Tuesday, 3 March 2009

the buses

Living in one of the housing schemes just outside of town meant having to travel by bus when going back and forth to visit relations or just shopping.
The buses were all double-decker on the local roots with entry through a wide open space at the rear which had a pole down the center to hold on to when entering or, while standing on the platform waiting to depart. This made it all too easy to jump on to while the bus was moving away if you were late and had to run after the bus. It was very dangerous and if the conductress caught you she would give you a telling off as signs were painted around giving warning not to be on the platform while the bus was in motion. The large entrance meant that if it was cold and windy, all the icy drafts would blow up the corridor, nullifying the effect of the small fan heater situated on the bulkhead at the front. Both upstairs and down had one of these fan heaters and the fan upstairs became a source of entertainment for the school children who sat near it because, when you stuck one of the plentiful matchsticks (or bus ticket folded done just as well) lying around into the rotating blades, protected only by a wire mesh cover it produced a loud noise similar to an airplane engine, much to the annoyance of the conductress and passengers alike who duly told us of....again,and again!
There was always plenty spent matches on the floor along with cigarette ends as smoking was allowed upstairs but, only just tolerated down stairs though not advisable as the non-smokers of that era could and did complain.
As we would always go upstairs when travelling to school we used to come across the odd fag end still burning so we would look to see who was watching before we picked it up and dragged the last few puffs out of it. Smoking was barely tolerated down stairs as I have said but when the bus stopped at the terminus for the drivers scheduled break, the conductress would have a cigarette ready lit and both of them would sit on the long bench seat that faced onto the corridor and puff away while chatting and eating biscuits between puffs.The fag was more important than the food or cup of tea and when my sister and I played at buses at home the fag break was always introduce but with pencils as a substitute for the fags. (our parents never new about our fly puff on the bus). The buses always had a heavy smell of smoke, no matter where you sat and on leaving the bus your clothes would reek of tobacco smoke. The driver was isolated in his cab and responded to the bell, sounded by the conductress when someone wanted the bus to stop. If we skipped our fare or the conductress missed us out by mistake it gave us a penny to spend at the tuck shop. (the conductress having to have all her wits about her between, keeping an eye on mischievous children, taking fares and watching for departures, having to give one ring of the bell to stop and two rings when it was safe to drive off). The fares rose gradually of course as the years went past but only by a halfpenny a time but it made skipping your fare worthwhile or walking if desperate enough for a sweet. I use conductresses as the term because there were very few conductors at the time (some but few) and I don't seem to recall any female drivers.
The long distance buses had the same procedure with no closing door so some cold journeys were spent on the bus during the winter when we went to visit my grandparents some fifty miles away but as my parents were with us we had to sit down stairs and BEHAVE!
What a difference to the single-decker buses of today with closing doors and driver, conductor...... conductress combined as now it is just as common to see a female driving as it is a male.(And just as competent too).
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