The Trials and Tribulations of a Coach driver

Quite a few times travelling on the motorway I’ve seen some really nice looking futuristic coaches. Back in the early eighties I had a short spell as a coach driver working for National Travel but the coaches we drove were not quite so exotic.

picture courtesy wikipedia

picture courtesy wikipedia

Today’s coaches are limited to seventy mph but back then our coaches could do eighty or even ninety miles per hour. The job for us drivers on the Manchester to London route was all about getting down to Victoria Coach Station as quickly as possible, parking up at Battersea coach park then getting down to the pub. One of the problems of running at high speeds, especially in the summer, was that engine temperatures soared and we had to slow down. One day when, once again, I was the last to arrive in London and consequently got the worst hotel room, the one that nobody wanted, one of my fellow drivers asked me if I had used the heaters.

The heaters? What, in this heat?”

“Yes,” said my colleague. “When your temperature goes up slap the heaters on and you’ll see that temperature dial drop right down.”

Well, anything’s worth a try I thought so the next time I was on the London route I was hurtling along, way ahead of everyone and the temperature dial rose up into the red. Instead of slowing down I popped on the heaters and like magic the temperature gauge dropped down from the red into the black.

When I finally pulled up into the coach station in London I looked up into the mirror and there were my assembled passengers looking as though they had spent the trip in a steam room.

Hey, at least I got the pick of the hotel rooms though!

My fellow drivers and I were booked in at a hotel not far from Battersea coach park and in the evening we would assemble in a pub called the Drum for drinks. Some of the guys had told me about a group of ladies there who used to favour the coach drivers. They were known as ‘the heavy gang’ and for some reason I got the impression of them as being movie starlets, or fashion models. Big mistake! When I was first introduced to one of these ladies with, I might add, the whispered comment ‘she’s a right goer’ I was, well, let’s say disappointed. The epithet ‘heavy gang’ was clearly a reference to the ladies weight rather than their passionate nature as I had mistakenly believed. The Drum was not for me and from then on I rarely frequented its portals.

On one particular London trip I fell into the age old trick of thinking I had begun to actually know London. We were diverted down a different route because of road works and just as I thought we were back on the normal road I looked about and realised to my horror that I didn’t recognise any of the roads. Just then a young girl came down to the front and told me I was going the wrong way and I would have to turn back somewhere. I turned off the main road into a housing estate and just after completing a difficult three point turn (it was a 57 seater coach after all!) the same girl came back and asked if she could get off. I said sorry, no, I could only stop at authorised stops. She looked at me and pointed to the door of a house only yards away, “but that’s where I live!” She gave me that sad imploring look she must have used on many a coach driver so I opened the doors and let her off. Perhaps she wasn’t used to kindly northern coach drivers but whatever the reason she planted a huge kiss on my astonished lips, told me I was wonderful, and nipped off the coach. As I was finishing the three point turn and straightening the coach up she went into her front door and waved back with a huge smile. The rest of the passengers, subjected to this untimely diversion were not so happy.

After meeting the ‘heavy gang’ I tended to drink in the pub next door to the Drum. They had a pool table and I used to put a marker down and have a game. On this particular night a driver called Freddie came in (not his real name!) He was a really over the top friendly guy and seemed to be very concerned that I was on my own playing pool. He brought a few of the other National Travel drivers in and we all had a chat and a nice evening. Later on he asked me if I fancied going on to a club. Great stuff I thought. Here I am, a northern lad, clubbing down in London. I even imagined mydelf bumping into the girl I had dropped off earlier!

One of the other guys said to me quietly “Are you going to this club?”

“Yes,” I replied. “You fellas up for it too?”

“Well, not really, “they said. “Do you know what sort of a club it is?”

“What sort of a club? Well, I assume it’s a nightclub.”

“Yes, it is. But it’s a gay club.”

What?” I said.

If you don’t believe it they said, ask Freddie.

Well, I asked Freddie and it was a gay club and Freddie turned out to be the resident gay driver at National Express. He was a really nice guy but I was unable to return his affections. It’s nice to be wanted of course, especially when you are the new guy but it was hard work making Freddie understand that gay clubs weren’t my scene.

The next day when I arrived back in Manchester the Boss called me over. Apparently he had been inundated with complaints about my conduct on the trip down to London.

“What?” I asked, incredulously, “me?”

“Yes,” he said. “What’s all this about you going off route and dropping your girlfriend off at her front door in London?”

That one took some explaining!

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The French Grand Prix

The European grand prix season is well underway and it would have been rather nice to have combined my visit to France with a trip to the French F1 event, of course that’s clearly impossible as despite being the most historic race of all -there is no French Grand Prix.

Why ever not you may ask? The answer is this : the formula one season is a tv event first and foremost. It is the tv companies of the world that pay money into Bernie  Ecclestone’s F1  franchise and a race in France doesn’t fit into his the global tv vision of F1.

What does fit in then?  The Abu Dhabi grand prix,  with its multi million dollar circuit that is used only a handful of times  per year? Where there is no local motor sporting infrastructure, no local race teams and no local race drivers, in fact no local interest at all! There is interest though in publicising this small Arab nation to the western world through the power of tv and the same holds for Bahrain, another new race in the F1 firmament where the primary focus is Bahrain, not F1. Similar events now crowd the F1 calendar, China, Korea, Russia,  and Singapore.  Speciality non events far from the hub of traditional formula one racing like Spa Francorchamps, Monza, Zandvort, Silverstone, and the Nurburgring.

Recently Bernie Ecclestone was asked about the return of the French race. No, he said we will be having a race in Azerbaijan next year!  What? Can this man be serious? Clearly he is.

Ecclestone, who is currently facing bribery charges in a Munich court can clearly see the cash register jingling on the F1 till.  Still, when you consider he has been accused of slipping someone a forty four million dollar bribe, well,  the potential profits in that deal must presumably be in excess of, well, forty four million dollars!

The time has come for formula one racing to hand the managerial reins over to someone who is more interested in the sport than the million dollar pay check. OK, the sport has to make money, who would argue with that?  After all, the costs of todays race machinery, cars, engines, race tracks, drivers and logistics, are fantastic and teams like Marussia are desperate for points in order to tap into the incoming TV revenue to stay afloat.Even though, we do need some semblance of a sporting ethos in our sport. It is still a sport not just a million dollar business, isn’t it?

My advice as a long time race fan; ditch Bernie, ditch the exotic locations and go back to basics. recruit a CEO like Jackie Stewart, a highly respected F1 elder statesman who loves the sport and from that one standpoint will be on a level field with formula one fans the world over.