My most recent outing with Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF DEL893C was surely the most bizarre yet. The weather was fairly chilly but I didn’t expect to meet Santa and a Polar Bear!
To start with, I had a nice surprise waiting for me. My boss had sent me a cryptic text telling me that the FLF was all ready and I was to let him know what I thought. As I drove up the motorway towards the depot I wondered what had been done to it, that I should let the boss know what I thought. Had it been fitted with antlers and a big red nose? Had it been repainted into my favourite Tilling livery, red and cream? Had a Gardner 6LXB been shoe-horned into the engine bay? No, none of the above. I found the FLF waiting for me outside the garage and, as I opened the cab door, I was greeted by the unmistakeable aroma of fresh paint. The cab had been given a coat of Tilling Green paint, with silver and black adornments to match.
This was, apparently, a parting shot from the engineering apprentice who had now moved on to pastures new. It looked fantastic! It looked so good that I was reluctant to climb up inside for fear of spoiling the shiny silver floor! Needless to say, I had to make my mark with my muddy size sevens as I made my preparations and checks before setting off. I had plenty of time in hand so I wandered round the garage and took some pictures of some of the heritage buses under restoration and repair. I’ll share these in another post.
The trusty Gardner 6LW gradually came up to working temperature as I drove out on the A370 towards the M5 motorway junction. I was amused to see a handful of high-powered motorbikes burble past me, the riders clad in Santa suits. Across the other side of the motorway junction there is a large layby with a snack bar parked within. I had to do a double-take as I drew closer because the entire layby was full of Santas on Bikes! I idly wondered what event they were taking part in – I was to find out later because they featured heavily in my entire day!
My Job Ticket indicated that I was to pick up a bridal party from a narrow street in Westbury-on-Trym so I arranged with the customer that I would park up on nearby Falcondale Road and await a text message when they were ready, to save causing an obstruction in the street. As I waited, yet more Santas passed by in dribs and drabs, heading into Bristol from ‘oop north.
I picked up the bridal party as arranged and we joined the main road towards Clifton Downs. Well at least we tried to. As I pulled up to the junction there were yet more Santas on a Bike streaming past. Imagine this location, where you can’t see very far due to the junction being at the top of a hill.
Now imagine sitting there for fully ten minutes as the Santas keep coming by in a seemingly unending convoy. Eventually one kind rider halted the stream of bikes and let me out. We found ourselves in the middle of a huge parade of Santa-clad motorbike riders, with yet more passing us as we crawled along the road towards Clifton and the City Centre. Some of the bikes were adorned with twinkly lights, even trees! Some riders had cleverly fixed Santa hats to their helmets too. Touring bikes, tricycle bikes, large and small, old and new, they kept passing us. As we edged closer to the town I was hoping that the bikers would head off towards the suspension bridge and leave us in peace but no, the convoy continued on down Whiteladies Road, the same route I had planned. I glanced back at my passengers. Some were taking photos of the bikes, others were returning friendly waves. My concern that we were going to be late at the church faded a bit.
The closer to The Centre we got, the more people lined the streets to watch the spectacle. I chuckled a bit as people waved and pointed their cameras at us as well! Here is what it looked like from the roadside as the bikers rode down Park Street:
I’m sure someone will have caught our big green interloper passing by but I’ve yet to find one on YouTube!
After a journey that took far longer than planned, I dropped the bridal party off on The Centre and they headed off down the back streets towards St Stephens Church. I apologised to the bride for the long journey, explaining that the bikers were not part of my plan!
I found out later that the bikers were taking part in the annual “Santas On A Bike” charity run. They had raised £10,000 during the 2011 event and the estimated £6,000 proceeds this year were going to the Childrens Hospice at Charlton Farm, Wraxall. This is where the bikers were heading for, to deliver their gifts. Knowing all this, I put the inconvenience they had caused aside!
I parked up in a bus layover bay while the wedding ceremony took place, ate my lunch, watched yet more Santas pass by and waited for pickup time. Darkness had fallen as I drove back through the city traffic towards The Centre.
With interior lights casting a warm glow onto the pavement, the wedding guests reappeared and boarded the bus. This is when I had to do another double-take. Among the guests ambling back from the church was a polar bear. Yes, you read that correctly, a polar bear. Well, a man in a polar bear suit.
He was trotting along on all fours, polar bear fashion and needed a bit of help to climb the step and take his seat beside the door! Apparently, the polar bear features in an Advent tradition where he follows the star. In my version, it’s wise men from the east. It was most bizarre to stand in the doorway with a large white bear peering at me. He didn’t say a word to anyone, he just sat there.
The customer had requested a mini-tour of Bristol’s Christmas Lights so I engaged 2nd gear, still smiling, and pulled out into the traffic. We headed up brightly lit Park Street which, with a fairly full load, required 1st gear to reach the top. Around the Triangle and back down to The Centre, then along Baldwin Street and Union Street to reach the Horsefair, in Bristol’s once-famous Broadmead shopping centre. The guests, bearing assorted buggies, food trays and a polar bear, disembarked and mingled with the Christmas shoppers as they headed for the reception at The New Rooms.
My job complete, I re-joined the slow moving traffic and headed out of town. Just for fun, I left the interior lights on even though the bus was empty. Am I an attention seeker? Maybe. Well, it was nearly Christmas and everything else on wheels was lit up!
And so ended my last heritage driving duty for 2012. Or so I thought. I’ve squeezed in one last duty on the 29th!