The view from here: Real passengers know how to behave

There have been many letters claiming that I'm not a real bus-driver. Well, who is? I doubt if any of my colleagues expected to end up in this job. It was just something that happened to them. One minute they were ordinary citizens; next . . . whoosh . . . they were bus-drivers. Now there are all these men and women, doomed, like Hamlet's ghost, to drive up and down, in a bus, forever. And I'm one of them.

Besides which, I could just as easily turn round and say I don't think the passengers are real either. Not all of them anyway.

For instance, I may see a couple happily strolling across Clapham Common, possibly hand in hand. They're out for a walk: they're not real passengers.

Then suddenly they'll hear the friendly trundle of my engine and one of them will exclaim: 'Oooh look - a bus. Let's catch it]' (I don't actually hear them say this, but you get my meaning.) Next thing, they are racing as fast as they can towards the nearest bus-stop. And they seem to think that if they beat me to the post then I'll have to stop. Some of them actually touch the pole to prove they got there first.

But I'm afraid it's not quite as simple as that. As I've explained before: it all depends on how much time I've got. If they are real passengers they will understand this.

One morning I came up to a stop and next to it there was this hippie asleep on top of a wall. I thought 'I'm not stopping for him' and was just sneaking the bus past the stop when I realised it was my mate Tony on his way to work (he's a gardener). I had to stop and hoot the horn to wake him up.

When I saw him in the pub a couple of days later I told him I was the driver of the bus which woke him up. 'I thought it was a bit unusual for that to happen,' he said.

Then there are the people who aren't passengers at all, but tourists. The whole idea for them is to stop a big red London bus and speak to the driver.

(British people only do this if they are complaining). They usually ask if I can tell them the quickest way to go to the Tower of London and I say: 'Yes - commit treason.

American tourists are best as they usually address the bus-driver as 'Sir': 'Pardon me, sir, but

do you go to Harrods?', or 'May I take a photograph, sir?' Now all this is very handy if we happen to be running a couple of minutes early and have some time to get rid of.

I'm engaged in conversation over the bonnet of my bus and the people on board can see I'm being nice: a sort of roving ambassador.

My friend Bill goes one better. He has this huge map which he keeps in his jacket for just such occasions. He gets it out and opens it to point something out to the tourists.

With luck, the map will get all in a tangle and many hands will have to help to get it all folded up, and by that time he's running on schedule again.

My conductor, Stanley, is a bit impatient for this and sometimes hits the bell while I'm still talking. This leaves the bus in a kind of limbo while the passengers scurry up the side and scramble on so we can get going. Ironically, it is Stanley they thank.

Of course, it's different if Stanley wants to help some tourists. We have to wait ages while he gives directions from the platform, and all I can see in the mirror is this arm waving about at the back of the bus.

By the time he rings me off I'm in a grump and we usually have a row about it at the end of the run. Next time I'm talking to some tourists over the bonnet, Stanley appears at the glass and stares at them grimly.

No, the only real passengers are the ones who stand properly at stops to wait for the bus. They have the correct fare in their hand and they extend an arm as the bus approaches. No wonder they get angry when it goes straight past.

I suppose there will be many letters next week to point out that the ghost in Hamlet wasn't a bus-driver.

(Photograph omitted)

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