Thursday 14 January 2021

Are you getting your free bus pass this year?

Sadly some of us are not quite old enough to qualify for a free bus pass this year. There are many things about getting older that I don't look forward to, but getting a free bus pass is not one of them. Margaret Thatcher once saidthat any man over 30 on a bus is a failure, but I beg to differ. I enjoy using Londons buses. I got this love from my mother.  I well remember when she got hers. Although she was not thrilled with becoming a pensioner, she'd worked all of her life and she felt that the free bus pass was fair reward for her years of paying tax and made good use of it.

My Father would not dream of taking a bus everywhere, but mum loved London buses, insisting that the view from the top of a Routemaster was the best view in the world. It became her thing that every Tuesday, she'd set off on an expidition. I was working in central London at the time and she'd often arrive at reception of the office and summon me to buy her lunch. I worked in various offices, on Windmill St, on Piccadilly, on Lower Thames Street to name a few. She'd take me around the pubs and tell me stories of these haunts in the war. When I was working in Windmill Street, she was shocked when I suggested lunch in The Fitzroy Tavern. She explained that during the war, this was notorious for 'artistic types'. She said that she'd been in their once as a very young, naive girl and was delighted when all of the characters made a big fuss of her. She was less than impressed when she realised that they were making even more fuss of the big burly American who she was with. Apparently the poor lad was a country lad who was most confused. He blotted his copybook by insulting London after they departed, a place my mother loved with a passion. Fortunately for me, that was the end of that!

When I worked at no 100 Pall Mall, she was most impressed, declaring that  I had finally made it. We had afternoon tea at Simpsons. When I moved to Lower Thames Street, she insisted I met her at Lombard St, she wanted to see the old head office of Barclays Bank, where she had worked during the war on the Switchboard. Armed with the letter she received from the chairman that she was given when she left, she  made her way to reception and asked if she could have a look around. A very nice manager gave her a little our. She was a tad disappointed at how it had changed, but told me that is London, you blink and it's reinvented itself.

My mothers favourite bus was the 113. This would take you from Mill Hill to the West End. She knew all of the routes and would spend the week planning her itinery. Her favourite time of year was the January Sales. She'd often buy next years Xmas presents at these. Arriving back home from the bus with large bags of shopping. My Dad would say "Why don't you just let me drive you up there?". She would say "why waste the petrol when I have a bus pass". One day I asked Dad why he didn't go with her. He replied "I didn't work for 45 years to get the bloody bus". My father would drive everywhere, even from our house to the Church, which was less than 1/4 of a mile. He loved cars and hated public transport. After he died in 1987, I discussed this with my Mum. She explained that she would have hated him coming along. He'd have moaned the whole time and hated shopping. She said that whilst she was on the bus, she was in another world. 

I was fascinated when she told me about the war. She worked briefly in a Drapers in Regent Street. She had a cold and took a day off. It had been bombed, killing everyone. She said her Guardian Angel had been watching over her that day. She showed me the site. You can see, if you look up, that the style of building is different. She had other idiosyncricies. She'd get the bus to Burnt Oak as the mushrooms were cheaper. She liked Burnt Oak as the family had lived there during and after the war. When I was small she knew all of the shopkeepers and we were all registered at the Watling Medical practice. The market was a place she loved. She would buy us all toys for Xmas there. My father was less keen. When he'd been in a Rumanian prisoner of war camp in 1944 he'd written to my mother saying it was lovely, just like Burnt Oak.

Mum had buses she liked, as well as the 113, she rather liked the 140. When we were small, she'd take us on it to Heathrow to look at planes. It was her bus of choice to Burnt Oak. She disliked the 52, as although it went to Burnt Oak, it went a more circuitous route. She liked the 251 as she would take visitors to the Rising Sun for a beer on it, when Dad was not around. Before she got the buspass, she'd also like the Green Line buses as these were far quicker, with less stops. This was always a 'treat'. I recall her getting the 717 to St Johns Wood for hospital appointments when she had cancer. Although Green Line buses used the same fleet as London Transport, if felt totally different being on one. The stop was by Daws Lane.

My mum felt that London buses were not the same when the conductor was dispensed with. She always said that a conductor made 'ladies feel safe'. I used to think it terribly old fashioned and twee, but now I have come to believe that she was right. Guards on trains and conductors on buses make a huge difference for people with access issues or who are just nervous. She was of the opinion that the people who abolished them were neither female or regular users. There is a misguided view that CCTV can do the same job. It can't. A conductor will spot trouble and will deal with it. CCTV simply means that when the deed has been done, someone can review it. 

If you are approaching the official start of codgerdom and get a buspass this year, don't despair. There is a world out there awaiting you. Hopefully, it will be safe enough to venture out when you get your pass, embrace the pipe and slippers when you get the opportunity. I know I will when I get there!

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