I think it's about time that I introduced my conductor, Stanley. We've been together more than three years now, and although we have had our ups and downs, we generally get on all right. Before Stanley, I used to work with a lovable clippie, but she'd been on the back of a bus for so long she developed Queen Anne legs and had to be medically retired. So it has been Stanley ever since. (Actually, Stanley isn't his real name: I've changed it to protect my identity.)

Stanley is of the old school and operates a strict but fair regime on the bus. The 'no smoking rule is vigorously applied and has never been broken on any bus conducted by Stanley since its introduction three years ago.

And Stanley, not the passengers, decides whether the windows are going to be open or shut. He'll go round the bus winding them up or down as he requires, and nobody ever says anything.

Being in charge of the bus tends to make him a bit of a back seat driver, though. He doesn't mind my driving (I always try to give him a smooth ride), but he takes exception when it comes to taxis. He hates them because they represent privilege (he says), and because they stop at awkward places and make us late.

Now I don't mind the cabbies myself: after all, they're only doing their jobs, same as us. So I tend to give way to them, in the hope that they'll return the favour sometime.

This drives Stanley mad with rage. If I'm nice to a taxi driver, an irate head suddenly appears at the glass just behind me to my left. Stanley looks grim and I ignore him. Then he starts hitting the bell harder than usual and I know he's in a grump. Usually he's forgotten the whole thing by the time we get to the end of the run. But sometimes we have a post-mortem, followed by a lecture from Stanley, which I usually curtail by getting back in the bus and driving off. Stanley has no choice but to come with me.

Usually post-mortems are not required: nothing happens on most journeys. We move hundreds of people daily without any problems. But just lately, things have taken a serious turn for the worse. I'm talking about school kids. Bring a bus round the corner and see 40 school kids waiting there and, I tell you, it is very tempting not to stop at all. Three buses were attacked by a massed gang at Kennington a couple of months ago.

Now police patrols accompany buses when schools come out. As the law stands, kids can hurl abuse and spit at conductors as much as they like and the conductors can do nothing in retaliation. They certainly can't give them a clip round the earhole. Stanley can handle himself ok, and we usually get through the black spots unscathed, but you never know. . .

Sometimes Stanley is so busy back-seat driving and glaring at taxi drivers that I see more of what's going on inside the bus than he does. There's a lot of glass round a bus, and the light falls in such a way that occasionally I can see the reflections of some of the passengers. Now and then a wonderful vision may appear, and when we get to the end of the trip I'll say to Stanley: 'That girl who sat in the front seat was nice, wasn't she?

'What girl? he invariably says.

'The girl in the red dress, I tell him. 'She got on in Battersea Park and sat in the front seat.

'Oh, her. . .no, she wasn't nice, he replies.

'Why not? I ask.

'She tried to fiddle her fare.

Another shattered illusion.

(Photograph omitted)

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