Friday, 18 September 2009

Chapter 25 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To

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

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