Friday, 23 December 2011
Christmas is a good time to visit St Andrew's Church, Bolam, situated about 16 miles North West of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on the way towards the Scottish border. Not only is it is a hidden Saxon Church of great simplicity, beauty and peace, but it also was subjected to an attack by a German bomber in the Second World War.
One night a Luftwaffe bomber was following the railway line which the pilot thought would lead to Newcastle, where he could drop his bombs. But either because he was being pursued by a Spitfire, or was just lost in the clouds, combined with the fact that it was the wrong railway line conspired to put the pilot in an unenviable situation. As he came out the fog at zero level, his windshield was filled with the shape of a church spire.
The only way he could avoid a collision was to drop his bombs so that he could rapidly gain height. He did and he missed.
My father, a little boy, was in bed in a nearby house when he was awoken by the explosions. The vicarage fared worse and had all its windows blown out. The vicar went down to check the church without a light or torch. In the darkness he tripped over something cold and solid. An unexploded bomb.
There is now a stained glass window showing where the bomb came into the church.
The pilot came back to apologise in 2004. My father met him.
This year is the first Christmas without my father. It is important to remember the stories and the delight he had in telling them. They were always interesting. Often funny.
So the Accidental Bus Driver is vacating England for a few days. To the Czech Republic. A few days of Borovicka, carp and knedliky. Not a glimpse of a turkey or a soggy roast potato.
Paradise. A true white, frozen Christmas. Thank you King Wenceslas.
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Just when you thought it was safe to come out of doors. When the dreaded orange smiley faces had rotted on the compost heap. When the little devil masks and witches had been binned ....
...then this happens.
But this year everything seems to be refreshingly different. The biting of recession has made for a happier High Street, or so I think. There are less people and less useless things to buy. What there is out there, is so heavily discounted. The traffic seems less as are the queues.
It has been an interesting run up to Christmas.
An Air Ambulance flew over the house last week. It was the most exciting thing to happen for a month. It flew around eight times. It was lost, searching for the spot where someone had unfortunately fallen over on the ice and damaged their hip. It turned out later that a colleague had been running around on the frozen lawn wildly flapping his arms in an attempt to catch the pilot's attention.
It seemed to be the most exciting event in the Valley for many people. Joggers stopped running. Cars pulled over on the verge. People got out and stared. It was a major excitement and source of chatter as to who the victim might be.
It was the shape of things to come.
It certainly was.
As the weather worsened the power lines became overburdened with ice and the conductors snapped, plunging us all into darkness. For hours. For a night and a day. There were so many electricity company vehicles around that the area resembled a NATO winter exercise.
And as luck would have it, the company missed their imposed customer care deadline and gave us all a gesture of goodwill. £54 of goodwill to be precise. Except for a householder who had the word 'Farm' at the end of their address and were paid £108.
'It's Christmas come early,' said an over-excited neighbour, not latching onto the reality that the £54 plus some more would shortly be going back to the electricity company, as a result of the extra useage over the Festive period.
But still, it is the thought that counts. Or ... Det ar tanken som raknas ... as the Swedes say.
It is possibly the third most dreaded road conditions of any bus driver. This is behind black ice and snow. High winds would be a close fourth. When it rains all the gunk comes down onto roads and they can become slippy and aquaplane pitches.
There is also the fear of water coming up through the air vents which can cause the engine (in my technical speak) to blow up. It has happened on numerous occasions to others. Fortunately not to myself. The worst I have had to contend with is having to take off my shoes, shocks and roll up my trousers to wade through a deep puddle.
The water held no fear for our local bus driver. The floods left him undeterred as he sped through them as if he was driving in normal conditions.
Maybe his bus company should enter him into the UK Bus Driver Of The Year competition. It is unlikely there will be floods as it is held in Blackpool. But you never know. It has known to be stormy along the Golden Mile.
Will I be entering? ... What do you think?!
Why should anyone be surprised? The heavy rain combined with the melting snow tends to make the rivers swell and roar. 'The weather for ducks' said a weather presenter on either the TV or the radio.
No it isn't.
They would be foolhardy yet fast ducks. Extreme sport ducks, white water rafting on their webbed feet down the speeding waters, out of control, before being launched off the top of the waterfall to almost certain death on the jagged rocks below.
In fact there hasn't been a duck flying all day.
They must be sensibly holed up on some more sheltered pond, cowering in the rushes.
It will be a few days before they are back. It is a pity that the local motorists do not do the same and keep there cars in the garages. They take no heed of the copious quantities of water on the roads and drive at their usual breakneck speed.
As I walked the dog along the road, there came another well known local. He'll slow down for the pedestrian I misguidedly hoped but in no way expected. He sped up, waved and disappeared around the corner having driven through the adjacent puddle.
Oh well. At least that will be my bath for December.
Thursday, 8 December 2011
Just when I was getting used to the crisp, snowy conditions, the bloody stuff decides to melt. The crisp cold has been replaced by a windy blast. The sort of wind from which you can never hide and as a result you are permanently shivering.
I had just got used to the clear days where the sounds of the wildlife. And talking of wildlife - what's that smell.
It's some dog dirt, which like a submarine seems to have resurfaced after a long stint under the ice. And guess who's stepped in it.
Sunday, 4 December 2011
The last of the unseasonal weather has passed. The freak autumn heatwave which made the spring bulbs rise four months early has finished. This morning was the first snowfall of winter. The bulbs withered and looked shocked at the ferocity of the drop in temperature. They had been lulled into a false sense of security.
Even the stone sculpture looked shocked. The water had ceased to spurt out of the fish's mouth.
The roads were surprisingly treacherous. Slippery and skiddy. The higher up the hill, the more slippery it became. The gritter had not been along the road, so it was perfect for practising a few manoeuvres and getting acquainted with driving in the snow again. I've missed it, I thought as the rear wheels tried to overtake the front ones.
The industrial landscape took on an eerie beauty. The dour grey slag heaps were unseen. The first snow of winter hides a multitude of sins. This is just the beginning - early December. Winter could last until May. Come to think of it, in these parts, it has been known to snow in every month of the year.
'Bah Humbug, Royal Mail bosses warn staff not to accept gifts greater than £30 after introduction of Bribery Act,' wrote the Daily Mail. 'Customers who tip more than £30 warned they could be drawn into an investigation if there is a complaint the payment is corrupt.'
Oh to be a postman.
£30. It's unbelievable. Maybe I'm just a Scrooge-like bus driver, but it's hard to believe that anyone gives their postie such a substantial tip.
In the season of goodwill, where the proliferation of chunky men in red suits, often accompanied by attractive female elves, I suppose anything is possible. But my suspicious mind wonders if it is a well aimed press release to encourage people to give a larger tip.
Perhaps it will work for bus drivers. Tipping is a hit or miss business on the buses. Maybe the average donation can be upped from the general 50p with a carefully placed notice above the exit door:
'Give Your Driver At Least £1 Or You'll Not Be Dropped Within Walking Distance Of Your House.'
That will test the Bribery Act. Though maybe Alexander Pope was more on the ball:
'Alas! the small discredit of a bribe
Scarce hurts the lawyer, but undoes the scribe.' ...
...or in this case the bus driver.
Saturday, 3 December 2011
Times are tough. Times are very tough.
If you live in the North East of England, this is nothing new. Times have always been tough, the only variant being the different degrees and interpretations of toughness. Everything always seems to be 'below the the national average'.
As you can see from the above pub, there is a sense of downwardness. Is the pub sign describing the general state of Northern haute cuisine or is it the usual Northern sense of humour, consistent in the face of adversity and more prevalent during this worldwide depression?
It's the latter, of course. Northerners have always shown their true grit, despite everything being thrown against them. The loss of lead mining,coal mining, shipbuilding, smelting, steel, farming, glass making and other heavy industries have not thwarted them.
This street sign is pretty well reflective of current times everywhere. The next street, though, is called High Jobs Hill, giving some sense of optimism.
The optimism is short lived, as opposite is High Wheatbottom, which sounds like the need for a doctor's appointment.. But, of course, it doesn't take long to find the state of humour in the North East.
Just take another look at the road sign ...
...on the other side...
...you will see...
Hope ever springs eternal.