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.

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