Tall, ramrod straight, used to be a Guardsman he’d tell us kids, the bus conductor on the number 33 route, around sixty years old with bleach white hair and a hearing aid in one ear, never stopped talking to all the mothers on the bus , would play tricks on us kids like offer us the change from your fare and when you reached out for it he’d pull his hand away and give it to your mother instead.
He’d announce every bus stop as if he were a Regimental Sergeant Major barking out parade ground commands in an Earnie Bilko stylee and me and Ned would look at each other and smirk and giggle at him for he was the only conductor to do such a thing, “Horrs-pi-tal Lane” he’d bark, “alight for Cookridge and Ida Horrs-pi-tals” or “Farr Lane and the Water Tarr” as if this was somehow doing everyone a great duty whereas in fact the only reason that people were on that bus is because they all lived there anyway and knew perfectly well where to get off for the hospital or what the water tower looked like.
He was typical amongst bus conductors in that having collected the fares he would brace himself against the cupboard under the stairs at the back of the bus checking his ticket machine or his bag of coins while the bus bounced its way up the hill to our home suburb and then as a bus stop approached he’d hang off the open platform checking for women with children to help them onto his bus and to fold their push chairs and stow them under the stairs for them, as they left the bus he’d get the correct push chair back out and unfold and lock it for them on the pavement, then tip his uniform cap and leap back onto his bus, ringing the bell with abandon for the driver to set off again.
As slightly older kids coming home from school he’d rule his bus with a rod of iron (not literally), his was the only bus where we weren’t allowed to stand on the open platform while the bus was moving for the open platform was his domain and he guarded it fiercely, on his bus you weren’t allowed to jump off while the bus was still moving which was a favourite test of courage for us kids, especially on the Tinshill route as the bus slowed to turn into Tinshill Lane, a couple of dozen of us small lads would leap onto the pavement at 20mph, totally pointless as the bus stop was only ten yards away but a lad who would not jump was King Chicken for the week.
Days long gone of course for now we have no conductors on buses, we do not have the open platform on the back of the bus, you don’t have to go upstairs to smoke or into the downstairs “salon” to stand up, you get on at the front and you pay the driver who sits behind a bullet and stab proof screen which is locked from the inside, you cannot talk to your driver for you cannot even stand by the front door until the bus has stopped and you can’t jump off while its still moving because its the driver who gets to open the door, only when he has stopped.
Its so impersonal.