be the case as I drove obver the fells to the bus depot. It was dreary. The mists swept low over the moors, hiding the tops of the hills. The grouse chicks, who were taking their maiden flights, looked miserable. The only saving grace was that it was relatively mild, a a northern English sort of way.

Today was the ladies club trip to the West of Scotland. To Ayr, to be precise. The weather forecast was iffy. It could be fine or it could be wet and blowy. It was a risky choice as there was a three hour plus drive to do. A nice drive. Beautiful in all weathers.

The group I was taking were my favourites. They were a local ladies' club of veritable age. But they were some of life's great enthusiasts. They would talk and laugh all the way there and all the way back. They would know precisely where they were going and what they wanted to do. Their high standards never wavered. If you did not do something they had asked for, they would be direct and tell you. They were fun to take. I was looking forward to it, and to the chance of going to Scotland, one of the loves of my life. i was salivating at the thought of a Mancini's ice cream in Ayr.

We left on time and stopped at various pick-up points before trundling up to the Old Blacksmith's Shop at Gretna Green. Great choice, I thought. Very sensible to hit one of the biggest tourist destinations in Britain, Popular with the Japanese and the Americans, Gretna had cleverly made the shop look like Fortnum & Mason. There was tartan, whisky, golfing memorabilia emblazoned with the St Andrews logo and Loch Ness Monster furry toys in every nook and crannie. Pipers were playing in different locations. So to arrive there at around 10am should be good enough to beat the rush.

But it wasn't.

I turned into the coach park to see rows of already parked up coaches. Streams of tourists were disembarking. I picked a space close to a Dutch bus, leaving a gap because the entry door was on a different side to British buses and he would need the room for his passengers to board.

As I was sitting on the railings, waiting for the passengers to come back from their tea break, a bus came into the coach park at full speed and headed for the space between the Dutch coach and my bus, also at full speed. The space became narrower and narrower. The red faced  driver seemed to be puffing and panting, possible in the alarming realisation that he was not going to make it. And he didn't. The bus only came to a halt when his wing mirror connected with the door of my bus, chipping off a lump of paint.

The driver then had a knock on his door from the driver of the Dutch bus. His passengers could not get into the bus as the gap was too narrow. There was only one thing for it. He had to reverse out and find another space. He did. He inched backwards, gaining in confidence as the millimetres became centimetres and he gathered speed. Unfortunately he reversed straight into the back of another bus which was also reversing at the same time.

When I went to see the driver about the paint chip, he was busy swapping insurance details with the other bus driver who he had rammed.

'I'll be with you in a minute,' he said in a surprisingly cheerful manner.

'Aye. It's been a bad morning,' he said later when he came to examine the damage he had done. He shrugged his shoulders, gave me his details, laughed and walked off.

The day couldn'? get any stranger, could it?


Sunday, 12 June 2011

Duck Day Afternoon

The annual duck race is as good a way as any to relax on a Sunday afternoon, even if it is the usual cool British summer temperatures. But hey at least the rain more or less held off. In other parts of the country, events were suffering due to the heavy rain; Andy Murray has been sitting in his dressing room all day, being unable to get onto court to play the final at Queen's. There were the odd spills at the Moto GP at Silverstone and various cricket matches were abandoned.

Nothing was going to stop the ducks. The crowd was large and they waited as the yellow plastic ducks were unceremoniously dumped out of a black bin liner into the river.  They should have floated gently downstream, flopped over the waterfall and swam over the finishing line in an orderly fashion, so that they could be netted and reacquainted with their bin liners. But these were Northern ducks. Plastic ducks with attitude. They headed straight for the bank and refused to budge. Only mass kicking and eventually, picking them up by hand and hurling them back into the middle of the river, seemed to further their progress. One hour later they had reluctantly crossed the winning post.

They ducks' behaviour had mirrored what had been happening in the local area over the past week or so. There had been fights, arrests, thefts and vandalism. The resulting publicity had not been good, making the headlines in several papers. It made the place look like Dodge City.

So it was nice to see a family day out and a community at peace. People picnicing by the river, watching their children mess about in the river, getting soaked chasing the badly behaved ducks. All went well until a small boy did not like the look of an older girl's wellies. He threw them into the river and they filled up with water and sank somewhere beneath the spray of the waterfall.

That's blown it, I thought. The glare the girl gave the little boy was piercing. He sensibly ran away, knowing that an enforced dive into the river was imminent.

It was time to go. Go and prepare for a trip I'm taking to Scotland tomorrow. I feel I've received some good pointers from how the ducks were rounded up. I don't think the elderly party will be so compliant.

We'll see.  

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Unchristian Christian Down The Road Less Travelled

It is that time of year. There are animals all over the roads. Hundreds of horses and caravans are returning from Appleby Fair. The traditional way is to take days driving them back across the hills. There are electronic road signs everywhere warning other drivers of horse drawn vehicles. It seems to be the right policy as there don't seem to have been so many accidents this year.

The roads are hazardous. The rain has made them slippery. It has also made them narrow for a large vehicle like a bus. The branches of the trees have lowered into the roadway, due to the lashing they have received from violent showers. It is odd weather for this time of year. Four seasons in one day. One minute cold, one minute warm. Dry with a cold wind broken by a sudden tropical downpour.

'Biblical,' said a passenger sitting behind.

It was an opportune remark, because as I turned the corner on a single track road, there, parked badly and partially blocking the way was an old car. It had parked between a thorny hawthorn tree and a tarpaulin which someone had dumped on the verge. The car had advertising written down its side. It read:-


'That's not very Christian,' said a cynic sitting behind.

So what do you do? Something or nothing? Blow the horn and hope someone comes out of one of the houses?

No point. It was just as productive to get out, move the tarpaulin and gently scrape the side of the bus down the hawthorn tree, hoping that if it was slow enough, it wouldn't damage the paintwork. And it didn't.

On the return journey, the car was still there. The same thing happened.

'Must be giving a very long sermon,' said the cynic above the screeching noise of branches meeting glass.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Shut That Door

Doors on buses are often awkward things. They all have their quirks, and when you drive different buses every day, it is a case of trying to remember which doors do what.

Some open quickly, some slowly. Some open outwards, some inwards. Some are noisy, some silent.

It sounds like teaching granny to suck eggs, but the odd pensioner has been known to be sent flying, head first down a bank, because a particular door has opened the wrong way. It is also interesting when you find yourself close, up against a tree and find that the door opens not in the way you expected or hoped.

Therefore it was comforting to see that other bus drivers have the same problem. The other day I spotted this door of a bus (pictured above) which must have been particularly troublesome and caused for the extra instructions to be handwritten above the 'what to do in an emergency' instructions. This bus was of similar appearance to some of the buses I drive; the ones which  are dual purpose, school runs and service buses which get some very heavy use.

As Victor Hugo said: 'He who opens a school door, closes a prison.' If he'd been writing today, he might well have inserted the word, 'bus' between 'school' and 'door'. No doubt the door on this bus had been used by unruly schoolchildren at some stage in its life.

Coach Parks - Are They A Sign Of The Times?

Is it just me or are coach parks and car parks becoming a nirvana for signs? they have been creeping in over the past few years, but now there seems to be an avalanche.

It shows the exciting life of a bus driver, that I have the time to go around places counting signs. Take Carlisle for example. in many ways they are have an excellent city council who do their utmost to attract visitors by offering plenty of coach parking and, unusually it is free.

A by-product of this seems to be a sudden increase in the number of barriers, railings, speed bumps, cctv cameras and signs. So now there are:-

1 Lorries - No Parking

2 'Out'

1 Coaches Turn Left

6 Maximum Stay With A Disabled Badge 3 Hours

1 Toilet

7 CCTV Zone

1 Have You Paid And Displayed

1 Coaches Free

3 Pay And Display (accompanied by long and involved instructions, rules and fees)

1 DANGER Overhead Live Wires

2 Police Park Mark (Safer Parking) Advertisments

1 No Entry

1 Littering Is Illegal

1 To Leave Car Park When barriers Closed Drive Slowly Towards The Barrier For Automatic Opening

1 Danger 400 Volts

2 Welcome To...

1 Cars only - Left, Cars, Coaches, caravans - Right

2 Recycle Now banners on lamppost

1 Area Liable  To Flooding - Environment Agency

That's 36 signs in a smallish area. That's ignoring direction signs, street signs and various markings written in white paint on the tarmac. This seems to be prevalent everywhere I take the bus. There is so much reading of signs to do. Miss them at your peril, because most contain some legal clause which tells you what to pay.

The lawyers have been busy in other places too. I remember when it all started in the mid-1990's. I saw a new notice from the Council's legal department in one town. It more or less said - when you park here it will cost you £100 unless you put the correct money in the machine for the designated amount of time. Very clever. Instantly they had the ability to issue £100 parking fines to anyone who overstayed their welcome.

That's why I like Carlisle, ignoring their love affair with the common sign. There is no pressure. The parking wardens and council workers are always helpful and friendly and they seem to want tourists to visit.

Other greedy councils who charge extortionate coach parking charges should send a deputation to the city to see how things should be done properly. Then there wouldn't be the problem of buses sitting in lay-by's around the perimeter of their towns.

Bus Drivers Talk To The Suitcases

According to the Times (Thursday 9th June 2011) there was an amusing story about buses to come out of Madrid:-

'Two men have been charged with robbing a tourist bus in a series of scams reminiscent of the film Ocean's Eleven (Graham Keeley writes). The alleged thief, 5ft 9in (1.70m) tall, squeezed into a suitcase that was loaded into the luggage compartment of a bus from Girona airport to Barcelona and had 90 minutes to break into other bags.
 Police were tipped off after an employee noticed a man speaking to a suitcase.'

Now this highlights a couple of issues. As a bus driver who sometimes drives on the continent, nothing surprises me anymore. Having been conditioned to lock your bus everywhere you stop, for the fear of having an illegal immigrant or two leap on and hide, and then face a possible £2,000 mandatory fine per stowaway, this story is not out of the ordinary. For anyone who has been to Spain this is just another inventive scam, one step up from the gangs who hover around the markets fleecing tourists with their 'Spot the Lady' games, where a ball is placed under one of three upturned cups.

The really intriguing bit, I find, is the fact that someone worries about somebody talking to a suitcase. This would not be a factor in England because bus drivers are always talking to their suitcases, frequently shouting or swearing at their bulk and weight. Over the last decade, we have taken a leaf out of the Americans book and have invested in larger and larger cases. People start packing 'big' now from an early age. The average schoolchild on a two day trip to an outward bound centre tends to pack more for a two week stay.

So the next time you see a bus driver talking to a suitcase, don't worry. It's all quite normal. His mate won't be inside the case. That is unless he is taking his wife on holiday.    

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Turning To Trainspotting

What does an average bus driver do when, having cleaned the bus and waits for the return journey? The answer is not a lot. Books, radio and other media sources. DVD's are now out, as it means having to run the engine so that the battery won't go flat, thereby wasting diesel.

So, today, as there are tropical showers and the coach park is next to a railway line, I have turned into a train spotter. It is difficult to sleep. As soon as you have dropped off, an express comes whining through. The loudest train is the Tesco train (pictured above) where they proudly trumpet that they are using less CO2 emissions.

No doubt there will be someone saying ... every little helps. Not for a sleeping bus driver it doesn't.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Seagulls Beat The Germans To The Picnic

The German bus rolled into the coach park. It was huge. It was pristine and it exuded confidence and smartness. The driver sneered as he saw there were no coach bays left so he parked in the car park, swallowing fourteen car spaces.

The doors opened and down the steps came fifty German pensioners. They were like their bus, substantial, immaculately dressed and coiffured, and exuding self confidence.

'Wo ist die Toiletten?' The tour guide had selected me as a helpful candidate to know this essential piece of information. As they trotted off to the far corner of the car park where the lavatories were situated, the driver emerged and opened all the lockers on the bus. He took out tables, flasks, bottles and many coolers full of food. This was an upmarket picnic. It's what I expect when I see a German bus. They do things properly when they take bus tours around Europe. They've paid good money and therefore expect nothing less than the best. Oh how different to the British approach.

Today, however the Germans were a victim of their own success. Their picnic was so good that they attracted every seagull within a thirty mile radius.They were everywhere, circling in the sky, sitting on top of the bus and waddling around on the tarmac. They were waiting for the tourists to make an error. It didn't take long. A lady with dyed 'Martian sunset' red hair left her ham roll on the wall. It was swiftly removed by  a bird. The lady was not pleased and much discussion. The tables were put away, the doors hurriedly shut, the tourists ran onto the bus, the engine roared and the bus left the car park in a hurry.

It had been a mischievous sort of a day from the first moment I arrived and parked the coach. A lady peered through the open door with a slightly disappointed look.

'Is this the bus for the women's club trip?' she asked.

'Depends where you are going,' I replied unhelpfully.


'Oh certainly not.' She looked taken aback. 'We never go anywhere near there. You might not come back.'

She thanked me and walked off pensively, not knowing whether I was serious or not, though she was relieved as a shiny new bus with the name of the women's club clearly visible in the back window swept past. She began to break into a jog.

Confusion reigned as the second bus with our company logo arrived in the coach park. The market day service was filled with regulars who always made this trip. Part of the unwritten law was that the bus door was left open and they could venture on and off when they felt like it. It was like a taxi service. Supermarket trolleys would come and go, bags would be carried on and left on the seats. Woe betide any other passenger who sat in anyone's seat. That just wasn't done.

The addition of a second similar looking bus made life difficult. Half of the passengers sat on the wrong bus. They had sorted themselves out by the scheduled departure time. All that was left on my bus were some sweetie papers, some earth and some green leaves scattered across the floor.

Someone had dropped a geranium.

A New Broom Sweeps Through The Drivers Routine

'What have you broken now?' said the boss as I returned, with a resigned sigh. I held up a window cleaning squeegee and the rubber became detached from the plastic claw and fell to the grimy floor.

'Last week it was the mop,' he went on, being accompanied by plenty of sighs.

'And the week before it was the bucket,' the sigh had become one long, continuous blast.

There was some valid excuse. A new regime had been instituted by the other boss. Because of the high diesel prices, buses were to have to park up, usually in a lay-by rather than returning to base. And as we were being paid to sit in the county's finest lay-bys, a light bulb had gone off inside the boss's head and he came up with the ingenious idea of making the drivers clean the buses while they waited. So we were equipped with their own personalised bucket, mop, squeegee, dusters, bottle of Flash, can of Pledge and various rubber and plastic implements which I hadn't a clue what to do with them.

If there was the remotest chance that we would forget the bucket, our names were written on in large letters, written in black indelible ink. The buckets were then placed in a line on a bench near the duty roster sheet. It meant that it was physically impossible to walk past them without feeling embarrassed.

The idea was right. The execution was not so good. They were so cheap and badly made that they caused consternation. It took an age to put the mop together. When it was assembled, it wobbled  and fell to pieces. The only way, I found to keep it together was to use some brute force and push it downwards onto the floor. It snapped.

I never thought I would take pleasure in looking at other people's cleaning equipment. But I was so enthralled to see a proper wooden brush (picture above) on a boat the other day. That was until I read the writing on the wood. 'Toilet Brush' it read. I moved away a little.

Maybe the crap brushes on the buses were not so bad.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

6.55am - The Few Minutes For Reflection And Tranquility

This is the view I face every morning on the way to work. How lucky am I? Birds singing. This morning there is a cuckoo somewhere nearby. Sometimes there is a red squirrel. Sometimes some woodpeckers, goldfinches or pheasants.

It changes all the time. The tulips are still out. The bluebells too. The azaleas and the rhododendrons have survived a bashing by the wind.

It is 6.55am. The service bus has just gone along the road. I do not need to look at my watch. The service bus is regular as clockwork and always passes at the same time. It's tired old engine struggles up the hill. Soon it is gone and only the sounds of the birds can be heard again.

The peace is about to be terminated again as the diesel engine of the Ford tries to splutter into life. These first few moments are precious moments. A time for thought. A time for reflection. No passengers anywhere to be seen - just you and nature.

But I have to go. I can't sit around thinking all day. The passengers will be waiting. they don't like to be kept waiting. They won't understand what George Harrison once reputedly said:

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there.'

The passenger did not care about deep quotations from the ex-Beetle. One ranted:

'What yer doin', man? I'm late for work. Get a move on.'

Back to the old routine.

Every Dog Has His Day

Back to reality with a bump.

Back to the cold winds. The temperature had halved. The mist had descended. Yes, you've guessed it, I'm back in the Northern hills of England. My bias towards Scotland will be misplaced as it will most likely bee cooler and wetter up there.

'Count your blessings,' a local said to me irritatingly. I know where you can shove your blessings, I thought un-christianly. This was the same person who had said, a couple of days ago, that it was too hot and hadn't liked it when I begged to differ.

I am a fish out of water. having spent too long in hot climates and warm places, developed a liking for hot food - the more chilis the better. The Northern English hills are the complete opposite. The people who live there in the main, adore the winds and the coolness. They loathe the heat. And they like simple, plain food.

Grumpy bus driver syndrome was fast descending. There was no excuse for it as it was the last days of the holidays. I was not due to drive any bus. But everything seemed to be wrong. The cold weather ... grrr, the armie of purple lycra clad cyclists ... grrr, the enforced avoidance of the local town because it was hosting the tackiest of fairs ... grrr, so much to do - so little time ... grrr, the Tote was sold to a bookmaker ... grrr, the postman delivered the wrong letters appeared through the door ... grrr, my big toe hurts ... grrr ...and on...grrr ...and ...grrr

I took the dog for a walk and thought it could be worse.

And it was.

On the way back a mini-bus came round the corner on the wrong side of the road and I had to manoeuvre the car into the ditch. I had just enough time to spot the company logo - a local company, and clock the driver - someone I had met before, before feeling the car bounce on the unearthed drains. My head hit the roof of the car.

Grrr ... and double Grrr ...

I looked to the side of the road and there was a man, leaning on his shovel, looking at me. he had stopped digging and was roaring with laughter. I looked at him blankly. Then I began to laugh. My dog jumped up and licked me on the nose. I disregarded the fact that he had just licked the insides of a dead rabbit which had been lying on the path, and I hugged him.

Every dog has his day.

When Scotland Looks Like Malibu And The Mediterranean

'Aye, aye. He disna' pee the bed the noo,' said the landlord of the rented cottage in a similar fashion to Private Fraser, when he used to say 'We're doomed. Doomed. All doomed' in an episode of Dad's Army

That was a childhood memory of my wife's and it was brought vividly back to life thirty something years later by my sudden desire at 3 o'clock in the morning to get up and have a pee. This was a near physical impossibility as I was lying prostrate in a tent on a cliff top, somewhere on the East Lothian coastline.

I was petrified. Having kicked her several times already in the early hours, having scratched all night because of the midge bites and having leapt up because of severe cramp in my calf and by doing so I had kicked the wife again, put a hole in the top of the tent as I stood up and successfully managed to uproot some of the skewers and guide ropes securing the tent.

You will therefore understand my nervousness at having my popularity meter lowered even further into the mire, so I sat and suffered, until I could bear it no more. For a time the midges became a welcome distraction. I finally summonsed the courage and made it out at 4am. It was bright sunshine, warm and so nice that it was far too good than to go back into that rotten old canvas thing.

I went to the nearest clump of fir trees. It was the only option as the route to the only lavatory meant having to go through the main room of the log cabin which was crammed with young people in sleeping bags. They wouldn't thank a clumsy middle aged man with Size 15 feet and a total lack of poise, balance or finesse. It would have ended in disaster as, at best I would have trod on one or two but more likely I would have overbalanced and crushed many.

As it happened I disturbed a rabbit which was lying in the undergrowth. Whether it was the Size 15's or the sound of a fountain of water, it had the effect of terrifying us both. The rabbit shot off between my legs and sought sanctuary under a gorse bush.

Happy days. Camping in half-term at a 21st birthday party. The tent was a small price to pay. Having only had to suffer the discomfort of cold, cramp and backache half a dozen times in my life, I consider I have got off lightly. It was an extraordinary time. The cloudless skies and humid warmth made Scotland look quite unlike Scotland. The azure blue sea was Mediterranean. The beach was Malibu or Bondi. The smells were tropical and like a garden in Kuala Lumpur. Even the jelly fish washed up on the beach exuded colours of the rainbow, such as I have never seen. One even had the shape of a purple Celtic cross within its translucent body.

And the party was good. Young people relaxing and enjoying themselves. Some sunbathing, some talking, some swimming, some playing rounders or a game involving frisbees. Perfection. A temporary moment in time that all is well with the world. Not a grumpy bus driver in sight. Only a grumpy wife. there'll be no room in the tent next time. It will have to be the back seat of the bus.

Oh joy.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Are Seagulls The Avian Equivalent Of Bus Drivers?

A long, long time ago, I was given a piece of pottery from the USA, from Delano Studios, Setauket, Long Island, New York. They produced ceramic items, right up my street, sense of humour-wise.

So after a year of having to suffer this blog, I am finally trying to add the odd picture here or there. Here is my first attempt. It could all go horribly wrong and you will be stuck with my rotten prose.

This Delano Studios dish made in 1962 is my avian doppelganger. The Grumpy Bus Driver and the Grumpy Seagull - so what's the difference?

Know the bird, know the man.

Moaning Oldies On The Ocean Wave

'Oi, you,' a passenger once shouted.

'Me?' I meekly replied.

'Yes, you. The one who looks like a bulldog sucking on a bumblebee.'

I thought about this in the strangest of places. I was on a boat, crammed together with many other tourists on the way to the Farne Islands, near the Scottish border. It was half-term week and the weather was fine for the first time in three weeks, meaning every Tom, Dick and Harry was heading for the islands to see the varied bird life at nesting time.

It was the moaning old couple sitting close who brought back this unhappy memory. I overheard their less than polite conversation. In fact they were verbally knocking seven bells out of each other, in a similar way to how the passenger had spoken to me on the bus all those years ago. Hard comments still hurt.

'To think I've got to spend the whole trip sitting next to someone who looks like the back end of a bus,' said the man. In the ensuing silence I couldn't do anything other than stare at the woman, in morbid fascination to see if there was any resemblance of truth in what her partner was saying.

It was hard to tell as most of her face was hidden by a knitted woolly hat.

'It's better,' she replied slowly and deliberately,'than having to be with someone who looks like an eider duck's arse.' Amazingly an eider duck flew over the boat as she said this. her partner went quiet and he resembled a flamingo's nether regions as he blushed. The surrounding passengers looked out to sea and tittered silently.

The partner clenched his fists and began to stand. I thought he was about to throw her overboard. He was thwarted by the pleasure boat captain's announcement:

'I am slowing down so that you will be able to see the seals on the left of the boat,' he said. All the passengers began to rise out of their seats 'DON'T all stand up and go to the left hand side of the boat for chrissakes,' came the voice over the loudspeaker. 'We'll bloody well tip over.' Everyone sat down and the boat slowed its violent side-to-side rocking motions.

Landing on the island it was like a scene from a Hitchcock film. Tourists wearing a variety of headgear were being dive bombed by the angry Terns who were protecting their nests. In the middle of the carnage I saw the couple who had been so abusive to each other on the boat, running along the path, waving their arms in all directions as they received multiple pecks on their heads. I never saw them again.

They were replaced by another moaning couple on the return trip.

'Don't think it was very good value, those Farne Islands, not very good value at all,' said the man.

'No,' said the woman. 'I hope that we won't catch any diseases or something as I got pecked on the hand.'

Oh ... Lord help us ...