(Original edit of piece written for CallOver magazine)
Inspired by a schedule of driving-related TV programmes over the winter, I found myself fantasising about other driving jobs I could do. My programmes of choice during the worst kipper season known to man included Ice Road Truckers and Double Decker Driving School.
I often joke about swapping the cab for a “rig” and moving to Alaska, but the wife says the cat won’t like the cold weather. I wondered if I might be able to become the first ice road trucker in Leighton Buzzard, but my plans were scuppered by one solitary day of snow this winter. Once I got the cab off the snowy driveway, and onto the main road the snow was just mush. In Central London you wouldn’t even know it’d been snowing. That was the extent of my career as an ice road trucker.
When I was an examiner, I dreamt of the Knowledge and cab driving every night. Away from the sharp edge of the Knowledge I dream about road systems a little less frequently, but it’s still common for me to dream of the complexities of road systems. I remember one morning waking in panic because I couldn’t find my way out of Victoria one-way system. I often have strange dreams about driving my cab. Once, my cab turned into a cycle and I had to deliver my passengers the best I could. Another time, I dreamt my vehicle disappeared completely, and I had to piggy-back my passengers over puddles.
In a common re-occurring dream I am driving a bus. Sometimes I’m driving it from the top deck, where I feel I have less control. Bus driving is clearly a frightening scenario in my subconscious. I once sat in the driver’s seat on a bus at the London Transport Museum, but doing it for a living has never appealed to me. I wouldn’t like to drive anything bigger than a TX4 in London. After pretending to drive the museum bus to Lewisham, the tube train driving simulator seemed much more fun. Gissa job, I can do that…
I cringed on my sofa while watching the would-be bus drivers on Double Decker Driving School. I imagine it as one of the hardest, most frustrating, jobs in London. All those narrow congested roads, constant diversions, swarms of cycles, pop-up pedestrians; and the anxiety of trying to clear box junctions. Everyone’s trying to cut you up. I don’t know if they still have bus inspectors, but I’m sure there’s pressure to make timetables. And they know exactly where you are and what you’re doing at all times. No nipping in to see other blokes’ wives like in the 1970s comedy, On the Buses. Then there’s the customer side of things. I’m nervous enough carrying one passenger; I can only imagine the stress of having fifty passengers taking their frustration of the traffic out on you.
Each to their own. What comes over in Double Decker Driving School is how determined and enthusiastic the trainees are. They see bus driving as a stable, secure, career. Doing the best for their families is the re-occurring theme. The pride the bus driving trainees have when they pass their test was an inspiration.
During the writing of this article I had the misfortune to experience the work of more professional drivers after I ground to a halt on the M1 on my way home. My RAC rescuers included a bloke who used to be a taxi inspector at Penton Street; and Romanian George, who transported me and my cab home from London Gateway Services. I said I don’t think I could drive anything as big as a breakdown truck, but he said it was easy. It seemed easy enough on the motorway, but I wouldn’t want to get called out to a breakdown in Hanway Street.
George seemed happy in his work. The bloke who loaded up my cab to take it from my home to the garage was proud of his work too. He provided a lively running commentary as he connected up a complicated series of straps and cables and winched the cab up ready for removal (I’ll never complain again about strapping in a wheelchair and using the ramp extension). I would have shown more interest had I not been so concerned about the fate of my cab in Luton, and the enforced three-day holiday.
I suppose there are good and bad aspects to all jobs. I might still imagine hauling my rig across the ice roads of North America, but I probably wouldn’t get on with the reality of it. And the missus is right; it’d be too cold for me and the cat. No, I’ll stick to the cab for now.
There’s a perverse dictum that says the more challenging a job is, the more you value it. Few of my friends would like to do my job. The satisfaction comes from doing something that others couldn’t do, and rising to the daily challenge. There’s probably more than a hint of masochism at play here. Bus drivers probably already know that.
Copyright: Chris Ackrill.