Friday, 27 November 2009

Chapter 34 Hospital Here I Come

This chapter was typed on a lap top brought into the hospital by my son Mark so that I could regain movement in my right hand. I shall leave it in its original form including any spelling mistakes and omissions. It descriptive wording is brief as it took a lot of effort just to type a few lines.
The author 19th July 2007 Aylesbury

It is now almost a week since I was admitted to the National Neurological and Neurosurgery Hospital.
Well little did I know when signing on that morning, Wednesday 13th June 2007 that it was to be the last day of my coach-driving career. I spent an hour on standby then set of for Woodhall Farm. Leaving there at 6:50 I ran on down to the town then up to the Motorway. Normal busy traffic to Brent Cross and then down the Finchely Road to Lords. Sitting in the bus lane in Park Road I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of panic and my right hand and foot became very heavy and I new straight that I was having a stroke. I some how managed to get the coach around into Baker Street and onto the stop in spite of my foot feeling like a lead brick. None of the passengers even noticed and those getting off thanked me and wished me a good day. However when the lights changed to green and the other buses moved off I new then that I could not move and I was facing early retirement. I turned around to the passengers and said “I am terribly sorry but we seem to have a problem, I cannot move my right side” They immediately realized what was up and called for an ambulance and came and supported me because at that point I just wanted to go to sleep. I remember seeing Debbie and telling her I was up for early retirement also it was lucky that Geoff the Victoria controller was on the 757 behind me and took over from the passengers in trying to keep me awake.
The ambulance arrived within ten minutes and I was placed on a chair stretcher and take off the coach. Fortunately I had the presence of mind, (it being undamaged) to remove my module and keep the waybill. I was kept in the ambulance for about fifteen minutes whilst they stabilized me and then it was off to University College Hospital and straight into A&E. Here I was quickly assessed as having a stroke. At this point Mark turned up and has been remarkable in my recovery. Geoff had rang Mo at Hemel who had rang Annette. Mo told her I had collapsed so she in turn rang Mark. Soon after I had been admitted to UCL I was told a bed had been found for me at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, it backs onto Great Ormond Street children’s hospital. Well after being told transport was on its way, after four hours I was told that if we don’t get you out of here ‘the shit will hit the fan’ The prime minister Tony Blair had decreed that all A&E departments will clear within four hours and so I was quickly wheeled up to a ward. Whilst here with Mark, Pat Donnelly an Inspector turned up .He stayed for awhile, asked after my well being and then left the ward only to return a few seconds later saying Ken Hargreaves my garage manager had reminded Pat to collect my module and cash, our ever thoughtful manager! At one point a lot of movement retuned to my hands and legs and while Mark had gone to the toilet I got up and also went to the toilet, a bad move, I became all weak again and got back into bed completely immobile on my right side. After some time there was some discussion as to who was taking me to the NHNN. It was about 3:00 that I was finally moved down to a waiting ambulance and with Mark on board we began our very bumpy journey along to Russell Square. Whether it was the Bob Marley music or the bumpy ride I don’t know but I began to lose consciousness. I remember both Mark and the para medics calling my name. I soon arrived at NHNN and was quickly assessed by Professor Martin Brown the head of the Acute Brain Injury Unit along with Dr Adam Cassidy and Dr Brian Strange. Professor Brown was most annoyed that it had taken them nearly six hours to get me to the NHNN. It is most important that stroke victims are seen and assessed as soon as possible after a stroke. I was soon put on a ward. Next I was wheeled off to have a CCT scan of my brain and a chest X ray of my heart. Then a nights rest although under 72 hours continuously monitoring. Next day I was to have two MRI scans. This is where one is rolled into a tube a few inches wider than your own body, not to every ones liking, in fact 10% of people can’t take it. It is not just the enclosed place but also the intense noise, it’s like having a pneumatic drill going along side ones head. After that it was back to the ward and a rest. Following a stroke one gets very tired very easily. By Saturday I was beginning to walk and Mark was coming in every day to help me recover. Dr Cassidy was making a daily assessment of my progress. I was now getting intense therapy from Sasha my occupational therapist and Sherryl my physiotherapist. Along with these two beautiful torturers I was also having to play mind games with Rennie the neuropsychologist who was trying to assess if my thought and cognitive processes had suffered any damage.
Well it’s now just over two weeks since my stroke and I shall be going home on Friday. My stay here has been very interesting an insight into brain injuries. I think I have been so lucky to have been hospitalized here. Also the fact that I have not felt any anger over what has happened has of course I believed helped aid my recovery. Well whether this is the final chapter in my forty year career of bus driving remains to be seen. The End
Chapter 33 Trouble Brewing

Although I still enjoyed driving into London every day I found myself becoming more irritable with the commuters especially those who continued to use their mobile phones on the coaches. There is nothing more annoying than someone talking in a loud voice right behind you. I brought this problem to management on many occasions at our Health and Safety meetings and eventually I persuaded management to post notices on the coaches asking passengers not to use their mobile phone once the coach had left the terminal. This was not very effective and passengers became quite abusive when you pointed this notice out to them. Often if you told them their call was distracting you they would tell you it wasn’t. I would always ask them how the hell did they knew what distracted me, saying that if they took all their clothes off and walked down the coach that would not distract me but sitting right behind me talking drivel very loudly into their mobile phone would. Unbeknown to me I was becoming very stressed.
One day always makes people very wary was Friday 13th. April had such a Friday. Traffic on the M1 was very heavy approaching Hemel Hempstead and so I decided to come off the motorway at Watford and go through Leavsden and Abbotts Langley. Something we all do quite often. I had come down College Road and was turning right on the roundabout into Tibbs Hill when a car driven by a young girl shot across from Langley Way onto the roundabout and across the front of my coach. I pulled across to the offside and braked as hard as I could but struck her car on the offside rear door turning the car across the front of the coach. I expected the coach to turn her car over but fortunately it pushed it out of the way leaving the car badly damaged but the young driver unscathed.
The reaction from the passengers was very interesting. The young lads at the
front yelled out “where the f**k did that come from” my exact feelings. Further back came the call “It’s Friday the 13th driver” again something that was also on my mind. One passenger and one passenger only got annoyed with me for calling the police and delaying his journey home, the rest were very sympathetic and helped in filling all the forms we have to use now in the event of an accident. I had to take photos of the scene and give a statement to the police. The young lady admitted to me and the police that she had not seen me. The police also pointed out to her father who turned up at the scene that if she was going to have an accident don’t pick on something this size. Her car was a virtual right off whereas the coach suffered a broken front indicator light and some minor scratched to the front bumper.
Although I thought at the time this had not affected me as accidents are unfortunately part and parcel of our job. I had been lucky not to have been involved in any major accident like this in my forty years driving career.
I now found myself becoming more and more irritated with the passengers to the extent of shouting at passengers when they were using their phones and refusing to acknowledge them when they said hello to me, and so the inevitable happened.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Chapter 32 Off the Road

I’ve had a few motor bikes since we returned to England, never being able to afford a car. I also have never taken a motor cycle driving test as my full driving licence allowed me to drive motorcycles up to 125cc. with 'L' plates attached. So I’d had a couple of Honda 125cc bikes and then two Susuki 125s. When the Susukis became too expensive I down graded to a JAWA 125 not so fast but it got me to Hemel Hempstead and back each day.
Then in the late 1990s the law was changed so that to drive anything bigger than
50cc you would have to pass a proficiency test before the end of the year. I hurriedly arranged this and duly passed the test which was conducted in a school playground. I had arranged some tuition from a local motorcycle driving instructor who, when I had passed the test and been given a piece of paper saying I could now drive my JAWA 125cc with L plates, my instructor said I might as well take a full on road test which would allow me to drive a bigger motorcycle up to 500cc. Once more another driving test which I passed successfully. I remember being told on that very first bus test I was going a bit slow and this time I was also told I was going a bit slow through some of the country lanes around Aylesbury but this time it wasn’t because of a different bus but because my poor old JAWA couldn’t go any faster.
Well no sooner had I passed my test then I was off to Mick Surman’s my motorcycle dealer in Aylesbury to purchase a brand new JAWA 350cc. I bought it on Friday the
22nd of August 1997 and spent Saturday driving around Aylesbury, getting use to a bigger machine. Sunday the 24th I was on a late turn and enjoyed my ride to work on my brand new motorbike. I finished about 10 o’clock that evening and set off for Aylesbury on my new bike. I was approaching the petrol garage just before the entrance to Hemel Hempstead railway station when I noticed a car facing me waiting to turn right into the garage. Just as I was almost about to pass the car it suddenly pulled across in front of me. Goodbye brand new bike and me I thought as I crashed broadside into the car, the bike stopped, I didn’t and lost consciousness as I went sailing over the car to land on my back in the road. I came to after a while and proceeded to wiggle my arms and legs, well no broken back although my stomach and groin sure felt sore.
Within a few minutes an ambulance had arrived. Well they told me they happened to be just passing on their way back from a call. I had by that time got to my feet and felt relatively ok although I was unaware of my injuries due to shock. I told the medics I was ok and just wanted to get back home and signed a disclaimer form for the ambulance crew. By this time a police officer had turned up and was talking to the young male driver. Meanwhile his female passenger was running around saying “it was all my [her] fault.”
I later thought what on earth was she doing to him to distract him. Anyway I left my brand new written off bike in the garage forecourt and got a taxi from the station home to Aylesbury and presented myself to a very surprised and upset family. I had rang Annette from the railway station to tell her I'd had an accident but that I was ok.
The next morning, Monday, my daughter Heather told me I had broken my wrist or arm because of the bruising but I was not convinced however Annette persuaded me to go to the hospital anyway. When I turned up at casualty and told them I’d been in a motorcycle accident I was immediately given a full examination. I told them my groin hurt and they did lots of tests and told me I was ok. When you fly though the air tearing your stomach on the windscreen supports I am sure your stomach is not alright which was to prove correct later on.
In the meantime following x rays I was sent to the plastering room to have my wrist and arm set in plaster. I noticed there were lots of photos and thank you notes posted on the wall from previous motorcycle accident victims. When I arrived home with a brand new plaster cast everyone seemed pleased to have been proven right and that I had taken their advise and gone to hospital. My new plaster cast soon became adorned with names and drawings. My new granddaughter Amy had such a pained look on her face when she saw me, she was nearly one year old.
later that day I rang the garage to tell them I’d be off for a while. They told me one of the drivers had seen me lying in the road as he went past and assumed I was dead so they were pleased to hear I would be coming back to work some time soon. I contacted the union solicitors who began working on the case straight away, eventually winning for me, at no cost, a decent amount of compensation. After a couple of hiccoughs in the legal system the young man received a fine but was allowed to keep his licence as according to his solicitor he had a low IQ and needed his car to get to work and also he would need to earn money to pay off his fine not only for this accident but for his previous convictions for speeding. He should have lost his licence and the police commiserated with us for the fact that he was still driving.
I also rang up Mick Surman on the Tuesday to tell him about the accident and to sort out the insurance claim. Mick said not to worry about the insurance. The insurers had already contacted him so he knew of my accident and the insurers informed him that the bike had been written off and Mick had already got me a brand new bike ready for collection. I told him my arm was in plaster but he said never mind that you can pop over and look at the bike from time to time until you are ready to go again. After a few visits to the hospital my arm was finally released from its cast. Then followed some physiotherapy on my hand to get it mobile again. After a while I was soon back to full working order and off to work again. One odd thing did happen a few years later. I received a phone call from the police in Manchester to say that my motorbike was being held in their vehicle compound and if I wanted it released I would have to pay a sum of money. I told them the bike had been written of by the insurers some years previously. They asked if I knew who recovered the bike and said it looked like some sort of scam and they would look into it and I heard no more.
Over the years I've been very fortunate to have had very little time off sick.
Although a couple of times do spring to mind. One was the eating of a cream bun at Chelsham garage. At the end of the day any leftovers from the canteen were put out by the canteen staff for the late turn drivers to enjoy, unfortunately fresh cream buns do not stay fresh for ever and having enjoyed a free cream bun for my evening tea I set off with the 706 to Tring and then home to Aylesbury. During the night the cream bun had its revenge and I was off sick the next day so losing a days pay. A very expensive free bun Annette pointed out. Another self inflicted sickness occurred when I had overdone the spice in a meal I'd cooked. I was feeling a bit unwell the next morning but went to work and signed on. I managed to get to London although I did stop for a few minutes when I reached the end of the M1 at Brent Cross and put my head down on the wheel while a bout of nausea passed, and do you know not one passenger asked what was wrong. By the time I got back to the garage I was feeling very ill. I must have looked ill as well because Pat Auger came over to me and asked if I was ok when I moaned that I wasn't she said "don't worry Dave you rest, I'm on standby, I'll do your second London" that's what I call a real friend. By the time Pat had got back from London I was feeling well enough to pay in and go home.
I also managed to get two hernias, some years apart though. The first was my own fault. I had gone into town to by a new television, they were big and heavy years ago, but being too mean to have it delivered I carried it from the shop to the bus station and then from the bus stop to our house, only across the road but that was enough to start a small tear in my groin. The second was the result of the above mentioned motorbike accident although I couldn’t claim for that as I’d already settled the claim for the accident. Fortunately in between the two hernia operations they had speeded thing up so instead of a three day stay in hospital it was operation in the morning, a sandwich in the afternoon and goodbye in the evening. Mind you I did enjoy the rest at home recovering. Looking back I remember how I couldn't wait to get back to driving those big red buses after even a few days on holiday. But now somehow the stress was beginning to build up and I looked forward to my days off.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Chapter 31 A Little Bit More on the Road

Well so much for my union activities, what about driving those buses and
coaches. The major change that took place on the buses and coaches was the implementation of the European Working Time Regulations (as applied to Road Transport). The EU directive lays down a maximum working week of 48 hours. Unfortunately our government has obtained an opt out. Businesses state that if they are to compete they must keep wages low, this forces the ordinary low paid worker to work excessive hours to obtain a living wage. We know that working long hours is not only detrimental to your health but also has an adverse effect upon family life. As this book is not about economics all I can say is that most drivers opted out of the 48 hour week. However the 48 hour limit did apply to coaches. The EU directive stated that any route whose length was over 50Km was subject to EU regulations and not Domestic rules. Basically this meant that drivers on the bus rotas could work for thirteen days before have a day off and came under UK Domestic rules whereas the coach route from the Hemel Hempstead estates to Victoria was over 50Km and therefore the drivers on the coach rota had to have a 36 hour break after six days work. Also any driver who did even one days work on the coaches was required to stay within the EU regulations for the next three weeks. These rules meant that the earnings on the coaches were somewhat lower than that on bus work as bus drivers could work longer hours. In consequence of this there have been a shortage of drivers applying for the coach rota.
The introduction of the EU regulations also meant the use of the tachcograph, or the spy in the cab as it was referred to. The tachograph is a round plasticated disc which sits inside the speedometer and records not only the speed the vehicle is doing but also the hours driving and breaks that a driver has. Each driver has his own supply of discs which he must keep with him and he hands them into the depot once a week keeping three weeks recorded discs with him at any one time.
I could afford to remain on the coach rota and did so. Some drivers could not afford the lower wage and went back on the buses.
So I continued to drive the 758 Greenline coaches into London on a daily basis, usually two trips a day, although two trips a day would not quite add up to our guaranteed 36 hour week and so most duties had pieces of bus work added to them either before or after having gone to London. The Union have argued for ages, but to no avail, that putting bus work in front of coach work could seriously disrupt the coach departure times. For example if you drive for an hour or more through the town especially in the rush hour then you will be late taking over your coach as there is very little leeway between coming off a bus and taking over a coach. Increasing the time between taking over the coach from the bus would encroach on the maximum driving time of four and a half hours permitted under the EU regulations. Some of this bus work included school journeys and we have all heard how horrific these can be.
Very few children these days have travelled on buses other than to go to school and therefore have no concept of how to behave on public transport. As we have to concentrate on driving chaos usually reigns on the school buses. Sometimes the schools will intervene and sometimes the drivers themselves will try to regain order but no one really seems to care, this can therefore add a lot of stress to the drivers working life.
Many years ago when Mark was about a year old I told of the time I went through a red light at West Hendon, well twenty six years later it happened again. At the top of Hendon Way were it joins the Finchely Road there is a set of traffic lights whose aspects change at the same time, if it goes from green to amber as you approach the opposite set of lights are changing from amber to green and as it’s a wide junction it could appear that by going across on amber from Hendon Way it may look as though from the Finchely Road that the vehicle has jumped the lights. This has happened to numerous coaches and as was my luck when I did it there was a police patrol car sitting on the Finchely Road. Just after I turned right I could see the blue flashing lights. I pulled up and got out of the coach. I pointed out the poor phasing of the lights and the police officers reply was “if you want to argue that in court it’s up to you”
He then checked my driving licence and with a grin said “ at least you’re consistent” referring to my previous conviction for going through a red light twenty six years earlier. Well its seemed pointless arguing my case in court so I sent my licence off to the local court and accepted the fine which the union paid. These days however the union will not pay fines imposed by the courts as it would appear to be condoning breaking the rules of the road. What the union will do which is very important is to supply you with a good solicitor if you require one. Although I did not use the union legal aid when I went through red lights, allegedly, I did need them when some idiot knocked me off my motorbike and nearly killed me.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Chapter 30 A new Broom at Hemel Hempstead

Well they say a new broom sweeps clean and once Luton and District had become embedded then it was goodbye to all things London Transport including Bill Bailey. It was sad day when Bill was told to clear his desk as drivers knew by then that although in Bills eyes you were guilty until proven innocent he was above all fair.
A few days after Bill Bailey had gone I had reasons to go in and see the new Depot Manager, imagine my surprise when I came face to face with Dave Love. The last time I had met Dave was as TGWU area rep, talk about poacher becoming game keeper. Well Dave did not last too long, neither union nor management felt at ease with Dave. There was one time when we were operating the 747 Jetlinks to Luton and the old Luton & District Inspector Dennis Mulligan (Dennis is now retired and became a good friend over the years, often jumping on my coach for a chat rather than checking the tickets) started booking us old London Country drivers for early running at Luton bus station, remember we had now been taken over by Luton & District. Dennis would put in his report to Dave and we in turn had to see Dave. Dave would duly undermine Dennis's efforts by telling us "he [Dennis] can't book you under TUPE"
TUPE or Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations was an European directive introduced in 1977 to protect employees when there is a change of employer so that conditions of employment are not worsened and any change in conditions must be in consultation with the trade unions. Needless to say our government reluctantly introduced this legislation in 1981.
What Dave Love was pointing out to the drivers was that under London Country terms and conditions the only official who could book us was another London Country official. Unfortunately TUPE only applies for twelve months after the acquisition. Dennis couldn’t wait for the twelve months to pass, but did we have some fun with him in the mean time.
After Dave left our next Depot Manager was the very likeable John Bass. Neil Instrall was still in place as Garage Manager and I believe kept a firm control on what John could or could not do unlike the maverick Dave Love.
Soon John left for another garage. In the mean time Luton & District had acquired a small provincial bus company, ‘Stewart Palmer’ of Luton and their MD Alan Hobbs became our next Depot Manager. Note while these managerial changes where going on Colin Bacon was still Union Rep, Dave Gill Branch Secretary and I was still Health and Safety Rep.
After a while Alan was moved sideways into supervising the introduction of NVQs. It would appear that someone somewhere thought it a good idea to give people in every day jobs a qualification to say that they could do that job. If they couldn’t do the job surely they would have left anyway.
Obtaining a level 1 NVQ did not require any learning only getting passengers to tick boxes on a form to say how good you were. You of course got your favourite and most friendly passengers to fill in your forms. Any writing was minimal. Having left school with seven ‘O’ levels, NVQs were a backward step but as it was in the company's interest to be able to say “all our drivers have NVQs in Customer Service” the company offered all drivers £100 to take the NVQ. Oh that’s £100 before tax.
Having passed Level 1 we were then encouraged to take Level 2. When I asked Alan if this was now a £200 job he said no still £100 so I said no to that.
So what next in the Depot Manager stakes? A managerial shake up yet again.
We have Garage Manager, Neil Instrall and we have Depot Inspectors who report to the Depot Manager. Lets get rid of the Depot Manager; Neil Instrall now takes on both rolls of Garage and Depot Manager. Let's make one poor Inspector take the can for all the Inspectors cock ups and call him Senior Duty Manager. That job fell to Barry Madams, who was very good at sorting out cock ups, usually the drivers.
Soon Neil could take no more and left for a senior position with Aldershot & District Transport. These days Neil according to my union colleagues is now running buses for Stagecoach in Brighton & Hove. On the scene now comes Nick Knox. Nick is a very able senior manager and set about putting Hemel Hempstead, Aylesbury and Watford on a firm financial and operating footing. The problem with running three garages was that as drivers we would see routes and jobs move from one garage to another and this made it a lot harder for the Union to protect work in any one garage. A little while later we did get our own Garage Manager, Ken Hargreaves, who has managed to put up with us and visa versa for a number of years now.
Now I’ll give Nick his due he was committed to health and safety issues, on the proviso that they were cost effective. Or as is laid down in the Health and Safety legislation, 'where reasonable practical' which does mean bringing costs into the equation. A small company cannot be expected to lay out a very large sum of money on health and safety prevention whereas it is expected that a large company could and should. was not how it should be.
The classic example was the introduction of Hi-Viz vests for all drivers. I had argued for years for these to be issued to all staff quoting no end of safety legislation at Nick. One day at our monthly Health and Safety Committee meetings (these have now regressed to two monthly with very little observance of committee procedure) Nick announced the company was to issue all driver with Hi-Viz vests. I told Nick in no uncertain terms the company was now introducing them as it made the company look good and not to protect the drivers. Nick on the other hand denied this.
Well they say a new broom sweeps clean but what happens with old brooms. I believe that generally things are kept clean enough for people not to get too upset about the odd bits of dirt in the corners. As a trade unionist it always worries me when after a while I see the beginning of a cosy relationship between management and the union reps. This is of course how management want it to be and how they try to manipulate the trade unions. Although Colin Dave and I have held the same official positions for some years now we still have our ups and downs with management but it is inevitable that with time we do become friendlier with the managers on a personnel basis. Just recently this relationship had all the drivers in the canteen in fits of laughter.
We were holding a union ballot to decide who should become the Defects rep, a job that entails keeping the engineers on their toes. The GM was in the canteen and had just bought Colin a cup of tea. A driver had come in to see Colin about more route learning, Colin was trying to tell the GM that he (Colin) would take the driver out in his own time however as usual the GM jumps in before Colin had finished and starts saying that he'd already paid the driver once to do the route learning and was not going to pay him twice. Colin was furious and with a retort of "f...k you" stormed out of the canteen saying I'm trying to help you. After a few seconds the GM looks at me and with a puzzled expression says "I've just bought him a cup of tea." Later as usual the differences were resolved and things were back on an even keel.
That’s how it’s been for some time now. The monthly union meetings we use to have which raised many points have now all but gone. The only times branch meetings are called is over pay deals and now that management like to have three year deals meeting no longer take place. Colin and Dave prefer to listen to drivers complaints on the weekly stand down. Once a week a union rep is stood down to deal with disciplines. I am concerned that we no longer have branch meetings. It was a good place for drivers to have a moan and get things off their chests even if it was the union reps who bore the brunt of the moans. Also it was the same drivers who always turned up to meetings and could pass resolutions that could affect the majority of staff who did not attend. I was forever cajoling drivers to come to the meetings but it was only if the words 'pay' or 'industrial action' was on the agenda would more than a dozen staff turn up. I believe this poor attendance led to Colin and Dave becoming disheartened and this has led to the decline in the branch being an active branch.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Chapter 29 New Managers same Drivers

My work as union Garage Representative and Health and Safety Representative allowed me to meet with all our different garage managers all of whom have their own ways of running things.
In my early days with LT I rarely came into contact with garage managers except on disciplines of which were very rare. I was unfortunate to have had an accident whilst at Edgware garage where a woman driver pulled across into Cricklewood Broadway and collided with the side of my RT bus on route 142 to Kilburn Park Station. I pulled up at the side of the road and went back to see my conductor who was about to disappear into the betting shop calling back to me "you handle it mate it was her fault". I then took the driving particulars of the lady driver and put in my report to the depot inspector expecting to hear no more about it as I was clearly not to blame. Ok I was young and naive. According to all other road users if there is an accident involving a bus then the bus driver must be at fault. In this case I was called in to see the Garage Manager who said he’d received a letter from the lady’s insurance company and she was claiming I was doing over 30mph. I explained to the manager that had she witnessed me travelling at over 30mph why on earth did she pull across into the path of the bus and as it was she didn’t hit the front of the bus but hit it in the middle off side. I was told to put it in writing and hand it in. Fortunately my standard of English was good (no spell checker in those days) and I heard no more about the incident.
No accidents occurred during my spell at Uxbridge garage so no visits to the garage manager.
I’ve mentioned how upon my return to the UK how Reg Goodchild the GM or Chief Inspector as he was known then was more like a father figure always keeping his drivers out of harms way. One afternoon I was coming back from Chelsham on the 706 when I saw they were resurfacing the road on the approach to Tring. I thought I could just squeeze between the stone laying machine and the kerb, unfortunately I couldn’t. Looking in my mirror I saw I had spun the machine around, but continued driving to the garage. Whilst paying in I heard a commotion going on outside the next minute Reg appeared and called me into his office. “Did you hit that road laying machine?”
The truth seemed the best answer, “yes I think I may have”
“Well next time you do that make sure you’ve got the bloody room to get by” and I heard no more about it, Reg must have placated the irate road crew.
Upon my move to Amersham I was to encounter yet another fatherly figure in ‘Gerry’ Coe. Gerry was very good to all his staff and although I had no reason to meet him in a disciplinary manner he was always willing to enquire after my well being.
After Amersham it was back to Hemel Hempstead and a new breed of Garage Manager. While I was working at Amersham Reg Goodchild had retired and his position as Chief Depot Inspector was taken over by George Holby. George as I have mentioned earlier was a wonderful man, very kind, jovial and helpful. Sadly George died before I came back to Hemel Hempstead.
I received no welcome from the new Chief Inspector Arthur Harris and it was not until my first discipline that I met Arthur. I pointed out to him it would have been nice to have been welcomed back to Hemel Hempstead, but it fell upon deaf ears. Arthur spent a lot of time shouting at people. When Luton & District took over, a new set up was put in place. Keen to replace all semblance of London Transport they set about systematically replacing all things LT and that included Arthur and the system of Inspectors. In London and the provinces in the 60s one could tell who you worked for by the colour of the stripe on your uniform trousers and your rank within the company by ones cap badge.
Postmen, a red stripe, LT Underground staff, a yellow stripe, LT Central Bus staff, a blue stripe and LT Country Area, a green stripe. Rank within LT buses was as follows:
Drivers and Conductors a white cap badge
Uniformed Inspectors, a Red badge, then Silver and finally Gold
Driving Instructors had a Blue cap badge
Depot Inspectors did not have a uniform or a badge.
Senior Officials of the London Transport Board had neither uniform nor cap badge but they did have a key fob which if it was shown to you it usually meant you were in trouble (see chapter 4).
All things LT were soon to be swept away including those LT Inspectors who had seen many years service. Inspectors became Depot Managers and were requires to not only work within the depot (Depot Inspectors) but were required to go out checking buses and drivers (Road Inspectors).
The Chief Depot Inspector became the Operations Manager and a further tier of management was added by introducing a Garage Manager responsible for both drivers and engineers. After Arthur Harris moved on we were to have one of the best, in my opinion, Operations Managers I've ever worked with. Luton and District hadn't taken over when 'Bill' Bailey took up his post.
I've already mentioned Bill in chapter 22 as having an uncanny knowledge of when drivers were trying to pull the wool over his eyes. If you had to see Bill on a discipline and you were guilty of the offence Bill knew the moment you entered his office. As the union rep it was my job to accompany drivers on disciplines to put their cases forward and to make sure the correct disciplinary procedures were followed. Now Bill was fair even to the extent of trying to get drivers to find any mitigating circumstances for their actions or omissions.
There was one driver who had allegedly stolen another driver's module (this is a personalised plastic module which slots into a ticket machine and records all the tickets sold). It appeared that this driver would change their own module for the stolen one during their shift and pocket the money taken. Now before I took the driver in to see Bill I asked the driver had they had in fact used the others driver's module and the driver assured me they hadn't. I said to Bill that there must be some explanation and Bill told me how an Inspector had checked the driver's bus and withdrawn tickets from two different machines; one set from the stolen module, Bill even showed me photo copies of the withdrawn tickets. Bill was good enough not to spring this on me during the hearing. There was nothing I could do for the driver except to plead that they keeps their job. The driver was dismissed and the stolen module returned to its rightful owner.
When drivers had claimed that they had hit road signs that over hung the road Bill would always send out an Inspector to check if the road sign was in fact protruding onto the road and if it was the case then the driver was held not to blame and the local council contacted to rectify the road sign.
Above Bill was the Garage Manager and during Bills reign the person in overall charge of the garage was Neil Instrall. Now Bill had this wonderful feeling for being right, never mind what anyone else felt. If Neil decreed something should be done and Bill felt it wrong he would always challenge Neil. If a driver is seen by an official to commit an offence then that same official cannot be part of the disciplinary hearing. On one occasion Neil had spotted a driver driving out of service without permission and duly tried to discipline the driver. Upon hearing this Bill immediately sprung to the driver defence saying although the driver was in the wrong so was Neil in over riding procedure. Another time Bill sprung to the defence of his staff was when a member of the public called into the office to complain and became very offensive to our two female enquiry staff, Bill came rushing out of his office and chased the complainant down the steps and off the premises.
One day sitting in Neil’s office at a union meeting we were discussing which way buses should travel around the depot, the majority, Neil included said the buses should travel in a clockwise direction. No said Bill they will travel anti clockwise. What about democracy one of the union reps said. “I’m in charge of this garage and if I say they go anti clockwise then that’s the way they’ll go.” Although Neil Instrall was in charge Bill got his way.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Chapter 28 From London Country to Arriva

On the 1st January 1970 the Country Area of London Transport was transferred to a subsidiary of the National Bus Company and renamed London Country Bus Services and operated as such for almost seventeen years until September 1986 when it was split into four groups ready to be sold off during 1987/88. The political thinking behind the splitting up of the National Bus company was for small groups to compete to give passengers a better deal. Any manager worth his salt will not be content with a small company when he can either expand his empire, or sell his company and take the money and run.
So began over ten years of turmoil within the bus industry seeing both passengers and employees suffer. We at Hemel Hempstead along with our fellow garages within the old London Country Area were embroiled in this upheaval.
During the period 1986 to 1990 our managers tried in vain to keep LCBS North West, as we were now called, going as a profitable concern but in October 1990 were taken over by Luton & District Transport.
For many years Aylesbury depot had been part of United Counties. Hemel drivers who operated the 301 service from Watford to Aylesbury considered themselves to be a cut above the Aylesbury drivers who after all were part of the provincial buses whereas Hemel Hempstead had been part of London Transport. So it was it was a bitter pill to swallow to find our provincial colleagues rescuing us.
All the drivers and staff were invited to an open meeting held in a hotel where Dennis Upton the MD of Luton & District with his wife Shirley the secretary told us of their plans for the expanded company. I'm afraid to say that we gave them a very rough ride. We believed we could still operate under the old London Transport system which of course was impossible. Dennis told us we were on the point of collapse and we should be grateful to Luton & District for rescuing us. This was a severe blow to our pride. But over the next couple of years things settled down and the London Country North West Logo was removed from the garage and was replaced by Luton & District. Our operating system became that of the provincial bus services, for example vehicle numbers became car numbers, car and vehicle being the name for the bus or coach, mind you after ten years we are back to some of our old London Transport terminology .
After two years, in July 1994, Luton and District sold out to British Bus, previously known as Drawlane and the third largest bus operator in the UK. Many of the Aylesbury drivers made a handsome profit on this deal, being share holders in Luton and District. However in the cut throat market of the deregulated bus market British Bus soon foundered and we at Hemel Hempstead were informed that unless a buyer could be found very soon for British Bus we could all be out of work. We heard that a bid had been put in by Hong Kong Bus and also a rival bid by the Cowie Group. Cowie had been busy buying up a number of South London Bus companies. In the end Cowie won and our jobs saved.
During this upheaval we had a five year pay freeze which is something you do not need with one small child and another on the way and a mortgage whose interest rate had risen to 10 percent. At this time I believed what was required was a period of calm but our branch officials were more militant which is fine when you are in a position of strength. We had been taken over by Luton and District who were at that time owned by a management buy out.
I decided therefore to stand against Dave Carson, the Garage Representative at the next TGWU elections. The mood of the garage must have been similar to mine as I was voted in. Our branch secretary at that time was a young girl, Leslie Wingfield, who helped me settle in to my new role.
In the days of London Transport, wages had been determined by negotiations between the TGWU and London Transport. The rate of pay was the same for every Central LT garage with a lower rate for the Country Area buses and Greenline Coaches.
However with the break up of the Country Area pay rates varied between the four ex London Country Bus Services groups. Drivers at Hemel were on a different rate of pay from our colleagues at Stevenage or Reigate. Things got even worse following the take over by Luton & District and by the time I took over as union representative each garage had to negotiate its own pay scales with its garage manager.
Now our garage manager at that time was Neil Instrall. Neil was keen to keep wages down and also was quite aware that I was new rep with very little wage bargaining experience. Fortunately my good friend Dennis Boarder came to my rescue. Dennis had been in the bus industry nearly as long as I had and had a wealth of experience as a TGWU schedules representative and had attended many wage negotiations with the old London Country management.
Between us we formulated a wage package and put it to Neil Instrall. The first offer Neil put to me was a substantial pay increase for Greenline drivers. Neil knew full well my feeling that Coach driver should be on a higher rate as they had been under London Transport. This pay differential had been sold as part of a general increase in pay for all drivers.
As much as I would have loved to accept a pay rise for myself and my fellow coach drivers as a union representative for all the garage I would have been lynched had I taken that proposition to the members. So negotiations continued. We knew Neil did not have the final say as every time he asked us to leave his office he was on the phone to his manager. After some very noisy meetings during which Dennis came to my aid we managed to persuade the members to accept the managements final offer.
Finally in 1996 we were taken over by Cowie. ( For those interested in the history of the Cowie group and why it changed its name to Arriva check out )
Things soon settled down and I found myself resolving garage disputes including disciplines, route timings and numerous things that go towards a smooth running garage. However one thing still remained outstanding and that was pay and conditions. With perseverance and a willing MD in Peter Harvey we finally achieved our goal of central negotiations. With so much disparity between individual garages it took a few years to get all the drivers in all the garages onto the same pay rates.
By now not only did we have mini buses in the garage but also some routes were operated as contract routes to the local council. To gain these contract routes Neil Instrall had tendered for them agreeing to pay the drivers a rate between that of the mini buses and the big bus pay. Things pay wise were beginning to get complicated. I remember back in the 70s our union representative Bob Stevens warning us not to let mini buses into the garage. Mini bus drivers had a lower rate of pay and if as soon became apparent there became more mini bus drivers than big bus drivers management would play of one group against the other, which of course it did.
Again it would take many years of negotiations to get all drivers onto the same rate of pay. We are still not quite there. When I started at Edgware I was paid the same rate as a driver who had been there forty years. At present a new driver will have to wait three years to reach the full rate of pay, yet he will have the same responsibilities as the driver who has been there for years.
and now coach drivers are paid no more than the bus driver.
Perhaps it was being a coach driver that the accusation of favouring the coach drivers over the bus drivers finally led to my position of Union Representative being challenged. At the next branch elections I was ousted as union rep to be replaced by Colin Bacon. Thankfully Colin has made a very good rep winning us some good pay awards.
I took over the position as Health & Safety Representative which led to gaining a position on a BA course at the London Metropolitan University sponsored by the TGWU.
Part of the course required me to study the history of the bus industry and as a young person I remembered thumbing lifts in cars during the 1958 bus strike. I wanted to find out the facts behind the 1958 bus strike. I have attached that piece of work as an appendix to this narrative. Part of the research would require going through all the minutes taken at the branch meetings, which I was sure I had seen in the old garage. I searched everywhere for them but to no avail. One day I was carrying out a health and safety check in the electrical switch room when I saw an old locked filing cabinet. I got one of the engineers to remove the lock with a pair of bolt cutters and there to my relief were all the old minutes going back to 1956. It was then that I remembered moving the cabinet myself many years ago when we moved from the old garage and putting it in the switch room for safety. One of the points that I made in that project was the dramatic effect the defeat of the Country area busmen had on future industrial action. There were no strikes or threatened industrial action over pay for many years even, as I have mentioned before, during the five year pay freeze. So it was with great pride in my fellow workers that in 2004 we finally balloted for strike action over a pay award. I was at the Luton head office when the results of the pay ballot came through. Management could hardly believe the results, the work force had overwhelmingly rejected the pay offer and were prepared to take industrial action. Within days the union reps were called back around the table and a new and much improved offer was put before them which following a ballot at all of the garages we accepted.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Chapter 27 The Transport and General Workers Union
Photo: T&G Eastbourne Centre

It was during the 1980s and the 90s that the bus industry was subject to takeovers and amalgamations. It was the intention of the Thatcher Government to split up the National Bus Company into many small operating groups in the belief that competition between bus companies would lead to a more efficient transport system. In fact what it led to was chaos for the public and a worsening of working conditions for bus crews. Yet it is strange that it was the capitalist philosophy of the market finding its own level that finally rebuilt the bus industry with all the small fragmented companies being brought out by four major players, Stagecoach, National Express, First Bus and our own company Arriva.
During this time of upheaval I saw my part as a TGWU representative to help smooth the transition from London Country to Luton & District to British Bus and finally to Arriva. One problem was one of Union politics. Hemel Hempstead garage came under TGWU region 1 whereas some other garages within the group came under TGWU region 5 and some mighty rows took place during this time within the union. At one point one of our national officers accused the Amersham representative and myself of trying to form a break away group. We believed we were doing the best for our membership and that the national officer had his own agenda. In the end after lots of inter regional meetings it was decided that pay negotiations would be settled jointly between region 1 and 5 and that region 1 would control all other aspects within its area and likewise with region 5.
At one point I remember my boss Neil Instrall asking myself and our branch Chairman, Bob Cawdren to attend a meeting with the new management of Luton & District. Peter Harvey, the new MD, had come from Midland Fox whose area was covered by Region 5 of the TGWU and Peter was use to dealing with Region 5 officers and he wanted the garages in Region 1 that is the old London Country garages to come under Region 5. We in Region 1 were having non of that. We knew for a start that Region 1 had a better education system for its members and we were prepared to boycott any meetings with the new management. Neil Instrall my garage manager said he’d been told that if the union reps from Region 1 attended a meeting between the management and the work force chances were we would receive some new vehicles. We did attend and Hemel did get some new vehicles. In fact I got on quite well with our new MD Peter Harvey and the move to the new premises went quite smoothly, and Hemel Hempstead was still part
of Region 1.
As a young driver with London Transport I use to attend union meetings at Uxbridge garage, well not in the garage but over the road at the 'Whip and Collar' pub. Being quite a shy young person I actually took no part in the proceedings but was an observer of union procedure.
Having been involved in the closure of Tring garage in 1977 I now really appreciated the hard work the trade unions put in on behalf of their members and once back at Hemel in 1979 I became more involved in union affairs. I gained confidence in speaking in public, something a lot of people find hard to do. Hemel Hempstead garage had always had a reputation for militancy which served the garage well and we had maintained our differential in pay between the central buses and the country area for many years. However with the coming of the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher our pay began to fall and our working conditions became worse. By taking away many of the legal protections the unions had, the ordinary members found it harder and harder to protect their pay and conditions. No longer servants of the public, remember our license was a Public Service Vehicle license, we became part of a profit making company and our license reflected that by becoming a PCV or Passenger Carrying Vehicle license. Part of the revenue we collected now went to share holders who of course wanted a bigger return on their investments which meant efficiency, which in turn meant goodbye to less profitable routes, unless local councils would subsidize those routes. It also meant pay cuts or pay freezes.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Chapter 26 End of the Road for Jetlink

Driving through London during the 70s there were often diversions and hold ups due to IRA bomb threats. Perhaps because I was young this did not worry me very much although Annette has since told me she would often worry about me especially when I was late, remember no mobile phone in those far off days. But one day the tables were turned when Annette along with other mums and teachers took some school children including our son Mark to the Royal Tournament at Earls Court and there was a terrorist attack in which some soldiers and horses were blown up in Park Lane. I was at home and had to sit worrying until they all turned up safely.
One morning a group of terrorist decided to plant a bomb under the M25 at Kings Langley. You can imagine the chaos this caused. All the roads around Hemel Hempstead were grid locked. At first nobody knew why. I took over my coach at Hemel Hempstead loaded with passengers from Luton who were going onto Heathrow and Gatwick, I tried for several hours trying to get to Watford, often passing other buses in very narrow back roads. Eventually the word filtered through that no vehicles were allowed to pass under the M25 and therefore we were trapped between Hemel Hempstead and Kings Langley. I explained this to the passengers and said all I could do was to take them back to our garage at Hemel Hempstead. When I arrived back, three hours after leaving, I explained the situation to our Garage Manager Neil Instrall who, to give him credit, gave all the passengers a free breakfast before arranging for them to be taken on to Hemel Hempstead railway station or in some cases back to Luton bus station.
Well after nearly thirteen years on the Jetlink and the last of the original four drivers things were, unknown to me, beginning to take their toll. I found that every time I went onto the M25 motorway at Heathrow I would begin to feel apprehensive. Sometimes I would even feel a bit dizzy. It reached the point where I thought I might have some sort of brain tumour and eventually voiced my fears to Annette. Bless her, she sat me down and explained to me that after all this time of motorway work I was almost certainly suffering from stress. Stress is of course something that most men would not admit to suffering from. Fortunately I believed Annette and once accepting I was suffering from stress the symptoms began to recede and driving on the Jetlink became more enjoyable again.
With the Jetlink services becoming more extensive now running to Brighton in the south and Cambridge and Norwich in the north and with the greater involvement of the parent company National Express there seemed no need for the involvement of two other separate companies. Hemel Hempstead was operated by Arriva and Stevenage was operated by Sovereign Bus. It was therefore decided that as from 1st January 1998 all Jetlink services would be operated from the new dedicated Jetlink depot at Ashford in Middlesex. The old Staines garage would operate buses only.
All of the drivers I've ever spoken to have agreed that the 747 Jetlink service was the best route that we ever had, and it was. Pride in the job, I was always telling my bosses, was something that had been gradually eroded over the years. I believe that the Jetlink, had for thirteen years, restored some of that pride.
During my spell on the Jetlink the 708 Greenline had been finally withdrawn. Many years earlier back in the early 70's Annette and I would visit my Mother in Edgware by travelling on the 706 from the bottom of our road direct to Edgware. Our baby son Mark in his bassinette would just fit neatly into the luggage compartment of the RF. After the 706 was withdrawn in 1975 the 708 was extended to Aylesbury, but during the early 1980's even that service was withdrawn and we found it harder to get to Edgware. By the 90's we had to travel by rail from Aylesbury to Harrow on the Hill then travel by bus from Harrow on the Hill to Edgware. More and more the travel market concentrated on commuters. In 1988 with the success of the 758 commuter route from Hemel Hempstead to London it was decided to operate a commuter service from Aylesbury to London via Amersham the 788. To operate this service the old British Road Services depot at Aston Clinton was converted to an out station of Amersham garage. Now I had to decide whether to transfer to this new out station a few minutes down the road from where we lived or continue riding to Hemel Hempstead on my motor bike and remain on the Jetlink rota and stay with my friends. That April Annette and I took Mark and Heather to visit their grandparents in Australia. I spent a lot of that time pondering over whether to transfer to the new out station. It was finally my daughter who persuaded me not to transfer, I think she realised how much I enjoyed being on the Jetlink. This in the end was a good decision as Aston Clinton depot only lasted a couple of years and all the staff had to transfer back to Amersham. Whereas I remained at Hemel Hempstead and continued on the Jetlink until its withdrawal from our garage on 31st December 1997.
Once more the question of seniority arose, was I entitled to a position on the 758 rota. Luckily by now I was near the top of the seniority list and as there were vacancies to be filled on the ever expanding 758 rota I was soon back driving on the Greenline.
After thirteen years on the Jetlink it was very strange to drive up to junction eight of the M1 and to turn right towards London rather than left to Luton. In fact one or two of the regular commuters had remembered me from my earlier days on the original 758s and reminded me to turn right, for a while I had to make a concerted effort to go the correct way.
Well since starting with London Country at Tring garage in 1972 I had completed thirteen years on Greenline, I had just finished a thirteen year spell on the Jetlink, only thirteen years to go until I retire.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Chapter 25 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To

As we were now going to Stanstead and Gatwick some duties comprised of journeys from Hemel Hempstead to Stanstead and back to Hemel Hempstead while other duties were from Hemel Hempstead to Gatwick and back and we even had duties at the weekend which took in all four airports.
One afternoon the inevitable happened. I took over my coach and set off for Stanstead. Having left the bus station at Hemel Hempstead I set off up the MI to Luton. Approaching Luton town centre an Asian gentleman started telling me he had a return ticket to Heathrow, I explained to him that yes he’d been to Heathrow and I was now returning him to Luton, he was becoming quite agitated, and I was trying to point out to him that yes he’d been to Heathrow and I was now heading to Luton. It wasn’t until I pulled into Luton bus station along side another Jetlink coach and the driver, my friend ‘Taffy’ from Stevenage, called across to me “where the hell are you heading to”
“Stanstead” I replied
“Well shouldn't you be going to Gatwick”
The unfortunate Asian gentleman had boarded the coach an hour earlier at Luton and was heading for Heathrow and I had taken him and the other passengers back to Luton. It is really amazing how passengers will not tell you when you’ve gone wrong. Usually ten minutes after you’ve gone wrong they call out “is this a new route.”
So here I was at Luton when I should be nearly at Heathrow. Nobody but the Asian gentleman had said a word. After leaving the change over point at Hemel Hempstead garage I should have gone along the A41 to Watford Junction and then back along the A41 onto the M25. Fortunately non of the passengers required Watford Junction, whether any body at Watford Junction wanted Heathrow or Gatwick I’ll never know as I quickly departed Luton bus station and went straight back to the M1 and down to Kings Langley and onto the M25 arriving at Heathrow only twenty minutes late.
You know when you get that feeling that something has gone wrong but you pretend it hasn’t well that happened to me one morning after leaving Gatwick North Terminal. As I was going around the roundabout outside the North Terminal I glanced across to my nearside mirror and thought I saw a bird flying away from the side of the coach, another quick look told me that one of the side locker doors had swung open. I pulled up just off the roundabout, got out, looked into the luggage compartment and all the cases seemed to be there. I walked back to the roundabout but could see nothing. I made sure the locker was firmly closed and proceeded on to Heathrow. At Heathrow Central bus station I unloaded all the luggage for Heathrow. It was then that I noticed a Japanese gentleman looking puzzled. “where is my luggage?”
Oh dear that wasn’t a bird I saw at Gatwick that was a piece of luggage.
“it may still be at Gatwick” I lied. I went over to the Control Inspectors office to report the incident. Funny he was expecting me. “You’re bloody lucky driver, a passenger on the shuttle train between North and South Terminal at Gatwick saw the case fly out of the locker and reported it to the Gatwick Controller whose told the next coach to pick it up off the roundabout, he should be arriving over at Terminal 2 about now”
I ran over to the worried passenger and told him that his case had been located at Gatwick and was ready for collection at Terminal 2 where I drove him straight away and collected his case off the driver of the following coach. The gentleman was so pleased with me for locating his case. I was lucky that day.
Some days not so lucky. Heathrow bus station was being rebuilt at one point and it was very awkward manoeuvring in and out of the arrival and departure bays. Right behind the Jetlink bay was a wall and a large brick air vent from the Piccadilly line tube station. One morning I was reversing out from the bay when the coach seemed to get stuck, I revved the engine and let the clutch out but still I couldn’t get the coach to reverse. “it’s no good driver” a passenger at the back called out “you’re stuck up against the wall.”
The thing is unless you can get full lock on as soon as you start to reverse you’ll hit the wall which is in your blind spot. Well no problem, pull forwards and try again. I pulled back into the bay, got out to see if there were any scratches on the rear bumper, oops no bumper, it had fallen off. After an apology to the passengers I off loaded the luggage and transferred them onto the next service. I put the bumper in the boot and rang up our engineers at Hemel Hempstead who said to bring the coach back to Hemel. Before leaving I had a close look at the wall and the air vent, both were covered in a multitude of different colours from various coaches, City of Oxford blue, Jetlink green, National Express white. Upon arrival back at the garage the engineers and myself had a close look at the brackets that had held the bumper on, they were completely rusted through, the slightest knock would have seen the bumper falling off, so no fault there. I still had to see the Garage Manager. When ever you went into see Bill Bailey you knew you were guilty until proven innocent. It was rumoured that Bill had been a former Redcap in the military police. Bill certainly had an instinct for knowing who was guilty, but if an incident was not your fault he would go out his way to help you. In this instance he sent Inspector Barry Madams down to Heathrow to look over the bus station. The day before Barry was there an Oxford coach had collided with a reversing National Express by the Jetlink bay. Fortunately for me Barry was able to tell Bill the unsuitability of the temporary bus bays and the danger it imposed upon all the drivers.
All modern coaches and buses have powered assisted steering unlike the old RT type buses I drove in the early days. When you are driving along you do not consciously think about the powered steering, however late at night driving at 100kph (62mph) along the M25 when it fails you are certainly aware of it and it’s pretty scary. Approaching Heathrow the drain nut on the hydraulic fluid reservoir had become loose and finally fell out along with all the fluid. As another coach passed me I went to move the steering wheel to correct the movement caused by the passing coach, nothing. My coach started to move into the next lane and only by quick thinking was I able, with great effort, to pull the wheel over to the nearside. Gradually slowing right down I steered the coach along to the motorway exit for Terminal 4. Having at times to almost stand up to pull the steering wheel around I got the coach to Terminal 4. Having already having suffered from a hernia I didn’t want a second one. I transferred the passengers were transferred onto the following Jetlink service and then waited for young Ian Scott our engineer to come out and rescue me.
For reasons only known to those who run the bus industry we were either short of drivers or short of buses but rarely at the same time. For more years than I care to remember we were always fully staffed about Xmas time when you really needed the overtime and a bit of extra cash, and during the summer especially nice hot ones when you could do with having a rest Inspectors were always pleading with you to do a bit more. Mind you, you got use to the times when there were vehicle shortages, you could sit in the canteen for at least half a shift some days and then not feel like going out when the engineers managed to get a vehicle patched up.
So on occasions we actually ran out of coaches on the Jetlink and so every now and again we would get a mini bus on the 7474s. When we did the bus enthusiasts would soon find out and be waiting at strategic points. One Saturday due to a mechanical failure I was given an MCW mini bus to go from Hemel Hempstead to Stanstead Airport. Although only having a top speed of just over 50mph which meant loosing time on the motorways you could gain time by cutting across country. I had arrived and departed on time from Stanstead and was making good time down the M1 towards Hemel Hempstead when just a few hundred yards from Junction 8, the Hemel Hempstead turn off, the mini bus sputtered to a halt, it had ran out of diesel. The engineers had overlooked the fact that the minis have smaller fuel tanks and this one had already been out on the road most of the morning. Fortunately I only had one elderly gentleman on board who was on his way home and he took it quite well as we had to wait some time as the engineers had to go north along the M1 to the A5 turn off so as to return on the south bound carriageway.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Chapter 24 A New Garage

Rumours had been rife for some time that Hemel garage was to move to new premises and most believed it would entail a move to the industrial area of Hemel Hempstead at Maylands Avenue. At this time I was the TGWU Garage Representative (1995) and one bright summer morning my garage manager Neil Instrall said “come on I’ll take you to the new garage site.” I got in his car expecting to go up to Maylands Avenue, about ten minutes drive, instead we drove out of the garage, turned left, crossed the traffic lights and turned left again into Whiteleaf Road and drove up a steep hill to the old GPO maintenance depot, a one minute journey. I must admit it was a lovely site, very spacious, plenty of room for the drivers and the engineers and a lot newer than the old garage which had opened on the 10th April 1935
The old garage closed on July 22nd 1995 and my daughter Heather, who was now 18, was there helping with the clearing out, travelling with bits and pieces between the old and the new garage. Heather even made sure I had the best locker in the new conductors room. The name continues to be used to day even though we no longer have conductors.
With the new garage came new vehicles for the Jetlink, well as with Hemel Hempstead things were rarely new just other garages old vehicles. In this case a couple of crash box Volvos.
When I first took a PSV test the RT bus had a pre-select gear box but it entitled me to drive a crash gear box bus. London Transport lost a lot of new drivers who passed their tests on the easier pre-select box and then went to the provincial bus companies whose bus fleets were mainly crash gear box vehicles. To stop this haemorrhage of staff the new drivers passing their tests on a pre-select box could only drive a pre-select bus. As I mentioned earlier I had transferred to Amersham to regain my full license. Now I was the only driver in Hemel garage who held a full license and the only one entitled to drive the new Volvos. Being entitled to and being able to was in fact worlds apart as I soon found out. All the other drivers who had reason to drive the Jetlink coaches had to be upgraded to a full license which meant for them another PSV test. All that was required of me was to drive the vehicle around Hemel. With Vic Edwards, chief driving examiner, in the front seat we drove around Hemel. By the time we received these Volvos the gate in the gear box was already well worn and getting any gear was a hit and miss affair to say the least. For the next fifteen minutes all one heard was a load of crunching of gears and cursing from me. After a while Vic said “never mind you’ll get the hang of it by the time you’ve driven to Gatwick and back a couple of times.” As Vic said earlier he couldn’t fail me as I already had a full license, and he was right I soon got the hang of it. Mind you with such a worn gate if you pulled forwards onto a stop as at Luton bus station when you reversed out you let the clutch out very slowly just to make sure you were not in forward gear which could easily happen. I have followed other drivers including one of our Inspectors and always when pulling up behind them kept well back as when the lights changed to green the Volvo would reverse until the luckless driver would realise his mistake and quickly find a forward gear.
Soon everyone had settled into the new garage. It was nice to have a new canteen and after some initial shifting of furniture we manage to partition off the smokers from the food area, this was of course before the complete ban on smoking in all enclosed premises came into force. It must be a hierarchy thing but Neil Instrall the garage manager had a large office on the top floor whereas Bill Bailey the operations manager had a small office on the ground floor and the Union office was in the small first aid room.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Chapter 23
747s On the Road

Soon the STL coaches left Hemel and were replaced by Berkoff bodied vehicles which were of a heavier feel but very nice to drive. The Garage Manager Arthur Harris was also replaced this time by two managers. A Garage Manager, Neil Instrall, who was responsible for the financial running of the garage and an Operations Manager, Bill Bailey, who was the real governor as it was Bill who had the responsibility of seeing that the garage ran smoothly and dealt with disciplines. In retrospect all the drivers at Hemel Hempstead agree that Bill was the best Operations manager we ever had, of which more later. The third change was the extension of the 747 to Stanstead Airport. This meant a re-cutting of the schedules and an increase in drivers required on the rota. As well as tips we were also able to take fares in foreign currency and we could exchange this very favourable at Stanstead so the 747 was still a good rota to be on and drivers were now queuing to get on the rota. Unfortunately some of the new drivers succumbed to the temptation of ‘forgetting’ to issue tickets and so opening themselves to instant dismissal if caught. One of my colleagues David ‘Taffy’ Jenkins who was at one time a crew operated driver with me was now an Inspector and almost single handed managed to wipe out most of the Jetlink drivers who he caught with their ‘hands in the till’.
Of course as in all public services, the weather, road accidents or other eventualities on the road according to the public were no excuse for arriving late at the airports.
Saturday August 16th 1987 was one such day. It was the day following the ‘Great Storm.' With trees down and winds still going strong getting to Gatwick was a struggle. A lot of the hold-ups were due to people slowing down to look at the devastation as large parts of the country were now treeless.
Snow was another big problem especially if the first destination happened to be Luton Airport. Getting to Luton bus station was not too bad as the M1 was relatively clear but Luton Airport was built on the top of an escarpment and involved ascending a very steep hill. Often in bad weather you just could not gain access to the airport and would therefore turn at the bus station and go back to Hemel Hempstead. I’ve never had problems getting to Heathrow but to reach Gatwick entailed descending Reigate Hill which was no problem normally but in snow and ice was completely different. Approaching the top of the hill one particular winters day all vehicles were being stopped by the police. Stationed at the bottom of the hill were more police and a recovery police Land Rover. In front of me was a National Express coach. When asked by the police if I was going down the hill I said “if that National can make it so can I” so I waited to see if he would slide off the road, he made it to the bottom so off I went, very slowly in first gear, and thankfully made it.
Unfortunately accidents on the M25 motorway were a regular occurrence. Not with our vehicles but usually cars and lorries. All the drivers on the 747 soon learnt a variety of diversionary routes, in fact one could drive all the way from Gatwick to Luton via Heathrow without even touching the M25 or M1. Some days it seemed a more pleasant drive and could be just as quick. But you could be sure that if there was an accident and you went off line of route some passenger would complain and try to point out that they would miss their flight and you should have stuck to the motorway, you really could not win.
One morning a tanker carrying liquid nitrogen overturned near the junction of the M23 and M25. The emergency services immediately closed both carriage ways of the M25 and within a few hours the whole of the M25 was at a standstill. Phone calls to other Jetlink drivers soon told me that it was pointless to leave the motorway as Staines, Dorking, Guildford and Reigate were all grid locked, and so we sat it out, for five hours. I was fortunate in that I always have a flask and sandwiches with me and the passengers shared their food around. Although fitted with toilets Hemel Hempstead garage did not have disposal facilities and therefore the toilets were permanently locked and so like all the other motorist relieving oneself outside the vehicle was the norm that day.
As with all jobs there are ups and downs so after a bad run, ie traffic or passengers it’s nice to be greeted by a smiling face even when you don’t at first recognise it. After leaving Gatwick South terminal I drove to the North terminal. I pulled up and got out to start loading luggage to be greeted by a voice saying “hello David” who on earth knew me down here. There was this lovely friendly woman, and after a few seconds I recognised my old friend Kathy Smith. Kathy and I had grown up together and eventually gone our own ways, although our families have always kept in touch. I don’t know what the other passengers thought as their driver gave one of the other passengers a big hug. Kathy sat in the front seat and we caught up on old times as we dove back towards Heathrow and on to Watford where Kathy lived.
One face I was pleased to see again was Pat Auger. Pat had been around Hemel Hempstead for a long time and was at one time a driver on our buses, always recognisable with her long red hair. Not long after the Jetlink services started Pat left the buses for pastures new. However one day I was walking down the yard to take over my Jetlink coach when I passed a gaggle of new recruits. “Hey David aren’t you going to say hello” I spun around and there to my surprise was Pat. I ran over to her, put my arms around her and gave her a big hug.
“Will you please put my trainee down” it was the chief driving Instructor Vic Edwards whom I had known for years. It was good to see Pat back again. She eventually went on the Green Line rota and stayed at Hemel for many years only leaving for semi retirement a couple of years ago.
Although most passengers were one off travellers there was one regular who use to turn up, mind you, you could miss him if you didn’t check the rear seats of your coach. On many occasions after leaving terminal 4 at Heathrow I would notice a familiar face sitting at the back of the coach. When I reached the Central bus station I would pop in and see the Control Inspector and ask him to ring the Jewish Old Peoples home in Hemel Hempstead and have a nurse meet me at Hemel Hempstead bus station to escort the old gentleman back to the home. The old boy, often dressed only in pyjamas, would board the coach at Hemel Hempstead, using the rear emergency door, and travel down to Heathrow. Travelling back using the same method.
Some incidents just make you feel great. A while back I mentioned one bus driver who accused the Jetlink driver of having it too good and voted to abolish our £10 luggage allowance. So when he eventually got on the Jetlink rota he was not particularly liked. He soon left the coaches and was promoted to a Control Inspector at Heathrow, and still not liked. One night he really annoyed me. I had just left Heathrow bus station on time and was driving through the main tunnel out of the airport when my phone rang, “driver you have left early and have left a passenger behind.” Well I knew full well I had not left early and there were no passengers in the bus station when I had left. Non the less the Inspector was insistent that I returned to the bus station. Not wanting to let down any passenger I turned around under the M4 and drove back to the bus station. No passengers and no Inspector, what was going on. The next minute out comes the Inspector with his wife. The fact was that they had been in his office when I’d left and she had missed her bus, I was fuming and I told him so in front of my other passengers. He tried to make light of it but I knew I would get him back one day and that day came. When I arrived at Terminal 4 one afternoon a Senior Inspector boarded my coach and checked my tickets and then told me he would travel around to the Central bus station with me. On arrival at Heathrow Central out came this obnoxious Inspector, quite full of himself and said “driver you did not stop at Terminal 4 and you’ve left passengers behind”
“In that case would you mind telling me how I managed to pick up this Senior Inspector at terminal 4 without stopping” oh the look on his face was a site to behold.
With the success of the Gatwick to Luton service it was decided to extend the Jetlink out to Stanstead in Essex. This time route learning was a bit more mundane and consisted in travelling to Stanstead with Inspector Madams in one of the company cars. It was still a nice run from Luton Airport going north to Stevenage and then skirting Ware and going across to Bishops Stortford and finally along the M11 into Stanstead Airport.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Chapter 22 Meal Breaks on the 747

There were no meal beaks at our home garage all breaks being taken at either Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport or Staines garage. This had a monetary advantage as all breaks away from the home garage were paid through. When I worked for London Transport you were paid from sign on to sign off. So for example an eight hour day would start with fifteen minutes to prepare the bus, a period of driving, a meal break, (in some cases a spread over break of four hours) and then another period of driving and finally fifteen minutes to sign the bus off. That of course all changed with privatisation the fifteen minutes sign on and sign off came down to five minutes and payments for meal breaks were done away with. However the unions did manage to negotiate the payment for all meal breaks taken away from the home garage. This through payment plus a £10 weekly allowance for loading luggage made the Jetlink rota a well paid one. But of course management found a way around those payments. First they argued that if a canteen was available then no payment for meal breaks would be made. So only meal breaks at Heathrow and Gatwick were paid through. As for the luggage allowance, well greed will out and management were well aware of this. At the next wage negotiations management put it to the drivers that part of the pay award would include a luggage handling allowance of £2:00 a week for all drivers including drivers on the Jetlink rota. At the branch meeting we on the Jetlink rota were voted down when we tried to keep our £10:00 a week being told we were already better off with paid through meal breaks and tips, also we had new green and grey uniforms, talk about jealousy. In fact I remember one of those most vociferous of bus drivers later tried very hard to get on the Jetlink rota and eventually managed to. We lost £8:00 a week that year and things have gone down hill ever since.
For the first few weeks I and the other drivers whose meal breaks were taken at Heathrow used to go up to the top of the car park at terminal three and do a bit of plane spotting but once the novelty wore off it was back to finding somewhere cosy to have a meal and a sleep. I have always taken sandwiches and a flask of coffee or chocolate with me ever since I’ve been married and have been able to have a cooked meal at home. I found the best place to have a nice rest was the departure lounge in terminal three. Now-a-days resting in the arrival or departure lounges is strictly discouraged by the removal of all comfortable seating but back then comfortable seats were plentiful and I used to avail myself to one for a couple of hours. The only drawback was the very noisy cleaning lady who insisted on slamming down the metal covers on the numerous waste bins that she would empty every day just when I was dozing off.
Meal breaks at Gatwick were taken on the coach in the coach park as it was inconvenient to walk over to the south terminal, where we could get something to eat, in the short time we were at the airport.
Now meal breaks at Staines garage were a completely different experience. The drivers there were a great bunch of guys and girls. Pauline the canteen boss had the unenviable job of trying to control the drivers. Pauline had no trouble controlling her poor husband, also a driver, but she had plenty of trouble with the others. Two drivers come to mind, Micky Dunn and Roger Christmas. Micky and Roger were physically opposites. Micky very large and Roger quite small but both equal in causing disruption. One day Pauline was running around trying to find the milk which had been delivered in a crate that morning. Where did it turn up? In the luggage locker of a Jetlink coach at Heathrow. Then there was the time Roger opened the lockers on the coach at Heathrow to be greeted by a load of flashing road cones. If Roger or Micky were in the garage when a coach was about to leave for Heathrow it was always best to check it out first.
Later when the 747 was extended to Stanstead Airport our meal breaks were taken in the travel office in a separate room set aside for the Jetlink drivers.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Chapter 21 747 Jetlink

I was still on the 708 rota and had already turned down the opportunity to go onto the 758 rota, however a brand new rota was about to be created one which was to take me into the next thirteen years.
One evening in 1984 at our local TGWU branch meeting I had to do a double take. Had Bob Stevens the union rep just said we shall be operating some duties on the 747 Jetlink service from Luton Airport to Gatwick Airport via Heathrow. The Jetlink 747 service had started on the 28th April 1979 running out of Staines garage between Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport and now it had been extended to Luton Airport via Watford Junction and Hemel Hempstead. Yes Hemel was to operate four Jetlink duties but this time and for the first time the union had agreed that drivers would be chosen on suitability and not seniority as this was a condition imposed upon the union by Staines garage who operated the service. Stevenage garage was also to have four duties allocated to the Jetlink service.
I was not the most senior driver in the garage far from it. In fact it wasn’t so long ago I’d been pushed off the 758 express rota by more senior drivers, however, Luton to Gatwick that would be some journey. The next day the proposed rotas were posted in the ‘output’ (what used to be the conductors cashing up room). The duties consisted of an early turn starting at 05:30, two spread- over duties with meal breaks at either Heathrow or Staines, and a late turn signing on at 16:00. There were also to be two spare driver positions. These would cover for drivers on the rota who were on holidays or sick, when not covering these positions the drivers would be on instructions covering any other work.
Having discussed the job with Annette I put in a staff memo requesting a place on the new Jetlink rota. A week later Bob Stevens told me I had got a position on the rota but did not know if it was it was permanent or spare position. I immediately went into see my garage manager, Arthur Harris, who told me I was one of the permanent four on the rota, the other three were Roy Fawkes, Chris Stanley and Bob Carmichael with Tom Spicer and Bob Armer on instructions. A few of the more senior drivers who had applied and failed to get on the rota had a good old moan.
Next came route learning at the end of October. By now Brian Howe, who had replaced Bob Stevens as Garage Rep, was at the garage with one of Staines BTL coaches painted in Jetlink livery to take those drivers on the rota including the two spare drivers route learning. Of course the engineers had to come because if we broke down they would need to know where we were. The Inspectors had to come so they knew where we were, in fact every one in the garage including Pat Auger and her Alsatian dog found an excuse to come for a days outing. We drove first up to Luton and then back to Hemel Hempstead. Then each one of the Jetlink drivers took turns in driving. I drove from Hemel Hempstead to Heathrow via Watford Junction. We served all the terminals at Heathrow. The next driver Roy Fawkes drove from Heathrow to Gatwick via the M25 and M23. At Gatwick we served both South and North terminal and returned to the coach park. Next Bob Carmichael drove from Gatwick back to Staines garage where we had a break and where drivers on one of the spread over duties would take their meal break. Finally Chris Stanley drove back to Hemel Hempstead. I remember Roy Fawkes saying to me on the way back to Heathrow from Gatwick “now this is what I call a decent coach route” and he was right. No more struggling around Brent Cross and central London just a nice run around the M25, who were we kidding.
We started operations on Saturday 27thth October and I was on the late turn taking over from Chris Stanley. I drove up the M1 to Luton airport then down to Heathrow where I took a meal break. This was taken in the booking office where we all got to know the enquiry girls very well. The coach I’d brought into Heathrow was taken over by a Stevenage driver and after my meal break I would relieve the next Stevenage driver and take his coach onto Gatwick and back to Hemel Hempstead.
Although Staines had Berkof bodied Leylands and Stevenage had Duple bodied Volvos vehicles, we at Hemel were allocated two brand new STLs
On all modern coaches as a safety feature it was impossible to open the doors without first applying the handbrake and the brand new STLs were no exception, or should have been. On the first night back from Gatwick I parked the coach up at the top of the yard ready to go through the wash. I got out and went around to the conductors room to pay in. The next thing I new an engineer came storming in. “Driver were did you park that coach?”
“up by the wash” I replied.
“Well you’d better come and see where it is now”
I followed him back out into the yard and to my amazement there was my coach, not by the wash but right back down the bottom of the yard having smashed into three or four other buses with the right hand corner containing the toilet completely demolished.
Oh dear what a shock. I paid in and went home wondering what on earth had happened. Once I had got over the initial shock I realised that I could not have got out of the coach without applying the hand brake and so it wasn’t as if I had left the hand brake off.
The next morning before signing on I had to see Arthur Harris the Garage Manager. I was ready to argue my case but as it turned out I had no need to. Mr Harris told me to sit down and proceeded to tell me that he had received a report from the engineers stating that they had found a defect with the handbrake mechanism whereby the brake would spring off on its own and that the engineers who had taken the new vehicle to Victoria the day before had had a similar experience but without the dire consequences that I had, they had put it down to a one off fault, not any more, the whole fleet of STLs had to be modified and our one repaired.
My first aid skills learnt earlier on soon came into play one night at Heathrow I had taken over a coach from the Stevenage driver and just before I was about to drive off a mother came down to me and said could I help, her very young son had somehow managed to get his finger stuck under a plastic grip on the back of the seat in front of him, like young children do. By trying to pull his finger out it had become swollen. I asked if any of the passengers had any Vaseline based hand creams and one lady produced some. I squirted the cream around the young lads finger and with a little bit of pulling managed to free his finger, all part of the service.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Chapter 20 Out and about in London

It is expensive to have drivers on spread -overs in London doing nothing. So making use of my spare time some times I would get the tube train out to Edgware and go and see my Mum for an hour. Of course management could not have us idle oh no. So soon we were told that during the spread- over in London we could fit in the odd school outing. We had by this time become quite diversified in coach operations at Hemel. We operated a service called Schools Abroad where drivers would take school children to Europe often staying away from the depot for up to two weeks. We also operated a lot of National Express duplicate routes. One of the drivers, Malcolm Thurling, became quite an expert at staying away from the garage. On one occasion he was asked to take a coach to London and cover a ‘dupe’ to Canterbury and then come back to Hemel. He was missing for days. Having arrived at Canterbury he volunteered to work to Plymouth and after a break, the next day headed up north. We also operated services to Ireland. Me, I liked to go home each night. I was always apprehensive about going anywhere off line of route, but these school trips had to done. One such run I did was from a school in Greenwich to Mount Pleasant main postal sorting office. I had no trouble finding the school or taking them to Mount Pleasant. Taking them home was some thing else. Approaching Greenwich I was unsure as to the correct way back to the school. However the teachers were very helpful and directed me down a narrow road saying it was the easiest way back to the school. The road got narrower the further along it I went and then I was confronted by a very sharp bend which I new I could not negotiate. When I explained this to the teachers they all said “oh but we come down here every day in our cars” So I then had to reverse the coach some distance back up this road and finally reverse into Greenwich High Road.
The other incident was not so much the wrong way as the wrong time. In order to maximise profitability our Garage Manager, Neil Instrall, decided that during our spread over in London we could provide a service to Thorpe Park leisure centre near Staines. So armed with a map and two young teenage passengers off I went to Thorpe Park the first coach to do so. Upon arriving at Thorpe Park I went over to the reception. Only one problem, Mr Instrall had got his dates wrong, I was a week early. Which was just as well as it transpired I had misread the map and had gone sailing over the Hammersmith flyover and missed out Butterwick bus station below, a pick up point. So with two disappointed young men on board I went back to Victoria where a very diplomatic Inspector persuaded the two young men that a trip to Windsor would be just as good and at no extra charge. The next week we got it right and the trips became very well patronised.
By this time we were also running a coach service from Aylesbury to Victoria picking up around the town including Bedgrove were we lived. So one morning Annette with Mark and Heather caught an early coach to Victoria, arriving at nine o’clock. By which time I had arrived there with a 758 from Hemel Hempstead and about to set off at nine thirty to Thorpe Park. Remember this was in the days before mobile phones so neither Annette or I knew if we would meet up, but we did.
All the drivers received free meal tickets and had free entry into the park. So armed with a few free meal tickets and free entry I was able to take the children to Thorpe Park for a few hours, getting them back to Victoria in time to catch the coach back to London.
I have often been lucky to be the first driver on new routes although some times it could be embarrassing when things go wrong. To serve the area around Long Chaulden and Gadebridge the company introduced the 759 which called in at Hemel Hempstead bus station and then followed the same route as the 758 to Victoria. I went out to my coach which had been thoroughly cleaned. Now this was in the days where the engineers were responsible for the mechanical worthiness of the bus and the driver was responsible for the safe driving of the bus. Those lines have become somewhat blurred of late of which I will deal with later. Suffice to say I climbed into the cab of a spotless coach. My first passenger boarded at the Fishery Pub opposite Hemel Hempstead railway station. I was just about to pull away when the passenger came up to me and said to me “excuse me driver but where are the seats?” As I said we did not check the interiors of the coaches and to my utter surprise the passenger was right there were no seats. Well there were but they were all up in the luggage racks and all wet. So with the passenger standing beside me I drove back to the garage and took out another coach. It appears the cleaners whilst steam cleaning the underside of the coach had allowed the steam to enter the saloon and soak the seat swabs. They had then put them up on the luggage racks hoping they would dry off overnight.
I suppose as one gets older one takes life a bit more serious so the daft things we did in the early days receded and with a young family I began to take life a bit more seriously. So began a few years enjoyable association with the new reformed Hemel Hempstead First Aid section. A long while back the garage had a thriving first aid section but this had fallen by the wayside. It was Driving Instructor Fred Parker, an active St Johns first aid member, who asked for volunteers to start up a new section and as my daughter Heather was an active St Johns member I thought I would see what it entailed. I had some very enjoyable times and having become quite proficient I obtained my First Aid Certificate and was able to take some of the sessions when Fred was unable to be there. Fred was based at Watford and eventually found running a once more dwindling section at Hemel and one at Watford garage to be unsustainable. After a few years Hemel once again lost its first aid section. My life may well have been getting more serious but I remember one young lad who was having lots of fun. One morning the traffic through Colindale seemed particularly heavy and the cause turned out to be one little boy in a toy policeman's helmet who was really enjoying himself by pressing the pedestrian crossing light button, when the traffic stopped he would wave them on and of course when the lights changed to green and the traffic started to move he would press the button again and once more to his delight it would stop. Oh to be young and carefree again.