Friday, 26 February 2010

Chapter 38 712 St Albans

Earlier I had mentioned how the coach rota came under EU regulations. This meant that our driving hours were limited and therefore so were our earnings. Very few bus drivers wanted to take a pay cut just to drive coaches into London especially with its heavier traffic. It’s strange how over the years coach drivers pay compared to that of bus drivers has gone down. I remember when I first went onto the Greenline rota it was a double pay rise, one because it was one man operated and two because coach drivers were on a higher rate of pay. We also as mentioned earlier had our own table in the canteen. Over the years to obtain a better rate of pay for bus drivers the union has had to sacrifice the coach drivers pay differential. Before the coming of the EU regulations I as a coach driver could earn the same as my bus driver
colleagues and could work six days a week and work for thirteen days before having to take a day off. This was the way I worked for many years as it was the only way to earn enough when bringing up a young family.
By time the EU regulations came into force both Heather and Mark were on their own feet although without Annettes wages coming in things would have still been a struggle.
If the EU regulations were a restriction on the coach drivers as regards to their earnings they were even more of a burden to the company. We had to have a break of forty five minutes after four and a half hours driving whereas bus drivers could drive for five and a half hours and then only have a thirty minute break. Just think how much more work the company could get out of coach drivers if the EU regulations could be done away with. As all drivers were on a guaranteed 36 hour week often our weekly hours fell short of this and had to be made up by an additional payment. As I said I was lucky to be able to work within the EU regulations, the company however was not and soon they found that loophole in the law that would allow them to make me work longer hours for the same pay.
I am sure the original law regarding drivers hours was put in place to protect the driver from fatigue through working excessive hours. The law stated that if a route was over 50km then the driver would come under EU drivers hours. The loop hole was in the wording of the law, ‘if the route’ not if the driver drives over 50km. The solution was obvious split the route into two different route numbers. So with one foul swoop the 758 from the Hemel Hempstead estates to London Victoria became the 759from the estates to Hemel Hempstead bus station we then changed the destination blind to 758 and carried on. This meant no more tachographs, also we could now work up to thirteen days. But as our managers were quick to point out it did allow them to schedule longer duties and this allowed them to introduce a new Greenline service, the 712 from St Albans to Victoria, and the peak hour 713 from Harpenden to Victoria via St Albans.
The 712 and 713 go back a long way and were once operated by St Albans garage in the north and Dorking in the south. Both routes were cut back between 1970 and 1976 to operate between St Albans, Dunstable and Victoria. With final withdrawal of the services on 29th January 1977. Speaking to the passengers to day it is only some of the older ones who remember St Albans being served by Greenline. Many passengers do not realise how Greenline was such an extensive service or that it was part of London Transport. One can see how our past can so easily get lost.
When ever I mention the old days the younger drivers always make comments about me and the horse drawn buses but I know that things where done more thoroughly back then. take route learning for instance. when I was at Uxbridge garage we had an extension to the 98 route in Hayes. This meant all the drivers at Uxbridge being paid to come in and travel over the extension in a bus driven by an inspector. This method of route learning, i.e being paid to route learn continued for many years, in fact route learning on the 747 Jetlink was a grand day out for many, only those drivers, including myself, who were on the Jetlink rota were in fact paid. But now sadly if a new route appears route learning is often done whilst a driver is on standby, that is, you are at work and being paid but you are there to cover a driver who may be coming off late and is unable to take his bus over on time. This system is haphazard and often when the route appears on a rota many of the drivers don’t know the route as they’ve not had the opportunity to learn it. And so it was with the 712 and 713. Fortunately most of the coach drivers were familiar with the St Albans and Harpenden area. The timetables were published, and Dave Gill our branch secretary drove over the route. but no mention of route learning for the drivers. When I asked our manager about route learning his reply was “it’s quite straight forward just follow the map.” Being a bit older I am naturally concerned about toilet facilities on route. I asked one of my old friends Inspector Dennis Mulligan about toilets he said “you’ve always got the one at Brickett Wood”
“What one’s that then?”
“You know the one behind the bus shelter!”
So that was route learning 2009 style. So one day before the service started Annette and I took a ride around Harpenden and St Albans, down through Chiswell Green and Brickett Wood just to make sure I knew where I was supposed to go.
The company spent quite a bit of money and effort on advertising the new route spending the Saturday prior to the launch of the new route in St Albans town centre with a publicity bus and handing out lots of time tables.
The route itself is very enjoyable to drive and there is plenty of time to get to Victoria and back although we as drivers have pointed out that the timings are all wrong, with too much time from Brent Cross to St Albans and visa versa.
Although if traffic is heavy in St Albans or in London the extra time does help. The majority of passengers are the pensioners who travel free to London on their passes. I believe we have already received money in advance from the local councils for pensioners and therefore they are not generating new revenue for this route and fare paying passengers on a regular basis are few and far between. A special return fare to London of five pound was introduced at the launch of the service on the 29th June 2009. This introductory offer was supposed to end on the 30th September but was extended until the 31st December. Well by February the offer was still in place, whether this was deliberate or someone has forgotten to re-programme the ticket machine modules I don’t know.
The evening 713 service to Harpenden is some what convoluted and involves passengers getting the 758 from London to Hemel Hempstead where they transfer to a coach which runs out of service to St Albans and then starts as a 713 to Harpenden. How long the 712 will last I don’t know, but in the meantime it’s a very pleasant route and coupled with the 758 workings makes for an enjoyable days work. Of course what some passengers fail to realise is that both 712 and 758 are operated by the same drivers with the same coaches. At Marble Arch there are separate stops for both services yet passengers waiting for the 758 to Hemel Hempstead upon seeing a familiar driver or a coach with Hemel Hempstead transfers on the side will board it and unless we check their tickets will find themselves in St Albans. One
passenger upon going through Chiswell Green the other night said “driver you’re not going to Hemel Hempstead are you”
“No, that’s why I’ve got 712 on the destination”
“Well it’s not lit up”
So when I pulled up at the next stop, just in case she was right I check both inside and outside the coach and the route 712 and destination Harpenden was very clearly lit up. the poor lady had read Harpenden for Hemel Hempstead and not even noticed that I’d pulled up at a different stop.
Still as we say it’s all good fun.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Chapter 37 Greenline Once More

It was with great relief that I turned up for work as a driver on Monday June 16th 2008. There was a slight hiccough as Eric Beir our schedules manager checked with DVLA Swansea to make sure that the letter confirming the return of my PSV licence was valid. My actual PSV plastic licence arrived in the post a couple of weeks later, and that was a really wonderful day, just to hold that licence once again. Eric had arranged for me to spend a couple of days driving to London with a driving instructor to check out my driving. As luck would have it the instructor was an old friend Barry Neave. I had known Barry since starting at Hemel in 1972 when Barry was a fellow bus driver. Barry was due to retire in a couple of weeks and so on Monday I was looking forward to driving to London. Unfortunately nobody had informed the driving school, so no Barry. After a while checking out what had gone wrong Eric
suggested I go out and do some route learning. There were however very few alterations to the routes over the last year so I just made myself scarce for the rest of the day. I went around the town a couple of times then caught the Greenline to London and back.
Tuesday I reported for duty at 8 o'clock and this time Barry was there waiting for me. "Don't worry I'm not looking for faults, just enjoy your driving, this is just to make sure you are confident"
None the less it was still somewhat nerve racking driving out on the roads and the motorway after a year, and of course most odd when pulling up at Park Road where I had my stroke a year earlier. Having turned right into Baker Street Barry said " well that’s got that bit out of the way" Barry obviously realised what was going through my mind. One round trip to London was enough for the day. The next day we went to London but on the 748 route which goes via Camden Town , Kings Cross, Farringdon Road, Fleet Street, Parliament Square and the Embankment before reaching Victoria. I was now feeling a lot more confident and when we arrived back at Hemel Barry wished me good luck. I went in and saw Eric so that I could find out what I'd be doing for the next few days until I was back on a permanent rota position.
I soon settled back in and driving became a pleasure once more. I was certainly more relaxed, I no longer got upset if people used their phones but like all the drivers if somebody was talking extra loud you would gently remind them to be a bit quieter.
During my stay in hospital I had been visited by Dave Gill our branch secretary. At that time I did not believe I would be returning to work again and therefore I told Dave it would not be fair for the branch if I retained my
position as Health and Safety representative and so I tendered my resignation, much to my regret. No longer being Health and Safety representative meant that to continue my BA course at University I would have to attend in my own time and not get paid leave from the company. I wrote to the Managing Director who replied that they were now paying the new Health and Safety Representative paid time off to attend courses and that if I could show a business plan whereby my degree could help the company then he would pay for my attendance. As I would be retiring when I obtained my degree this was impracticable. I therefore had to attend university in either my holidays or just have a week off unpaid and this is what I did.
One small problem that had to be overcome was what to say to the regular passengers to whom I’d been so horrible to when I was so stressed out. Well an out and out apology was the only way and to my relief they were all so kind to me saying that they could tell I was going to have a heart attack or a stroke. I was able to thank those that helped when I had the stroke.
Soon things returned to normal, early turns where you are half asleep, late turns when you’ve spent the morning in the garden and don’t feel like going to work. I looked forward to going to university twice a year and to weekend courses at the T&G centre at Eastbourne. It would appear that things would now continue without much change for the next couple of years. Well nothing ever does that.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Chapter 36 Back To Work

While I was recovering at home, many of my friends said "well now is a good time to retire." Yet a number of things motivated me to a full recovery. The first was a text message from my eldest granddaughter Amy which I received the next day following my stroke it said simply 'get up old man' this was a message from a very scared 10 year old who loved her Grandpa. I just couldn't give up.
My love of music showed me that I could get movement back into my limbs. Within a few days of being in hospital Mark e mailed all my friends to inform them of what had happened and soon messages of support came flooding in all giving me hope. The support from Annette and my children, Mark and Heather, was so wonderful. Mark would bring in video messages from Annette, Heather and my three lovely granddaughters, Amy, Rebekka and Ella. One morning laying in bed in the hospital my mobile phone rang and when I answered it there was this Australian asking how I was. Even our friends Bruno and Kathy had taken the trouble to ring me from Melbourne. Annettes cousin David Tovey had come in to see me when ever he had business in London and of course Annette and Heather made the long train journey from Aylesbury to come and visit. Finally there was my strong desire to get back driving Greenline coaches. I wanted to retire when I felt like it.
Once Annette felt I was safe enough to be out on my own I travelled down to Hemel Hempstead garage on the 500 bus and had had an interview with our Garage Manager. I told him that I wanted to come back on Greenline coaches but I had to wait 12 months before Swansea DVLA (Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority) would consider giving me back my PCV licence.
Now Ken being the wonderful manager that he is knew he had problems getting drivers to work on the coaches because coaches came under European Driving Regulations. This meant drivers could not work the long hours that the could under Domestic rules, hence they could not earn as much money on coaches as they could on buses. Ken needed me back, but another 9 months on sick pay was a lot for him to bare. He said that there soon could be a vacancy on the engineering side for a supervisor fueller shunter. I just wanted to get back to work and so I said I'd be willing to put in for this position as long as I could come back driving if I got my licence back.
I typed out my CV and sent of an application for the job of cleaning supervisor to the Engineering Manager. I was now walking ok although there was still a residual weakness in my right arm and exercise was what was needed and I was soon to get that. I rang Ken the next week and was told I had the job and could start on October the 8th, nearly four months after having the stroke. Like all well run organisations when I turned up on Monday at 9 o'clock nobody knew what I was supposed to be doing. I spent the morning helping out Tony Duggett, one of the general hands, do odds and ends around the garage. I got myself kitted out with a heavy duty High Visibility coat and prepared to start work properly the next evening. Although I now came under engineering and not traffic Ken had managed to keep my pay at my drivers rate which was quite a bit higher than that of the previous supervisor, this I kept to myself.
The fueller, shunter and cleaner start work at 4:30 in the evening and work through until 1:00am. At maximum strength there were five of us. We rotated the jobs each day. One person would fuel the buses and another would put the buses through the wash and park them up ready for the next mornings run out. Of the three remaining one would sweep out the buses whilst the other two would mop out the buses and wipe down all the internal surfaces. At 4:30 there would only be a couple of vehicles in the yard so the cleaner would walk around the yard and make sure the yard was clear of any rubbish.
Well that was the theory. My position as supervisor was farcical. Robert who should have been supervisor along with Marrine, Julianno and Faz knew exactly what they were doing and could fuel park and clean the buses without any help from me. For a start no engineer ever trusted a driver to drive a bus properly so if I was allowed to park up the buses, Robert and the others knew I would take a month of Sundays to park them properly. I don’t think any driver could park up the buses so quickly and accurately as Robert and the team did night after night in all weathers. So only very late at night when all was quiet was I allowed to park up a bus. I was however taught how to fuel the buses by Marrine and Faz. At first I had a struggle with the heavy fuel bowser but as time went by my muscles became stronger and my clothes smellier. Sweeping out and mopping also required a lot of strength. Wiping down all the internal surfaces including cleaning all the coffee stains of the drivers ticket machines wasn’t quite so arduous especially when we were all there as there would be two of us to do the cleaning. I worked Monday to Friday and really looked forward to my weekends off as by the end of the week I was exhausted, although as I got fitter it wasn’t so bad. Not long after I started Annette had to go into hospital and when she came home I took time off to look after her. When I returned to work it was mid winter. Between 6 o’clock and 8 o’clock the buses and coaches were queuing up to get into the garage and we were literally running around to park the buses out of the way whilst fuelling them and parking them up. This system worked well when we were all there but of course sometimes some of us were on holidays sometimes some were sick and Marrine, Faz and Jullianno also had their rest days during the week as they worked on the weekends. On a lot of days there might only be two or three of us. This meant a lot of fuelling for me and later in the evening who ever was parking would help me sweep out and mop the buses. At first I found sweeping and mopping very depressing as I was amazed at how filthy the general public were especially the school children who would regularly trash the school buses. But Faz told me not to let it get to me, but to just do the job as it would be the same the next night.
Most of the work was done by 10 o’clock and we would retire to the rest room for our lunch break. After lunch there were a few buses left to sweep and the water levels on the coached to be checked. Each evening before clocking on I would go into the garage block and read all the bus notices and chat with all my colleagues, I felt I was still a driver and couldn’t let go. After a few weeks Faz suggested I drive a coach around the yard. It had been quite a few months since I had driven a bus or coach, it was a really great feeling to drive again and of course I could drive buses and coaches around the yard as it was on private property.
All engineers believe that driver can't drive, well I saw a few knocks on both sides. I've seen drivers reverse into walls and I've seen engineers demolish parts of the wash. One incident (they are called that now, incidents not accidents) sticks in my mind. A double deck bus was parked over the pits inside the garage awaiting a new windscreen. The Auto Glass van arrived and opened up the large shutter door half way so that he could get his van inside. Having finished his work he reversed out leaving the doors half way up. Later that evening a young engineer got into the double deck to reverse it off the pit and back into the yard for us to park up. We at the time were in our
little rest room on a break when we heard an almighty bang. We rushed out into the pit area to find one double deck bus smashed into a half open garage door. The engineer had got into the bus and looking in his mirror could see back out into the yard and was not able to tell that the door was not fully open and then had proceeded to reverse out. The engineers spent the rest of the night repairing the shutter door. Luckily the bus suffered very little noticeable damage so when the engineering supervisor came on duty in the morning all appeared ok.
After the long cold winter, when some nights your hands would begin to go numb whilst fuelling the buses, spring arrived. It was also time to make a start on regaining my PCV licence. Of course in the back of my mind was the thought that I might be turned down or I might only get a restricted licence (min buses only) which would mean another two and a half years fuelling and cleaning, somehow I don’t think I could have faced that. I rang Swansea and enquired as to when I could apply for my licence, they said two months before the twelve month suspension was up and so in May I downloaded the medical forms from our computer ticked all the relevant boxes and took them to my Doctor to sign. Dr Walters is a very good GP and she told me not to worry everything should be ok. As June approached I began to get very nervous waiting for the post each day. Finally a brown envelope from Swansea appeared, was this my licence? The letter was from DVLA but informing me that I had to have a treadmill test. There was nothing wrong with my heart it had been checked out whilst I was in hospital in London but it would appear that his is standard practice for DVLA. An appointment had been made with my local hospital, Stoke Mandeville. Luckily with all the cycling and the physical hard work of the job I had no problem passing the tread mill test which consists of nine minutes of walking on an exercise machine which progressed in three stages each one faster than before whilst wired up to heart monitor. I was told no matter how good your heart is you must complete the nine minutes to pass the test. I’m glad my leg muscles were ok.
The results of the test were duly forwarded to Swansea and again I waited. When finally the brown envelope from Swansea arrived I was almost to scared to open it. At last my full PCV licence, well not quite, a notification that I could drive all types of PCV vehicles pending the issues of my actual licence. I rang Ken my Garage Manager and told him I could resume driving duties on Sunday 15th June, a year and two days after I thought I would never drive again.
So it was with regret that I left the friends I had made on the engineering side, although of course I would see them whenever I bought a coach or bus into the garage in the evening. Trevor, the fueller supervisor whose job I took over, still came in and did odd jobs around the garage before becoming to ill to work. I remember one evening sitting down with him and talking about his up and coming death, a surreal conversation if ever there was one. Trevor was well aware of why he had lung cancer and knew it was the smoking and so continued to smoke as he said "what's the point of stopping now, I've only got a few more weeks to go." Sadly Trevor died a few weeks after I resumed driving.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Chapter 35 Never Give Up

Well it's now just over a year since I had my stroke and I have been back driving Greenline coaches into London for three weeks now, so lets go back a year and follow my progress.
I was extremely lucky to have had the stroke in London and to have been taken into the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. I was in a special Acute Brain Injury unit where there was a team of specialists doctors and consultants finding out why I'd had the stroke. A special team of physiotherapists and occupational therapists helping me make a full recovery and a wonderful team of nurses who would see to my every need. After I had learnt how to walk again I then learnt how to type once more. Next my occupational therapist took me out to Tescos to learn how to do shopping and pay for things and then back to the hospital to learn how to cook and make a sandwich and a cup of coffee. All of these things I had either forgotten how to do or the brain could no longer get my muscles to perform the tasks, so it was a case of learning from scratch just like a baby. I was lucky that Mark would come in everyday. One of the things I'd ask Mark to bring in for me was my MP3 player. It was whilst listening to my MP3 that I noticed that my right foot was moving to the rhythm of the music. I then realised that the brain must already have alternative pathways for movement and this gave me the hope that I would eventually walk again. As I said with the help of my physiotherapists I began to walk quite soon. It wasn’t too long before Mark and I would be going to the hospital canteen for little breaks. This then led to longer outings to the pub across the road from the hospital. As I was still having regular blood test I’m afraid I could only have soft drinks. It would look strange for the doctors to find a high alcohol content in the blood of someone who was supposed to be confined to hospital.
I had arranged for my nephew Neil, yes the one who used to turn up anywhere on the bus routes whilst I was at Uxbridge in 1969, to meet me at the entrance of the hospital and drive me home to Aylesbury. Neil was by now a London taxi driver of many years. I said a fond farewell to all the staff who had been so dedicated in my recovery. I still had a long way to go but I could walk unaided and although my right hand was still weak I could take care of myself. One thought that kept me going was to be able to sit on the swing in our back garden with Annette and just look at our garden. Neil soon drove me home to a wonderful reunion with Annette and Ben and Pippa the cats.
My recovery was a slow one with a few hiccoughs. I required a lot more physiotherapy and to this end I had been referred to Rainers Hedge physiotherapy centre in Aylesbury. Not long after I had had my stroke Annette had told her friend Miriam Cheney whose daughter, a friend of our children, had become a nursing sister in charge of Rainers Hedge (small world as they say) so within a few days of my stroke Clare Cheney new she would eventually be paying me a visit to assess my situation.
Having checked out the DVLA website I found out that if I returned both my driving licence and vocational licence voluntarily I would stand a better chance of getting them back later on. The normal procedure when a PCV (Passenger Carrying Vehicle) or HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle) licence holder had a stroke was to have an automatic 6 months ban, it then moved up to 10 months and I suspect because strokes among PCV and HGV drivers were becoming more common a 12 month ban was introduced. It may have been just a coincidence but two other drivers at our garage had strokes within a few week of me having mine. I believe neither were lucky enough to have had the attention I had and they have never returned to work .
It was therefore a sad day when I sent my licences back but it had to be done. So how was I to get about? Well it was back to cycling. During my stay in hospital Annette had to use taxis a lot. Annette herself was suffering from a bad prolapse and was in a lot of discomfort. During the next few weeks I did all the shopping at Tescos by bike using a large rucksack and at times having carrier bags hanging off the handle bars. I became very fit. I had been given a sheet of exercises to carry out at home by Cheryl and Natasha my physiotherapists from the National Hospital. Of course I was impatient to progress and in spite of warnings from Annette I overdid it, walking a couple of miles to the vets and back carrying a cat caused my leg and back muscles to go into a spasm over the weekend. I’ve never known such pain, at times I could not move and with the surgery closed I had to rely on the out of hours advise line, some help that was. Late that night I collapsed on the stairs in agony and Annette called the ambulance. I had the option of going to hospital and waiting all night on a hospital trolley or being given a good dose of ‘entinox’ and being taken up to bed. After the initial pain had subsided I opted for bed. The next day a visiting doctor injected me with a pain killer and Annette went to Tescos pharmacy to get some anti inflammatory tablets and vallium type pills to help.
Now during my stay at the NHNN I had signed up for a drug trial. The normal preventative drug for a stroke is a small amount of aspirin to be taken daily. I was now on a blind trial using a drug similar to aspirin. If I was on any other medication I had to inform Olivia Brown the nurse in charge of my drug trial. Having told her of this new turn of events she told me not to take the anti inflammatory tablets only the valium but don’t take them for too long.
Soon the muscles returned to normal, but no more long walks yet just a few minutes each day. Clare was a bit exasperated when I would turn up for my physio sessions on the bike. Gradually I learnt to walk properly. When I left the NHNN I was told by my consultant Dr Martin Browne that after about six months any disabilities that I had would probably remain with me for the rest of my life.
However Natasha and Cheryl had shown me that the more I used my limbs the better the brain would fined new pathways to control the limbs. One trick Cheryl used was to continually scratch my hand and fingers to make the brain aware of the fingers presence. To this end Annette would spend many hours rubbing and scratching my fingers and arm with the end result that all feeling and movement have now been fully restored.
Eventually I downloaded the forms from DVLA at Swansea in the hope of getting my ordinary driving licence back. Swansea have always been very helpful throughout this time. I duly filled in the forms and sent them off. A few weeks later I was relieved to receive my car licence back. No more cycling to the shops although I still did on occasions as a means of keeping fit. Our car by the way had been at Hemel Hempstead garage during my stay in hospital. A few days after coming home my brother John and his wife Joyce took Annette and me back to the bus garage to collect our car. John drove it home and Annette followed with Joyce. Each day before I got my licence back I would drive our car up and down the private road alongside our garages it was a great feeling just to be driving again although my right arm was still not up to full strength but a new job was on the horizon which would soon get me fully fit.