Resignations, Old Friends and Green for Danger!

I don’t know if you remember that old British movie, Green for Danger? I’ve not seen it myself for a while but this week I’ve been thinking about it and even done a search through my old VHS video tapes to find my copy.

If you’ve not seen it, the film is a murder mystery set in World War 2, and Inspector Cockrill, who is sent by Scotland Yard to investigate, is played by none other than one of my favourite actors, Alastair Sim. Although the film is a serious one, as usual Alastair Sim adds just the right amount of whimsical humour to make it just a shade lighter than perhaps it might have been. In one scene Sim crouches down expecting the crash of a German Doodlebug only to find a tractor passing by. A number of great British actors are also in the movie, Trevor Howard and Leo Genn to name but two.

The film is narrated by Sim in the form of a letter of resignation to his superiors after the case is finally resolved although not in quite the way he would have liked.

This week, I too have written my letter of resignation. It has not been a great week for me at work. I’m a deputy manager but deputising in my organisation is slightly different. I work in an emergency control room and most of the time I am just an operator, just like my colleagues. When my boss is not around, either off sick or on leave then it is me, as his deputy, who steps up and manages the shift. When he comes back I must once again step down and join my colleagues on the shop- sorry, control room- floor.

Still, it’s not a bad arrangement you might think, surely a step up the corporate ladder? Wrong. Maybe in an organisation that takes notice of its staff perhaps, maybe in a company where senior management are actually aware of the performance of the lower echelons and the efforts they make, yes, but here in a place where anonymous panels judge staff by their form filling abilities, it’s not a great situation.

Anyway, a while ago the management undertook a ‘refreshment’ -to use their word- of the deputy management situation. In basic terms, anyone who was a deputy had to re-apply in order to stay on as a deputy and now I find after six years I have not made the cut and I am no longer able to call myself a deputy manager.

Perhaps I am not that good at my job you might think, perhaps I am no longer up to the task of managing. Well, after six years of deputising I am older and wiser and although I have more backache than I used to have, I can still run the control room as well as I have always done. I wonder if I skimmed over the application too quickly; approached it too flippantly? Surely though, with six years worth of experience under my belt I must be better, more knowledgeable, more experienced than before. Does that matter? Apparently not. Am I a bad form filler? Perhaps yes.

All this started me thinking about a much simpler time many years ago when I became a bus conductor at the tender age of nineteen. I had returned from hitch hiking around Europe, sunburned and penniless and my Dad was not at all happy that I moped about the house all day winding up his electric bills by playing music constantly. That’s where the bus conducting job offered a solution. Well paid work while I looked for a proper job.

My driver was a guy called Jimmy. He was older than me and became a sort of, not a father figure but more an older brother figure to me. He mentored me in the arts of bus conducting and people management and laughed at my timid efforts to chat up the girls on our bus. Jimmy was a big speedway fan and quite a few times I joined him at Belle Vue and other venues watching the sport. At the time Jimmy had a three-wheel Reliant van and we chugged our way about the country to various speedway venues and after a late shift Jimmy would drop me off at home to save me from waiting on the grumpy staff bus drivers’ pleasure.

In return, I once gave Jimmy this big Lego set that my brother and I had. It had been a joint Christmas present to us years before; a great assortment of Lego bricks in a big wooden box that over time my brother and I added to with more bricks and bits and pieces and gradually built it up into a pretty big Lego set. It was no longer used and my Mum had suggested I give it to Jimmy for his children.

Jimmy was over the moon with the Lego and told me several times how his kids loved it.

One day I had the call from the chief inspector and he told me it was time for me to go in the driving school to become a driver. I wasn’t keen on leaving Jimmy and asked if I could defer driver training for a while. He agreed and Jimmy and I carried on our teamwork up and down the roads of south Manchester. Not long afterwards Jimmy had the call too, only he was called to become a one man operator. One man operators were paid much more money than conventional bus crews and being a fellow with a wife, children and a mortgage, it was not something Jimmy could refuse.

On our last shift together, we had arranged to have a fish and chip treat to mark the occasion. We were on the 148 route from Manchester to Woodford where we had a long layover at the terminus. I think we had a twenty-minute drop back but as we had so much extra running time at the far end of the route we could easily put our foot down and extend that to twenty-five minutes. We stopped in Cheadle Hulme, I nipped out and bought the chips and then we raced up to Woodford. Just as we arrived a man was running for our bus, waving his hands presumably as he thought we were about to drive off and leave him behind. We pulled up in the layby and set ourselves up at the back of the bus. Jimmy poured us a brew but the guy was knocking on the window. I eventually let him in and he was glad he had seen us because he was in a rush to get to Bramhall, a place about ten minutes down the road. We told him that he had a long time to wait and that we weren’t due to leave for another twenty minutes but he sat down a couple of seats from us at the back, watching us eating our chips and looking at his watch, all the while carrying on a moan about buses and timetables and public transport in general. He completely ruined that last fish and chip supper on our final day of working together. We left on time and dropped our one passenger off at a place which was hardly a five-minute walk from where he had boarded our bus.

Jimmy settled down as a one-man bus driver but I left and came back to the company quite a few times as well as transferring to other depots and other rotas. On another occasion I took a job working in the coaching unit and then got a position in the bus control room. In those days I was always on the look out for something new and doing the same old thing bored me very quickly.

Years later I bumped into Jimmy and we had a long natter and a brew at the bus canteen in Stockport. I’d not seen him for many years and I was so pleased to see him again. ‘Listen my mate,’ he said, he always called me ‘my mate’. ‘I need to see you again, why don’t you meet me back here tomorrow?’

I met him in the car park the next day and he opened up the boot of his car with a big smile and there was the old Lego set. His kids had grown up and he was returning the Lego set to me for my kids.

Sadly, I never did have any children and the Lego set was lost, probably left forgotten in the attic on one of numerous house moves. Jimmy and I lost touch and I never saw him again.

I remember once sitting with Jimmy at some nameless bus terminus and he turned to me and told me how much he loved his job and how he knew he would stay as a bus driver until he retired. That’s the same feeling I used to have here at my present job; that this was the place where I would finish my working career. Yes, used to have: until they demoted me.

Anyway, back to the letter of resignation. What was it Alastair Sim said at the end of the film?

In view of my failure — correction, comparative failure — I feel that I have no alternative but to offer you, sir, my resignation, in the sincere hope that you will not accept it.

Yes, I think I’ll put my resignation on hold, for now!


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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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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.


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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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