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.

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