My first memory of riding on a bus must have been in 1929 when I was four.
My mother took me on the top deck of the silver bus to Woolwich with the promise of a trip across the river on the ferry if I was good.
Being good meant waiting patiently while mum tried on hats and coats in Cuff’s and Garrett’s department stores.
These were the last days of the so called pirate buses when these heavy vehicles with solid tyres belonging to various companies raced each other along our streets trying to get to bus stops and scoop up passengers before their rivals.
The silver bus was the fastest of these and my mother, pandering to my wishes, would go to the open top deck with me.
She would hold on to her beret in the rushing wind while we pounded with a roaring engine through Charlton, down the steep slope of Hill Reach and on past the barracks with the sentry standing outside the west gate in Artillery Place and down into Woolwich.
A few years later all the rival bus companies were incorporated into the General Bus Company operating red buses by 1935.
A big box-like six-wheeler bus ran on the 53 route from Woolwich to West Hampstead.
There was a roof over the upper deck and passengers were allowed to smoke up there.
Genteel ladies occupied the lower deck while the uniformed conductor, who wore a white cap in the summer, stood on the rear platform helping old ladies on and off.
In his hand was a wooden clip holding coloured tickets worth anything from a penny to a shilling.
He’d be up and down the staircase hundreds of times with a heavy leather bag of coins, calling out where we were, pressing the brass button or pulling the cord to ring the bell.
Most of them were cheerful cockneys with and quip and cries of “hold very tight” or “more room on top”.
On reaching the Houses of Parliament he’d call out, “Anyone for the gasworks?”
I still get a buzz from riding on buses. Probably I take 20 rides a week.
I shudder to think what I would be paying if I hadn’t got my pensioner’s Freedom pass.
Certain politicians would probably be found hanging from lamp posts if these were withdrawn.
It’s my great pleasure to sit down in the back on the warm seat over the engine and watch life’s rich tapestry unfold before me.
There’s almost always a screaming red-faced angry child having a tantrum in a pushchair to listen to as well as people on their mobiles telling their friends and relations where they are.
Other people feel the need to eat fried chicken bits out of boxes or swig water out of bottles every few minutes.
Nobody did this 80 years ago, they’d have laughed if I’d told them that people would be paying ten bob or more for a bottle of water that you could get for nothing from a tap.
Sometimes I have to go up on the top deck and it’s always with a sense of achievement and relief that I make it down the swaying staircase without breaking a leg. Car drivers – you don’t know what you’re missing!
The driver has a lonely job and I make a point of saying “Good morning/afternoon” to him or her when I get on.
This usually brings a smile and a nod from them. It doesn’t hurt to call out, “Thank you” when you get off either.
Some buses have a pile of free newspapers in a box near the front. A nice idea and very pleasing for an old meanie like me who doesn’t like spending nearly a pound on some other newspaper. Except for the SLP, of course.
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