Saturday was a good day to be in the heart of Bristol. But only if you were a protestor, a police officer on overtime or gay. But not if you were going to a wedding.
I should have known things weren’t going to be easy when I arrived at the garage to collect my bus for the day. YDL318, a Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G, had been helpfully parked outside ready to go. Except that it wasn’t. As part of my walk-around checks, I dipped the fuel tank and found that it was almost empty. The folks at the garage usually make sure that the bus I’ve been allocated has been fuelled up because I don’t have a fuel card but on this occasion this hadn’t been done. Fortunately I was able to borrow a card and so, after completing my checks, I made my first visit to a petrol station in charge of a bus.
I’m glad I wasn’t paying – it cost £126 to fill the tank!
If you’ve read the previous post you’ll remember that this bus only does 30mph so it took me about an hour to drive up to Bristol. The flip side to that is that, being a low-geared bus, it climbs hills surprisingly well. To reach my pickup point I drove up Jacobs Wells Road which involves quite a long uphill haul. This bus managed to get all the way to the top in 3rd gear! OK, so being empty probably made a difference but the FLF that I sometimes drive probably would have struggled.
The Avon Gorge Hotel clings to the cliffside very close to the city end of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, part of which you can see in the photo above. I turned the bus by reversing into a nearby side street and waited for the guests to emerge into the familiar grey dampness that masquerades as summer 2012.
As the guests gathered, a very keen professional photographer snapped away with several cameras. A master of the candid shot, it seems. A smart young usher carrying a clipboard, nominated to chivvy the guests and count heads, asked me if I knew about the road closures and would it affect our journey. I had to admit that I didn’t know and that we’d soon find out! At that point I wished that I’d checked the local news and made a Plan B but as it turned out no amount of alternative plans would have got us to the Registry Office that day. I climbed into the cab and, on getting two bells from Mr Smart Usher, set off for the City Centre. Ominously, an illuminated sign warned me that Park Street was closed but, by the time I’d seen it, I was already in the Park Street traffic lane. I could see ahead of me that other traffic was flowing quite freely so I took a risk and carried on. I was relieved to find that Park Street was not closed after all. Apparently it had been earlier, I found out when I got home.
At the bottom of the steep part of the street a huge, colourful outdoor event had taken over the entire College Green area and there were Police vehicles everywhere. Thankfully I had no trouble getting through but it was a different story round the corner. The Centre was choc-a-bloc with traffic and by the time we had reached the other side, I could see why. The road ahead was closed. The road I’d planned to use to get to the Registry Office.
A Policeman came up to the cab and asked me where I was heading for. “The Registry Office,” I replied. “You’ll never get there, chap, it’s all closed off. We’ve got two protests going on and we’re doing our best to keep them separate.” I learned later that protestors from the English Defence League had been on a march and rally while members of We Are Bristol were out to oppose them. He went on to advise me to pull over at the nearest bus stop and ask my passengers to walk the rest of the way. There seemed no point in looking for alternatives, if the whole area was cordoned off so I did as I was asked and went aboard to break the news to the bemused guests. Bless them, they took it in their stride and started to follow Mr Smart Usher round the corner towards Corn Street. I apologised to the guests as they stepped off the platform and arranged to pick them up at the same place in about an hour.
With much of the city centre closed off, the rest of the city’s streets were full of nose-to-tail traffic trying to find its way around the closures. By the time I reached a suitable spot for a break I only had about 10 minutes before I had to set off again. As it turned out, I arrived with time to spare so I left the bus at the bus stop and wandered around for a bit.
I had to admit that the green Lodekka looked rather out of place in the modern cityscape being passed by 21st century traffic. Unless he had been to the continent, a 1960’s bus driver wouldn’t have known what to make of the green Park & Ride bendy-bus that passed by!
Eventually my passengers emerged from a side street. This time however, extra guests had joined the party, having met up at the Registry Office. Sadly there were more people than seats on the bus so the last few had to take taxis back to the hotel which, fortunately, was only a couple of miles away. I pulled away from the Centre with my heavy load. Braking on a bus is not instant, like in a car, so I had to be on my toes – literally – in the busy stop-start traffic. We passed the Gay Pride event once again before ploughing up Park Street in 2nd gear. This used to be one of the most fashionable shopping streets in Bristol but is now a mere shadow of its former self, eclipsed by shopping centres such as Cabot Circus and Cribbs Causeway.
The most direct route back to the hotel wasn’t the most suitable for a bus so we followed a rather tortuous route back to the Clifton area. With the guests safely delivered to the hotel, I turned the bus in the same side street as before. The only difference this time was that my arms were quite tired from swinging the wheel around many corners and I began to puff a bit as I manoevered the bus! Added to that were several cars which had appeared from several directions, wanting to get past. No pressure!
I was glad I didn’t have to do battle with the busy City Centre again as the empty bus sailed back down Jacobs Wells Road towards the Cumberland Basin and home. Once out on the open road I allowed my gaze to take in the very familiar shapes of the Bristol Lodekka cab and bonnet. Was I dreaming? Since childhood I’d had a fascination with these buses and here I was in sole charge of one! It is quite likely I had seen this very bus on the Isle of Wight back in the 60s or 70s because I’d visited the island several times when on holiday with my grandparents. Somewhere I’ve still got an old Ian Allan bus spotters’ book (South Central area) in which I might find this bus underlined.