Google Street View plays havoc with your sense of distance. I’m just saying that in my defence, for almost overshooting a turning yesterday. But more of that later.
The occasion was a wedding duty from Bristol to Claverham with Bristol LD6G 969EHW (L8515 in the Bath Services fleet). It was a reasonably straightforward duty, as jobs go. The Crosville depot was strangely deserted when I arrived at about lunchtime. The garage was locked up and the only person on site, apart from some electricity engineers nearby, was Simon, my conductor. Our bus was parked up, all ready to go, alongside a modern bus. With time to spare, I did my walkaround checks and ate some lunch.
We set off up the A370 towards Bristol city centre where we were to pick up a wedding party from the Registry Office. Our rostered Lodekka has a 5-speed gearbox which enabled us to make good time into the city. In fact we were about 30 minutes early so I pulled into a bus layover point near Temple Meads station.
It only took us 5 minutes to drive around to the Registry Office. We still had a while to wait for our guests to appear so I took this photo of a piper busking in the street a short distance away.
As per usual, several people stopped to admire the bus so Simon and I chatted to them and told them why we were there. Eventually a crowd of smartly dressed people emerged from the doorway of the Registry Office and filtered through the shoppers and tourists towards the bus. We ended up with a very full load, in fact I don’t think there was a single spare seat anywhere. I felt the difference as soon as I drove off, having had 2 bells from Simon. The bus felt very heavy, slow to accelerate and harder to stop! Fortunately our progress was slow through the city traffic, allowing me time to adjust my driving to suit the heavy load.
I don’t know if any adjustments have been done to the bus since the last time I drove it, but I found that changing gear was much easier this time. On my last trip with this bus, to Bath appropriately, I struggled with the gearstick, having to almost wrench it out of gear before pausing in neutral. It was very annoying as this upset all my gearchange timings! Recalling this, I tried a different clutch technique in case I was pushing the pedal too far down. On some Bristol buses there is a clutch stop which acts as a brake on the flywheel. It comes into play when you press the clutch pedal all the way to the floor. I don’t know whether this bus actually has one or not but, just in case that was the cause of my previous problem, I only pushed the pedal halfway down. Whether this made any difference or not I don’t know. All I know is that the stick was much easier to move, although going from 4th to 5th (overdrive) and back was still rather stiff.
Once out of the city the roads were clear I was able to wind the bus up to 40mph quite soon. However, every incline we met slowed us down due to the full load and we were down to 3rd gear quite often.
As per usual, I had studied the map carefully so that I knew where to turn off the main road. Trouble is, I gained an impression from Google Street View that the turning for Claverham was a couple of hundred yards after the Lord Nelson pub which we sailed past still in 5th gear, albeit not at full pelt. All of a sudden I saw the turning coming up swiftly on my right. The Google camera has a very wide lens and this plays havoc with perspective and distance (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!) so I indicated for a right turn, threw out the anchors and did a swift change down to 4th, half expecting the passengers to end up in a heap by the front bulkhead. I exaggerate, of course – everyone remained in their seats! I hauled on the wheel and just made it into the turning.
Having not actually been to the venue before I had to rely on my sense of scale from the map, which showed a reasonably wide entrance into the Village Hall car park. It also showed a grassy traffic island in the middle of the car park but I wouldn’t know if there would be room to drive into the car park or not with a 27ft long double deck bus until I was there. I pulled slowly into the car park and made a quick decision to drop the passengers and reverse out. But, as I drove in, I felt that there might just be enough room to make a turn at the end of the island. This would have the dual purpose of having the bus facing the right way to drive out again and would also enable me to place the platform right alongside the Village Hall doorway. The fact that a number of camera-toting guests were standing outside the Hall watching us approach had nothing at all to do with my decision to attempt the turn!
I slowed to a snail’s pace, shaped up for a sharp turn and hauled on the wheel furiously. It took me halfway round the turn to reach full lock and then it was just a matter of waiting to see whether it was going to work or not. Apparently they were laying bets inside as to whether we would make it but my conductor, bless him, assured them that I knew what I was doing and that we would be OK. Spot on, as it happened. We came close to brushing the shrubs outside the Hall with the mudguard but, feeling very pleased (and relieved), I stopped the bus with the platform just where I wanted it and killed the engine.
Simon and I stood by the door to ensure that everyone alighted OK. We waited for photographs to be taken, took a break, checked for lost property and sleeping passengers and then left. I dropped Simon in nearby Congresbury so he could catch his bus home while I took our bus back to the depot. One door was open but I still had to park outside because there was a power outage and the main door couldn’t be opened. The electricity engineers were still on site and our part of the estate was powerless.
As I completed my tacho chart another green Lodekka arrived, driven by my friend Dave Moore. He’d had the Southern Vectis FS6G all day which was very apt as he is a frequent volunteer at the Isle of Wight Bus Museum. It was nice to chat face to face for a change, instead of via the internet!
That’s it for another couple of weeks. My next turn will take me down to Frome, Somerset with the Southern Vectis Lodekka.