Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Mundane Observations From A Wandering Mind

A car enthusiast once abused Wordsworth when he wrote:

'I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills
When all at once I heard a souun
Of nails being rattled around in a bloody great tin can
under the bonnet of some dodgy looking Triumph.'

The Daffodils set off this little ditty which was written by someone attached to the Triumph Dolomite Club. It  set my mind wandering of in the direction of the ridiculous as I walked around the local beauty spots and passed the rusty abandoned car.

'Everytime I walk past here,' I said to one of my children, 'I start humming the theme tune from The Dambusters. Don't you think so?'

'No,' she replied. 'More like the Titanic. Look here comes an iceberg.' For an instant I thought she was right before the white blob in the water revealed itself to be a half-submerged white plastic cattle feed bag.

And this is a typical example of the lamentable state of some country roads. However, it makes me think of Joan Lunden, the vintage anchor of the TV programme 'Good Morning America'. To be honest, I don't think much about her, just about her aptly titled book:

'A Bend In The Road Is Not The End Of The Road',

It is just perfect for this stretch of damaged tarmac.

This warning sign on a farm gate is a reminder of how awkward scrapmen have been through history. The arrival of scrap metal dealers in the South Atlantic ignited the Falklands War. Today the price of scrap seems to be encouraging the melting down of every piece of copper, bronze or other metals, regardless of where or to what they are nailed to.

I met a scrap metal dealer once near London once whose security was a live jaguar with a diamond collar, chained to a hut close to the front gate. He never suffered any theft.

It is on a walk that my mind wanders the most and I get the best thoughts and ideas. It is a good way to clear the mind. Try it. Apply something silly to something you see.

Accentuate the bizarre. Then you will be like me. No. Cancel that. Maybe that is not such a good idea.

Funfairs Are Actually Fun Again: Shock Horror

When you are seven years old, funfairs are magical. A place of promise and fulfillment of dreams. When you are a teenager they turn into scare-your-pants-off rollercoaster rides to see how many g's the body can take. Then they wain in the mind and are placed firmly into the 'been there done that' category.

Now, as I approach old age they are making a comeback in the estimation stakes. I went to one last week. I enjoyed it. well not actually the fair - but the observation of the people who were there and soaking up the atmosphere, even though there weren't many people there as it was freezing and wet.

I began to like the outrageous economies of the truth, which leapt out from every billboard.

Let's Fly to the Sky? Even if it was only thirty foot off the ground, it would most likely be far more comfortable and enjoyable than going with Mr. Ryan, SimpleJet or B My Toddler low cost hell.

Shock it to Em. You can't argue with that.

Medical advice is top notch. 'Any other physical limitations' covered it all. I felt most content at not having to think about each individual ailment. It has given me a great idea. From now on, when someone asks me; 'How are you?' I'm going to reply.

'Fine. Apart from a few other physical limitations.'

Shock wave were carefully chosen words. It was a shock to see your children going around like an out of control grandfather clock pendulum. And a wave of funny feelings emersed me.

In younger days, I would never have believed it possible to have a thrill without a drink.

Maybe these days the sad fact is that hooking a duck is more appealing.

And finally funfairs seem to be so much more considerate these days. How happy I was to know that they had specially labelled a seat for me. I sat in the Moon  Rocket ride, until I was evicted.

'Yeah. Right,' said a gruff voice. 'But we didn't mean THAT large.'

I tried unsuccessfully to shrink.

Honest Crust Or Dishonest Crumpet At The Last Chance Saloon?

The phrase: 'I'd rather earn an honest crust than a dishonest crumpet,' reverberated in my ears as I rather too eagerly sunk my teeth into an egg and bacon butty on the top of Carter Bar, on the Scottish Border. It was still absolutely delicious and quite unlike any other sandwich I had ever had in my life. Whether this was so because of the stunning views, the feeling of solitaryness in between carloads of stopping tourists, or most probably because the always friendly lady in the catering trailer doesn't skimp on the quality of the ingredients.

'It's all in the bread,' she said, which is impossible to disagree with as the bap melted in the mouth and descended downwards.

The phrase about honest crusts I seem to remember was said by Stuart Usher, a great character who took up a one man fight against an Edinburgh law firm and sometimes would work at this van. There was a fun Cutting Edge documentary about him on Channel 4, explaining his actions, called The Fall Of The House Of Usher.

Bus driving in some ways comes into the same category as working in a butty van. At the end of the day, you really feel that you have provided a worthwhile service. To do it well is even more fulfilling, whether it is getting someone, somewhere on time or satisfying the rumbliest of stomachs.

It was good to head up the hill to survey the wild country of the borderlands. It helped to put life into perspective. The last week had been dreary. It had at times felt like sitting at the end table at the Last Chance Saloon. This was not because of any change in any mental wellbeing or general happiness. That had never been better.

It was because recently I seemed to have been bombarded with junk flyers into my inbox, all of which begin with:


No it isn't, was my outraged response. Bloody cheek. Just another wheeze to suck some money out of the wallet. What has gotten into these companies?

A cat has nine lives. An Accidental Bus Driver, as you have seen has already had 9 x 9. The table at the saloon will be empty for a long time yet.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Beauty And The Beholder Cope With Brass Monkeys

Is 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' a paraphrase of a much longer and deeper piece of Plato? Most scholars tend to think so. Some think it goes back further to Margaret Wolfe Hungerford's 1878 novel, Molly Bawn. Others suggest David Hume (1742), Benjamin Franklin (1741), William Shakespeare (c.1594), John Lyly (1580) or even back as far as a Tannaitic ruling by the school of Beit Hillel in 1st Century Jerusalem or 3rd Century BC Greek.

Either way, it was the most apt expression I could think of as I drove down the A69 from East to West on a cold, clear April evening. Usually it is an uninspiring drive, even when you broach the crest of the hill above Corbridge and the whole of the Tyne Valley opens up before you. It should be a jaw dropping experience, but is ruined by the location of a vast chipboard factory which monopolises the vista.

But always expect the unexpected and tonight the combination of the fading light and the stillness gave the place a dignified beauty.

The moody skies warned of cool weather to come. It has come. The clouds are heavy and it is trying to snow. Reluctant sleet is falling and winter does not seem to be over yet.





... advises the sign a few hundred yards away from my home. Perhaps it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the coming weeks. The new born lambs are huddling with their mothers against the stone walls. The flowers have been flattened, as have several amorous cock pheasants who ignored the danger of the local motorists as they crossed the road. Even the grass has stopped growing and the budding of the shrubs and trees seems to be on temporary hold. 

Hold the talk of a heatwave. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Easter Scenes - The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

I love Easter. It is an emotive time. It is a time of hope. It is a time, as a travelling bus driver you see mainly good, a little bad and some really ugly things.
Durham Cathedral at 5am is a good place to start Easter Day. The lit tower against the light polluted red sky of Durham City sets the mood for the Easter Vigil service where the priests process in the darkness before light a brazier, before standing around and proclaiming certain scriptures. This is followed by a walk into the dark cathedral and some sombre prayers, before the Bishop shouts: 'Christ is risen. Alleluia.' The lights come on and the noise is deafening as every kind of instrument, whistle and gong is produced. Being the North East of England, the football rattles came out too.

That was the uplifting part. That was the good.

The bad? That was the above butty van, I saw on the way home. It has nothing to do with the food. Mac will no doubt qwell many passing HGV and bus drivers' hunger pangs with wholesome and hearty traditional roadside fare. What though is truly worrying is that he feels the need to put a clamp on his trailer, thinking that someone might want to nick it.

This is the bad. Have the morals of the country descended so low that we steal catering wagons?

The ugly was the sight of a bus shelter upside down by the side of the A1. It looks as if it was there as a result of an ugly crash. It was the sort of thing I had done once in the past. I reversed into a wooden shelter in the bus and dislodged and destroyed two panels.

Fortunately there was a broken shed abandoned in the ditch nearby. As nobody was around, I managed to rescue a couple of planks of roughly the same length and roughly the same colour - brownish, and tacked them haphazardly across the gaping hole. I then drove away.

Not very good behaviour on my part, but I suppose it is the thought of trying to make good which counts. But, then, if you see the standard of my DIY .... it is not a pretty sight.

The Magic Of The Travelling Horses Comes To Town

'We always come here at this time, every year,' said the traveller as he unhitched the rope holding the cob from the heavy metal stake in the ground. This was not Appleby Fair but Hexham. It is two months to go until the fair begins.

9 o'clock in the morning on the main thoroughfare into town and all the grass verges are covered with ponies chomping at the new spring grass. It was a peaceful scene. Though the Rowing Club, where the travellers had parked their ragtag procession of caravans, may not have been quite so peaceful about the situation.

When I came back, two hours later, they were back. The procession of caravans had been replaced by a procession of aggressive motorists and passengers racing to the town's superstores in search of a Bank Holiday bargain.

Give me the life of a traveller any day.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Size 15's And The Bishop's Ears

A second word of advice. 

It was, naturally, contradictory advice from that which I gave you yesterday, on how to avoid getting wet when passing a snowblower.

So today's pearl of wisdom is, if you are parked in a lay-by on a beautiful sunny afternoon, beware of what is going on in the field next to you. If you have the passenger's side window wound down, like I did, keep a look out for passing tractors spraying fertiliser pellets.

That is what happened to me. Sitting in the driver's seat, minding my own business and listening to a Radio 5 Sports Report about cricket in Sri Lanka, when several mite sized pellets smacked into my neck and head. Yesterday, you will recall I said the snowblower's emissions made it feel as if I was being shot blasted. Today, it felt more like being sandblasted.

I feel that my upper torso has never been cleaner.

It was nothing really to be surprised about, as it was generally up to the standards of one of my usual ramshackle days. I broke a vase. I ripped my trousers. I listened to a Bishop say that he thought putting on his mitre made his ears stick out and that he felt like a self-propelled tulip and had my own physical defects exposed by a mere traffic cone.

A traffic cone? Have you gone mad? What are you talking about? (I can hear some of you saying).

Yes, a humble traffic cone. One which I parked next to. For on its base the bold writing brought back sore memories of a nickname I had inherited at school. It simply said .................

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Second Shower On The Snowy Summit

A word of advice.

When you are driving past a snow blower.

never, ever, ever,

drive past with your window wound down.

I did, yesterday. I had my second cold shower of the day. The first was because the boiler had stopped working at home, but this was even more bracing. I was drenched and was probably as close as I will ever get to feeling like being sand blasted.

Still, it caused amusement for the person sitting in the seat next to me. It made my daughter's day. I will be famous at her school when the holidays end.

Seeing Red In The Bleak Mid Spring

The solitary woodcock wandered aimlessly along the road, looking quite bemused that there was a late snowfall. This was not on. This was nesting time.

The roads became tricky to drive on again. Several were closed.

The countryside took on the aura it was sometimes labled as: 'It's grim up North.' Clothes were no barrier to the winds which tickled the bones.

But beauty won and the colours contrasted everywhere. Particularly the red against the white snow.....

..... Red painted fences...

....Red plume of a faux chicken

....and of course red dog mess collectin bins.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Arrival Of The Lambing Storm

It had all looked so promising.

Week upon week of sunshine. The media frenzy talking of the springtime weather in such volume that has never been done before. Hosepipe bans. Record temperatures in Aboyne. Bikinis on the beach and day after day of picnics.

Then this happens.

Poor old Britain cannot cope. The temperature dropped in Aboyne by 21 degrees from 23.6C a week ago to 2C. The gales caused another media frenzy - 10,000 homes without power in the North East, multiple car crashes and even the ski fields had too much snow and the centres had to send their staff home.

Nature is confused. The daffodils, which had been covered in little black insects and were drooping due to lack of water, have now capitulated. The flowers have shrivelled and the leaves have flattened under the weight of snow and the shock of the icy cold and raw Northerly winds. The blossom, which a day ago seemed to attract crowds of  passers-by (predominantly Japanese) with cameras because of its exceptional heaviness, has now been blown away. The magnolias have dropped all their flowers too. The landscape looks sad.

Driving back last night was fine in the valleys. No snow, just sleet and gusty winds. But up the hill the wheels started to spin as the roads became whiter. Then coming round one corner, there was a wall of snow. I drove into it and came to a dramatic stop. That usual winter feeling descended: 'What the hell do I do now?'
By chance there was a farmer, parked in the lay-by. He had been tending his sheep.

'Lambing?' I asked.

'No - not for a couple of days.' he replied.

'That will be tough with this snow.'

'No not at all,' he said unconcerned and cheerily. 'They will be warm in the tunnels under a foot of snow! It's just the usual Lambing Storm. Comes here every year.'

With that, he pushed me out and went back to his livestock. They're tough up North.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Tales From Caledonia Part 3: Long Overdue Comeuppance For The Arrogant Sassenach

I was mistaken for Rab C. Nesbitt in a suit.

It was unfortunate, but that was how it was. It happened to be in one of Edinburgh's smartest venues, after a talk. The wine was flowing. The people I was with were enjoying it and the waitresses were topping up glasses in between handing round solid Scottish canapes, which consisted mainly of cold miniature beefburgers on a bit of shredded lettuce, laid on giant teaspoons.

'It's nae a burger,' said the waitress frowning. 'It's Boeuf Tartar in a Szechuan Sauce'. It was an improvement from the catering of the past I had experienced, which consisted of bits of cold haggis on giant teaspoons. This bit of information I studidly and pompously passed on to the waitress, knowing full well that it would be a mistake as whenever I had said something so crass in the past, a misfortune had always befallen me.

And so it came to pass.

As I went to sit down to talk to a group of people who were sitting in an alcove, the two chairs separated and I fell backwards onto the wooden floor and my glass of wine landed upside down on my stomach. The contents spread across my clothes like an oil slick, just as the smirking waitress walked past.

'Typical. He's blootered,' she said. 'That'll learn him!'

I had seen it earlier in the day. The brazen outspoken-ness of an elderly pedestrian towards an arrogant cyclist, his pompous remark and the pleasing accident which happened next.

'Get your bikes off the pavement, now,' said the old lady firmly. 'It's for pedestrians. The road is for cyclists.' Normally I would have felt sympathy for the cyclist as many of Edinburgh's streets are being dug up and where he was gave him little option but to go onto the pavement. but it was the aggressive way in which he weaved in and out of the pedestrians, and the aggressive way in which he squared up to the old lady.

'Road?' he growled.'What road? You stupid old faggot.' Then he turned and sped off, failing to notice the wire barrier in front of him and ending up spreadeagled on the concrete slabs.

'That'll learn you,' said the lady with a certain amount of smugness, 'ye wee scunner,' and she stepped over him and walked into a shop.

So I had advanced warning of my own predicament. That's what happens when you try to be intellectually superior in a so called humourous way. Never be rude to a stewardess and never be rude to a waitress, was valuable advice I was given years ago, as they can always get their own back by something as simple as spilling a cup of coffee in your lap ... or a glass of wine as was in my case. I know that it was a self-inflicted humiliation but the waitress deservedly seemed to get the same satisfaction as if she had poured it over me herself.

'That'll learn ya'.

No. I think I need more lessons.


Tales From Caledonia Part 2 - The Scottish Regulatory Guide To Life

I like places and people where directness is prevalent. Of course, Scotland is just such a place. There is rarely any 'beating around the bush' and most people tell you exactly how they feel. It is refreshing. It makes me realise how tiring it is when so often in your life 'south of the border', I tend to spend so much time figuring out what people are actually saying or thinking when they are talking to me.

It seems to have become a way of life in England. Perhaps it has always been there, you know, stiff upper lip and all that. Now it seems to be ingrained in every aspect of life, regardless of circumstances, class, region or any other matter. Perhaps, also, it is out of fear. Fear that if you open your mouth, you will incriminate yourself or be subjected to some legal action.

So to read a sign which announces that the gates will be closed without notice, gives me a childish warm glow. It is honest, direct and reasonable. You have been warned. There is no argument.


 Do not swim or jump? I have no intention of jumping off the jetty and swimming in the North Sea in March but no doubt there will be someone who just may be tempted. So that is standard.

But it was the sign inside a cafe, which was the most interesting.  Bolted onto the side of the main eating area was a room with a sign which in large letters warned children to keep out. It was a quiet room for any adult who wished it.

Of course this originates from England and the 15th Century Olde English proverb, as written by the Augustine monk, John Mirk's Festial around 1450:-

Hyt ys old Englysch sawe: A mayde shuld be seen, but not herd

which became translated later as 'children should be seen but not heard'. The difference nowadays, is that few people are prepared to say it ...... unless you head northwards to the land where hearts are worn on the sleeves and a nod's as guid as a wink tae a blind horse.

Tales From Caledonia Part 1 - Bonny Scotland In The Springtime

If you have a passion for a place, then it is always a pleasant surprise when it looks so different.

Scotland recently has not looked like Scotland.

The soaring temperatures transformed the landscape. Loch Leven, pictured above, looked more like Lake Como with the soft light and varying shades of azure blues, usually common several thousand miles to the south.

The Grampian Mountains were dry and dusty. The geometric patterns of last year's heather burning made it look more like a landscape which you could see in parts of China. The peace was interrupted by the appearance of the school bus; its engine labouring as the driver put his foot to the floor to coax the vehicle up the steep gradients. The air-con must have been on full, as the children were kneeling on their seats with their heads as close to the blowers as they could get. Some managed to acknowledge me with a raise finger out of the rear window.

And then it was gone and the peace returned.

Back to the beautiful, sparkling burns, gently bubbling under the 18th Century bridges which formed part of General Wade's Military Road. I shut my eyes and tried to imagine the tramp of red coated English soldiers, coming to break up the Jacobite Rebellions.

Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
May by thy mighty aid,
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush,
God save the King.

My dog brought me abruptly out of my historic malaise as he decided to chase a rabbit and yanked the lead, nearly pulling my arm out of the shoulder socket.

Then the weather changed. The North Sea Haar appeared at North Berwick. Sea Haar? Sea Fret? Sea Fog? It is all the same. It just depends which part of the country you come from as to which term you use. All of them are damp and drizzly and can ruin many a person's trip to the East coast, having begun inland, where it was fine and sunny.

But I rather like it. It is moody. It makes you think of Hollywood films. Think of The Fog, The Hound Of The Baskervilles or the opening scene of one of the Jaws movies, with the bell ringing in the murky atmosphere.

As Billy Connolly said: 'There are two seasons in Scotland - Winter and July.

July has come in March this year.