The TV news brings the news right into our homes and I’ve been close to the news, via the TV, many times. I was watching TV when the 9/11 attacks happened and remember switching on one Sunday to find that Princess Diana was dead. Shocking events indeed but other news, personal news can be hard to take and sometimes shocking things are inside us and we need to let them out.
One day many years ago, when I was a bus conductor I worked with one of the worst drivers ever. We had numerous arguments about his fast driving and even worse, his fast stops. A bus conductor needs a smooth driver and one he has confidence in because he needs his hands free to deal with cash and change and to issue tickets. Keith, not his real name, was a dreadful driver and sometimes used to stop the bus in an emergency by using the dead man’s handbrake, so called because it locked the wheels of the bus. We nearly came to blows after I had been sent sprawling across the top deck once too often and Keith’s excuse was that he had to slam the brakes on to avoid an accident. Of course, if he hadn’t been going so fast he wouldn’t have needed to slam on!
Eventually I went to our chief Inspector and told him frankly that Keith was dangerous and I wouldn’t be working with him again so they sent an Inspector from the training school to check him out. The inspector was in full uniform so you might think that Keith would have modified his driving style but no, he drove at his usual mad speed, lurching to a stop and seemingly enjoying throwing passengers and conductors alike all over the place. I always felt I needed those clamps that rock climbers have so I could clamp myself to a rail while I issued fares.
Later on, on what turned out to be our last shift together, we stopped up at Woodford where we had a twenty five minute lay over. I sat down and poured out some tea from my flask and started reading my book. Every time I got into the book Keith would say something so I’d have to stop, sigh, mark my place and say something in return. Eventually I could see he wanted to talk and wasn’t interested that I wanted to read so I put my book away.
He turned to me and told me about his wife who was pregnant. Then he said, “The thing is, I’m not the father. I’ll bring the child up as my own but I’m not the father!”
“Right,” I said. Inside I was thinking; what is he saying here? Have he and his wife had IVF treatment or something?
Keith cut me short and said, “She’s had an affair. It’s not my child. It’s my Dad’s.”
“Yes, she’s had an affair with my Dad. It’s all over now. We sorted it all out. I’ll look after her. It’s all over. She’ll be ok with me now.”
Keith reached into his pocket and pulled out a newspaper and began to read. He had let it out, the secret that had been eating into him, perhaps even the secret of his bad driving. Perhaps he had been taking his anger out on the people and streets of Manchester with his mad driving. I can’t tell you how shocked I was to hear his story. I wish I could have been more helpful. I wish I could have been supportive but perhaps I was. After all, it was me he chose to tell and I did listen but I did wonder about his dad. What sort of a man was he? How could he treat his son like that?
My own Dad was a super guy. He died at a hospice not far from Manchester Airport in the early hours of the morning many years ago but my Mum waited until six am to tell me, because she knew I got up for work at that time. He had been poorly for a while and the phone call wasn’t unexpected. Despite that it was still a shock. When I was much younger and dressed in denims and had long hair and was obsessed by pop music, just like many people of my generation, my Dad and I were worlds apart, but we managed to bridge that gap, eventually. Whether Keith and his Dad could do the same and bridge the gulf that had opened up between them, I don’t know.
The Inspector from the driving school took Keith off the road and sent him back into the driving school. The school failed his driving and he became a conductor on the all night buses. I never saw him again but I hope things worked out for him.
Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.
You’re right that there’s always a story behind the story. I’m sympathetic to Keith, and respect the fact that he chose to stay with his wife when many other men would have walked away–or committed violence. But his driving, whatever motivated it, could have injured or killed people and caused property damage. While people always have a reason for what they do, it’s wha they actually do that makes the difference.
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