Driving a Bristol Lodekka is great fun but providing one as a birthday surprise for a former Lodekka driver is even better! One of my latest duties for Crosville was to do just that. All I knew when I turned up was that the customer wanted to drive a Lodekka around the industrial estate before I took him/her for a tootle round town.
My allocated bus, ex-Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318), had already been parked outside when I arrived so, after doing my walkaround checks on this and a second bus I was to take out for a wedding later, I waited for the customer to turn up. Eventually I spotted two ladies lurking by the entrance to the depot so I wandered over. They introduced themselves as the wife and daughter of the person who for whom we were providing the bus. Apparently he didn’t know anything about it and was being brought down to Weston from Bristol via a wonderful piece of subterfuge.
The chap’s name was Bob and it was his 60th birthday. He was under the impression that he was visiting the depot with his son in order to price up a new job. Apparently the pair are in business supplying replacement windows and doors. Several other members of his family were also on their way, to share in the birthday surprise.
As soon as I learned that Bob was in the dark as regards the bus, I decided to play along and put the bus back ‘in the dark’ until everyone was ready to surprise him. I love a bit of theatre! With mother and daughter on board and in phone contact with several key people, I drove the bus back into the cavernous darkness of the garage. Several cars arrived outside and soon I was beckoned forward. I poked the nose of the Lodekka out of the depot until I could see a surprised gentleman being greeted by several carloads of relatives. I chose that moment to drive the bus up towards the group. The expression on Bob’s face was a picture, in fact I wished I could have taken one right then but my hands were rather busy with a big white steering wheel. There were tears in his eyes and I don’t know how he managed to keep it all together!
I jumped down and introduced myself. He told me that he used to drive for Bristol Omnibus Company in the 1970s and 80s, often on the number 11, based at the Lawrence Hill depot. I found a moment later on to change the destination number to 11. I outlined my plan then we all piled aboard. I drove the bus out of the depot and along the main road as far as the next major roundabout before coming back to the industrial estate.
Then it was Bob’s turn. I made sure that the seat and mirrors were properly adjusted to his liking and that he was happy to carry on without any further instruction from me. I walked back to the platform and gave him two bells. I waited with trepidation for the first gearchange but he managed it OK, if a little jerkily. He spent the next half an hour or so driving up and down the main estate road until his arms ached. There were plenty of gearchanges to occupy him as we had to take the bus very gingerly over several speed bumps. His relatives were all in the lower saloon, watching Bob in the cab and taking photos and video clips on their phones. Bob even managed to get into top gear, not difficult to do when the bus can only do 30mph tops!
When he’d had enough, Bob stopped the bus outside the garage, jumped down from the cab and shook my hand. He was obviously as pleased as punch, not only about the birthday surprise but also how well he’d remembered how to drive a Lodekka. I took the wheel again and gave them a ride out along the seafront and back via the town centre. My driving was probably more smooth and relaxed, as Bob had driven quite vigorously. Probably a result of having to drive in city traffic with a timetable to keep to, back in his BOC days. On arrival back at the depot, I drove straight into the garage and parked at the back so that Bob could see all the other heritage buses lined up against the wall. About 8 of them are ex-BOC and it’s quite likely that he might have driven at least two of them in service all those years ago. Sightseeing done, I ushered them all aboard again and took them outside where their cars were parked. Congratulations were shared, photos were taken and more handshaking done. As they all drove away I smiled broadly. A job well done, I thought.
By then it was lunchtime so I put the Island FS6G back in the garage and brought out the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF, which I was to use for a wedding job that afternoon. The pickup point was a church close to the bus station in Bristol city centre. I had warned the customer earlier in the week that I couldn’t stop outside the church for very long as it was a narrow road and the bus would cause an obstruction for buses exiting the station. So I took up position the other side of the bus station in a handy layby and awaited a pre-arranged phone call on my mobile. Once the wedding party was outside the church one of the ushers called me and I took the FLF round the block to load up. I wanted to get out and hurry them along, as I could see a few vehicles in my mirror waiting to get by, but thought better of it. Two of the ushers seemed to be doing a good impression of a pair of extremely well dressed sheepdogs!
The destination was not far away and the customer had asked for a short tour before arrival just before 4pm. Not knowing how much time we’d have, I had two ad-hoc routes up my sleeve. One involved going up onto Clifton Downs and back under the suspension bridge and the other would take us up to the Clifton Triangle and back down Park Street. Looking at the time available I elected for the shorter route but as we arrived back at The Centre with nearly 30 minutes in hand I decided to extend the route by going along beside the harbour to give the passengers a look at the SS Great Britain and then return along the other side. All went well until we met a queue of traffic waiting to join the road over the Cumberland Basin so I ditched that plan and re-joined the road that would take us back to the city centre. We arrived, with about 10 minutes to spare, beside the Glassboat which is a floating restaurant moored close to Bristol Bridge. Another job done!