National (Customer) Service!

Steve HigginsBad manners, foul language and general bad behaviour are some of the criticisms pointed at the youth of today. Some people blame poor schooling, some blame bad parenting as the source of the problem. Of course the thing is what to do about it?

The first thing my dad would say, and perhaps many others of his generation too, would be ‘bring back National Service!’ Ok but I say let’s go one better: Let’s have National Customer Service! Yes, the youth of today should have to commit to a minimum of two years customer service before they embark on life. Two years given to the mother nation in the name of customer service. That would do the job!

THE SCENE: MANCHESTER BUSES CUSTOMER ENQUIRY OFFICE ON A QUIET SATURDAY MORNING.
THE TIME 08:12 HRS.
IN LEVENSHULME THE 190 SERVICE INTO MANCHESTER ALBERT SQUARE HAS PASSED THE MIDWAY PUB FOUR MINUTES EARLY.
AN IRATE WOULD BE PASSENGER HAS IMMEDIATELY CALLED THE ENQUIRY OFFICE.

OPERATOR 1
Morning ,bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER
Where’s my f***ing bus!
OPERATOR 1
Sorry, I am not paid enough money to listen to that sort of language!
OPERATOR 1 CANCELS THE CALL.

OPERATOR 2
Morning, bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER
Where’s my f***ing bus you bast***s!
OPERATOR 2 CANCELS THE CALL.

OPERATOR 3
Morning, bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER
You lousy bas****s! Where’s my f***ing bus?
OPERATOR 3 CANCELS THE CALL

Eventually the call reaches operator 8. Now operator 8 is my friend Jiffrey. That’s right, we tend to call him Jiffrey, rather than Geoffrey, his actual name.  He used to be known rather humourously, we thought, as ‘Jiff Lemon’, as he is a bit of a, well, a lemon. Having said that the way he dealt with our irate customer should qualify him to be an instructor in the new National Customer Service.

JIFFREY
Morning, bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER.
Your fu**ing company and your drivers are a shower of bas**ds!
JIFFREY
I see, how can I help though?
IRATE CUSTOMER
Your fu**ing bus has gone past 4 minutes early! I’m going to be late for f***ing work!
JIFFREY.
Dear me. Shall I call the local zoo and tell them the monkey cage is going to be short this morning?
IRATE CUSTOMER
What?
JIFFREY
Don’t mind me, just my little joke. Sorry about the bus this morning. I’ll send a report to the inspector straight away.
IRATE CUSTOMER
And another thing. One of your people just called me a bastard! Tell him he’s a cheeky c**t!
JIFFREY
I’ll pass that message on straight away.
IRATE CUSTOMER
So what can I do now?
JIFFREY
Well there’s another bus at 08:38. That’ll take you to Albert Square or if you want Piccadilly there’s a 192 every six minutes.
IRATE CUSTOMER
OK I’ll have to wait for that one then but I’m not f***ing happy about that. I’m going to be late.
JIFFREY.
Well, sorry about that. Anyway, It’s been a pleasure and a privilege speaking with you. Have a nice day.
IRATE CUSTOMER.
(Lost for words.) OK.

Jiffrey was, as you can see, a master of customer service. He had skills that are so lacking in today’s society but a National Customer Service would remedy that issue. The benefits are enormous:

1: No more foreign call centres.
2: Foreign people from eastern Europe could be sent to the centre too, vastly improving their English language skills.
(Not long ago I went for a pint in Manchester with my brother. The lady behind the bar was a Polish lady. I greeted her with ‘Hi. Can we have two pints of lager please love.’
She replied with ‘Vot did you say?’
I repeated, ‘Two pints of lager!’
She looked at me as if I had used similar language to the irate man in the text above, went into a back room and returned with the landlord . He said ‘yes?’
I replied, ‘two pints of lager please mate’
He looked at the girl and said ‘two pints of lager.’
She looked again at him questioningly and he pointed to the lager pumps and gave her two fingers. I assume for the number of pints.
Eventually we were served but then another man came in and said, ‘pint o’ bitter love please!’
She answered with, ‘vot did you say?’)
3: Improved manners and behaviour in young people.
4: Vastly improved people skills nationally.
5: Unemployment figures vastly improved.

Lobby your MP today for National Customer Service!


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Floating in Space

Be nice to people on your way up, because you’ll meet them on your way down!

quotescover-jpg-771

I’m not totally sure of the origin of that quote. I personally remember it from one of David Niven’s classic books about the golden age of Hollywood but when I looked it up it is attributed to quite a few people, Walter Winchell, Jimmy Durante or even George Raft for instance so who really said it first I can’t say.

Many years ago I used to be a bus driver. In fact I started work on the buses at the very tail end of the driver and conductor years and one of my colleagues was a guy called Neil. Now Neil was a nice fella but he was also a very rum turkey indeed. Way back then there were conductors like me who were honest, well reasonably honest. There was always the passenger who paid right at the last minute as he was getting off the bus and there wouldn’t be time to snap off a ticket. Those few pence went into the drivers’ and conductors’ brew fund and when we stopped at the next canteen (back in the late seventies and early eighties there was always another canteen on the horizon) I’d get the brews in with those few pence. Of course there were conductors who made a habit of approaching customers who were just getting off the bus and they made a regular brew fund out of those last minute bus fares. Others, those more dishonest ones, and I am sad to say Neil fell into that category, went out of their way not to give out tickets or even issued blank tickets. 

One day Neil got his hands burned. He’d issued a blank ticket to a customer and who should board the bus but the fraud squad. They checked the tickets and pulled Neil up regarding the blank ticket. Neil went to a tribunal where he was accused and faced the sack but an incredible stroke of luck came his way. The fraud squad lost the evidence. They’d misplaced the offending blank ticket and Neil managed to hang onto his job with a stern warning. The fraud squad Inspector, a not very pleasant chap nicknamed Himmler, came up to Neil and told him in no uncertain terms, he had him in his sights and one day he’d get him.

Well, Neil went on to become a driver and then a one man driver and by then, as far as I know, he had left his nefarious past behind him. Still, you never could tell. Some busmen took fare fiddling to a fine art form and it wasn’t always the ones like Neil who were the perpetrators. One guy, I’ll call him Arthur, spent a pretty uneventful life working for the bus company. He never upset anyone, was always on time and was rarely off sick. He was very good with money, and apparently invested his bus driving pay packet well. Of course he was one of the first one man drivers and on a good wage. Anyway, he did really well for himself and owned a nice holiday home in Prestatyn. Good on him you might think. Then he dropped dead one day of a heart attack and a few weeks later his widow came into the depot with Arthur’s spare ticket machine. Spare ticket machine? What spare ticket machine? Nobody had a spare ticket machine! Has the penny has dropped yet? Arthur was issuing tickets and taking fares for himself! Somewhere along the way Arthur had ‘acquired’ another ticket machine. Nice scam. No wonder he had a holiday home in Prestatyn! At least the Depot Inspectors didn’t tell the wife.

Anyway, back to Neil although before going completely to Neil I have to tell you this, At Lloyd road in Levenshulme, we had a small busmen’s canteen. The thing about this canteen was that if you were on the Manchester to Hazel Grove or Stockport route you usually stopped here for your breakfast or lunch. Now if you were going towards Stockport the canteen was actually just by two double yellow lines. Just past the canteen was a turn in to the bus parking bays but if you were due for a meal break and your bus was carrying on to Stockport you had to go through the traffic lights and stop in the lay by, leave your bus and then walk back to the canteen. Now, what most people did was stop on the double yellows then shout into the canteen for the new crew. It was wrong but that’s what we did and no one made a fuss. Anyway, one day an Inspector’s job came available. Various people applied but the guy who got the job was Neil and he decided that his first order of business as an Inspector was to stop buses parking on those double yellow lines! He did so and made himself a very unpopular fellow indeed. He’d wait by the canteen door and ‘book’ any driver stopping on the yellow lines and plenty of times myself and other crews would be coming along, ready to stop and we’d see Neil waving us on so we’d carry on, through the lights and on to the layby.

Now here’s where Neil’s past caught up with him. In those days a new appointment was probationary for six months and Neil went along to an Inspectors’ meeting chaired by one of the senior Inspectors who just happened to be, yes you’ve guessed it, it was Himmler. Now Himmler took Neil to one side. Asked what he was doing in Inspector’s uniform and by the end of the week Neil was back driving his bus and someone else was in charge at Lloyd road.

Neil of course, had upset many people in his short term as an Inspector and he had forgotten the golden rule: Be nice to people on the way up because, well, you know the rest. No one ever spoke to Neil again and he cut a sad figure, shunned by his workmates and always sitting alone in the canteen. Shortly after he packed the job in.


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7 Crazy Calls to the Bus Information Line!

Original image courtesy pixabay.com

Original image courtesy pixabay.com

I’ve written before about my friend and colleague Mister Nasty. We worked in the GM buses control room years ago and Nasty was the man to pass your calls to if your had any problem callers, he’d soon sort them out!

Photo Credit: North Wales Police via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: North Wales Police via Compfight cc

I was rummaging through a box of old stuff ages ago and I found a list he’d made of silly calls! Scroll down to find some of the better ones! I should add firstly that the picture to the right came from a web page that provides royalty free pictures and in no way resembles the GM Buses enquiry room. Imagine a scruffy office full of cigarette smoke, old newspapers and discarded tea cups and you’re on the way to getting the general idea!  We worked with a bunch of timetables clipped into big files and all in alphabetical order and a big bus route map on our desks then one day you’d get a call asking for a bus to Rochdale so you’d open the R for Rochdale folder and find B for Bolton because someone, usually the person sat killing themselves laughing opposite, had re-arranged your timetables during your tea break!

Seated next to me was Dave with a perpetual cigarette in his mouth. (As you can tell this was the early nineties, just before all this politically correct non smoking stuff!) Across from me was Mister Nasty and then Angela and Katie who spent most of the shift chatting to either each other or their friends. On the other side was Camilla whose nickname was PMT and could easily go off on a complete wobbler depending on the time of the month. Jeff, a pleasant enough chap who had lost his job as a driver due to some unexplained medical condition was next. Last of all and sat at the end next to Jeff was Norm, my best friend on the team. Norm was a nice guy but you had to be on the ball with him because if you weren’t he’d pull some trick on you like dialling in on an outside line and pretend to be a customer and then start an argument with you or, like he once did, pretend to be a member of the public who had put a carpet on a bus then followed on a bicycle but the bus was too fast and got away from him! Yes, you had me going then Norm, where ever you are these days!

Dave, the perpetual smoker, was a dour, straight to the point sort of guy. He’d get a call about a bus to Stockport from Manchester and he’d quickly reply, “The 192 service from Piccadilly sir, every ten minutes starting from 07.30 in the morning.” Then if you had nothing else to ask he’d give you the chop, job done and was ready for the next call.

PMT was slightly different. She’d answer the call by saying, “nice day for a trip to Stockport. Are you going to the market? Oh it’s a really good market there, and it’s all under cover in case the weather turns bad . .” And she’d go on and on.

One day, after a really busy session, I think it was a bank holiday or something, PMT must have been feeling really pleased with herself because she asked the inspector who had taken the most calls. The inspector that day was a really nice guy called ‘leave it wi’ me’ because if you ever asked him to sort anything out for you, he’d reply ‘leave it wi’ me’ and of course, never do anything. On this day he asked us all to hang about for a minute while he asked the ancient computer to throw up the figures. PMT was sure she had taken the most calls but it turned out to be Dave, yes dour Dave who answered the question then cut straight to the next call while PMT was still chatting. Well, PMT let off the most fearsome screaming wobbler, told ‘leave it wi’ me’ he didn’t know his ‘arse from his elbow’ and stormed off leaving the rest of us in a fit of laughter. I didn’t stop laughing until Normy got the beers in at the pub over the road!

GN BusesAnyway, as promised, here’s a few snippets from Nasty’s list:

 

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “Can you speak up? I’m partially sighted.”

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “My dog got on the 192 at Stockport. Has he got off at Hazel Grove yet?”

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “Can I use a birthday card as proof of age?”

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “My boyfriend has left his trousers and underpants on one of your buses!”

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “What time are the buses to Manchester from Roe Green on a Sunday?”

GM Operator: “They are 15 minutes past the hour at Roe Green post office.”

Caller: “They can’t be!”

GM Operator: “Why not?”

Caller: “The post office is closed on Sundays!”

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “What time is the night bus to Pilsworth?”

GM Operator: “Sorry, we don’t do a night bus to Pilsworth.”

Caller: Well, how much is the fare then?

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “What’s the fare to Oldham for a normal person?”


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Swimming, The French Riviera, and the Magic Bus.

Years ago when I was a teenager, my friend Chris asked me if I fancied a holiday in France with him at his Grandfather’s villa in Hyeres, not far from St Tropez. Now on the surface that seemed to be a pretty incredible invitation. I wish I had a friend today who could make me an offer like that. Like a lot of things in life though, there was a catch, and in fact there turned out to be more than one. Chris’ Grandfather was retired and living in the UK and we were taking him with us to visit his property in France. Anyway, we booked a trip on something called the Magic Bus; a coach service frequented by students and back packers attracted to the cheap fares. It was quite a contrast when we arrived in London and boarded our bus at the coach station; fifty or so teenage travellers and one rather frail old man.

cannes-190461blog_1280Two things stand out from that journey. One was waking up in the middle of the night, curled up in my seat and watching the two young French drivers effect a driver change while the bus was still travelling at roughly seventy miles an hour in lane one of the autoroute. One driver leant out of the cab, still hanging on to the steering wheel, while the other slipped nimbly past him into the seat. He took the wheel and then reached down to adjust the seat with his other hand. Once he was comfy and settled in, he put his foot down and carried on. The other driver was already asleep in his little bunk.

The other thing was early in the morning we awoke to find ‘Pappy’ as Chris called him, scrabbling about on the floor. He didn’t seem to understand my poor schoolboy French so I had to nudge Chris awake and ask what was going on. After a swift French exchange Chris said he was looking for the false teeth he had dropped in the night. One of the back packers nearby found them and Pappy leapt up, grabbed the gnashers and popped them into place!

Poor old Pappy was not happy when we arrived at his French villa. The villa had come to him after the death of his second wife and there were conditions attached meaning it would pass to her family in full when Pappy died. During his absence, the French relatives must have been getting impatient about their inheritance and they had somehow managed to sell off some parts of his land and rented out the downstairs of the villa to a motor mechanic. He was not happy.

The villa was the second catch. Lovely as it was with its extensive grounds, it appeared to me to have been untouched for many years. There was no running water at all in the house. If we needed water it had to be pumped up from a well in the garden. There were no indoor toilets; one had to use the traditional ancient French toilet outside. Pappy, being unable to reach these facilities in a rush, had a bucket in his bedroom which Chris and his brother Tony also made use of. As I could not approach the bucket without retching I declined to either use or empty it. However, after one evening of excessive drinking they caught me using it and I was forced to empty it the next day. I could only do so by wearing my diving mask and snorkel and as I pottered along to the French toilet the two of them, watching from afar collapsed into laughter which soon passed to me and it was much later, after repeated attempts, when I managed to complete my task.

That snorkel and mask turned out to be pretty helpful in an other way too. As a school pupil at Sharston Comprehensive school, every Wednesday I think it was, we marched the short distance to Sharston baths for our swimming lesson. I use the word ‘lesson’ reluctantly as I really don’t remember getting much tuition at all, As usual I joined the small band of non swimmers in the shallow end of the pool. The teacher tossed us a few polystyrene floats then joined the others at the deep end. That was generally the last we saw of him till the end of the lesson. All the time at that school I can only think of one person who ever made the move from the non swimmers to the swimmers and that was because his dad taught him to swim in the summer holidays. All well and good you may think but what has that to do with a trip to France? Well, simply this, on that holiday in Hyeres, with the help of my two friends and a borrowed dive mask, I finally gained my confidence in the water and learned to swim in the gentle blue waters of the Mediterranean by a quiet beach called ‘Le Cat.’

When the time came to leave, Pappy refused to go. He was Italian by birth but had lived all his life in France and wanted to stay here in a place where they spoke a language he understood. He was very old though and unable to look after himself and after some persuasion, he came with us and returned to the UK. Sadly, he died some time later.

Years afterwards Chris returned to Hyeres to take a look at the old place. He told me that the villa was still there but the land had all been sold and numerous properties now closely surrounded it. The relatives had finally got their inheritance.


If you liked this post, why not try my novel? Floating in Space is set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

Sychronicity, Care Bears, and My Very last day ‘On the Buses.’

When I first moved from Manchester to Newton-Le-Willows I had been assured that the head office for our newly restructured bus company, GM Buses North, would be in Atherton, a mere ten to fifteen minutes from Newton.

The government had begun deregulation in passenger transport in 1986 but the final act in the saga came in the early 1990s when they forced GM Buses to split into two separate companies because as a whole, GM had an unfair monopoly over bus services in Manchester. The irony is that today, companies like Stagecoach and Arriva are ten times bigger than GM buses ever was.

005ediyAnyway, just after I moved to Newton-Le-Willows, GM Buses North decided their new head office would not be as previously agreed in Atherton, but in Oldham. I wasn’t amused and after some time commuting from Newton to Oldham I jumped ship for a job in Warrington. I had decided to go back to being a bus driver for a short while just so I could get settled in my new location without a lot of commuting.

My new bus company was called Warrington Goldlines and they were running buses every few minutes in Warrington in direct competition to Warrington Borough Transport. They were following a trend set by Stagecoach of aggressive competition, flooding an area with buses to overwhelm and eventually take over their competitors. These techniques didn’t quite work in Warrington. Perhaps the locals were loyal to the Warrington Transport that had served them for years, perhaps they saw through the hype, perhaps they thought wait a minute; these new buses don’t run at night or Sundays so why should we support them?

Indeed, Warrington Goldlines ran bus services from six am to six pm Monday to Saturday which is what appealed to me when I went for the job. Anyway, I learned the routes then settled down in my new role. Goldlines had a special offer ‘dayrider’ ticket which cost 99p and lasted all day so a lot of daytime travellers and workers came aboard our buses. Unfortunately we also gained a lot of passengers who felt that even 99p was too much to pay. Frequently people boarded my bus waving any old bus ticket and expecting a free ride. Well, not on my watch as they say. I soon cracked down on a whole bunch of wasters, cheaters and fare dodgers and after a month I had banned a whole bunch of people from my bus. Not that they were bothered much as there was another one in ten minutes so if they couldn’t get on my bus they would wait for the next.

One day a regular scruffy couple boarded my bus saying “we’ve got dayriders!” and when I asked to see the actual ticket they had to make a thorough search of their pockets and bags which took some time. The ticket they eventually found was at least a week out of date so I declined to take them aboard. Now, in Warrington we had a bunch of passenger helpers known as the ‘care bears’ and my rejected passengers complained to the care bears about me but no, they weren’t coming aboard without a ticket. However, our one inspector decided that at this stage of our battle with Warrington Transport, public relations were more important than the small matter of not having a ticket or paying any bus fare so he decided this couple could travel for free. I wasn’t amused and when they left the bus at their stop and turned to say, “Thanks driver!” I was tempted to say something other than “have a nice day!”

Youths larking about and swearing was another problem especially on the number 123 service which went to Houghton Green and I banned about six youths from travelling on my bus. However, as it was a ten minute service when I turned back to Warrington I would see the lads on the bus behind me giving me the ‘V’ sign from the back seat. Still, karma, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, plays a great role in the life of a bus driver. All things are connected and if you are patient and at one with the universe, like me, synchronicity will turn the hand of fate into your favour.

On day the powers that be at both Warrington Borough Transport and Warrington Goldlines decided to sit down and work out their issues. Clearly WBT had not been driven into the ground as expected and the time had come for a discussion. The result was that Warrington was divided up by the two companies, WBT had their patch and Goldlines had theirs. Gone were the buses every ten minutes. Gone was the six pm finish and soon regular Sundays off would be just a memory. Time, I thought, for a new job!

On my very last day I was on the 123 service. The foul-mouthed youths were once again declined the opportunity to wreak verbal havoc on my bus and I left on my journey. Now, this was after six pm and there were no buses every ten minutes and of course no WBT buses as this route was now part of our exclusive patch of Warrington. After six pm buses dropped to every hour and when I returned to the bus station those same lads were still waiting. One of them knocked on my door. How could they get home now? What were they to do? Well, it was my last day so I took pity on them and picked them up. As we approached their stop I waited for the abuse that was sure to come. The muttered curses. The V sign as I drove off. Instead, when the doors opened the leader of the group came forward.

“Sorry for swearing at you in the past,” he said.

“Yes,” mumbled the others as they left.

No swearing, no abuse, just a simple apology. That was my last day as a bus driver. My last day ever in fact as I have no intention of doing that job again but those lads really made my day, in fact I even felt kind of mean for excluding them from my bus in the past. Then again, if that was what made them examine their behaviour then perhaps it was a good thing.

Either way, thanks to them I still have a good feeling about my last day on the buses.


If you enjoyed this post then why not try my book Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977? Click the links at the top of the page or the icon below to go straight to amazon.

Karma, Buses, and the Interconnected Universe.

blogtitileI was on the late shift this week and indulged in some day time TV watching. I was actually on the lookout for a good old fashioned black and white film but instead I came across a new channel five series called ‘On The Yorkshire Buses.’ It is one of those reality TV shows, not something I’m really that interested in but watching this show took me back about twenty five years to when I used to be a bus driver. Things have changed a lot in those intervening years according to this programme. Computer screens, mobiles, vehicle tracking, on board CCTV, yes all the usual twenty-first century technology but applied to passenger transport.

One of the issues the staff at Yorkshire buses had to contend with was a driver shortage and we saw a man who had been unemployed for two years, pass his PSV test and become a bus driver. Of course, it’s not getting staff that is important; it’s getting the right staff.

I suppose getting the right staff is an issue wherever you work. Way back when I worked at GM Buses in Stockport, I remember that we had a rota officially called the 900 rota, although unofficially known as the ‘Sick, Lame, and Lazy Rota.’ This rota was staffed by a bunch of people all near to retirement age and they did a regular split shift, Monday to Friday only, no weekends, and it was all easy work; the odd works’ service and a couple of the easier school runs. Thrown in to their duties also was a gratuitous share of standby time. Standby was when you have spare drivers or conductors, ready to fill in when a bus has broken down way out in the country or a crew has called in sick. The thing was, with the 900 rota people, their standby time was only a couple of hours so they were ninety nine percent certain they would never be called to go out. The drivers were fairly amenable old chaps but the conductors, all clippies, (female conductresses) were all quite the opposite. Go out on their stand by time, when they could be supping tea and knitting? Not likely! As you can imagine the 900 staff were universally unpopular.

When I was a one man driver, in the latter days of conductor operations, we used to do a trip from Bramhall in the morning rush hour. When we got closer to Stockport the bus was always packed to the seams and the extra rush hour bus, covered by the 900 staff always used to hang back and let the one man driver do all the work. Well, can’t expect our senior 900 staff to cover that busy run can we? And knitting won’t do itself will it?

I remember pulling into Mersey Square in Stockport with a bus bursting at the seams and the 900 bus pulling in behind me with about five people on board. I went back to that bus and told them in no uncertain terms they were out of order. The driver was about to say something when his clippie, Doris, the laziest conductress you ever met, pushed him aside and gave me a right mouthful about how I hadn’t been doing the job five minutes and how she and her driver had been at it since before I was born and well, I think you get the picture.

Now I have always believed in the interconnectedness of the universe, how one good deed will come back to you twofold and how those evil doers, as they used to call them in my old comic days, will eventually be punished. Anyway, one fine day it came to pass that I was asked to work my day off. I came in for my stand by duty and sat down with a cuppa and a slice of toast hoping for a nice relaxing read. After a while the tannoy called my name and I went over to the desk to see what was in store for me.

Doris, the laziest conductress in the world was there waiting for me. “Are you driver Higgins?” she bellowed.

“What’s it to you?” I replied in the same happy tone.

Well, it turned out that Karma, that magical mystery force of the universe had poked its nose into our life that day and her driver had called in sick and, guess what? I was her driver for the day. Well, when we came to do the Bramhall rush hour bus I caught up the packed one man bus, overtook it and we did most of the work coming into Stockport. That’s the way it should have been done with the workload, and the passengers split evenly between the two buses. When we got to Stockport our passengers piled off leaving our flustered conductress in a state of disarray and her cash bag full of coins. Her ticket machine had issued more tickets in an hour than it normally did in a week. She was looking a little peaky, if I remember correctly .

Perhaps that’s why she went sick for the rest of the shift!


You can read more about life as a bus conductor in my book ‘Floating In Space’. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

Buses, Nicknames, and the Scaremonger!

quotescover-JPG-28My current job is a safety critical one. I work in an emergency control room and many of the decisions me and my colleagues take have highly serious implications. It can be stressful work and sometimes I look back to a much easier control room job I had years ago. I once worked in the GM Buses Control room in Manchester.

Back then in the mid nineties the buses in Manchester had radio communication so the driver could advise control of late running or breakdowns, and even call for help in an emergency. I worked in a team in the enquiry section and we took queries from the bus travelling public of Greater Manchester.

In many ways it was a good job, lots of fun, good workmates and plenty of practical joking. Everyone had a nickname and one fellow I worked with, Paul, was known as ‘Mister Nasty’. He was the guy to deal with abusive callers and when a caller turned unpleasant we would put him on hold with a cheery ‘hold the line please!’ and shout across to Paul who would take the call and give back as much abuse as the caller would be giving.

One day ‘Nasty’ realised he had perhaps overstepped the line and the caller demanded to speak with his manager. The call was sent through to the duty Inspector who on that particular day was a nice guy called Alan who had the nickname ‘Leave it wi’ me’. Paul ran from his desk in the enquiry section, through the control room to where Alan sat on a raised dais where he could survey the whole room. Paul wanted to get his version of events in first and knew that with our antiquated telephone system the call would take its time to ping across the room. However, just as he reached the Inspectors desk the phone rang and Alan stopped Paul in mid sentence. ‘Just a minute Paul, I’d better take this call.’

Alan took the call, listened for a moment and said ‘Someone in enquiries called you a bastard? Leave it with me!’ and put the phone down. He turned to Paul and asked him to carry on. Paul thought for a moment then said, ‘Actually Alan, it doesn’t matter . .’ and went back to his desk.

Another staff member had the nickname ‘Norm’ which I think was based on a character from the TV comedy ‘Cheers’ but anyway, Norm had a particular dislike of the identity badge we had to wear in the control room. When it was time for a break, Norm would pull off his badge, slap it down on his desk and go off to the canteen. One day, some of the guys decided to cut out a shapely pair of breasts from that day’s newspaper page three model and insert the picture into Norm’s badge. I personally could not stop laughing and everyone was calling me to shut up and be quiet but I couldn’t help it. Thirty minutes later Norm returned, sat down at his desk, put on his headset, switched on his phone and clipped on his badge. I must have looked ready to burst and after stifling my laughter for about five minutes Norm looked over at me and asked what was wrong. He eventually found the offending picture and removed it convinced that I was the offending culprit.

GN BusesYes, that wasn’t the best job I have ever had but we did have some fun with fake calls and wind ups. We used to get calls from the Police and they would ask our radio staff to broadcast radio messages to our drivers. ‘Please be on the look out for a red Ford Fiesta registration number . .’ and so on. One day Norm called our radio man, an old chap called ‘Stoddy’ and pretending to be the Police asked him to put out information about a stolen Ford Camper van with a registration number of . . and gave out the registration of Stoddy’s beloved camper van. Stoddy had a near hysterical reaction and rushed out to the car park where of course his camper van was still parked. When he returned fuming to the control room we were still laughing.

Finally, I must tell you about Mr Scrimingeour who was one of the top bosses at GM buses and in charge of our fraud team. His rather unwieldy name was pronounced  SKRIM- IN- JUR- and many calls  came through the switchboard asking for him as anyone caught fiddling their bus fare received a letter demanding a five-pound fine which was signed by him. We had a list on the wall of the many mispronunciations of his name but the best, the very best came in a call taken by our very own Mr Nasty.

A caller had asked to speak to a Mr Scaremonger!


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