Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 29/07/18

Do You Know Where You're Going To?

I came from a family which didn't drive.

Well, at least my parents didn't.

Or, rather, not quite officially. My old man would often tell me the tale of how, sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s, he brought a car back from Rhuthun for someone. The car had no steering wheel, and he had to steer it by means of a Stillson wrench fixed to the top of the column. The route included the notoriously squiggly Nant Y Garth Pass, so I suppose it's a miracle he got home at all.

Nonetheless, the fact is that I grew up in a household which had no car. This was by no means unusual here in the sixties and seventies. Of the thirty-two houses on our road, there were eight or nine car owners at the most.

So, perforce, the sole source of transport for me growing up was the bus. Going to town, going to school (once I'd reached secondary education), going on day trips; it was always the bus. Crosville for the first and last, and Hanmer's or Crosville for school. This meant that these large, diesel-engined beasts played a huge part in my life. They still do, although they aren't that large anymore (or don't seem to be), because I never learned to drive. When I wanted to - at the age of seventeen or so - I didn't have the money; and when later in life it might have been feasible, I realised that there were enough idiots with short attention spans out there, and they didn't need being added to.

I have therefore had a high level of bus-consciousness all my life. I used to play on the carpet in the living room - using whatever Corgi®, Dinky® and Matchbox® vehicles I had at my disposal - recreating the layout of Wrexham's bus station with clothespegs and pieces of paper. Each 'stand' (the whole edifice was known as 'The Stand' to us for that reason) had its destinations: Stand 1 was for Chester (D1), Llangollen (D2, I think), Barmouth (D94) and for excursion coaches; Stand 4 was for Minera; either Stand 6 or 7 was the D17 to the Moss; and I think Stand 9 held the D19 for Pentre Broughton. Ours was Stand 5, from whence departed the D15 service (later augmented by the D13 and D14 variations upon it).

I would stand in our garden for hours on end waiting for the D15 to depart from the terminus at the bottom of our road and head past us on its way back into town. A little later, when our next-door neighbours' grandson from Leeds was staying with them (David Jones, where are you now?), we would pretend that we had a barrier across the road from his gran and grandad's front garden which we would have to raise to let the bus through. The sound of a Bristol RE or LH pulling away from the stop down the road would raise a cry of, "The barrier!", and we would run to the hedge to operate the non-existent lever which raised our imaginary obstruction. Goodness only knows what Crosville's drivers - generally a phlegmatic bunch - thought of all this.

(I have been toying with the idea of putting together a map of the bus routes I remember being taken on in those days, whilst my memory is still capable of retrieving the information. The trouble is that at least one of the services went along a stretch of road which was eradicated when they built the Wrexham by-pass in the early seventies, so I'd have to find a map from before that time to be able to log that route properly).

In addition, one of my most treasured toys as a tiny was a plastic bus which had a little knob you could rotate to change the destination board at the front, although it seemed a bit unreal to expect the same bus or the same operator to work routes which included - if the same memory can be relied upon at this distance - London, Amsterdam, Paris and New York.

But, ah! The Destination Boards! It was a rare and fascinating treat to watch the drivers (or, in former days, the conductors) get to the end of their journey and rotate the handles which operated the rollers upon which were painted the prefix letters and two sets of numbers zero to nine, and names which were to me as Chimborazo and Cotapaxi (if not Amsterdam or New York). Past my eyes the names would spool: Treuddyn, Trevalyn, Gwynfryn, Moss, Tanyfron, Huntroyde (which was unusual in that it had a different prefix to all the other routes, being numbered 'E3'). Special amusement was to be gained when the operator reached the end of the roll (helpfully marked 'STOP') and realised that he had been turning the handle in the wrong direction all along and had to backtrack through the gazeteer.

Times change, of course. The Welsh section of Crosville disappeared into Arriva, the old 45-to-53-seater Bristol buses of the National Bus Company days were replaced by noisy, clattery Leyland Nationals and deeply unreliable Seddon Pennines of similar capacity, before the coming of Mercedes twenty-five seaters which were cramped and - in warm weather - more like mobile greenhouses. Latterly, Dennis Darts and Pointers, Optare Solos and a contingent of Alexander Dennis Enviro200s with woefully shonky transmissions dominate.

The routes themselves have also changed, being combined (our main service - the 12/12A - features parts of the old D12, D13, D14, D15, D16, D17 and D19 routes), altered or - all too frequently - dropped altogether or taken over by the few remaining independent operators hereabouts (remember how the deregulation of bus services in 1986 was supposed to lead to all that wonderful fare-lowering competition? All we've ended up with is a replication of the old pattern of one dominant operator and fewer services).

All of which, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, brings me to today, and the return of an old favourite:

Day Date Service Direction Time
Sunday 29/07/18 12A Wrexham - Brymbo 12:20 Misleading

I went shopping this morning on the 10:48 service 12A as usual. This runs once an hour all week, but with a slight difference in the timing on Sundays.

My purchases completed, I sat around waiting for the bus which was due to arrive at the stop next to Sainsbury's at around 12:25. Shortly after that time, a bus came swinging around the roundabout and headed towards me. I dashed out of the shelter (it was raining quite heavily at this point) and stuck my hand out.

As it neared me, I saw that the destination board in fact read, 21A Summerhill, so I stepped back and waved it through.

A couple of minutes later, the following sequence of thoughts impinged themselves upon my mind:

I spent some time wondering whether the driver had ended up taking the route he should have done, or whether he had ended up in Summerhill after all, no doubt to the surprise and delight of the denizens of that unfortunate enclave who thought they were getting a bonus service.

About forty minutes later, back he came into town with the correct route number and destination showing. I gave him A Look as he went past, and carried on waiting.

The upshot of it all was that I didn't get back home until nearly 14:00, and this has thrown my own schedule out of whack for the rest of the day.

I see no point in complaining to Arriva. I suppose these things happen. But I hope I don't come across that particular dozy sod in the future, lest he do something similar and try to charge me 41.50 for my weekly ticket.