Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Memories: "The Bus"

The Bus

When i was teaching at the High School, someone in authority decided that, rather than always having to shell out good money to the local coach hire firm every time we had a school outing or sports fixture, it would make sense to buy our own transport; and so we obtained THE BUS. It was a truly awe-inspiring vehicle: the year's latest model - the year in question being somewhere around 1948. Truly it would have graced a museum of transport history, but this did not make it any easier to drive. There was no power-assisted steering or synchromesh on the gears, which led to one of the geography teachers acquiring the nickname of "Captain Crunch" for his efforts behind the wheel. Max, my head of department, who was a keen motorist, described changing gear as resembling trying to stir a cricket stump in a bucket of marbles. He was a little chap, and sometimes had to employ both hands in wrestling with the gear-stick. "Christ! Bloody Hell!" he would exclaim as he did battle with it in heavy traffic going through Stoke. Once, when he was having a particularly torrid time on the way back from the Gladstone pottery museum, a boy foolishly made some sarcastic comment about his driving. "If you think you can do any better, you come and have a go!" snarled Max as he sweated to find third gear. The boy was rash enough to reply, "Okay then!" Max was so enraged that he stopped the bus and charged down the central aisle with every intention of thumping the wretched youth, but before any blow could land the handbrake started to slip, and Max had to race back to the controls. By the time we arrived back at school, Max was far too preoccupied with the tricky problem of parking the bus in the quad (which could only be done in reverse, after first edging the bonnet up the drive of the house opposite, at the risk of doing irreparable damage to the flowering cherry) to take any further action.

The most memorable journey I experienced came near the end of one summer term, when we took the first formers on the annual history trip into Shropshire. The first stop was Ludlow, which we reached without mishap; but when we stopped in front of the castle we were approached by a policeman. "You can't park here", he told us, "You'll have to go to the coach park". Mark, who was driving, pleaded with him: we'd come a long way and we wouldn't be there for more than an hour. The policeman eyed the bus narrowly. "I wouldn't like to have to give a full roadworthiness check to this vehicle, sir", he said meaningfully. We went to the coach park. The stop for lunch at Stokesay castle passed without mishap, though Nick, our youngest teacher, had with typical lack of organisation neglected to bring any sandwiches and was reduced to begging for contributions from the pupils (fortunately one boy had been provided by his mother with no less than nine chicken legs, and was able to come to the rescue). But then there was an untoward incident in the grounds of Buildwas Abbey, where one of the boys had his shoe subjected to a sexual assault by a randy little puppy. "Sir, it's weed on me!" he said, inaccurately. The crowning moment came as we drove back through Hodnet. One of the boys complained that he felt sick. We were travelling along narrow, twisty roads unsuitable for stopping, and were in any case behind schedule, so I passed him a plastic waste-bucket already half full of bent Coke tins and screwed-up crisps bags. He chundered voluminously into this receptacle, and then a little later approached me again in some distress. "Sir!" he said, "The brace from my teeth fell in!" I told him that if he imagined I was going to go fishing for it, he was mistaken. "But the dentist will be mad at me, sir!" he moaned. When we finally arrived back at school, I made him and another boy who had annoyed me empty the foul bucket into one of the huge grunions by the gate. During this operation, I observed that they contrived to get it all over both their jackets, but I decided I had done quite enough for the day and went home.

The old bus was still there when I left the school and I never found out what happened to it. Presumably it has long since departed this life for that great multi-storey car park in the sky - assuming, of course, that it was allowed to enter.

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