Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Are You A 1p Sort Of Guy?

'Now I've seen it all,' said the motorist at the next door pump in the garage. 'What are you doing? Are you testing your camera? I've never seen someone taking a picture of a petrol pump before.'

I was taking a picture of the digital display on the front of the pump to illustrate an annoying point. Whenever I fill up I try to make the amount a round number like £20. But for some reason it always goes over by 1p. So in this case it became £20-01.

It has got so bad that I have now to carry round a cash bag of 1p bits. I have given up trying to make up the round number. I am convinced the petrol pumps are rigged to run over.

'No, no, dearie. You are wrong,' said the lady cashier, who war wearing blue pebble glasses. 'It's very simple. Either you do or you don't. Either you are or you aren't. You are just a  1p sort of guy.'

It's nice to know one's value in life.

King Billy And The Lonach Highland Games

There are some sights and sounds which make the average person shiver and tingle. The pips and drums are my personal favourite. Mix that with a seven mile march of Forbes and Wallace clansmen and it gets even more emotive.

That is what happens at the Lonach Highland Gathering and Games in Strathdon. It is one of the great tourist sights. It is a friendly games with the usual great spectacles like tossing the caber, the tug o'war and the sword dancing.

But there is another attraction. The worshiping of King Billy - Billy Connolly, who lives at nearby Candacraig     and is a big supporter of the games. He is quite literally mobbed by adoring spectators, all keen to get his autograph or just shake his hand. Yet it is all very ordered. No crush or rush, just very peaceful. Billy reciprocates the love and affection, taking his time to walk through the crowds, stopping to talk or shake hands with many.

One parent hoisted his child onto his shoulders so that he could catch Billy's attention when he was sitting in the Grandstand. Unbothered by the adulation, he signed the little boy's programme. If only other celebrities were so congenial as the Big Yin.

The arena is filled with colour and noise as the clansmen march in. They control the fact that the numerous dram stops have altered their co-ordination. The marching was a little out of step, the pikes were a little lower than they were at the start of the day and the faces were redder.

But, no worries. If anyone were to fall over, there was emergency provision in the form of a pony and trap following along behind, ready to pick up any stragglers or passed out folk. All is perfection.

An English Or A Scottish Show? Spot The Difference

Can you spot the difference between a show in England and Scotland? Yes and no.

There was a Hook A Duck stall at both. There were fairground rides at both. There were Bouncy Castles at both. There were many other similarities.

The paying public, however were different. They had different attitudes and agendas. The way they behaved was radically different and as a result the atmosphere in Scotland was lighter and happier.

There were more smiling faces and laughter. Now this may have been enhanced a wee dram or two. But it was an altogether different experience.

The dress, too was noticeably different. hoodies and jeans against tweeds and tartans. A broad and sweeping statement but one was more colourful than the other.

The differences were apparent when we travelled back to England and reached the border at Carter Bar. On the way to Scotland there were blue and white flags flying and welcoming signs. On the other side of the road towards England there were no flags. One empty flagpole, the second snapped in two and some dreary signs. It was as if there is a lack of pride and a fear of announcing you are English. No reason really to be like that. It is an equally great country.

So I suggest you get yourselves to a Highland Games .... fast. I have been back a day and the words: 'Haste Ye Back' which are visible all over Scotland are ringing in my ears. It won't be long.

A Cracking Day At The Agricultural Fair: Doggy Bags And A Thirtysomething Hyacinth Bucket

I love the local agricultural shows. Health and Safety, Defra and modern day local thinking with a wide spectrum of personal viewss of how such a show should be run, have tried hard to close it down.

But it has survived. Not perhaps in the shape or form of its glory days when everybody but everybody who lived within a ten mile radius would be there. They would come to see the main spectacle of the parade of champions - a variety of cows, horses and every other sort of animal. This, of course, since Foot and Mouth disease, has ceased.

It is a great tribute to the organisers that these shows are still going, be they in slimmed down form.

The animals may be fewer. But they are still there. Mainly in some sort of plastic or synthetic fur on some of the sideshows. The Hook A Duck stall, the various other charity stalls were crammed with cuddly toys. If other parents are like myself, they will have a house crammed full of furry animals.

But there were a large amount of dogs on leads. Some on their way to the dog show. Most on the arm of their owners, who were either enjoying the day out or refusing to pay the fees for a dogsitter. There was every breed, evrery nature - aggressive - fighting - gentle - kind. Multiple bottom sniffing, barking and the occasional growl and snarl resonated around the showground.

My own Patterdale/Lakeland Cross 7 month old terrier puppy, Cedric disgraced himself. In the middle of the arena, he decided to try and do his business. He assumed the position and I dragged him as fast as I could towards the hedgerow. But too late. He must have dropped a couple of items as we headed towards the bushes. Before I knew it, my path was barred by a young-ish lady in an astroturf green and flowing dress.

'Do you have a doggy bag?' she demanded in brusque Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) tones.

'Er, no..' I said, feeling a little unsure about this overwhelming presence of do-gooding modern motherhood, standing in my way.

'Thought not,' and she thrust a handful of miniature black bin liners into my hands. She then grabbed me by the arm and led me over to where Cedric had let the smallest of pellets drop.

'Yes...I think there is one here... and one over there.'

She was quite right to point out Cedric's misdemeanour. And I had no problem in picking up the mess - I always do. It was just the domineering way she did it - as her self-importance got the better of her. It is something I find I see more and more of - modern day Leninism - where there is someone hiding behind a lamppost, ready to jump out and tell someone what or what not to do. Usually they say...

'You can't do that. It is inappropriate behaviour.'

Then again - it must be a generational thing. I tugged my cap down over my forehead and decided the appropriate thing to do was head off to see the Dancing Sheep display. They would be less critical.

On the way I stopped at the Cumbrian Wrestling arena. To men, stripped to the waste were grappling each other, their legs intertwined. As they fell to the ground, there was a sound like a rifle shot being discharged. One of the contestants had broken a bone in his leg or ankle. It was a good thing for the show as it provided the best attraction of the day as the Air Ambulance circled several times over the showground, searching for a place to land.

It was free and as one farmer said as we left, ' a cracking day was had by all.

Around Scotland In One And A Half Days

You have some American friends staying. The weather is dire. The midges are starving and are biting hard. It is the usual damp/wet/cool August in the North of England.

What do you do?

Well, there's only one possible option. Head for Scotland. I'm biased, of course. I love the place with such a passion that any excuse to pop over the border I grab with gusto.

Here was a chance to go round Scotland on a personal tour of self indulgence, showing off the best bits and the hidden treasures of my favourite place. I felt as if I had won the lottery. Through rose tinted spectacles we set off and sure enough, by the time we had reached Glasgow, the clouds had lifted and there was rarely another drop of rain during the trip.

A large chunk of Scotland in one and a half days. Paradise or Purgatory. No doubt you will have your own views. In a nutshell it was:-

Gretna Green - Glasgow- Helensburgh - Loch Lomond - Inverarary Castle - Oban - Connel Bridge - Glencoe - Fort William - Loch Ness - Inverness - Grantown-on-Spey - Strathdon - Braemar - Perth - Dunfermline - Edinburgh - Leith - Thirlstane Castle and Carter Bar.

We saw castles, monsters, ghosts, plague victims, kings, queens, princes, princesses, warriors, highland dancers, caber tossers, gamekeepers, shooters, smokers, kilted guzzlers, hoodie wearing youths and a drunk woman in a leopard print dress standing outside a bar who we mistakenly asked directions.

'The mill? Now let me see - it's thataway,' she said, waving her arms and pointing her finger in every direction through a 360 degree angle, before weaving her way along the pavement.

'I guess it's all part of the Scottish experience,' one of the guests observed.

'Naturally,' I said.

Love Scotland. Love the people.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Stuart - Fastest Postman In The North

Rural areas are fortunate to have such amazing services. As you saw with Philip the milkman, we are surrounded by an extraordinary collection of people who go beyond the expected job description to be as kind and hospitable to people on their rounds.

Take Stuart, out postman. He has been on the same route for twenty or so years. He knows everyone and everything. He knows who's in and who's out. Who will pass on a letter to whom when they are out or away.

He is our unofficial policeman. He is invaluable and loved by all.

In these days were it is trendy to knock the Royal Mail, Stuart is a shining example of the brilliance of the organisation. How lucky we are to have such a service.

It is something buses should do more of. People rarely use the network of bus routes to send anything. When I first started driving I used to deliver things all over the place. One service I was a paper boy, stopping and throwing the rolled up papers in peoples' driveways. Another would require delivering car parts to a garage.

Some used to take it to the extreme. One driver who ran a pub would take the bus in the rest period to the cash and carry, filling the seats and the lockers with boxes of crisp and small bottles of soda water, tonic and bitter lemon.

'You can't sit there,' he once told a sick girl who was sitting in the front seat. 'go down to the back. I need that seat for me pork scratchings.' She groaned and hobbled off to the back of the bus.

In the days of buses and conductors, things used to be tied to the roof. Once, in mid winter, a driver thought he heard the conductor ring the bell and set off. Half an hour later he stopped because there was no sign of the conductor. He was found in a frozen state on the roof clinging on for grim death. Someone else had rung the bell.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Bus Is On Fire

editorial image
This is the remains of a Go-Ahead bus, stolen out of a Sunderland depot in the early hours one night in June. It is becoming a less rare sight. Take the riots at Tottenham - a double decker bus was set on fire and the picture of the remains are remarkably similar to the above photo. One burnt out bus looks like another.

Why do I mention this?

Well, it was something I came up against in many conversations with other drivers in the coach parks. There were tales of drivers being without a job when their bus depots mysteriously caught fire in the early hours of a particular morning. The buses which were destroyed in the fire always seemed to be the old buses. The new ones were either parked outside or out on another job. How convenient it all was. The insurance would cover the cost of some new buses.

One driver said that his bus company had been targeted by another company. Some shady characters had stood outside the depot gate and had stopped the drivers, who were on their way home and asked them if they would come and drive for their company, as they were short of drivers. They warned the drivers that if they refused, they would have to face the consequences.

Sure enough, the drivers who did refuse, returned from a long shift to find that their cars had been burnt to a cinder. The Godfather occasionally ventures into the bus world.    

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Dog's Life Is Not A Cheap One

Don't you think dogs tell you what's going on in the world, in the simplest ways. If only us humans would sometimes behave in the same way. Life would be a lot more open and easier.

Now I am not advocating that we should follow all canine habits. Sniffing each other's private parts, crapping behind the curtains and howling when left alone might raise some eyebrows.

But there is a lot to learn from watching the behaviour in the dog world.

This is Cedric. He looks fed up. He might well - he has just returned from the vet minus his balls. The vets are very nice - so they should. They seem to be the local 'Beverley Hills' vet, charging Beverley Hills prices and offering a Beverley Hills service. I haven't been to a vet's surgery for several years. My, how things have changed.

Now you have to sign consent forms, release forms and other forms. the marketing of expensive specially formulated medicines, foods and vitamins is extremely strong and there is a strong feeling that the sales reps have just left the building.

Having said that, the staff are pleasant, the service is excellent and the vets are thoroughly professional. So who's complaining. Me - just a little about the size of the hole in my wallet.

But that's life.

A Bus Driver's Wishful Thinking Through Signs

Over the past few weeks there has been plenty of time for sitting in a corner and contemplating about life. Knowing me, I started trying to pull myself out of the negative side of grieving and all the dreadful things associated with my current circumstances, by concentrating on the message my father lived his life by.

He had this sign screwed to the wall by a mirror above his basin. He would have viewed it every morning whilst he shaved.

I remember him having this sign hand painted when I was a child, sometime in the mid1970's. It was years before the phrase became a national institution when Eric Idle wrote the song for the 1979 Monty Python's Life Of Brian.

I began to think laterally. What sort of sign would a bus driver wish to have above his seat, if everything in the world was possible? I could only come up with one possible sign which would encompass what is going on in most bus drivers' minds, behind the professional facade........................

Now that's not very nice.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

It Takes A Child's Antics To Re-ignite The Humourous Soul

'Children make you want to start life over,' Muhammad Ali is reputed to have once said.

Well that is debatable.

A seven hour car journey can be a trial for even the most patient. For an eleven-year-old it should have been purgatory. But no, it was the opposite. She sneakily took my camera and started taking artistic shots of whatever she found.

It was only several days later that I found these shots on the memory card. They made me smile. I admired the simplicity and inventiveness of how to amuse yourself  in dull circumstances.

What I liked best was the fact that it made me laugh for the first time in six weeks, owing to the heavy events which had swamped my life in recent times. Laughter - the finest medicine in the world.

Grief is a strange thing. It leaves you poleaxes. Paralysed and wallowing in the slough of self-pity.This goes on for quite some time and life tends to drag. I did some unusual things I've not done before. I started watching Coronation Street, I stayed up late watching the late night poker games or roulette tables. I developed a craving for hummus and drank copious quantities of rose.

Then my daughter snapped me out of my lethargy. So here I am back again. In a different and temporary form. There is no bus driving. possibly not until September, due to the somewhat overwhelming duties we have to perform. But that doesn't stop me writing about the things which happen around me. So I will continue to post some gleanings. Bus-less missives, but nonetheless with the same sense of the bizarre things I see in life.

Expect the best, prepare for the worst. Either way it's good to be back.