Life's just one big hoot ..: Bus drivers get to meet all the top people

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I was trying to think of 'famous people who've got on my bus', but really you would have to ask a conductor. I only deal with the traffic. He's the one who deals with the humans. (He has the harder job.)

I know a conductor who once had an argument with David Owen on a 159, but that's about it. However, we were out in a bus with hydraulic doors the other day, up in Piccadilly Circus. I was just leaving a bus stop when I noticed Michael Mates standing with his face pressed to the doors. I stopped and let him on and he apologised for holding us up. Which was nice of him. I didn't tell him that the only reason I had opened the doors again was because I thought his tie was caught in them. He got off in Whitehall and did not tip.

Most of the politicians I have seen have been on the pavement. Jim Callaghan was walking up Waterloo Place one day and I hooted him. He must have recognised me because he gave me a cheery wave. On the other hand, when I tooted Sir Robin Day as he waited to cross the road he just stared implacably, not even raising an eyebrow.

But I must report here that Robin Cook is a bit naughty when it comes to bus lanes. Especially the all-day one that runs along Millbank and past the Houses of Parliament. There he was, one morning, loading boxes and briefcases into this big car (with driver in attendance), blocking the bus lane and helping to make hundreds late for work. I hooted my horn and sat in the cab looking grim, but to no avail. Dennis Skinner (who was, incidentally, walking) looked bemused and ambled across Parliament Square, shaking his head sorrowfully.

Actually it is illegal for a stationary vehicle to sound its horn, but sometimes it is necessary. It is a good way to persuade the vehicle ahead to enter a box junction or make a dangerous right turn when they are hesitating and thus holding the bus up.

I generally use the horn just to say 'hello'. But this can cause problems too. I may see a pal on a bicycle and, trundling along behind them, give a friendly hoot. What I usually get back is a mouthful of invective about 'fucking bus drivers'.

Rarely do they recognise their friend from the pub when he's behind the wheel of a bus. A mate of mine is always complaining that buses never stop for him. I recently saw him waiting at a bus stop with his hand sticking out, so naturally I stopped. He ignored me and got on the bus behind which was going to exactly the same destination. People complain that buses come along together, but if passengers stopped hailing buses they don't want it would help improve the situation.

Talking of hailing buses, I was driving down towards Crystal Palace one night when I saw this bloke running down the road in an almighty rush. He looked so desperate that I waited up the road at the stop. He ran straight past. He was a jogger.

So why do we travel in convoys? The explanation is simple. It is so that each driver can have a conversation with the conductor on the back of the bus ahead. After all, there's no one else to talk to. I rarely get to talk to the passengers. All I see are their smiling faces when we swish round the corner on a rainy day when there hasn't been a bus along for half an hour. They are always pleased to see us, but they never say so.

And the only communication I have with my conductor is through the bell. I can usually tell what sort of mood he's in by how hard he hits the button, but it hardly amounts to conversation.

So it is nice to catch up with the bus in front occasionally and have a bit of a chat with the conductor.

Old acquaintanceships are renewed and information exchanged concerning the whereabouts of lurking inspectors. A friendly passenger may have had the latest Test cricket score, and this will be duly passed on.

A conductor and I once fell into a discussion about the 159 (which I was driving) being the only bus to run between Lord's and The Oval. We wondered if this was significant in any way. The conversation was intermittent because we could only talk at bus stops, for safety reasons.

Unfortunately, he was on a 13, and consequently I missed my turning.

By the way, if you happen to be reading this item while travelling on a bus, you may be entitled to a Star Prize. To claim it, simply wait until the conductor comes round for the fares. Just say: 'I claim my Star Prize,' and show him this newspaper. He will happily tell you what to do with it.

(Photograph omitted)