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Monday, 9 November 2015

Hold Very Tight, Please!

This is an excerpt from 'Giving A Bull Strawberries', the brand new 2015 compilation of 'nostalgedy' stories:

Although pubs were always very important to me, from my mid-teens to my late 30s my drinking den of choice was the Transport Club in Guild Street (now an Indian restaurant).  I'm not quite sure why I gravitated there, it was hardly local to South Broadway Street and I had no connection whatsoever with the Burton Corporation Transport Department, but there's a line in the theme tune of 'Cheers' that says "you want to be where everybody knows your name", and that was certainly the case at the Transport Club.

Inevitably, when it came to outings from the Transport Club, they were never going to be by train.  The strong connections between the Transport Department and the Club meant that we were able to hire a double-decker either for free, or at a notional cost.  All we had to do was provide a volunteer driver for the day.  Oddly enough, the driver who volunteered most went on to run his own, very successful, local coach company. 

The problem with using a double-decker…well, actually there were quite a few problems with using a double-decker, but these were largely outweighed by the fact that the whole thing was free! 

The principal problem was the lack of speed.  Local authority buses were fitted with a speed limiter, which made very good sense in the confines of Burton upon Trent but tended to be a bit frustrating when you were trying to get to Skegness within the hours of daylight.  Moreover, a fully laden double-decker is not really equipped for long journeys or for dealing with everything that the geography of Britain can throw at it.  There was a particular hill, leading out of Lincoln, which tested the bus to its limit and I always half expected that we would have to get out and push.  Pedestrians used to stroll past us and wonder what was going on, as we chugged laboriously up the hill.  Another factor, of course, is that the seats of double-deckers are only really designed for relative comfort over short journeys, so a degree of numbness in the posterior was a given for a trip to the seaside.

No matter how much fun we managed to have in Skegness, Mablethorpe or Rhyl (these three being pretty much the limit of a day trip on a double-decker), we still had the lengthy trip home at the end of the day, with the certain knowledge that it would be pretty late when we arrived home.
For some reason, a standard feature of British coach trips always used to be 'the sing-song on the way home'.  The degree to which you enjoyed these was usually in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed both during the day, and on the trip home (you could still drink on the coach in those days).  If this was to be a success, then you needed someone amongst the company who could carry a tune and knew the lyrics.  This was not always guaranteed.

I well remember one particular trip home where all of the passengers were absolutely exhausted and just wanted to be left to drift off to sleep as best they could.  However, one of our number had brought his mouth organ with him and was determined to try to start a sing-song.  What he nearly succeeded in starting was an armed insurrection, with even the mildest mannered earnestly entreating him to "put a sock in it".  He was eventually persuaded, by his nearest and dearest, that his chances of returning to Burton would be considerably enhanced if he put the mouth organ away. Another vivid memory is of a quiet, unassuming family man leading a spirited and obscene version of 'Old McDonald's Farm' on the top deck as we drove through Lincoln.  Up until that point I didn't even know that there was an obscene version of 'Old McDonald'.  You live and learn!

You can read the rest of this chapter, and find a lot more like this, in 'Giving A Bull Strawberries'

The cover of Giving a Bull Strawberries, featuring a 30' Stainless Steel shovel