That’s the way the cookie crumbles; the luck of the draw; that’s life… these are ways to describe something that happens to you over which you have no control. So it was that I introduced a potential relief driver to the delights of the Agatha Christie vintage bus. Don’t get me wrong, everything went very well but there was a certain irony in that fact that I’m not exactly an experienced half cab driver and this was only my second day in service with this bus! But let me tell you about my first day.
I felt very apprehensive as I arrived at Greenway Quay to prepare the bus. Going solo is quite different from following in an experienced driver’s shadow! I probably took far longer doing my checks and preparing myself than necessary, mostly due to doing things in the wrong order. Thankfully it wasn’t raining or blowing a gale so it was actually quite nice to be pottering around the quay in bright sunshine.
Finally everything was ready and it was time to bite the bullet and take the old girl up the hill on my own. Soon after leaving the Quay there is a very tight bend with very unforgiving stone walls either side so I was careful to follow the advice I’d been given. I negotiated ‘the narrows’ unscathed but messed up my downchange from 2nd to 1st just beforehand. Handbrake on, start again.
I topped up the fuel tank at the filling station on the main road and set off towards Torquay. With time in hand, I waited beside the Inn On The Green pub which was once a private residence, built originally by Isaac Merritt Singer (of Singer Sewing Machine fame) for his son Mortimer.
A handful of people had pre-booked seats on the bus online, travelling from Torquay so I stopped in Belgrave Road. I spoke to several passers by who made comments about the lovely old bus but none of them turned out to be my pre-booked passengers so, at 09:45 I set off again for Cary Parade by Torquay Harbour but was flagged down almost immediately. Ah, passengers! They had apparently been told about the bus but didn’t know where it stopped. At the Harbour there were another 6 people waiting so I had a grand total of 8 passengers on my maiden outing!
With tickets dispensed and headset adjusted, I pulled out from the stop and began my commentary. I found this to be the most difficult part so far. I had to concentrate on driving safely, that was paramount. But, on top of that, I had to deliver an entertaining guided tour of the local area as well. I expect a woman driver would have picked up this skill very quickly as they are rumoured to be better at multi-tasking than men! Although nerve-wracking, it didn’t turn out so badly. I had done some homework in the previous week and carried a list of prompts in the cab just in case.
The journey to Greenway went well and I delivered my passengers to the entrance of the House without any incidents. That was followed by a trip down to Brixham Quay but, although I stood on the pavement in my busman’s uniform, smiling and chatting to passers by, the only person who showed any interest only wanted to take photographs. Of the bus, that is, not me. So an empty trip back to Greenway followed.
After a lunch break spent in the grounds, my Torquay passengers returned and at 13:00 we set off again. The commentary wasn’t getting any easier to deliver. I’m sure there were long periods of silence that could have been filled with something interesting so I’m determined to carry on working on it.
With no passengers to take back to Brixham, the return from Torquay signalled the end of my duty so I parked the bus back at Greenway Quay and made sure everything was turned off before heading for home. I need to build up my stamina – I felt as if I’d been to the gym!
Next day, the blind leading the blind, according to a prediction by one of my regular readers! I met up with a new driver, also a regular visitor to ‘Busman’s Holiday’. Dave has agreed to be relief driver on the Agatha Christie bus, providing some much needed flexibility to the roster. Two days’ training had already been arranged but the first of these, with the other regular driver, didn’t happen due to an unexpected problem with the bus so Dave was lumbered with me! We did the walk-round checks together and I did my best to pass on as much info as I could about the day’s duties. Once we’d set off up the lane (where again I missed that downchange) it was useful to be able to point out snags and pinch-points along the way as there is no window behind the driver’s seat.
Dave observed the journeys I did throughout the day, rather like I had done the previous weekend. Similar to the previous day, we only had a handful of passengers to take from Torquay to Greenway House. It was a bit daunting, aware not only of my paying passengers but also a driver who has followed my attempts at bus driving since before I took my test! Also like the day before, we had no passengers on the subsequent trip to Brixham. I’m sure that will change as the season progresses!
The 67-year-old bus behaved well on the return journey to Torquay, unlike the driver of a large, silver Mercedes we met in the lanes near Galmpton. Having just passed a suitable passing place and with our bus in plain sight ahead of her, the driver continued coming towards us until we were facing each other, stalemate. I spent a few moments looking down at the other driver before selecting reverse. Should I have stood my ground? I don’t know. There was a wider section of road not far behind us and I reversed the bus, making careful use of the mirrors but I couldn’t help feeling that something in that little scenario was the wrong way round. As if to rub it in, the other driver didn’t even wave a ‘thank-you’!
The trip back to Torquay was uneventful so, with an empty trip back to base ahead of us, I invited Dave to come and Tame the Tiger. He is, after all, quite proficient behind the wheel of a 75-year-old Bristol K (among others) so I knew that he wouldn’t have too much trouble with the Tiger. And so it turned out to be. I stood nervously behind him to begin with but Dave soon had the bus under his command and I was able to sit back and enjoy the journey.
With three straight days in the Tiger ahead of me next week, followed by a day with a Bristol FLF, my arms will probably have turned to jelly!