Saturday, 30 May 2009

Chapter 9 Green Line Coaches

One morning at the beginning of November 1972, having signed on, I was looking at the notices when I saw that there was a vacancy on the Green Line rota. Going onto Green Line meant a permanent rise in pay as the Green Line coaches were one man operated, being the junior driver at Tring I believed I had no hope of getting the position, but I still put in for the vacancy. When I got home I explained to Annette that with a baby on the way the extra money would be useful, but it meant I would be away all day as my meal breaks would be at Chelsham garage in Surrey, whereas on the bus rota on spread over duties I would come home for my breaks, but there was very little chance of getting the job being a junior driver. I had forgotten about my application when one Friday afternoon sitting in the canteen at Hemel Hempstead at the bus drivers table I over heard a Tring coach driver on the Green Line table behind me say,
“I see that Dave Streatfield has got the coach position”
I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to finish my shift and see Charlie Hall the Depot Inspector back at Tring. Once back at Tring I saw Charlie Hall and asked him when do I start on the coach rota, thinking a week or two maybe.
“To-morrow my lad”
Talk about being thrown in at the deep end, I don’t think I slept that night.
It turned out that all the drivers at Tring were happy on the rotas they were on and that the vacancy had occurred because one of the coach drivers, Peter Letissier had become a Depot Inspector, another vacancy on the coaches had also occurred when Dave Davis also became a Depot Inspector, and his place was filled by Chris Wren who had even less seniority than me.
So dawned Saturday November 25th . I signed on about 9 o’clock and waited to take over my coach outside the garage. Surprisingly for November it was a sunny day and felt very warm to me. My coach arrived from Aylesbury and I exchanged a few words with the driver who wished me good luck. Oh boy what a journey, a busy Saturday, trying to remember how to issue tickets on the Almex ticket machine, and trying to remember where on earth I was supposed to be going.
Leaving Tring, the first town was Berkhampstead and then on to Hemel Hempstead, but not going into the town which was served by Green Line route 708, the 706 served Two Waters Garage and then on to Apsley and Kings Langley. Just getting through Watford on a Saturday was a nightmare, and it still is. Leaving Watford one climbed up to Bushey Heath and then down to Stanmore. Now having left the countryside of Hertfordshire behind we started heading into Central London via Edgware, Cricklewood, and Kilburn, finally arriving at Victoria and a couple of minutes rest, in my case none as I was running late by then. Next down to Pimlico and over the river Thames to Vauxhall. On through the heavily populated suburbs of Brixton, Streatham and Norbury before arriving in Croydon again very busy on a Saturday. It was at South Croydon the ‘Swan and Sugar Loaf’ pub that the 708 and 706 went their separate ways the 708 following the same route as the 706 from Two Waters now went on to Godstone and East Grinstead whilst the 706 turned left and began climbing to Sanderstead, Hamsey Green and finally Chelsham. What a relief, no errors with the tickets and I had remembered the route.
Now the rota vacancy I found myself on was Instructions, this meant I would be covering for Green Line drivers who were on holiday, or covering for those off sick. I only knew from week to week what I would be doing and this continued for nine months until one of the senior coach drivers retired and I at last had a permanent rota position and could plan ahead. Although I was still on six months probation which now meant I could find my self driving Green Line coaches, driving buses or even conducting on buses.
Now this really use to confuse my friend Dave Adams who had recently been made up to an Inspector at Hemel Hempstead. The first time I had encountered Dave was when I was a conductor on one of the lunch time buses from Apsley Mills. I was stuck at the front of the bus jammed up against the bulkhead behind the drivers cab, with what seemed like hundreds of women passengers in front of me, how on earth was I supposed to collect all their fares. We had stopped at a bus stop and Dave had boarded and seeing my predicament called out
“don’t worry mate, you stay there, I’ll collect their fares and sort it out when you can get back down here.”
Now during that first six months when I came off at Hemel for a meal break Dave never new what I was doing, driving or conducting on the 301s or on the 706 swinger, he was for ever confused.
The 706 swinger:
It was the practice of Green Line routes to be operated by the two garages at opposite ends of the route, for example 711 Reigate-London-High Wycombe operated by High Wycombe and Reigate, 708 Hemel Hempstead-London-East Grinstead operated by Hemel Hempstead and East Grinstead and 706 Aylesbury-London-Chelsham operated by Tring and Chelsham garages. One of the advantages of the London Transport schedules was that the Green Line routes should fit in with the seven and a half hour day, which included a meal break. To this end a Tring coach duty would normally consist of a round trip from Tring to Aylesbury, to Chelsham, an hours break at Chelsham garage, then back to Tring. Many people saw Tring as an out station of Hemel Hempstead but in no way did we at Tring consider ourselves to be any ones out station. We were a self contained happy little garage with our very own gas stove on which we’d warm up our pasties bought from the bakers shop next door. Well it was good enough for us as most of our meal breaks were either at Hemel Hempstead or Chelsham. However it was not deemed suitable for the Chelsham crews to have their meal breaks at Tring.
Therefore all Chelsham drivers came off at Hemel Hempstead for their meal relief and a Tring driver who had travelled down as a passenger from Tring would then take over the Chelsham coach and work it from Hemel Hempstead to Aylesbury and back to Hemel Hempstead. He would then pick up another Chelsham coach and to the same working again. There were I believe two such duties and it was these duties that were known as swingers.
An odd working of this system required the Tring driver of the 706 from Chelsham that arrived at Hemel Hempstead about 21:30 to pick up the Chelsham driver from the previous coach who was on a meal break at Hemel Hempstead. The Chelsham driver then travelled to Tring were the Tring driver would finish for the day and the Chelsham driver would take over and continue to Aylesbury and then be the last through 706 of the night back to Chelsham, this being the only time Chelsham drivers worked into Aylesbury. This Tring duty did have one drawback which I was soon to inadvertently rectify.
The Chelsham driver was supposed to be waiting on the stop on London Road outside Hemel Hempstead Garage, it was stated so on his duty plate, however no such instruction was printed on the Tring duty plate. Most of the Chelsham drivers would be waiting for us as we drew up at the stop as they knew we wanted to get to Tring on time as we were finishing our days work. One driver ‘Frank,’ a very keen snooker, player would keep an eye on the stop from the snooker room at the garage and would only come down to the stop when he saw you pull up. One night I was on time and wanted to finish on time so after waiting a couple of minutes, and knowing ‘Frank’ was most probably still playing snooker, I set of for Tring thinking that’ll serve him right for keeping me waiting.
I was paying in at Tring, having left the coach on the stop opposite the garage with passengers for Aylesbury but no driver, when there was an almighty commotion as Frank came flying through the depot door with a raging Inspector Reg Murray in tow.
Reg had to drive Frank up from Hemel Hempstead when Inspector Murray realised I had continued to Tring without Frank.
“Right Driver I am booking you for leaving the Chelsham driver behind”
“Fine Reg, but here is my duty plate, just show me where it states I have to pick up the Chelsham driver at Hemel Hempstead”
I was right it didn’t say anything on the Tring duty plate about waiting or
picking up a Chelsham driver. So Reg couldn’t do anything about it, but the next day that duty plate had been amended, so no excuse for leaving Frank behind next time.
During the mid seventies a number of garages received an allocation of Bristol LHS buses with 7’6in wide bodies. These short vehicles were designated BN and had crash gear boxes. Now when I took my first PSV test in 1967, although I passed out on an RTW which had a pre-select gear box, my driving licence allowed me to drive any type of bus or coach. However London Transport found out that many drivers taking their driving test on the pre-select RTW would soon leave to go to provincial or municipal bus companies whose vehicle were usually of the crash gear box type but would not have to retake a PSV test. So whilst I was enjoying the sun down under the Traffic Commissioners altered the PSV licence to reflect the type of gear box that the bus had. When I came back to England in 1972 and took another PSV test on an RT my new licence only allowed me to drive buses with an automatic or pre-select gear box.
Much to our surprise, due to severe vehicle shortages within London Country, Chelsham had sent out a BN on the 706. The driver on the swinger duty that day was Tring driver Ted Francis. Now Ted had been a driver for many a long year and had driven crash gear box buses before so without a further thought took the BN to Aylesbury and back. Unfortunately word soon reached the ears of both the Hemel Hempstead and Tring Trade Union representatives.
Now over the years both London Transport and the Transport and General Workers Union had made sure that every thing was done properly and by the book. If a new or different type of vehicle came to a garage drivers would have to have a days type training on it. So T&G Representative Bob Stevens of Hemel Hempstead and T&G Representative Reg Bone of Tring soon made quite sure that no driver not trained or who did not hold a full licence was not to drive the BN if it was ever allocated to the 706 route again. Suffice to say it never was. Ted Francis was in the clear as he did hold a full licence. In fact he was a bit put out by being told by the Union Reps that he should not have driven it in the first place.
The Chelsham driver who had bought the BN up from Chelsham was affectionately known as ‘Captain Birdseye,’ named after the character in an television advert for a certain brand of fish fingers who had a large ginger beard. ‘Birdseye’ had a reputation for fast erratic driving and one day manage to crash a BN into a council tractor cutting the hedgerows near Chelsham, and believe it or not he got away with it by claiming he hadn’t seen the tractor as it was painted green and had blended in with the hedgerow. On his days off he would usually be seen outside his favourite shop in Hamsey Green, the fishing tackle shop, giving all the drivers a friendly wave as they went past. Like many bus drivers ‘Birdseye’ was an avid fisherman.
It was not only the bus drivers who were characters but also some of our passengers. I mentioned earlier that when I was at Edgware garage Saturday evenings could be fraught with danger and the conductresses would often change with their male counterparts on the 142s when going through Kilburn. Well we had similar problems at the top of the Edgware Road at Marble Arch. The coach stop was and still is at the top end of Park Lane and under no circumstances did you stop on the Red Bus stops on the Edgware Road, particularly when there was an industrial dispute on at Cricklewood garage.
As a new driver I had been told of this and in spite of people waving at me on the Edgware Road I went sailing by especially when one of them appeared to be an old tramp running across the road in front of me on the last coach back to Tring. The next day one of the coach drivers, Ted Francis, who knew I was on the last coach the previous night said “did you get your free ice cream last night?”
“What free ice cream, what are you on about?”
Ted went on to explain that the old tramp who came running across the road at the top of the Edgware Road was in fact Tony the owner of the Italian ice cream parlour at Marble Arch and if I had stopped to pick him up he would have given me some free ice cream. Needless to say the next time I saw the old tramp I stopped and apologised for going passed last time. Tony was most gracious and said that he guessed I was a new driver, “anyway driver here is one for later and one for now”. The one for later was a large block of ice cream wrapped in newspaper and the one for now, an enormous ice cream cornet surrounded on the top by four wafers. It would take literally from Marble Arch to Watford to finish the thing, you try driving along with one hand on the wheel and one on the biggest cornet you’ve ever seen.
Tony’s wife on the other hand was always meticulously dressed and if she was in the ice cream parlour and one of the drivers happened to go in there nothing would be for free.
Now I had a permanent rota position Annette and I could plan ahead. Annette had gone into hospital early due to high blood pressure so she had hardly had time to get to know our new home town of Aylesbury and she told me later that it was very odd being in hospital not knowing where you were. One morning on the 20th January in 1973 I went to Stoke Mandeville to see how Annette was getting on she being almost ready to give birth only to find she had been transferred to the Royal Bucks Hospital in Aylesbury town centre. The staff at Stoke Mandeville told me to get a move on as Annette had gone into labour. So I rushed into the town and ran up the stairs of The Royal Bucks to the delivery ward, being stopped outside by a nurse who told me to put on a gown before going in. I went in to find Annette giving birth and so held her hand as was the tradition of fathers to be. It was quite an experience to watch our son being born. Afterwards one of the nurses looked at me and said "I thought you were one of the doctors". It made me wonder how many of the doctors hold the mums hands. After seeing Annette and baby settled down I then rode to Tring, in a snow shower on my Honda 50, to my brothers so that I could use their phone to ring Annette's mum in Australia with the good news. It was a few months later that we had a phone installed in our maisonette. In those far of days if the garage needed to contact you Inspector Ron Wright would call around personally, that's a service you don't get to day.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Chapter 8 Tring Garage

Once more the ritual of route learning, although at Tring this was to occupy only two days as Tring operated the same routes as Hemel Hempstead, namely the 301, 302, and 312. The only additional routes to learn were the 387, Tring town to Aldbury via Tring Station, and the Green Line route 706, Aylesbury to Chelsham via London Victoria. Unlike Hemel Hempstead Garage where one only learnt the Green Line route 708 if one was promoted to the Green line rota, at Tring you had to do route learning on the 706. So one morning I joined Driver Johnny Hercules for a trip to Chelsham in Surrey. John was a very cheerful driver who hailed from the West Indies and whose friendship I retained until only a couple of years ago when John finally retired back home to the West Indies. Johns good advice for route learning was to hand me the fare chart and he called out all the fare stages as we came to them. Anyway thanks to John's help in route learning I did manage to remember how to reach Chelsham, and most important of all to find the Green Line drivers table at Chelsham Garage.
As a humble bus driver I was in awe of the drivers on the coach rota, the likes of Ted Goodchild, Pete Watkins, Morris Phillips, Ted Francis, Jack Webster and Bert Ponder. These guys used to drive through London every day, something I always wanted to do. But for me it was driving to Watford and Aylesbury. Even the 387 to Aldbury was out of reach. This route was the sole preserve of two senior drivers Fred Sennet and George Prentice who except when on holidays and Monday mornings worked this route between them. In fact it was George’s uncle, E. Prentice, operating as Chiltern Bus Services who had actually owned the premises which became Tring Garage. The business of Chiltern Bus Services being bought out by London General Country Services in May 1933, a few months prior to the formation of London Transport on July 1933. The premises of E. Prentice and Son and the garage work shops being completely rebuilt in the classic London Transport style opening on 31st October 1935 at a cost of £14,000.
During my first six months with London Country I could be asked to cover conductor duties as well as driving duties on 301s from Aylesbury to Little Bushey, which then ran back to Hemel Hempstead and then changed to route 302 to Watford Heath. Also I worked on our small allocation of 312 duties from Tring to Hemel Hempstead Grove Hill. In the early 1970s the two Hemel Hempstead estates of Highfield and Grove Hill were physically separated from each other until a road connecting Aycliffe Drive to Cambrian Way was built. But for reasons best known to the local council the only vehicles permitted to use this link road were buses. To stop any other vehicles driving between Highfield and Grove Hill a ramp was installed across the road which would lower on the approach of a bus, this ramp was controlled by traffic signals. Unfortunately one evening one of our Tring coach drivers who was working the 312 bus route was approaching the ramp driving a Route Master and under the impression that the traffic signals applied only to motorist, drove over the ramp whilst the ramp was still in the raised position. The result was a very sudden deceleration with the oil sump being ripped off the bus. Apart from the driver suffering a few bruises the only other casualty was that of a gentleman sitting upstairs smoking a pipe, whose pipe got stuck in his throat. Needless to say the driver faced disciplinary charges but under advice from the union went off sick for a few weeks until he was due to retire. My recollection of working the 312 include the time when I upset my conductress at the time Peggy Williams. At the end of a long day we were sitting at the terminus at Grove Hill, it was late at night and Peggy was chatting away to me when I just fell asleep sitting on the seat opposite her. “Thanks a lot, I hope I wasn’t boring you too much”
“Sorry Peggy, best get back in the cab”
But she was a really great conductress, one who left the running of the bus to the driver. In fact the first time she was my conductress I was waiting for the bell to depart from Tring, after a while I got out of the cab and went back to the platform to see if she was ok.
“What’s up Peggy? I’ve been waiting for the bell”
“Oh all the other drivers just check their mirrors to see when all the passengers have boarded and then just go.”
Just to show that some things never change. One evening when we arrived at Grove hill on the 312 from Tring my permanent conductor Bill Hall, who was a lovely old Geordie, said
“Dave when we go back down Cattsdell if I ring the bell, just stop will you”
“Well them little buggers upstairs threw out all the seats into the gardens and I reckon I’ll have to go and get them all back”
Well I guess those little buggers in Grove Hill have now spawned little buggers of their own as we still get vandalism on the buses to-day except instead of throwing out the seats they prefer to throw stones at the buses as we go past.
To day when one driver relieves another driver on the road it is a relatively simple procedure, providing the driver taking over knows where he is going and the driver coming off stops at the correct point (more of this simple procedure later), but a crew change is fraught with danger.
Drivers have been known to go without their conductors, conductors have boarded the wrong bus unbeknown to the driver.
My best crew operated cock up occurred when my conductor and I were supposed to take over a 301 from Aylesbury to Watford at Tring. It was a nice sunny summer afternoon when the bus drew up. My conductor boarded the bus whilst I chatted to the conductor who had just got off the bus. I then walked along to the front of the bus, just then I heard a couple of bells and off went the bus, Fred Sapwell the driver had forgotten to come off at the Garage and my conductor thought we had changed over. Expecting Fred to realise his mistake and come off at Hemel Hempstead I caught the next Green line to Hemel Hempstead, unfortunately nobody had thought to tell the control inspector at Hemel Hempstead and poor Fred just carried on, so I had a nice long meal break at Hemel Hempstead whilst Fred continued to Watford and Little Bushey. Mind you I never found out if my conductor realised Fred was up the front end and just let him carry on or not.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Chapter 7 Hemel Hempstead Garage

Having successfully passed my second PSV test I now reported to Reg Goodchild, the Chief Garage Inspector at Hemel Hempstead garage. Reg was a very pleasant fatherly figure ready to give help and advice to new drivers, but always aloof in his front office. When I had first seen Inspector George Holby I had explained that it was my intention to work out of Tring garage. George suggested that I stay at Hemel Hempstead until Annette and I had a place to live nearer to Tring then I could transfer to Tring garage. Little knowing the working of the system I agreed. However when I told Chief Inspector Goodchild that I wanted to transfer to Tring he informed me that as Hemel Hempstead was short of drivers I could only transfer to Tring if I found a driver willing to come to Hemel Hempstead. Oh well never mind, we had yet to find a house.
Before doing any driving at a garage you had to learn all the routes and do conductor training. There were many routes working out of Hemel Hempstead. The inter urban routes comprised of the 301 Aylesbury to Little Bushey and the 302 Hemel Hempstead to Watford Heath operated jointly with Tring Garage. The 347 Hemel Hempstead to Uxbridge operated jointly with Garston Garage and the 330 Hemel Hempstead to Welwyn Garden City. There was a small allocation of One Man Operated routes, for example the 322 Hemel Hempstead to Watford Junction and the 307 Hemel Hempstead to Harpenden. The town service mainstay were the 320 Leverstock Green to Gadebridge and the 312 Grove Hill to Berkhamstead.
The main employer in Hemel Hempstead in the early 1970s was the large paper mill of John Dickinson at Apsley. Hemel Hempstead garage provided many buses to take the workers to Apsley from all over the town each morning and at lunch time workers could catch a bus from the mill home for lunch and back again. Five o’clock was a sight to behold as hundreds of workers streamed across the road at Apsley to catch their various buses home. The buses rapidly filled up and you had to be extremely quick to collect all the fares before reaching the town centre, you also had to have cast iron lungs to go upstairs to the upper deck to collect fares as the upper deck soon filled up with tobacco smoke. I preferred to collect all the fares in the lower saloon and wait on the platform to collect the fares from upstairs as they alighted. Fortunately these days smoking is banned from all buses, although it took some persuading for all members of the public to comply. You would often be driving along when the faint whiff of tobacco smoke could be detected drifting down from the upper deck and I would stop the bus and go up stairs and find someone crouched down at the back having a crafty fag.
Route learning was done to a proper schedule so that by the end of a week you should have covered all the routes. Having completed a route a signature was obtained from the conductor or the driver if the route was an OMO route. Once again I was fortunate in remembering all the routes and some route learning certainly had its high lights, manoeuvring into Boxmoor Station (now Hemel Hempstead Station) the bus collided with the concrete pillar at the entrance, I looked at the conductor, Brian Howe, for an explanation,
“don’t worry mate, that’s just Sids driving, Basham by name bash’m by nature” That was my first encounter with Sid Basham.
Whilst learning the 307 one man route to Harpenden, the driver told me the best way to learn the route was to drive over it and promptly got out of the cab of the RF, having left Hemel Hempstead town centre, and told me to get in and drive. I suppose it was a nice way to learn and it gave the driver a break. When I started at Hemel Hempstead there were no surprises in store as regards different vehicles, it was the usual collection of RTs and RFs.
One of the things that was drummed into all the drivers at Chiswick was always to ensure your vehicle was left in neutral gear before you switched of the engine. The preselect gear box on the RT and RF vehicle was air operated. If the air pressure was low a metal flag would drop down in front of the driver with the word ‘stop’ on it. Once the air pressure had been built up the flag would raise and gears could be selected. Unfortunately some drivers at Hemel would leave the buses in gear when they had finished with them, this combined with a driver who would release the handbrake before his air pressure had built up could lead to some nasty accidents. In one incident the driver had released the hand brake with the air flag down, revved up the bus to build up air pressure only to find to his dismay the bus had been left in gear and before he had time to react the gears became engaged and at full throttle the bus shot across the yard and straight into the back of the locker room. The locker room had to be propped up with jacks for some time until it could be rebuilt. The second time this happened was at the front of the garage when a driver made exactly the same mistake and the bus drove across into the office steps, fortunately in both cases nobody was hurt.
The next part was a bit scary, conductor training. My fears were soon allayed when I met my conductor trainer, a wonderful and kind man called Johnny Milton. He soon had me issuing tickets and dealing with change and by the end of the shift showed me how to fill in the conductors way bill and hand the takings to the depot inspector who would meticulously count it and let you know if you had paid in short or over. John survived a long time after retirement, I would often pick him up on my coach when returning from London and we would chat about the old days. John died in 2005.
Meanwhile back inside, the depot inspectors had to be very quick at counting all the cash, which the conductor would have laid out on a cash tray in a semblance of order, especially as there would often be at least a dozen staff waiting to pay in and be off home at the end of their shifts. Although there was one depot inspector, David Bevan, who was a coin collector and who would turn over every two penny piece in the hope of finding one with a particular date on it, so if you were paying in a lot of twopences this could take some time. David has been retired for many years now and ironically is now partially sighted, after all his diligent searching.
In fact there are still quite a few old retired staff about, many who had joined London Transport just after the war or having done their national service. They saw the bus industry as a very good career with good pay and conditions and viewed bus driving as a job for life which to them it was. Whereas now with low pay, below the national average wage and long arduous shifts very few drivers stay for more than a few years.
Remembering from my earlier days at Edgware it was no surprise to find that the conductresses still ruled the roost. We drivers were expected to carry the conductresses ticket machine box to and from the bus. My first encounter with Muriel Major, with her bright red lipstick and strong perfume was very intimidating, especially to a young lad like myself.
“You will go when I say so driver and you will stop the bus when I say so, do you understand!”
Mind you these days Muriel is a very sweet old lady and always has a pleasant chat with me when ever I see her, mind you she still wears bright red lipstick and wears strong perfume.
There was one route however that we mere bus drivers were not expected to learn and that was the Green Line route 708 from Hemel Hempstead to East Grinstead in Sussex via Victoria London. One only learnt the Green line routes when one was elevated to the Green Line Rota.
So for a few weeks I spent time driving double deck RT buses to Aylesbury Uxbridge and Welwyn and around Hemel Hempstead town and of course conducting as well. Then came my first OMO job. I was asked by the depot inspector if I wanted to do a bit of overtime, naturally I said yes, I would soon have a mortgage to pay off and a family to support. To my surprise it was on route 322. The inspector could see I was a bit apprehensive,
“Well lad you’ve got to do it sooner or later, and it’s a late shift so it’ll be quiet”
The ticket machines on the one man buses was the ‘Setright’ named after its Australian inventor, engineer Roy Henry Setright. I found these machine extremely difficult to use and very glad when I had completed my two journeys to Watford. I am sure I had issued many incorrect tickets and my takings certainly bore no resemblance to the readings on the ticket machine, but I had completed my first piece of OMO work.
Although not on the Green Line rota I was asked by a depot inspector if I would mind changing duties with a coach driver. The coach driver required my Saturday rest day and so I was allowed to go route learning to East Grinstead during the week. The driver, a keen fisherman as were a lot of the drivers from Hemel Hempstead, was very helpful and made route learning quite an enjoyable experience. At East Grinstead garage, like Hemel Hempstead garage and all the other garages which operate Green Line services the coach drivers had their own table in the canteen. Green Line drivers were certainly the elite in those days. Unfortunately before Saturday arrived the depot inspector had arranged for another coach driver to swap his rest day. I never did drive to East Grinstead although the route learning stood me in good stead for when I was eventually promoted to the 706 Green Line rota at Tring Garage.
In between travelling to and from Hemel Hempstead to work each day from our flat in Watford, Annette and I were also house hunting.
Not only had the prices of houses gone sky high the practice of guzzumping had started, this meant that even if you had found a property and had agreed a price with the seller if someone else came along and offered a higher price the seller was quite entitled to accept the higher offer and you had to start searching all over again. All of the house prices in the Berkhampstead and Tring area were beyond our reach or the property was affordable but needed a lot of renovation.
At one time I was talking about putting our name down for a council house but Annette said that she had not worked hard all that time in Australia to end up with nothing, and she wanted something of our own even if it was a chicken hutch.
Whilst we were in Australia my mother had been looking after her Aunt Francis and when my great aunt had died she had left a small sum of money to my mother and her three sons, and so when we had arrived at Heathrow in July my brother had given Annette and I a small cheque which we had put with our savings to provide enough money for a deposit on a house and now this was looking more and more unlikely.
My sister-in-law Joyce suggested that we drive into Aylesbury and go into a few estate agents to see what was on offer in our price range. I had by this time made contact with my parents. My mother had I think after five years come to terms with me being a bus driver, anyway to help us out for a few weeks she had lent us her car. So one Saturday morning we drove to Aylesbury, a town I had never visited before, apart from the bus station. A house was by now out of our reach but the estate agents did direct us to a very nice maisonette on an estate just outside Aylesbury and so began our long stay at Bedgrove. Purchasing the maisonette took some time and we finally move to Aylesbury on Saturday 14th October 1972.
At one point whilst waiting to hear if we had been granted a mortgage I was called in to see Inspector George Holby. George told me he had received a letter from the building society requesting confirmation of my earnings. George told me that as I would be doing one man operating sooner or later he had informed the building society that I was on the higher rate of pay applicable to one man operations. In fact I was to reach that rate quicker than I had imagined.
As soon as I knew we were going to move to Aylesbury I set about trying to get a rota swap to Tring garage. As luck would have it a driver at Tring had wanted to move to Hemel Hempstead and we in fact swapped rota positions and so one Saturday in August I signed on for my first duty as a Tring driver.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Chapter 6 Back Home-Bristol and Hemel Hempstead

From winter in Australia to a beautiful Sunday summers morning in twenty four hours and we were back in England. My brother John and his wife Joyce met us at Heathrow. John and Joyce took Annette and I to Reading where we caught a train to Bath. Our plan had been to buy a house in Bath so Annette would be near her Grandmother and her life long friend Ruth. I was to become a driver working out of either Bristol or Bath depots. So much for plans. I had arranged an interview at Phillip Marsh bus garage in Bristol, intending to wear my best suit, first impressions and all that, and where was my best suit, in Auckland New Zealand that’s where.
Flash back to Sydney airport a few days earlier. We had seen our suit cases trundling across the airport apron to our aircraft all on the same trolley, and then one of those miracles of air transport occurred, one suit case went left to England the other turned right and went off to New Zealand. This we discovered when we arrived at Heathrow. Annette refused to leave the airport until our luggage had been located. We were shown into a large room full of displaced luggage but it was not there. Then an airport official went through a mass of telex messages, referring to lost property, until he eventually located our luggage at Auckland International Airport. So with a promise to send our case direct to Bath upon its return to England we left Heathrow.
Whether having the suit would have made any difference to me getting a job on the buses in Bristol I don’t know. After a test drive around Bristol in an old crash gear box double deck bus I was told “we don’t want non of you fast London types down 'ere.”
I rather think it was my lack of experience with a crash gear box that let me down rather than my dress sense. I was to find out some years later one needs to take things a lot slower with crash gear boxes than a pre select gear box. So no house in Somerset, what next? Well house prices in London were now beyond our reach, so it was to the Country Area that I now had to look for a job back on the buses.
Whilst we were away in Australia something very ominous had begun to happen to the bus industry, it was called deregulation. I feel that a small diversion from my memoirs is required here to set the scene for my future adventures so please bare with me a while.
The 1930 Road Traffic Act created a bus and coach market in which all aspects of service were tightly regulated. Licences were only issued if applicant could show that the service was in the public interest. In order to run a service an operator had to meet prescribed standards of vehicle safety and driver competence. and, more restrictively, acquire a Road Service Licence from the Traffic Commissioners. This Act created a stable transport system which put the public first.
However with public transport in decline and the rise in the use of the private motor car the bus industry was due for a revamp. In 1970 the Country Area of London Transport was hived off to fend for itself, and was named London Country Bus Services Ltd. It came under the umbrella of the National Bus Company. Things under the NBC plodded along with a few minor changes, uniforms changed from London Country green to the NBC grey blue, and bus liveries became very similar through out the British Isles. However in 1974 a Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher came to power and it felt that the bus industry like any other National enterprise would operate more efficiently if it was privatised. To do this the NBC was split up into small groups and sold off to private companies. London Country was seen to be too big, and it was split into four small companies. The introduction of the 1985 Transport Act allowed any company to compete over any routes and the only requirement was that changes to routes or timetables had to be notified to the Traffic commissioners 42 days prior to any such changes. In 1986 the bus industry became a deregulated market.
Chaos reigned until gradually the small companies were swallowed up by the bigger players and eventually we were back with three or four big bus operators and stability was once more restored. All the garages that were once London Country (the former London Country Area of London Transport) are now nearly all under the umbrella of Arriva Plc.
So I set off to the Country Area. Whilst Annette stayed with her aunt in Southend I went to stay with my brother in Tring. I enquired at Tring garage about a driving job and was told I had to apply at Hemel Hempstead garage as Tring did not have training facilities. But first Annette and I needed a place to live. Accommodation was so easy to find in Australia but now back in England things were proving a little harder. I walked through all the towns and travelled by bus all the way from Tring to Watford enquiring at all the estate agents for flats to rent. Eventually somewhat foot sore I found a one room flat in Watford and was able to ring up Annette to tell her we had some were to live, it was a start.
I now had to get to Hemel Hempstead and get a job and so I started walking whilst looking over my shoulder for any approaching buses. As luck would have it a very kind 706 coach driver saw me and pulled up, the driver, Bert Ponder, became a good friend of mine later on when I moved to Tring garage, but for the time being a few new pence purchased me a ticket to Hemel Hempstead bus garage where I made the acquaintance of one Assistant Chief Inspector George Holby.
George was a large jovial kind person. He explained that I would have to take a preliminary driving assessment and also a small written exam and as it was Saturday he would arrange for a driving assessment for the following Monday and he would conduct the written test then and there. The test consisted mainly of elementary maths questions. No longer was I to be a bus driver but I was expected to rise to the ranks of an OMO (one man operator) later to be changed for political correctness to an OPO, or one person operator. Well lets face it you couldn’t go around with OMO’s and OWO’s (one women operators). I would be issuing tickets and taking money, no longer the preserve of a conductor, but not quite yet, crew operation was still at large at Hemel Hempstead with only a few routes converted to one man operation.
I successfully passed the written exam and on Monday passed my preliminary driving test. Before commencing driver training I had to pass out as a conductor. Horrors of horrors, I was a driver, not a conductor, when I worked for London Transport I had my own conductor. But times had moved on and it was inevitable that I would soon be doing OMO work.
So it was off to the central training school at St Albans garage where, under the careful eye of a Mr Wilcox, I was to be instructed in the use of the Gibson Ticket machine, the same type that my old conductor Brian at Edgware used to repel boarders. I was also shown the complexities of the waybill, used to record all cash transactions and the auxiliary waybill, a small white form that was left on the bus by the driver of the one man bus when he changed over so that an inspector can check for tickets issued by the previous driver. I was also informed at the training school that during my first six months probationary period I could be allocated not only driving duties both crew and OMO but also conducting duties, what had I let myself in for.
In retrospect however I found the conducting duties quite an eye opener for it allowed you when driving to really appreciate the difference a good conductor could make to your working day, and although as a conductor you had the responsibility of handling the cash you did not have to worry about whether the driver in front was going to turn left or right or had just forgotten to cancel his indicators.
Having received my conductor training and passed the required conductors PSV test I was told to report to Garston garage in North Watford the next day to commence my driver training.
I was met at Watford by my driving Instructor Jock Short a rather dour Scott. Having walked me around the bus, a green RT, he showed me the radiator and explained the procedure for filling up the radiator with water. At this point I casually remarked that it would be great to get back in the cab again. “What do you mean, again”
I explained how I’d done three years driving at Edgware and Uxbridge
“Why the hell did you let me go through all that rigmarole, get up in the bloody cab and lets get going”
And off we went, spending a pleasant few days driving around Hertfordshire baring in mind that at the end of the week I had to pass a full PSV test and with a family on the way I had to pass.
After a couple of days Jock was called away to other duties and I, along with two other trainees, was put in the very capable hands of driving instructor Bob Spence an ex Hemel Hempstead driver who was to eventually become the Chief Driving Instructor at the Central Driving school at St Albans garage. Jock and Bob had very different approaches to instructing drivers. Jock would always be sitting behind you, almost leaning into the cab and likely to bellow in your ear at the slightest misdemeanour, whereas Bob would sit back in the saloon and go over your mistakes at the end of your driving session. A good example of Bobs powers of observation took place when I was driving to Alperton bus garage. I casually looked back into the saloon and observed Bob reading a newspaper. We were having a cup of tea in the canteen at Alperton and Bob was appraising the other two trainees' morning drive, when he looked over at me and said, “You’re not supposed to look back into the saloon whilst driving by the way” Did he have holes cut in that newspaper?
I got to know Bob quite well over the years and at one point he told me that before coming onto the buses he had been a signal man on the railways and had the dubious honour of having to open up the next signal box from Harrow Weald the day after the 1952 Harrow Weald rail crash.
The end of the week soon arrived and it was time for my second PSV test in my career as a bus driver. The chief driving examiner, a Mr Harwood, was a somewhat fierce looking chap who wore a suite and trilby hat. I sat upstairs whilst the first trainee climbed up into the cab and commenced his test. Everything was going smoothly until we reaches a junction with Wembley High Road. The traffic was quite heavy and the driver could not pull out straight away, however a following motorist was becoming rather irate and started to sound his horn. The next thing I heard was a load of swearing telling the motorist what he could do with his horn. Well I thought that’s blown it for the trainee, you certainly don’t swear at other motorist especially when you are on a test. I later found out from Bob that it wasn’t Alan the trainee but the Chief Examiner who was leaning off the platform of the bus and having ago at the poor motorist. My turn soon came and I managed to give a reasonable drive and having been told to pull up and climb down from the cab I then had to endure a series of highway code questions whilst Bob looked on impassively not giving any clues as to whether I had passed the test or not. To my great relief after a few minutes I was handed a pass form to be taken to the Public Carriage Office in Peyton Street. After we had dropped off the Examiner, Bob drove all of us up to Kings Cross were we waited in the same café that I had sat in five years previously whilst we took it in turns to go across the road to the Public Carriage Office to collected our Licence and PSV badges. Yes plural, we now had to have a conductors PSV badge. My second drivers badge No was N71033; the N denoting the London Metropolitan Traffic Area. The United Kingdom was divided into a number of Traffic Areas overseen by its own Traffic Commissioner who was responsible for the licensing of all PSV operations within his or her area. This included disciplinary measures against both drivers and operators and the approval of route changes, and timetable alterations.
Having collected my new licence and badge I immediately rang up Annette from a call box to tell her I had passed and I was once more employed as a bus driver and we could now start looking for a home of our own.
Before starting work at Hemel Hempstead there was one more task to perform. The allocation of buses at Hemel Hempstead were RTs for crew operation and single deck RFs for one man buses and Greenline coaches. I therefore had to receive type training on the RF bus, so once more over to St Albans. Type training usually involved a half day driving around St Albans until you were familiar with the cab layout and the dimensions of the vehicle. The RF had a full fronted cab unlike the half cabs of the RTs and not being able to see the nearside wing would take some adjustment.
Not for me the half day around St Albans oh no. Unfortunately my driving instructor had to attend a disciplinary hearing that day at London Country headquarters which just happened to be in Reigate Surrey. Apparently he had inadvertently allowed a trainee to reverse into a wall the previous day and had to explain his actions to his chief at Reigate. So my familiarisation consisted of a three hour drive from St Albans through London and Dorking to Reigate, I’ll give the instructor his due, he did drive me part of the way back. I must admit that the RF was a lovely vehicle to drive, the cab layout was the same as the RT, a pre select gear box, but with the engine set mid way back and under floor it was so much quieter than the RT, and gave a far smoother ride.
To get to work from Watford to Hemel Hempstead I had bought a small Honda 50cc motor bike, it was to be many years and many motor bikes before Annette and I could afford the luxury of a car.
Chapter 5 Australian Interlude

With the promise of a job and a new family to meet, Annette and I flew from Gatwick Airport on the 24th June 1970 courtesy of the Australian Government on a Boeing 707 of Caledonian Airways to Sydney. Unlike to-days service with one stop at Singapore or Hong Kong the Boeing 707 made several stops for refuelling and after a long flight we arrived early one morning in Sydney, mid winter, which was quite warm and a pleasant surprise for me. However Annette’s family live in Canberra the Capital city of Australia which sits 2000ft above sea level and is situated some 200 miles in land, and Canberra is bitterly cold in the winter. After passing through immigration control we were directed to the domestic airport terminal where we boarded a Lockheed Electra turbo- prop for our turbulent flight to Canberra.
Not only was it freezing cold but a bitter disappointment lay waiting for me when I applied to become a bus driver.
Soon after arriving in Canberra I applied for a job as a bus driver only to find out that there was a two year waiting list. I had travelled half way around the world hoping to continue doing a job I loved only to be told “no job” I was shattered. I could become a bus driver in Sydney or Melbourne right away, but not here in Canberra and Annette had come back to Australia to be near her parents so a move to another city was out of the question.
Canberra is the Australian national capital and a really beautiful city, but it abounds with politicians and politicians require chauffeurs, who do very little driving and a lot of sitting around, and the chauffeurs are recruited from the ranks of the bus drivers hence the long waiting list to become bus drivers.
Annette and I stayed briefly with Annette's parents until we found a place of our own in Queanbeyan, a small town a few miles from Canberra just inside the New South Wales boarder. Fortunately I had qualified as a GPO technician and was therefore able to get a job straight away as a telephone installation engineer and was soon driving my own PMG (Post Master General) truck, not quite as big as a bus, but it was red.
I really missed those London buses and spent hours pouring over photos in ‘London Buses In Camera’ by John A. Gray a book I must have had on permanent loan from the local library in Dickson next to the PMG depot.
I even taught myself to draw buses. (I purchased the book when I arrived back in England and those early drawings are still in the back of my copy).
Although Annette and I settled in and had some lovely times in Australia the yearning to get back to the London buses proved too strong. By then Annette was also missing England, so we made the decision to return to England. We had also decided to start our family, with hindsight not the best thought out plan, and so with Annette pregnant we began our journey back.
When I’d left the UK I had kept my PSV (Public Service Vehicle) badge No N 86167 as a souvenir. It should have been handed back to the Public Carriage Office and I thought this might be held against me when reapplying for a new licence and so I posted it back to London. I was quite surprised to receive a postal order for 2/6p (12.5 new pence) from the Public Carriage Office for the return of my badge.
In preparation for my return to the UK I had written to London Transport asking for a list of garages which had vacancies and was delighted to receive by return post a letter informing me of vacancies at all Central Bus garages and a list of those garages in the Country Area which had vacancies.
Annette I decided to make the trip home a holiday and I set about booking us a cabin on one of the P&O liners back to the UK. During our two year stay in Australia (two years was the minimum stay required by the Australian Immigration Office under the £10: scheme) we had kept in touch with my good friend Ken Smith. In early 1972 Ken wrote and told us how, suddenly house prices were going up at the rate of £100:00 a week. Whilst I was working as a telephone engineer Annette had returned to her old job with the Department of the Interior building section and we were saving her wages, approximately £100:00 a week. If we stayed in Australia much longer we would not be able to afford a house when we got back to England. We decided to cut our losses and fly back. I cancelled our booking with P&O and booked a flight back with Qantas.
So on a cold winters afternoon on the 1st July 1972 we said our farewells to Annettes family at Sydney’s Kingford Smith airport and began our journey back to England.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Chapter 4 Uxbridge Garage

Earlier I had mentioned that all the routes at Uxbridge were on one rota so that meant quite some time route learning. This time I had learnt my lesson and sat at the front and took notice of where we were going. It worked as I don’t remember ever going the wrong way on the numerous routes out of Uxbridge. In 1968 these were the 98 and 98A from Hillingdon Station to Hounslow Bus Station, 204 Uxbridge to Heathrow, 207 Uxbridge to Shepherds Bush, 223 Uxbridge to Hounslow Bus Station, 224 Uxbridge to Laleham, 224A and 224B to West Drayton and Yiewsley and a peak hour service 225 to Wraysbury via Poyle industrial estate.
Having completed my route learning there was one more task to overcome.
I had trained on an RTW, that’s the eight foot wide version of the RT buses I had driven at Edgware. Uxbridge garage had the legendary Routemaster. This vehicle first saw service during 1957 as a prototype. The RM was a 27ft 4in long and 8ft wide and was allocated to both the Central Area and Country Area. In June 1965 production switched to the RML which was a 30ft long version of the RM. The Routemaster is still going strong today in London nearly 50years after first entering service, it is a wonderful vehicle to drive and its demise will be missed by bus crews and passengers alike. [By 2008 only a few were in service on vintage route 9]
But back in 1968 I had to be typed trained on the RML which was allocated to the extremely busy route 207 serving Uxbridge, Hayes, Southall, Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush. I had been told to report to London Transports training school at Chiswick on a Monday Morning at ten O’clock. That weekend I had spent with my fiancée and her Grandparents in Bath. It had dawned on me whilst there that I had been told to attend Chiswick in full uniform. Remember I had said Chiswick was like the army. Well soon after starting at Edgware I had given my driving cap to my young eleven year old nephew Neil to play with, I didn’t like wearing a cap and did not intend to.
Panic set in; no cap no training no job. I rang up Neil and pleaded with him to find my old cap and meet me at Paddington Station early Monday morning. Neil, being a very resourceful eleven year old, met me on time at Paddington with one drivers cap resplendent with cap badge.
So back to Chiswick for a very arduous days training. Having spent the last year driving in service I had picked up quite a few bad habits which had to be ironed out by a typical sergeant major of an instructor. For example, being told to pull up at the next bus stop I indicated by means of the indicator switch on the dash board, “you are not turning left driver, you are slowing down, give the appropriate hand signal.” Hand signal, what’s that? Oh yes something I last did over a year ago. And so it went on all day until the instructor was satisfied that I could handle a Routemaster the London Transport way.
Although Uxbridge garage was situated in Denham a mile outside the town the canteen and all other staff facilities were within the station forecourt at Uxbridge. Most changeovers took place here as well as our meal breaks. We also shared our canteen with the train drivers from the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines also bus drivers from Amersham on country route 305, Hemel Hempstead and Garston drivers on country routes 347 and 347A and drivers from Staines and Windsor operating country routes 457,458 and 459.
We drivers from Uxbridge operating red buses into London always felt superior to our country area green bus cousins, after all we were paid £1:00 a week more than the Country Area. There was however one exception to this feeling of superiority.
Most of our duties started from Uxbridge Station, so having signed on for a duty at the Garage in Denham we then had to proceed to the bus station in the town, for which we received a payment of twelve minutes travelling time. Quite a handy addition to the pay packet at the end of the week. Now nobody would walk to the bus station so we would congregate in the entrance of the bus garage whilst one driver would stand by the road until a country bus would hove into view and would yell out “bus up” we would then all run out and board the bus up to the town. Our London Transport passes, affectionately known as ‘stickys’ (I never found out the origin of this name) were also valid on all London Transport trains and all of the London Transport Country Area buses. Our passes were not however valid on the Green Line Coaches, so if a Green Line coach on route 710 or 711 approached, forget it, with head held high they would drive pass with an air of contempt for us lowly bus drivers.
I used to love getting to work on early turns from my flat in Hillingdon. A quick couple of minutes walk up to Hillingdon Underground Station and then if very lucky a cab ride with a friendly train driver on the staff train to Uxbridge, a very strange sensation on a foggy autumn morning just to see green or red signals appear out of the mist.
From Uxbridge to the garage at Denham took about ten minutes to walk, there was always this all pervasive smell of malt in the air, from the large manufacturer in the centre of the town, which accompanied me on my brisk walk along to the garage.
I was by now familiar with the workings of bus garages and soon found out who my new conductor was to be, although I was surprised to find out that Uxbridge operated all routes on one large rota. This meant that it would take over a year to come back to the same duty. My new conductor was a quiet young Asian lad, whose name I cannot recall, with whom I thought I got on quite well. However after a few months I signed on one morning only to find I had been allocated a new conductor called David. Later that morning in the canteen I found my old conductor and asked him what had happened. It was typical of garages in the sixties that the new immigrant drivers and conductors would want to work together. In the canteen the work force split into three distinct groups, the West Indians who were always involved in loud games of cribbage, the Asians who would be talking quietly amongst themselves and the rest of us. So I would in fact never join my conductor at meal times and I guess he felt he would prefer to work with an Asian driver. So now I was paired up with David a nice young boy who wore cowboy boots and could talk endlessly on the subject of hair styles and clothing, he later left to take up a position as a hairdresser in Uxbridge which I am sure suited him better.
Breakdowns on the buses were a very rare event back in the days of the RT, RM and RF as they were very reliable buses. At no time at Edgware garage can I remember breaking down and whilst at Uxbridge I only broke down twice. Once on the 204 to Heathrow Airport I ran out of fuel. While waiting for the engineers to arrive a lady in one of the houses brought out a cup of tea for my conductor and me. I just cannot see that happening to day. The second breakdown occurred on the 223 to Hounslow. Just before West Drayton railway station I found the bus had become stuck in top gear and was unable to get over the bridge before the station so I got out the cab and went around to the back and asked a lot of fit young male passengers to help push the bus over the bridge into the station forecourt which would be off the main road and out of the way. This they did with out too much effort. When the engineers turned up they cursed me for getting the bus over the bridge as they reckoned they could have turned the bus around and got it back to the garage in top gear whereas now they had to fix it at the station so they could get it back over the bridge. Oh well you can’t please everybody.
My fiancée and I had by now decided to get married so this meant looking around for a flat to rent. It just so happened that when I mentioned this to my landlady, Connie Quinn, she said that the people next door had the upstairs of their house to let. I therefore met with Mrs Daisy Gardner and her husband to arrange to move into the flat in September of 1968. My wife to be, Annette, had collected quite a few things for our new flat and it was my job to get them from Bath to Hillingdon. I would leave Bath with a couple of suit cases full of things and go straight from Paddington to the garage at Uxbridge, sign on and then drive on route 98 to Hillingdon, stopping opposite my flat, nip around to the back of the bus, retrieve the suit cases then dash across the road to pop them in the flat.
After our honeymoon Annette and I moved into our new flat with our somewhat neurotic landlady Daisy who was forever going in and out to the shops and keeping an ever watchful eye on her large ginger cat. Meanwhile Annette had obtained a job at RAF Uxbridge working as a clerical assistant. We were therefore able to meet up for lunch or I would walk with her to work. If I was on route 207 to Shepherds Bush she would ride with me from the bus station at Uxbridge up to the RAF station at the top of Hillingdon Road.
Unlike other garages where groups of bus routes were on separate rotas Uxbridge routes were all on one rota this meant it would be many months before one worked the same duty. Also it could be quite a few weeks between working route 207 which could be a little bit confusing, not the route but the fact that the 207 was allocated to Routemasters whereas all other routes were worked by the RT bus. Upon pulling up for the first time with a RM ones right hand would be flapping about for a non existent hand brake until the brain remembered the hand brake on a RM was on the left hand side.
The 207 was the busiest route in the garage and three round trips was the scheduled duty but this was rarely achieved with usually the third trip turning short at either Hanwell or the old tram depot at Acton. The headway between buses during the peak hour at Ealing Common was just fifteen seconds, four a minute, what a job the inspectors there had in maintaining that headway, especially as the Uxbridge drivers would hold back near Hayes End so that the 207A operated by crews from Hanwell would find itself in front of us having come up Coldharbour Lane from Hayes.
We at Uxbridge operated the RML which was the 30 foot version of the Routemaster whereas Hanwells allocation was the 27 foot RM.
The 207 was a very busy route and one Christmas one of the conductors had just finished his duty on the 207s when an inspector asked him if he’d like some overtime, the air turned blue as the conductor pointed out that he’d just taken £100:00 in fares which was a enormous amount for those days and if the inspector required another conductor the inspector could do the job himself.
Not only were we supposed to do three rounders to Shepherd Bush but the stand time in the small yard at Shepherds Bush Green was only two minutes. I was at that time a smoker but never being able to drive and smoke I soon found I was wasting a fortune in half smoked cigarettes. No sooner had I alighted from the cab and lit up some officious inspector would call out “time to go driver” so I would stub out most of the cigarette. As Annette did not smoke I decided I might as well give up. It was as many have found out no easy thing to do, but fortunately I did manage to stop. If I met Annette from work and she saw me smoking it was not because of the pressures of work, to me there were none, it was because Daisy had threatened to evict us from our flat because of some small thing or other.
By this time Annette was pregnant and getting up in the morning was beginning to get a bit of a chore, so as I would drive past our flat on early turns on the 98 to Hounslow I would see if the bedroom light was on. If there was no light I would pull up and quickly run over to the flat, run upstairs and awaken Annette. I would tell David my conductor to tell the passengers the driver was just popping in to see his wife and the passengers could make what they liked of it.
About this time Annette and I had decided to go to Australia. Annette wanted to go back and see her parents who lived in Canberra and I had always wanted to see Australia. We therefore paid a visit to the Australian Embassy in London and much to our surprise were told we were both eligible to emigrate under the ten pound scheme. As Annette was over here on holiday this seemed most odd however Australian logic was as follows:
“The first time you [Annette] emigrated you were a child and had no say in the matter, this time you are married and still have no say in the matter”
I did not want to give up bus driving and was assured that bus drivers were needed in Australia, so things were set in motion for us to emigrate to Australia as soon as our baby was born. Sadly we lost our first baby, a boy, still born on December the 10th 1969, but plans to emigrate continued throughout that winter and a departure date was set for the following June.
One person we would miss would be my nephew Neil. My eldest brother Roy had died from asthma when I was eighteen; he left two young children, Deborah six and Neil eight. Very rapidly Neil became a very independent soul and would often turn up unaccompanied at our flat in Hillingdon where Annette would empty all his pockets of sweet wrappers and fill his stomach up with baked beans. As well as turning up at our flat I would often find him at bus stops along any of the routes I was on. I could be driving through Ealing when there would be young Neil at a bus stop
“I thought you might be here about now” he would say. How he knew I don’t know but I guess it would stand him in good stead for his future career as a London Taxi driver.
The winter of 1969-70 saw some thick foggy nights. It was often bad on route 207 through Hayes and Hillingdon on the approach to Uxbridge. Yet somehow we managed to keep to time or even ahead of time some nights.
Uxbridge garage at Denham was on the main Oxford Road therefore it was important that buses did not stack up along the main road on the evening run in, to that end an Inspector was always on duty up near the town and would hold early running buses there. One bad foggy evening I had arrived five minutes early in Uxbridge, gaining time where the road was clear.
“Do you know you are five minutes early driver?”
“No” I replied, “it was a bit foggy so I just kept going”
“Funny that, the driver in front of you said it was so thick he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, and he was ten minutes early”
Another meeting with authority was even more unfortunate. Some of the duties on route 204 terminated at Heathrow Airport and allowed the crews to have breakfast in the staff canteen. Ten minutes wasn't quite long enough but a five minute early arrival and five minute late departure would ensure adequate time for breakfast. One morning strolling back from the canteen I noticed a smartly dressed gentleman in a trilby hat standing by the cab of my bus. When I got to the cab he said
"Excuse me driver but what time are you due to depart"
"Don't worry about that mate we're on our way now" I replied
"Oh I do worry about it" he said producing a key fob which indicated he was a senior official of London Transport "just make sure you depart on time in future". Somewhat chagrined I climbed into the cab and set off for Uxbridge.
The cab of the RT bus was quite basic, a lever to pull to start the bus, three operating pedals, an indicator, a handbrake, a red metal flag which lowered in front of you to warn you of low air pressure, headlight switches, a windscreen wiper switch, but most of all a good heater.
On a cold winters morning it could get nice and warm in the cab so much so that it wasn’t until the bus drifted to the nearside and the wheels hit the kerb that you realised that you had nodded off, what is referred to now-a-days as micro sleep. I doubt that the passengers reading their morning papers or busy chatting had even noticed. All the buses allocated to Uxbridge had saloon heaters so that passengers and conductors could also stay warm, except the vehicle allocated to the 225 route. As this was a peak time only route and the vehicle allocated was a Saunders bodied vehicle without a saloon heater, which seemed a bit odd as it was generally cold in the mornings and evenings. So cold in fact that on arrival at Wraysbury on cold winter mornings the conductor would come around to the cab and climb up in with the driver just to get warm. Winter passed and summer soon arrived and finally after almost three years driving those big red London Buses I was Australia bound.