THE GOOD LITTLE GOERS - Bob Wild
ADVENTURES OF A POLISH PLUMBER - Stefan Jaruzelski
SVEN - Brett Wilson
OIKUS 1 - 3 - Ron Horsefield
UNSTUCK - John Royson
THE CARETAKER - David Birtwistle
OIKUS 4 – 6 - Ken Clay
THE DOGS OF WAR - Tom Kilcourse
LOCUST LOVER - Brett Wilson
RUCTIONS IN THE RUE BONAPARTE - Ron Horsefield
MY LIFE IN PRINT CHAPTERS 6 & 7 - Ray Blyde
OIKUS 7 – 10 - Bob Wild, David Birtwistle
THE PHOTOGRAPH - Tom Kilcourse
THE EXISTENTIALIST - Rosemary Evans
LONDYNCZYZY - Stefan Jaruzelski
A TICKET IN A LOTTERY
Booker prize time again reminds us that there won’t be any oiks in the running. So what? No true oik wants to be rich and famous (Er…’ang on a minute Ken…I wouldn’t mind…). No, the true oik writes because he has to – and not simply from a neurotic compulsion, but to engage in a satisfying wrestle with the language, to produce something that lasts, and to entertain a few friends.
To get rich? Listen to this. Bob Wild, Crazy Oik contributor, had his collection Dogs of War given some coverage in the Manchester Evening News in a feature on World War 2 (thanks Adolf!). Then he’s invited by Borders Bookshop in Stockport to sit at a table signing copies on a Saturday afternoon. Borders want 40% of the cover price. Bob’s cut is 50P on an £10 book but he squeezes it up to a quid by selling the book at £11. (Yes, Borders also want 40% of the increase). After three hours he’s made just enough to feed the parking meter outside the store. Eventually he sells 18 – a considerable success I’d say – and well deserved. But getting rich? You’d be better off selling pegs on the doorstep. Indeed it’s significant that you rarely see gypsies offering their latest novels or short story collections. Poetry is perhaps a better bet since production costs are lower – William Blake sold his from a tray round his neck, and he never got rich either even though he printed them himself.
And celebrity? Who wants that? Think of poor old TS Eliot summoned to the palace to read The Wasteland to the queen and the two princesses. They yawned and tittered and found old TS something of a droning bore. Years later Alan Bennett is taking mum round the London sights. They bump into TSE in a street in Bloomsbury. Alan and Tom, acquaintances in the book business, chat briefly. Afterwards Alan asks mum what she thought of the 20th century’s finest poet. “Oooo” said mum, seemingly properly overcome “what a wonderful overcoat!” So there you have it from both ends of the social scale – incomprehension, indifference.
But I’m sure Tom was encouraged by the admiration of Ezra Pound and James Joyce. That’s the real endorsement – recognition by one’s peers. The French novelist Henri Beyle (Stendhal) is a paradigm of the condition. Eclipsed by his famous contemporary Balzac he continued to write non-stop. Much of it in private journals never intended for publication. He thought of his novels as “tickets in a lottery” and predicted they’d be read in 1888 nearly fifty years after his death or even 1938. He called his small readership “the happy few”. Eventually he did break through, thanks in some part to Balzac himself who raved over The Charterhouse of Parma. His private journals are now a 1900 page volume in the prestigious Pleiade series. But what an itinerary! – well typical I suppose, almost the norm.
So, fellow crazy oiks, here’s your ticket in the lottery read, for now, only by the happy few.
Ken Clay September 2009
I had begun to wonder if I was some kind of conjurer with a magic word hidden in my vocabulary that made Penny disappear. Or maybe I was some kind of computer with a virus in its speech mode which produced a magic word. We'd be having a drink in a pub, Penny and me, or be out for a meal at a restaurant and I would produce the word, like abracadabra, and the whole evening would suddenly disappear off the screen. I never discovered what the word was but it must be a fairly common one. Something associated with eating or drinking because it usually happened in pubs or restaurants. If I said the word, (or perhaps forgot to say the word - there's a thought!), Penny would simply vanish. If I'd used the word I only had to focus on the menu for a second or turn to catch the waiter's eye or rummage under the table for a dropped fork and she'd be gone. No cryptic message on the seat like "You bastard!" or "Stuff you!" like Maggie, Sandra or Sue would have left, or even screamed. Just gone. You could do as many spell checks or memory checks as you liked; let people search your top-hat or even saw the space in half to prove it but she would have disappeared. Vanished from the box where she'd been the moment before. Exited by some feat of legerdemain: the word's perfect: taken her mouse home. Of course you kidded yourself she had gone to the loo. By the time it dawned she'd done a runner it was too late.
Penny was not on her own though, Angie, Mary, Claire and a string of others had been and gone before her. Heard the word and run on ahead you might say.
Now you may be one of those nine hundred and ninety-nine in a thousand who don't use the word and don't have disappearing women at their table in restaurants but I'm the other one. I've seen you all enjoying yourselves: attentive with the chair, pensive with the menu, a bit formal but chatty over starters, seriously conversational with the main course, animated over the pudding, mellow and relaxed over the coffee and liqueurs, like on the telly, and discreet with l'addition s'il vous plait. If there's just the two of you, and it's somebody you fancy, you're chatting her up, touching her hand, plenty of mouth and lots of eye contact - straight from one of those interpersonal relations books, Michael Argyle or some-such - until the flattery works its magic and she becomes dreamy and relaxed, doe-eyed and pliant. People at the next table nudging each other saying "I bet he's on a promise".
Well, as I say, I'm the other one. The one with the word. The one with the woman with the tense white face; or the one with the woman sitting grim-lipped and silent; or blowing her nose and quietly crying into her handkerchief, seeking attention: a malicious form of public exhibitionism.
Or the one with that woman, rabbiting on, you can hear three tables away.
"Twenty-eight women! It's disgusting!” Where did she get that number from?
“Had I known before-hand I'd never have had anything to do with you! You don't have normal emotions. You don't! You give absolutely nothing back! Fiona has my sympathy!” Fiona was the woman I used to live with.
“You just won't let anyone get close to you! And you're always undermining me!"
When she has finished her rosary of clichés I say,
"Look, I thought we had just come out for a quiet meal. I don't remember volunteering for a course of psychoanalysis and you can spare me the aversion therapy. If I had known you were Anthony Clare in drag I'd have chosen a woman to eat out with.” I could be nasty when I was riled.
She spits out expletives through her tense tight lips and the born again Christian at the next table gets up and has a word with the manager. Before I can say "shut your tits" I'm asked to leave for using bad language!
More often than not though Bill Giles is having a night off, there's no forecast, Penny or whoever just simply does a runner and I'm left sitting there with the growing realization that I must have said the word and she is not coming back. She'd have kept her coat on saying it was cold, or draughty, or it might be stolen, and taken her handbag with her to the loo. It was that which made me think it might be predestined or is the word premeditated? But whatever it was the word worked and it seemed to work with most other women too.
There was that time with Angie in the Crown at Whitley Green. The main meal was finished and she went to the loo between courses and didn't come back. I must have used the word. She took her coat, discreetly, and I sensed she was up for a runner. I went almost directly after her and posted outside the ladies' but she'd already gone. Never been in! I asked someone to check and double check. I searched the pub, ran out to the car park, nowhere! I went back, apologized, paid the bill and drove off to see if she was on the road home. Not a sign! I drove a good two of the five miles back to her place before turning round and going back to the pub. I re-searched the place so carefully I could have got a PhD on pub interiors, or played hide and seek for England. I asked the staff had anyone been asking for anyone so many times they looked at me as if I was some kind of escapee myself.
I was trusted with a key to Angie's house in those days but when I got there the door was locked on the inside. I kept my finger on the bell so long even I was worried about the neighbours. When her daughter opened it to say "my mam says she's not in" I rushed upstairs and found her in bed.
"How dare you come into my
house after what you said!" she said.
"You know what you said!” It was the nearest I came to learning the word.
“Get out! Get out! Get out or I'll call the police!" she screamed. How the devil had she got home, I thought?
"Where did you put the broomstick!” I shouted back up the stairs. "And don't forget to feed the cat!" I could never resist gelding my own jokes.
More recently, though, I've adopted the strategy of making sure I have something vital left behind when the woman I'm with goes to the loo in case I have unwittingly said the word. Even so, it's no guarantee. I won't bore you with Jackie disappearing for two days on Ios, or Greta in Turkey for example, who felt she just had to get away on her own on a boat to an island for the day without having previously mentioned her Garbo syndrome. But last Easter, coming back from France with Mary, I had her overnight bag and her duty frees. We were in the lounge. I was reading. The boat was docking in 15 minutes. I leant to one side to rearrange my things in the small travel bag we were sharing. I said something trivial into the bag about the tedium of the journey but it must have had the word in it. When I looked up she'd vanished.
I went immediately to the door and I thought I recognised her leg going into the loo. I wasn't too concerned. Ten minutes went by. People gathered up their belongings. My anxiety grew. The lounge emptied. She did not come back.
I asked a woman coming out of "C" deck toilet would she mind going back to see if there was anyone ill in there and to shout the name Mary. She said all the stalls were empty. As I looked through the door I saw there was another exit on the far side. Christ!, I thought, the donkey's done a runner. In a panic, thinking she would get off the boat and I'd be left anguishing all the way back to Manchester on my own, racking my brains for the word, I ran to the information desk and asked them to make an announcement.
"Will Mrs. Mary Walker please report to the information desk on B deck" boomed out over the Tannoy.
"That'll scupper her" I thought, but she didn't come. I went to the desk again. "I think she must have gone overboard" I said, with as much flippancy as I could muster. They announced again "Will Mrs. Walker please report to the nearest member of the ship's crew or come immediately to the information desk on B deck".
I was in the process of explaining about "the word" and where I had last seen her when she strolls nonchalantly up saying she had decided to have a shower and was going to join me on the car deck when the call came. But I knew damned well she'd taken her passport: she wouldn't admit it.
"What was it I said?", I said, but she said if I didn't know she wouldn't say.
"I could have been left at the docks all night, thinking about it", I said, "biting my lips off.”
About a month ago I was in the Gay Dog with Penny. Lovely time, quiet chat, all was well in the metaphorical garden. She had duckling I remember and I had the rack of lamb. The home made bread pudding was superb. Her strawberry meringue looked good. When the coffee came I said I fancied a Scotch. Now whether I had used the word or she had heard a woman with a Scottish accent somewhere in the pub or not I don't know, or whether she thought I was being cryptic about a Scottish professor from Pennicuick called Halfpenny who had made her blush about her name at a Summer School and whom she was "toutchy aboot". She had not spoken to me for a week when I said I'd do porridge for him if he ever came round. I am at a loss to guess, but when I got back from the bar she'd gone.
It was raining a fine drizzle outside (I think they call it a Scotch missed) and the visibility was not good. I collected the car and drove down the road as far as I thought she could have run. No sign. I drove back and noticed a 'phone box on a corner. It was out of order. I look to see if she's hiding near by. In a state of desperate rage I turn and drive back towards home which, incidentally, is a mere twenty-one miles from the Gay Dog, and catch her in the headlights dodging into a hedgerow.
"I'm walking home!" she shouts and stamps her foot in the grass. This is a forty-year-old woman.
"Tell me what it was I said," I shout back. I grab hold of her arm saying "Don't be so bloody stupid, it's raining cats and. . .!". She hits me full in the face with her free hand and pulls away weeping hysterically, shouting "Don't you come near me!"
A miserable looking dog with a huge man suddenly materialises out of the rain Another conjuring trick. In embarrassment I say
"Excuse me. Can I ask you to be a witness? This lady is with me in the car but she wants to walk home in the rain without a coat. If anything happens to her I want it known I did not desert her in the middle of Cheshire, in the wet, in the dark, on a dangerous lonely road without a coat.” (I could hear her telling her friends). “If she gets attacked and killed or run over I want people to know that!" He looks at me as though I'm Woody Allen or some kind of maniac. I realise he's the landlord of the pub but he hurries on with his even more miserable looking dog.
I remonstrate with her to get into the car but she won't.
"Penny!" I say, "I can't take any more of this! It's making me ill! What did I say for Christ's sake!?” She sets off to walk.
I drive along behind her at three miles an hour shouting through the window
"Why don't you just tell me what I said and let me take you to a 'phone booth, for God's sake!"
Then I remember a lay-by near by so I drive past her, park and walk back, barring her way. She runs past me and I grab at her arm but she struggles free as a car is passing. It stops and the door half opens on the driver's side. I feel embarrassed, but not Penny, she runs up to it and exchanges a few words, jumps in and the car speeds off.
"Christ!" I think "What is she doing! Does she know them!? It could be anybody! The Chelford rapist! the Romiley ripper!" I roar off after her. Round two bends and out onto a straight stretch. Two red lights in the distance. I increase speed. The bastard's clearly trying to lose me. We are on the outskirts of a town now and approaching a complex of roundabouts. He circuits them three times trying to interpose cars and speeds off towards the town centre. Who is this crazy fucker?
He stops in front of the Town Hall and lets Penny out. She slams the door and runs down a steep cobbled side street. I pull up as he drives off. It's a no parking area. I leave the engine running and stand with one foot out of the car screaming down the street "Penny! What in the name of fuck did I say?!" She continues running. I park the car on the pavement with the hazard lights flashing and run after her but she's disappeared. I'm no wiser.
When I get back to the car a police van is pulled up close behind it and a Copper is booking me.
"Penny for your thoughts?!" he says.
"I wish I had one!" I said.
When he's finished writing he looks up and says
"Would you like to follow me to the station for a breath test?"
"You mean I have a choice!"
In the police station I'm annoyed to see Penny standing at the desk holding a telephone and talking quite affably to the woman desk-sergeant. So much for that liberal anti-police attitude of hers I think as I walk up and interrupt saying:
"Look Penny, this is ridiculous. Just tell me what I said".
"Is this the person?" the desk-sergeant asks, looking at Penny.
"Yes" she says.
"You hypocritical. . .!"
"I've had a complaint from Mrs. Pincher here that you are harassing her. I'd like you to leave".
"I'd love to" I say, "but your colleague here with the breathalyser might not be too happy about that".
"I have to caution you Sir, that if the test is positive you will be arrested".
I take a deep breath.
Fortunately the reading is just below the thin red line. I go over to Penny and say in my Laurel and Hardy voice, "Another fine mess you've gotten me into. . . ".
"If you don't leave the station immediately you will be arrested", the desk-sergeant says.
"I'm only trying to see that she gets home safely!"
"Will you please leave".
As I turned to go I said with all the gravitas I could muster,
"I will, but watch she doesn't do a runner. She's got form this one and she'd outstrip you Bow Street cripples any day of the week".
I stand in the rain on the drive wondering if she will come home or go to her sister's. I can't believe so much "aggro" can turn on such an unspeakable word.
A taxi drives up and stops opposite. She sits inside talking to the driver. They both get out. He's a short man, fat and forty, with a bald head and barrel chest and wearing a luminous blue pullover. He looks like a moulting budgerigar but he's chirpy enough and they chatter away as they cross the road.
I start to say "Can I have my things please and I'll go" when he flits between Penny and me and puts his fist under my nose.
"If you give this lady any trouble mate I'll floor you!"
"Just try it, I say, "But remember the old punch line. Nothing succeeds like a beakless budgie!"
The remark's lost on him, and I must confess it was nearly lost on me, but the diversion is long enough for Penny to insert her key and let herself in.
"I want my things” I shout and rap the door knocker.
The taxi drives off and I ring the door bell repeatedly. I am just about to go to the car to press the horn when a police car draws up. Christ! Has she called them or was it one of her neighbours?
I decide the best strategy is to lead with the cheek.
"I don't know who called you but I think I had better explain what's going on here".
"I think you had better go home and leave the lady alone!"
"But I need my things and I need to know what I said that's upset her. It's infuriating: I feel like Franz Kafka!"
"I think you had better go", he said again.
It was then that my anger got the better of me. If she wouldn't tell me what I'd said I'd mix things for her.
She had asked me earlier would I mind giving her brother a hand upending the trailer tent and hooking it onto the wall when he returned it. There was a stout hook fixed high on the inside garage wall and a rope attached for hauling it up and securing it.
Before I could say anything to the Copper Penny opens the door in response to his ring.
"Can I have my things please and I'll go", I say. "And by the way what..."
"They're in a black plastic bin liner in the garage. I've unlocked the door. Take them. I never want to see you again!"
"That's a bit heartless isn't it?"
"Heartless! You haven't got a heart: you've got a swinging brick!"
"Did I hear her correctly?!" The policeman went inside.
I put the black plastic sack in the car and then thought sod it! and went back to the door and rang the bell.
The policeman answered and said,
"If you don't leave immediately you'll be arrested for causing a breach of the peace."
"You mean a lull in the war don't you. . . O.K. I'm going but I want your number first. She threatened to commit suicide this afternoon. Look in the garage you'll see she's got a rope attached to a hook in there. I suggest you contact her mother” She'll not like that, I thought. “She's in no state to be left alone". The policeman frowned. "Just give me your number so I know who I've left her with in case anything happens". He shows me his left shoulder.
"Right", I said, "I'm going. She's your responsibility. But if she does anything stupid I wouldn't fancy your chances of becoming Chief Constable!"
A couple of weeks later Penny 'phoned me and said she wanted to talk. I put the 'phone down but relented and called her back. We agreed to meet.
The meal at the Crown went tolerably well, at least to begin with. I went meticulously through the standard pleasantries from my How to succeed with women check list:
‘Penny you're looking (well/fit/better/beautiful/particularly attractive) tonight.’
I chose particularly attractive.
‘Penny you've grown your hair/had your hair (Perm any one of the following, cut/dyed/styled/straightened/shortened) since I last saw you.’
I chose styled to be on the safe side.
‘Penny you've got my favourite dress/frock/coat/jumper top/hat/ stockings/bra/panties (on or off) on tonight.’
I chose jumper.
I said at one point, "How very perceptive you are!" You could hear her purr.
I even managed to do quite well in the obligatory examination I was required to sit whenever we met - the elevenses-plus. The test required me to remember precisely where I had told her, over the phone, I had been and with whom in the intervening days since we last met.
Unfortunately you can't teach an elephant to play the piano with its toes and I made one or two gaffes.
"But I thought you said you went out with John on. . .”
"Oh! yes! How silly of me!"
"You don't have to lie to me you know. I'm not checking up on you".
Oh No?! I thought
I turned the conversation to our fiasco at the Gay Dog hoping I would get some clue about the magic word. It was a mistake. She quickly went into earache mode. The "runner" had cost her a pretty penny and she was not pleased. The taxi fare had been £11 but the driver had no change and she had ended up giving him three fivers.
In return for the extravagant tip he must have thought he was doing her a favour by radioing his office to send the police round.
She couldn't understand why the policeman had thought her suicidal though.
"I was certainly murderous but definitely not suicidal!" she said. "It wasn't you who told him there was a rope hanging in the garage was it?".
"Rope! Me! No! of course not!" I said.
"My brother was not pleased to be got out of bed at two in the morning but the police wouldn't leave until someone came to look after me. I could kill that taxi driver!" she said.
Penny had got it into her head that we should go Dutch at the Crown so as to be on an equal footing.
“Don't think there is any sex on offer to-night", she said, "because there isn't. You think if you pay for my meal you've bought my body don't you. Well I'm paying for my own meal and keeping my body to myself tonight!"
"That's a very mean minded Thatcherite thought", I said. "A woman could make herself in to a whore thinking like that. Has it never occurred to you that someone might want you for your own sake, or may even be doing it though they don't feel like it, so as not to disappoint you. Or just doing it because it's enjoyable. But seeing that you've put the thought in my head I'll tell you what: why don't you pay for both our meals from now on and I'll let you have my body. If you want it it will be round at my place" and I disappeared to the Gent's.
I was surprised to see her still sitting there when I got back. I thought I had set the scene up for a women's marathon but it was Quiz Night and she couldn't resist a quiz. She liked the word games and the quiz gave her the opportunity to display her apparently limitless knowledge of popular culture.
She had been lacing up her trainers, so to speak, when they had come round with the quiz sheets and she'd taken them off again.
I called our team The Good Little Goers.
“Very funny!" she said.
We came last which made us eligible for the booby prize. She pushed me towards Mike, the quiz master.
"Right” Mike boomed out. “For a pint. One question from a subject of your choice. Do you want music?"
"Can't face it".
"Do you want Art?"
"He hasn't got one!" Penny shouts.
"Do you want sport?"
'Yeah, I'll try sport", I said in my best Australian.
"Right. For a pint then. Name as many runners as you can in one minute beginning. . . NOW!"
"Owens, Wooderson, Brasher, Chataway, Christie, Modahl, Daley, Shergar, Red Rum, April, May, June, Scarlet, Angie, Susan, Claire, Joyce, Janice, Janet, Sarah, Anne, Fiona, Mandy, Margaret, Frances, Wendy, Lynda. . .”
"Twenty-seven! Time's nearly up!"
I looked to where Penny had been sitting. . . "Penny!" I said.
And Mike shouted: "Twenty-eight! One pint! Going for a Penny! Well done!"
When I got home I 'phoned her:
"One last question Penny. For the Quiz. What exactly was that magic word which made you all disappear?"
"It was not magic word" she said. "It was YOU!" But then I thought, ‘she would say that wouldn't she’.
DOGS OF WAR
I am not a born warrior, and it was never my intention to go to war. Nonetheless, I found myself engaged in the thick of hostilities, a vicious, ongoing conflict in which no prisoners were taken. Why I didn’t remain in the relative safety of a coalmine I shall never know. It is easy to be wise after the event though and six years underground seemed to be more than enough at the time. I was young, fit, and aching to travel, to see some of the world before I was too old to enjoy it. Then, of course, there was the attraction of the uniform. I was told that women could not resist a bloke in uniform, and as this was the sixties and the start of the sexual revolution, the prospects for a randy young sod were mouth watering. That was it then. The combination of uniform and travel drew me like a magnet. I considered several services: the army, navy and the air force, but all had their drawbacks. So, I joined Stockport Corporation buses as a conductor, and found myself amid a crack body of men and women fighting against grotesquely unequal odds on several fronts.
It would be easy now to play the hero, to pretend that I knew what I was letting myself in for, but that would be dishonest. In truth, I didn’t have a clue, not the slightest premonition. Had I known what lay ahead, I cannot say, hand on heart, that courage would not have left me. I can recall my response to my best mate when he suggested that I might be making a mistake. ‘Treat people right’ I said ‘they’ll treat you right’. I blush still at the memory of my naiveté. I was still starry eyed at the end of my two weeks training, during which I travelled with old hands on the quieter routes. Consequently, I was totally unprepared for battle when the first assault came, on my third day as a solo conductor.
It happened on my fourth trip that morning from Brinnington, a large council estate, into Stockport town centre. The first three trips had passed uneventfully, most passengers being men or young women heading into work. These people were too cold and miserable to complain even when the bus was late, so relieved were they to get out of the chilling drizzle. Therefore, my defences were down
on the fourth trip and I collected the fares like an automaton, thinking about the approaching meal break, a steaming mug of tea and one of Betty’s bacon butties. Ah, those butties, three rashers of sizzling delight coated with brown sauce and slapped between two thick slices of white bread.
My reverie was broken when the internal lights flashed on and off, a signal from my driver that attack was imminent. I knew what the signal meant, but its significance did not penetrate my un-blooded skull, and I continued collecting fares on the top deck. My driver had seen a milling swarm of women waiting at the next stop. As the bus slowed I descended to the open platform at the rear. I stood no chance. They were upon us before the vehicle had halted, pouring into the lower saloon until it was overfull. My cries of ‘Upstairs only, please’ were ignored as my foot was pierced by the stiletto heel of an eighteen stone housewife. At the same time a thin faced harridan bearing two shopping bags upended my money pouch. Coins, each deductible from my wages if lost, cascaded onto the platform and road. I fell to my knees, frantically trying to gather my morning’s takings.
About a third of the money had been recovered when a nearly empty bus from the North Western Road Car Company pulled in behind us. North Western drivers always held back to tail corporation buses, letting them take the loads. The market bound hoard spotted the newcomer and, realising that they would be delayed by my selfish concern not to be out of pocket, they poured en masse back across the platform. My hands were crushed underfoot and the money pouch was again upended.. The North Western guard was fast on the bell, but not fast enough to prevent half the baying mob from boarding. Responding to the bell, his driver panicked through the gears as he swerved around our stationery vehicle. Those left behind re-boarded my bus, and spent the rest of the journey haranguing me for the North Westerners behaviour. I spent the journey trying to count my losses.
The lessons of that incident struck home and, thereafter, I worked always in a state of battle readiness, so much so that I became known as the fastest bell in Stockport. Such preparedness eventually led to a most unfortunate occurrence between the Hazel Grove terminus and Stockport’s Mersey Square. This was on a meal-break trip, on which any guard worth his salt is fast on the bell. We had just left the terminus and I was on the upper deck when the bus pulled into the kerb. As the vehicle rolled to a halt I looked down from a side window to see the top of someone’s head. He was the only person at the stop so I watched the platform through the mirror on the stairs, my hand at the ready on the bell-push. I watched a foot tread firmly on the platform, a hand grip the rail, and I rang. All hell broke loose on the platform, with the new passenger screaming with lungs fit to burst. Unable to hear what he said above the noise of the accelerating engine, I shouted a direction to ‘get inside the bus’. He remained on the platform. When he ignored the repeated instruction I raced down the stairs to give him a piece of my mind. Only then did his problem become apparent. A thick, leather dog lead was looped around his wrist, and on the other end was a Boxer running like the clappers with enough foam round its mouth to do a week’s washing. I hit the bell four times, the signal for an emergency stop.
The brakes were so good that the dog owner was thrown forward against the waste ticket bin, his face pressing firmly against the little window into the saloon. The inertia was such that his face distorted into a reasonable copy of his pet’s, with his nose flattened and lips twisting across the glass. A female passenger on the other side of the window turned away sharply from the sight. For its part, the dog was a better runner than a stopper. It came bouncing onto the platform to press against the back of its owners legs. The final jerk of the bus sent him tumbling backwards, with the weight of the boxer preventing him from stepping back for balance. He fell with a thump on his backside. My offered helping hand was testily waved away and his objectionable comments made it clear that he no longer wished to travel with us. When man and dog were safely on the pavement I hit the bell and we accelerated away. I glanced back in time to see him aim a kick at his cringing companion.
There were to be other skirmishes that, like any battle hardened veteran, I prefer not to talk about. Eventually, I decided that being a conductor left me too vulnerable to attack from an unforgiving public. Ultimately, it was drivers who decided who caught the bus and who didn’t. A thirst for power led me to join the driving school, and endure three months of abuse from Sam, the mad inspector in charge of driver training. Lessons were taken in one’s own time, and Sam’s motivational strategy was to stand behind the driver and deliver swift clouts around the head with a rolled up Daily Telegraph. Not being a placid person by nature I found it difficult not to retaliate. Had he used the Mirror or the Morning Star it would not have been so bad, but the Telegraph on a self respecting, working-class bloke like myself was pushing it. Still, every cloud has a silver lining as they say, and the driving school led to friendship with a fellow pupil, Brian. This was forged from a shared hatred of Sam, but it endured beyond us getting our ‘wings’. Ah, power at last!
Brian and I looked forward to working together as ace drivers, terrorising motorists and pedestrians alike as we sped wing to wing along Wellington Road. Alas, it was not to be. Within ten weeks of getting his Public Service Vehicle licence Brian was back on the platform, working as a guard. My fellow ace had a slight bump on his first day as a qualified driver, then an average of one a week after that. All were tiny knocks, broken mirrors, and that sort of thing, but they earned him a reputation. The final crunch, no pun intended, came late one evening when Brian was taking a number 81 from Mersey Square to Brinnington. As he drove along Portwood, a long, drab street traversed by 81s to the council estate and 33s to middle-class Romily, Brian spotted a woman at the bus stop, her arm extended. It was a gloomy evening with a light drizzle further reducing visibility, but Brian saw the extended arm and dutifully pulled his Leyland into the kerbside. Sadly, this lady, who would not have been seen dead in Brinnington, was waiting for a 33 to Romily. Her arm was extended only because her black poodle had indicated a desire to defecate and, not wishing to let him foul the pavement she pushed the pooch into the gutter. Her elegant hand still held the rhinestone encrusted dog-lead when the Leyland’s front wheel spread her pet over Portwood tarmac. The woman’s quite unreasonable hysterics caused such a commotion that an inspector was despatched to Portwood to sort things out. Brian was demoted the next morning.
I carried on the good fight without Brian’s assistance for another two years before deciding that enough was enough. In a sense, the decision was taken for me by the driver of an eight wheeled lorry loaded with metal pipes. The combined weight of vehicle and load was over twenty-one tons and he inconsiderately ran the lot into my bus, head on. His brakes failed as he descended Woodley Hill just as I was ascending. My cab was flattened by the impact, but I suffered no more than a splinter of glass in a finger. Nevertheless, I decided there and then that if the enemy were going to play that rough, I was off. I got a job at the local bakery, delivering bread to shops. Less exciting perhaps, but loaves do not complain about one’s driving.