The Humble Opinion: Show Us Your Bristols

I don’t know about you… but folk need cheering up.

Pour a brew, forget the virus and enjoy this little ramble about a time long ago when I was on the buses…

In the cavernous gloom of the towns missed and now demolished Greyfriars bus station rests one of the behemoths I used to drive – A Bristol VRT double decker of the Northampton fleet.

It never used to be like it is now you know? The world has gone mad thanks to (too much stifling) political correctness and anything you can add ism to the end of. Hailing from the north and rapidly hurtling towards fifty, I am with great sadness – becoming a cultural dinosaur. I smoke, tell rude jokes, occasionally break wind in public and have a known tendency to call a spade a big tool as well – they really ought to embalm me and put me in a museum one day. Joshing aside though, I will state on record that my often weary unfashionable outlook on life allied to my sense of humour (anyone who knows me will testify) has seen me through the tough, the tragic and the difficult of times – so there!

Once, I was between jobs and thanks to gaining a free PSV & HGV licence on a previous engagement, I applied and successfully secured a job driving buses for the local operator – Northampton Transport. When I look back at some of the sheer fun I have had in my working life, the buses has to win hands down for being a happy place to be.  Every type and character of driver worked there from the work shy, the feral and generally useless sort to the streetwise joker type who knew every scam, fiddle and short-cut in the unofficial rule book. Once you had completed your training you were out on your own, a lesser person could find it intimidating, daunting and sometimes frightening.

I learnt well and fast, partly owing to the fact I knew a few of the old guard who had worked there man and boy. Despite being a newbie at first, knowing the experienced had its plus pointers by enabling me to slot into a different “click” of drivers. A family friend and fellow driver named Pete Lear helped a great deal, I knocked about with his youngest son and I have Pete a lot to thank for, even if it was just a bit advice there and there. The driving pool was very clicky though, and it mattered which group you circulated with – especially in the eyes of the fearsome and imposing supervisor – Mick Hurley. Mr Hurley was nicknamed The Carry-On Kid, owing to the fact even if your bus had four flat tyres and was on fire – woe betide if he would cut a journey out; “carry on kid” he would quip over the two-way radio despite your problem or parlous circumstance.

Anyway, in a relatively short length of bus driving experience, in the past I have been involved with actual hand-to-hand combat, thrown numerous people off the vehicle, been spat at, sworn at and met some of the nicest and most interesting folk in my life. If you are able to take the rough with the smooth, and to quote the song lyrics: oh its a great life on the buses. People have asked me in the past if the actual job shares any similarity to the world depicted in the famous T.V programme starring actors Varney, Grant, Lewis and Karen. Honestly??? sometimes yes. For a twentysomething singleton that I was, before I went grey and horizontally challenged – BOY did I have some fun!

But the story – 110% true, that I’m going to share with you (folk who know me have heard this one as I’ve dined out on it for over twenty years so feel free to turn the LP over) involves one of those rare lifetime experiences from an era that faded away owing to the P.C brigade I touched upon in the first paragraph. Picture the scene – a cold winters evening around pub closing time in the busy county town of Northampton. I was operating service number 26 that ran from one extreme part of the town – Camp Hill, into the town centre itself, and out to the other – Holly Lodge Drive. In the trade its known as a cross-town route and its popularity during market or Saturdays was nothing short of manic – time really flew.

Roughly mid-way between the town centre and the area of Kingsthorpe, on a long dragging hill called Kingsthorpe Road was the equally imaginatively named pub called the Halfway House – now sadly long gone and since demolished. It wasn’t exactly the most refined gin palace – more the sort of place where you were aggressively thrown in rather than out – even the arms and legs of the chairs in the bar were tattooed… get the drift? Anyway, smack bang outside the pub was a bus stop that was rarely used in daylight hours, but cometh the dark and at chucking out time, you’d be sure to pick up a handful of passengers – all of them gently swaying regardless of wind speed.

Where it all took place – The now closed and demolished Halfway House pub in Northampton.

As my elderly double decker became visible from the dank gloom of a rainy night (running exactly to time in order to have a crafty smoke at the terminus) the arms of the awaiting passengers jutted out at 180 degrees horizontal. I stop and on they get, swaying and fumbling for their change then finally two well endowed ladies (ahem) in their early thirties jumped on – again, a little worse for wear. They asked: “how much is it to Kingsthorpe shops” time has erased from memory the 1999 amount – so lets say its was £1.50 for the both of them. They looked at each other with aghast as they realised they barely had a quid between them – and that included a stray fluff covered Polo mint, a hair clip and a broken eye-liner pencil after tipping their handbags upside down looking for any loose change.

So I told them – £1 would get them both two stops up the road but still a lengthy wet walk up the hill. Folk used to give any old excuse not to pay their fare and even though a genuine hardship case would normally cause me to tip my head backwards as if to say: “go on… sit down“, two drunken lasses who’d blown their money on booze and crisps – got no sympathy from yours truly.  One of the drunken duo yelled to the other passengers “anyone got two quid” and as you’d expect, those sitting there either silently looked at their feet or stared blankly out of the steamed up windows. I was just about to give in and tell in and tell them sit down (sometimes its not worth getting into a dispute over ten bob) when things took a funny turn.

…muted sniggering turned into a roar of laughter that any comic turn would have been proud of. As you can imagine, that quick fire retort took a short while to compute in their sozzled minds that it was actually not meant to be complimentary in the slightest

Turning to me and trying her best to fix me with an alluring sexy look albeit with lifeless black eyes owing to a gallon of gin and tonic, one of the ladies rather loudly said: “if we show you our tits, will you take us there” – cue muted chuckling from the lower deck passengers. My reply was instant with: “If you promise not to I’ll take you there and walk you to your front door”  – the muted sniggering turned into a roar of laughter that any comic turn would have been proud of. As you can imagine, that quick fire retort took a short while to compute in their sozzled minds that it was actually not meant to be complimentary in the slightest.

They were just about to reach the bottom deck back seat when she yelled back: “I’m gonna f***ing write in and complain about this you wait and see” – cue the whole bus erupting in helpless mirth once again. Leaning from the cab with an arm leaning on the ticket machine I yelled back: “I’d be spending a bit of time thinking about what you’ll put in that letter if I was you“. After holding my stare at the pair of them for lasted just a few seconds, they both took on board what I had just mentioned and sheepishly looked down to the floor like chastised schoolgirls. Off I went into the night and they alighted via the middle doors a mile or so later, but not before the mouthy one came back up to the cab door and quietly apologised and thanked me.

Sometimes – you have to be cruel to be kind!

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