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.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Chapter 19 Greenline Coaches at Hemel Hempstead

My hopes of getting a permanent position on the Greenline rota were squashed by Bob Stevens the Transport and General Workers Union Representative. When I mentioned to Bob about applying for a vacancy on the coach rota he said to me “not for a year my lad, you may have company seniority but you can’t come into a garage and jump the queue.” I had come across one of the most tricky problems which in later years as a T&G Rep I found to be a minefield, that of company seniority, garage seniority and rota seniority. In later years with the introduction of differential rates of pay according to rotas, mini bus rota, contract rota and big bus rota, seniority became very important and would mean a pay rise or not if a driver wanted to change rotas.
During the debate, we as a trade union had, over the introduction of mini bus workings into the garage I well remember Bob’s words, “if you let mini buses into this garage you will split the garage and see your wages fall.” Bob was of course absolutely right. The introduction of mini buses into the garage was in fact a very clever divisive manoeuvre by management. No longer was there a single rate of pay for all drivers as it was under London Transport. After many years of long drawn out negotiations between the T&G and management we achieved a single rate of pay for all drivers although it takes three years to reach the maximum pay rate. To this day I considered Bob Stevens the best T&G Rep I have ever met and always held him in great respect.
I waited out the twelve months and eventually regained my position as a Greenline coach driver. I worked for a number of years on the 708s which ran between Hemel Hempstead bus station and Victoria. I would often meet my mother in Edgware and sometimes I would take my young son Mark along with me, he would get off at Edgware and stay with his Gran and I would pick him up on the way back from Victoria. Whilst Mark would come out with me Heather was still to young and stayed at home with Annette. On one occasion I was on a spread over duty and went home for my break taking my ticket machine with me. At the side of the Almex ticket machine there is a very small round locking nut which when set correctly prevents the issuing of any tickets. I'd left Heather on the floor playing with the ticket machine knowing that I'd left the locking nut in the on position. Well the next thing I knew Heather had not only turned the locking nut but had also issued a £9.99 ticket. Well done Heather, that took a bit of explaining back at the garage.
Spread over duties were still worked on the coaches but instead of the four hour break being taken at the garage the break would be taken at Victoria. Having set down passengers on Buckingham Palace Road I would then drive around to the London Transport garage in Gillingham Street and park the coach up for four hours in the basement of the garage. The entrance to the basement was via a very narrow, descending spiral ramp decorated with mostly red and green paint.
Parking in the basement was tight and one of our inspectors would supervise the parking of not only our coaches but those of Luton and other garages who parked up there so he had to make sure you could get out on time and not be stuck, not a nice job as it was dark, warm and full of diesel fumes.
Having parked up the coach and had a chat with Roger or Geoff the two resident London Inspectors or Controllers as they were now called I would make my way up to the LT canteen in Victoria garage.
One morning I was sitting there having breakfast when I heard a distinctive voice coming from a table of bus drivers. I looked around and at first couldn’t believe it. It was my old conductor from Edgware, Brian Huckle. I got up and went over to meet him and he was just as surprised as I was. We hadn’t seen each other for more than fifteen years. Brian had left Edgware not long after me and taken his PSV driving test and had become a driver at Victoria garage, got married settled down and started a family. That was the last time I saw Brian as not long after that things began to change on Greenline and we longer took breaks at Victoria garage.
Greenline passenger numbers had been in steady decline for some time. Work patterns were changing also more people were using cars, and one could access the city quicker by using motorways. The Greenline fleet had mainly consisted of Leyland Nationals buses which I described earlier as one of the worse types of vehicles to put onto Greenline coaches, this also in my opinion lead to a decline in passenger numbers. Luckily senior management had a change of heart and rather than see a complete withdrawal of Greenline services decided to revamp the service with a rapid replacement programme of new vehicles. Plaxton and Duple bodied coaches started to arrive in the early part of 1977 when St Albans garage received its first new coach. By the first weeks of 1980 all 150 RS and RB type coach was in service.
It was certainly a good feeling to be driving ‘proper’ coaches through London. I don’t know if you have ever noticed but nearly all bus and coach drivers acknowledge one another with a wave when they pass each other and we all have our own idiosyncratic way of waving. There is one driver at Hemel who will actually take both hands off the wheel and wave to you.
However when driving the old RF coaches or the Leyland national buses through London we were neither fish nor fowl. Red bus drivers regarded us above them and the National Express drivers regarded us as below them. But with the advent of the new coaches we were elevated in the eyes of National Express and soon coaches drivers from all over the country would acknowledge us with a wave of the hand.
With the new coaches came new routes. At Hemel a new express commuter service was started. To begin with the 758 service was to comprise of two journeys each way from Hemel Hempstead Woodhall Farm via Hemel Hempstead bus station and then via the M1 motorway to London Victoria. Myself and driver Phil Marshall were the first two drivers allocated to this new route which soon proved so popular that more journeys were soon added. It was not long before more new express routes were contemplated. The longest one being the 760 running from Heathrow airport to Northampton via Hemel Hempstead Stony Stratford and Milton Keynes. I was privileged to be selected to drive on the new routes. Another route introduced to Hemel was the 750 from Hemel Hempstead bus station to Waltham Cross via Harlow. These routes were all on one rota and they became popular with the drivers. The 758 being the most popular as there were spread over duties on this route which gave a higher than average pay.
About a year after these new routes were running management decided to split the Greenline rota into three services, the 708 going via Watford and Edgware, the 758 express via the M1 and the 760 and 750.
I wanted to stay on the 758s however a lot of the senior bus drivers had seen how easy some of the 758 duties were and put in for the new rota positions. Rota places at that time were always filled on seniority. So Phil and I who had started on the very first 758s found ourselves pushed off the rota. I therefore decided to go back on the 708’s leaving the 760 and 750 to others. Although I still operated these routes on rest day workings.
A couple of recollections come back to me of journeys on the 760. One day I had taken my son out for a ride with me. We were coming back from Northampton and had just come off the M1 at Milton Keynes when there was a loud banging coming from the engine and within a couple of minutes accompanied by lot of black smoke we ground to a halt. Fortunately it was outside a fire station so I told the passengers I would go in and phone our garage for help. Having explained my predicament to the fire officer I rang our garage. It was then that the fire officer said “you cant leave your coach there it’s blocking our entrance” I explained that I believed the engine had blown up (it later transpired that a piston had gone through the engine block) and I couldn’t move the coach. “No problem” he said and within a few minutes he had all the watch outside pushing the coach away from the entrance.
It always amazes me how some people are unable to read time tables. One of the duties on the 760 consisted of a late night run leaving Heathrow and arriving at Milton Keynes at midnight and then running back to Hemel. It was rare to pick anybody up between Heathrow and Milton Keynes and I can’t remember picking anybody up on the way back to Hemel. However one night I was just leaving Milton Keynes when this young couple came running up and flagged me down. “excuse me you don’t happen to go to Hemel Hempstead do you?” Midnight and a coach going where you want, how lucky can you get.
With the introduction of the new coaches passenger numbers started to increase which meant more journeys which put a strain on the new vehicles this meant that inevitable Leyland Nationals crept back onto the 708s on some workings. We at Hemel had some Reliance bodied coaches drafted in from Grays and Windsor garage to help out. Passenger comfort was fine but the cab layout was very spartan and the lack of heating was appalling. I have come back from London in the winter with my heavy duty winter coat draped over my legs with my feet going numb and ice forming on the inside of the windscreen.
One advantage to me being on the 708s was to be able to see my Mum and Dad. Some of the duties required the coach to come back ‘dead’ or out of service from Victoria. On a few occasions I would call in to see my Mum and Dad parking the coach outside their house in Edgware. If questioned by the Inspector as to why I was late back I would say I had to call into Edgware to get some water, if he thought I meant Edgware garage so be it.
During the early part of 1984 my Dads health began to deteriorate. On the night of March 13th he was admitted to Edgware General Hospital. My brother John and his wife Joyce took Annette and me to the hospital to see him. I was on early turn the next day, the 14th. On my way back from Victoria on passing Edgware hospital I passed my brother and my Mum driving out of the hospital, my brother had seen me and as we passed he put his hand out of the window of the car and gave me the thumbs down, my Dad had died. When I got back to Hemel garage I rang Annette and asked her to ring my sister-in-law for confirmation.
Although during my time on the 708s a position on the express rota had become vacant I preferred to stay on the 708s as it made it a bit easier to see my Mum.