School Prom season on the buses

Life has been so busy lately (busy driving, mostly) that I haven’t had a chance to put finger to keyboard for quite a while. Lots of stuff has been happening so I plan to bring this blog up to date in the next few days.

End of term seems to bring a flurry of school prom jobs these days (it’s an American import) and 2014 has been no exception.

Greenway-bus-at-Cockington

In the space of one week I did five school jobs in addition to my normal turns, working for three different operators. I spent a day working for Crosville Motor Services which meant a very early start – up at 5am and booking on at the depot at 7am. My first job was to take ex-BOC C5055 (Bristol VRT LEU263P) over to Radstock to pick up a party of schoolgirls and take them to Midsomer Norton. While preparing the bus I noticed my friend Dave Moore in the depot, preparing another bus. When I asked where he was going, he said “Midsomer Norton”. Oo-er, I thought. Have we both been booked for the same job? It turned out that two Crosville buses had been hired by two separate groups going to the same prom!

On the journey out to Radstock I took the cross-country route via the A368. I soon regretted it because, although it is the most direct route it’s also very meandery and narrow in places. I arrived at the pickup point in plenty of time and waited for my passengers. There was some dismay when I turned up with the green VRT because they had originally booked ex-Crosville DFG81 (open top FSF6G 891VFM) but this bus was off the road with cooling problems.

LEU263P-at-RadstockI had requested a map of the ‘prom route’ and we set out to do a circuit of the two towns of Radstock and Midsomer Norton. Not long after setting out we began passing other vehicles heading for the same event – stretch limos, a vintage car, various other classic or muscle cars.

Having done a circuit as planned, we arrived at the Norton Hill School gates where crowds of onlookers had gathered. However, we were too early apparently and I was waved on to do another circuit! By the time we came back there was a huge queue of traffic waiting to get past (or go into) the school entrance. When it was eventually our turn I was directed by marshals to follow a line of other vehicles into the school’s turning circle. Ahead of our bus was a rather noisy muscle car – a powerful convertible Jag, I think, carrying a couple of sixth form boys – the driver of which insisted on revving the engine at every possible opportunity. It seemed that the whole school, including many parents as well, had turned out to watch the spectacle. Having disgorged its load, a green Lodekka headed towards me. It was Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) with Dave Moore at the helm. We exchanged a few words as our cabs passed and soon, amid much cheering and stamping of feet from above, I found myself at the head of the queue, surrounded by marshals and photographers. Suddenly there came the sound of a fire engine approaching but the siren was the old ‘nee-naw’ type. It was an old machine, now in private ownership, conveying yet more testosterone-fuelled manhood.

And then it was all over. With a sigh of relief I took the VR out onto the relative quietness of the main road and sought out a suitable parking place for my rest period. For the return journey I chose to go via Wells as it was a much easier road to drive and only about 4 miles longer than my outward route. I settled down to enjoy the throaty roar from behind me as the Gardner 6LXB thrust me towards Weston. Bizarrely, as I drove the bus back into the garage, the SV Lodekka was just reversing into a parking spot having only just returned. Well it did have a 20mph disadvantage – my VR can do 50!

After another break I was preparing for my next outing, a school run with a modern decker.

V129LGC-at-Backwell-SchoolThis was a Volvo B7TL/Alexander ALX400 painted in Crosville’s green local bus service livery. It was one of three Crosville buses going out to Backwell School near Bristol. Driving this bus was very similar to the Volvo Olympians that I’d driven last summer while working for Rail River Link – fully automatic, power steering, the works. Compared to the workload of a crash box driver, I was relegated to a steering wheel attendant! The operation was carried out with military precision. My bus was ‘Backwell H’ and I reversed into the ‘H’ bay that was marked out for the purpose. Once the schoolkids were aboard all the vehicles left, Le Mans style, one after the other. I only had one drop to make and that was in a village called Claverham, near Congresbury.

Back at the depot I left the bus outside to be fuelled and cleaned while I retrieved the VRT I’d driven earlier. My final duty of the day would take me up to Bristol for another school prom.

VRT-&-Olympian-at-depotThe pickup was at Mangotsfield School, just a stone’s throw from my in-laws’ house so I was able to have a rest period (and a bite to eat) somewhere familiar. Just before I set out for the school I heard the same ‘nee-naw’ siren. Was it the same fire engine that I’d seen earlier? I didn’t see it again so I’ll never know.

Arriving outside the school I was met by chaos. There was no chance of driving the VR into the school gates to turn around as the whole area was seething with gaudily dressed youngsters and camera-toting parents. Not only that but all sorts of conveyances was emerging from within the school grounds the whole time. I parked the bus partly on the verge (naughty, I know) while I sought out my passengers and planned a turning manoever. After finding some parents to see me back and hold the traffic, I warned the kids about low hanging branches (of which there were a lot nearby). I reversed the bus and we proceeded through Mangotsfield, Staple Hill and Fishponds to the city centre.

Having checked out the Marriott Hotel on Google Street View I was concerned about the height of the canopy outside so I approached it gingerly, peering up out of the side window. There was plenty of clearance as it happened and one of the hotel porters, who was checking the arrival of all vehicles, gave me the thumbs up. The sound of many high heeled shoes clattering down the stairs announced the departure of the sixth formers and they headed off to their Prom Party. I was pleased to note that most of them said “thank you” as they left or, because this was Bristol, “cheers Drive!”

All that remained was the empty journey back to the depot in Weston and then an 80 mile drive home. Boy, was I tired when I got there!

In a rare private hire duty for the English Riviera Sightseeing Tour bus, I took a party of sixth formers from Newton Abbot to the four star Imperial Hotel in Torquay on the Thursday of the same week. We were originally to have used their 1947 Leyland Titan PD2 but it was unserviceable with a leaking injector pipe so we used a 1980 MCW Metrobus instead. Both buses are open top so either one would have been acceptable!

The final school prom duty of the week followed a full day on the Agatha Christie bus in Torbay on the Friday. After dropping my last load of Greenway House visitors in Torquay I parked up beside the Princess Theatre and took a break. Then, heading back along the sea front, I turned right towards Cockington, pausing to check clearance under the low railway bridge. It seemed very strange to be driving the PS1 ‘off route’ up the lane to the village!

AHL694-Cockington-CourtAs the photo at the top of this post shows, my passengers (from a girls’ school in Torquay) were waiting outside the Drum Inn in the evening sunshine. The journey to the prom venue was quite short and, as it is now the custom to cruise around before arriving, I drove along the seafront as far as Torquay Harbour, did a 180° turn around the Mallock Memorial clock tower and back to the Riviera International Conference Centre to join a queue of other vehicles disgorging their multicoloured partygoers into the crowd.

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