Before I post my personal review of a very active and interesting year, here is a brief account of my last driving turn for 2012. It was easily the wettest wedding day I’ve ever driven for and I had great sympathy for the newly-weds and their guests. Everyone who sets a date for a wedding knows that most things can be planned for but the weather is one factor that cannot be relied upon to co-operate!
If you lean in close you can smell the dampness and hear the swoosh of cars passing by on the wet road. This photo was taken while I was parked up in a layby on the road into Bath as I had time in hand and took the opportunity to eat my lunch and down a couple of cups of hot coffee.
The rain had started during the night and persisted through the morning, making my journey up from Paignton a rather slow one due to the spray being kicked up by the motorway traffic. Fortunately I had allowed myself plenty of time and was prepared for traffic problems and diversions due to the excessively wet weather of late.
At the Crosville depot, three other heritage buses were being prepared for the long journey to Winchester. A Bristol LH single decker, a Bath Services Bristol LD and my old friend, a Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF. They were to take part in the annual running day organised by the Friends of King Alfred Buses (FoKAB) on New Year’s Day.
I picked up ex-Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G YDL318 from the depot and drove, at a stately maximum of 30mph, up the A38 towards Bristol. Cutting across the southern outskirts of the suburbs, I passed through Brislington and nodded towards the Lodekka’s birthplace in a tribute to the sturdily designed vehicle in which I sat, which had lasted 50 years so far.
After waiting at a convenient spot just down the road, I pulled up outside the cast iron gates of the Roman Catholic Church in Julian Road, Bath. As the wedding ended, guests boarded the bus. One of the ushers looked bemused and asked “Where’s the red bus?” I had no idea so I replied “Sorry, I don’t know. Did you have a different bus bring you here?” Apparently another operator’s bus had collected the guests from the reception venue and transported them to the church but now, with extra people having joined the party, they were expecting to see two buses. For a while it looked as though I would be making two trips but all became clear when someone else explained that the other bus would be returning soon after I had left with the first load. I was very relieved, knowing that my bus could only do 30mph and that I may have risked running out of driving hours if the weather, as well as the slow speed, had delayed my return journey to Weston.
In the end, all was well and I delivered my load safely to the Guyers House Hotel on the outskirts of Corsham, Wiltshire. There were only two hairy moments and they both involved tight turns. The first of these came soon after I had left the church and I had seen it on the map earlier. It was a light-controlled junction so I deliberately held back at the lights to give myself room to swing wide and avoid the traffic island at the end of the turn. I had to really heave on the wheel to reach full lock as quickly as possible and I was glad to do it in one ‘take’. The other tight turn was at the end of the journey, just before the hotel. The entrance is down a narrow lane and, having been there once before in a Bristol FLF, I knew I had to pull over into the middle of the main road and turn sharply before sticking the nose down the lane. Once again, we just squeezed in with a few inches to spare.
There were numerous flooded sections on the journey, with huge puddles in the road. Some of these met in the middle and were quite deep so I slowed down considerably as I had once been conductor on a Lodekka in similar conditions where the centre aisle was awash with water that had gushed up through the floor behind the bulkhead!
With passengers departing under multi-coloured umbrellas towards the reception venue, I took a break. A few minutes later a London Transport Routemaster (RML2665) joined me in the car park. This was the bus referred to by the usher earlier and had been provided by the Bath Bus Company. The driver and I chatted for a while before he left for his depot.
My break over, I climbed up into the cab for the last time in 2012 and began the long, empty journey back to the depot. The bus felt much lighter as I swung out of the lane and onto the A4, accelerating up through the four gears in short order. This is a bus with a low-ratio back axle so acceleration and hill climbing are excellent but the trade-off is a low top speed. The rain, which had helpfully eased off a bit when I had passengers on board, returned with a vengeance as I passed through Bristol. I began to wish for the (relatively) balmy days of summer!
It was dark when I parked the green FS back at the garage and completed my paperwork. I looked wistfully over my shoulder as I walked back to my car, hoping for more of the same next year, but without the rain, please.