Partick Garage, late 1960s.
Those who were around at the time will remember that 1968 was a turbulent year in world affairs. To much of the student population in particular it seemed as if the Revolution was just around the corner, as if the whole military-industrial complex was about to collapse in an enormous heap of dust. At which point the Students, the Intellectual Elite, would unite with the Workers and produce the Perfect Society. Passionately believing in its imminence, they were demonstrating, agitating, pamphleteering, disrupting, striking, what have you. And what was I doing in that momentous year? Well actually, I was punching tickets on the buses, the sweat pouring off me inside the heavy green uniform of a Glasgow Corporation Transport conductor, my self esteem crushed by those very Workers, who saw only the uniform, not the person wearing it.
So no, I wasn’t a student. I could have been, but I wasn’t. The reasons, and there were several, why I did not go on to further education are somewhat convoluted and do not belong to this story. And even had I entered the portals of academia it is unlikely that I would have been one of the agitators. A streak of scepticism about what I suspected was mostly theatrical posturing and inflated rhetoric would have kept me in check. And History appears to have proved me right. How many of those fresh-faced radicals, now wrinkled and grey, are still flying the Red Flag nearly 40 years on? Guess what Jack Straw was doing in 1968.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the buses. Why was I working as a bus conductor? Was it something I desperately wanted to do? Did I have a deep desire to commit myself to public service? Was I embarking on a career path? No, none of these things. I had just walked out of an office job that I loathed and hated and I needed money to survive. Working on the buses was a short term way of earning cash and that was the only, repeat only, reason why the vast majority of GCT green staff were doing it. It was a stopgap job, it was more or less officially recognised as such, and as a result the staff turnover was massive. All you had to do was pop along to the Head Office in Bath Street and, as long as your physiognomy did not indicate too much in the way of criminal tendencies, you were basically hired. And that’s what I did.
I will give the GCT their due. You were not delivered over to the tender mercies of the general public straightaway. A comprehensive training programme lasting all of 3 days [including smoking breaks, which were numerous] was considered necessary. For this you reported to the so-called Conductors' School located in Govan Garage at the bottom of Brand Street, formerly a tram depot. Incidentally, I have always been mildly intrigued by the fact that Govan Garage was effectively in Ibrox, while Ibrox Garage in Helen Street was effectively in Govan. Anyway, the training was delivered by uniformed inspectors and, in my own case I remember a tall, bespectacled, somewhat diffident individual who strangely enough seemed rather more scared of us than we were of him (although on second thoughts and considering what we as a group must have looked like to him, that maybe doesn’t seem so strange).
So for the next three days we were taken through the intricacies of the job. Such as how to operate an Ultimate ticket issuing machine. This was a mechanical device containing 5 rolls of tickets which were propelled one by one through slots at the front of the machine whenever a lever beneath each slot was pressed. Decimalisation had not yet arrived and the values of the tickets were 2d, 2d concession, 4d, 6d and 1s/3d, or, expressed in words, tuppence, tuppenny concession, fourpence, sixpence and one & thruppence. In decimal currency 6d equates to 2.5p and I shall leave you, dear reader, to work out the rest of them for yourself. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but consider the fact that in 1968 the average bare wage was around £15 a week and you will realise that those costs are relative.
The Ultimate machine was slung across the chest [this being the regulation position, not always adhered to – more of this later] with beneath it a large stiff leather cashbag, the flap of which was tucked behind the machine. The bag had 3 compartments, the suggested use of which was for respectively copper coinage, threepenny bits and silver. Let me say at this stage that most of these were not the poncy little coins we are now used to. Periodically climbing from lower to top deck and back while carrying the weight of a full compartment of copper pennies in one’s bag would be very few people’s idea of fun. These were therefore the first to be disposed of whenever possible and many a surprised, not to say indignant, passenger found himself or herself with cupped hands containing a large pile of coppers after receiving change from a ten shilling note.
The tickets were produced by a firm which went by the resounding name of The Glasgow Numerical Printing Company. Spare tickets were kept on a rack inside a metal case which also contained the Ultimate when not in use. We were also taught how to complete a waybill, which was basically a document for recording ticket numbers on the machine at the start and end of your shift, as well as various points in between, the idea being of course that the total value of tickets recorded as sold would tally with the amount of cash you paid in. Let me tell you that achieving this aim was not always as easy as it seems.
Either before or during the course, I can’t really remember – all this was nearly 40 years ago and for that reason allowance should be made for other, hopefully minor, factual inaccuracies as well as the temptation now and again to allow a bit of creative imagination to come into play when memory falls by the wayside – either before or during the course we were instructed to obtain our kit from the clothing store and present ourselves in full uniform. The clothing store was in Pollokshields, in Albert Drive, opposite the old Coplawhill Works which of course is now The Tramway. I was issued with a heavy double-breasted jacket with brass buttons as well as a pair of indestructible looking serge trousers. These had a button-up fly and buttons front and back so you could attach a pair of braces. There were no belt loops but eventually I began using a belt anyway as well as the braces because otherwise the trousers would hang on me like a sack. A lightweight linen summer jacket was also supplied. The uniform was dark green with red piping, quite distinctive. But it was obvious that stylistically it had not changed for several decades. In addition to these garments – note that only one of each was supplied – and the aforementioned leather bag, I remember receiving a whistle on a chain and a book of rules and regulations that looked [and read] as if it had been issued in the days of the horse drawn trams. And finally there was a hat, uncomfortable to wear and as stiff as a board, sporting the traditional blue-enamelled Glasgow Corporation Transport badge.
If you have ever worn a uniform you will know what it is like to walk about in the wide world clad in it for the first time. You can feel everybody’s eyes boring all the way through the cloth right into that fragile entity which constitutes your ego. Anyway, there I was, all dressed up and waiting to be told where to go. And indeed, as soon as the course was finished I was instructed to report to Partick Garage in Hayburn Street, another old tram depot. The way it worked was that you spent a week under the auspices of an experienced conductor and after that you were on your own. So it was with trepidation that I presented myself with hat perched squarely on my head (very much in the minority in this respect) to an indifferent member of the counter staff at around lunchtime the next day, which was a Saturday. My first shift was to be a midshift. Indeed as far as I can remember the GCT operated straight early, mid and late shifts at that time, I have a feeling that spreadover shifts had not yet been imposed. Anyway, I was introduced to Eddie, my teacher-conductor, a loose-limbed, gum-chewing, Teddy Boy throwback not much older than me [I was 21] who in next to no time had me ready for action with my very own fully charged Ultimate machine.
< A GCT Leyland Atlantean bus.
I still retain certain memories of that first shift and they still have the capacity to affect my mental equilibrium after all these years. The rather hackneyed phrase “Stop the bus I want to get off” perhaps best expresses my frame of mind as I struggled to remain upright while Eddie’s driver propelled the big Leyland Atlantean at what seemed like breakneck speed from Partick to Barmulloch, then back to Partick and onward to Knightswood at the other end of the route. As for operating the Ultimate I was literally all fingers and thumbs. Like most novice conductors I depressed the lever with the thumb of one hand and tore off the ticket between forefinger and thumb of the other. The trick of course was to perform the whole operation with one hand in a single snappy movement. And as for handling loose change, the simple mental arithmetic necessary, seemed suddenly to have become the equivalent of proving a complex mathematical theorem. The punters were not impressed. However, somehow or other I got through the shift and after Eddie had shown me how to cash up I felt drained, shattered. It was too late to go to the pub for some liquid refreshment and in any case being spotted by a GCT official going into or coming out of licensed premises in one’s uniform was a sackable offense. That would certainly have been a bit embarrassing after one day in the job. So I went home and collapsed into bed wondering whether I would be able to summon up sufficient willpower to go back the following day.
I did of course and it didn’t take long to get to grips with the job. My learning curve was considerably speeded up by the fact that after about the second day Eddie more or less withdrew from any involvement and just let me get on with it. This left him free to indulge in his favourite pastime which was chatting up the birds, that is to say any female passenger unaccompanied by children, roughly between the age of consent and early middle age. He nearly always got short shrift but that never seemed to discourage him. So by the end of that first week I pretty well knew what was required and my initial culture shock had more or less worn off.
The way it worked was that you were employed as a ‘spare’ conductor until such time as your turn came to be put onto the ‘cycle’, at which point you were teamed up with a crew driver, with the two of you working alternate late and early weeks in accordance with a fixed rota. At that time there was also plenty of opportunity for overtime, or ‘buck’ as it was usually referred to. Being spare was a mixed blessing. Obviously you were getting paid even if you were sitting around doing nothing, but this could be boring and you couldn’t really relax because you never knew when your name was going to be called out over the tannoy. Even if you did get part of a shift it was pot luck as to who your driver was going to be. For instance there was one particular individual, an Englishman in fact, although a long-service employee, who was notorious for being the slowest driver in the garage. Nothing would faze him. He just dawdled along without a care in the world and would even pull into the side to tell you an amusing anecdote he had heard from somebody. This driver could often be seen tootling along Dumbarton Road with a full tanking and a conductor on the verge of collapse and a sequence of buses nose to tail behind him, all running half empty. A number of other drivers had a reputation for being rough, i.e. they drove like Stirling Moss competing in the 24 Hour Le Mans, so that you got thrown all over the place and had to hang on like grim death.
One thing you could do if you were spare was go and have a game of snooker. Like all GCT garages, Partick had a snooker room. There were 3 or 4 tables in it as far as I can remember and it was on the first floor. I had never held a snooker cue in my life but with a certain amount of encouragement and advice from some of the old hands I gained a small measure of proficiency. It is a skill which I have now lost in its entirety. There was an inter-depot league and competition between garages was fierce. But when I was not out on the road most of my time was spent in the canteen. This gave me a chance to observe some of the more kenspeckle characters among the green staff and to do a bit of people watching in general, something I have always been fond of.
The largest group of drivers and conductors consisted of Glaswegian working class males, as was to be expected I suppose. Female conductors, or clippies as they were often rather disparagingly referred to, were somewhat in the minority. Of the older conductresses – matronly types who would stand no nonsense from anybody and were always immaculately turned out – one or two had actually been tram drivers. However there were no female bus drivers at this time, although this changed a few years later when women were allowed to enter the driving school and some indeed grasped this opportunity. Strangely enough it was union opposition which held back the employment of women drivers, although perhaps not so strange considering how male dominated and chauvinistic the officialdom of the Transport & General Workers Union actually was.
A substantial number of Asian men were also working for the GCT by this time. These were almost without exception first generation immigrants, mostly from the Punjab. They were extremely hard working, usually taking on as much overtime as they could get. This occasionally caused some resentment among their European colleagues, some of whom would grumble about “Pakis” monopolising the overtime sheet, a spurious accusation since there was always more than enough to go round (to the extent that the desk inspectors often tried to get you to take on bits of overtime even when you couldn’t be bothered). In any case the Asians were only following the pattern established by earlier immigrant groups in Glasgow - such as the Irish, the Jews and the Italians - which was trying to gain a foothold on the socio-economic ladder. Working on the buses was an ideal way of achieving this aim, with the money earned being used to purchase homes and start up small businesses. Indeed most of them would appear to have succeeded, at least in that respect. You hardly ever see an Asian bus driver now. Instead, other groups have taken their place, such as immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Although there tended to be a sort of impromptu apartheid in the canteen, with the Asian green staff largely sticking together as a group, this was perhaps inevitable given their shared language, culture and of course religion. But I cannot remember there being any overt racial tension between Asian and white Glaswegian staff beyond the sort of carping mentioned in the previous paragraph. For example a few snorts of derision were heard when a a number of Punjabi records were included among the collection of discs in the canteen jukebox. Such attitudes would of course be totally unacceptable today, but 40-odd years ago they were par for the course. Nevertheless, non-Asian conductors would routinely get paired up with Asian drivers and vice versa and tended to get on with each other quite amicably. If there was any naked racism it was more likely to be encountered out on the road, among the general public.
As for the rest, there were various odds and sods. Some Highlanders, a handful of transient Irishmen, a magnificent Jamaican called Victor who never took off his hat and carried himself like a prince, a guy from Malta, there were a few Sikhs, a Singaporean [or perhaps he was Malaysian], a contingent of students letting down the cause by earning instead if agitating, and lastly a smattering of middle class deadbeats among whom I was proud to number myself. Oh, and there was Molly. Molly was about four foot six inches tall, a redhead with a beehive hairdo that added roughly another twelve inches to her height and a habit of expressing herself with such ear-cracking obscenity that all conversation froze solid whenever she appeared in the canteen. No doubt there were others who have fallen through the gaps in my memory. But all in all quite a melting pot.
The rapid staff turnover meant that it wasn’t long before I got put onto a cycle. My driver was Big John, a tall, laid-back individual who usually wore a sardonic grin on his face. He was a dead ringer for Lee Marvin, the American film actor, except that he wore a moustache, which to my knowledge Lee Marvin never did. I was pleased to have him as a driver because he was tremendous company, as well as being a complete nutcase. For some reason Partick Garage at that time only operated Leyland Atlanteans, so that instead of being separately housed in cab and saloon, both driver and conductor were more or less continuously together. My usual position when not collecting fares or taking the weight off my feet was standing at the front next to the driver’s compartment, listening to John wisecracking away as he steered the bus. He had been employed in a variety of different jobs before becoming a driver. I think he had been a chef for a while. But the one that has remained anchored in my memory is a stint as a beach photographer in Blackpool. He would josh passengers to their face as they stepped on the bus, something I would never have been able to get away with, but John managed to carry it off like a seasoned comic playing the Glasgow Empire.
It was just as well that he did manage to get away with it, because on the whole, the relationship between crews and the travelling public was not exacty sweetness and light. There is no doubt that standards had dropped somewhat. The job for life attitude and the rather militaristic approach towards discipline and turnout that had still characterised the service in the nineteen-fifties had by the swinging sixties become pretty much anathema to most of the younger generation. Rebellion was in the air and the GCT was not immune to its influence. The notion of service had become associated with social conservatism and propping up the system. It even rubbed off on maverick dissidents such as myself, not particularly committed to changing the world and indeed pretty sceptical about the whole youth culture. Most people were in the job for the short term anyway and possessed little commitment. They were not about to take any snash from the punters and usually gave as good as they got, the cause of considerable acrimony at times.
Nevertheless I cannot recall having been personally involved in any really serious incidents (I think I would have remembered this if I had). If I did occasionally badmouth a passenger it was usually only if I had been badmouthed first and I had a sufficiently well developed sense of self-preservation to know whether a potential opponent was likely to ignore Queensberry Rules during an encounter. In which case I would choose the sensible option and decide that discretion was the better part of valour, even if it meant nearly biting off my tongue in the process. Fights and physical assaults were of course not unknown and there was a tragic incident the following year when a young conductor from Partick Garage was attacked on his bus on his way back from Dalmuir West and subsequently died from his injuries. However I am happy to say that I did not myself come face to face with any violent scenarios and I am fairly sure that my experience was the norm rather than the exception.
If there was a problem with a punter you could nearly always be sure that drunkenness was involved. This was at its worst on Friday and Saturday nights after the pubs had closed, although quite often you got it during the week as well. Of course there was very much a hard drinking culture in Glasgow at the time, to the extent that it was generally regarded as socially acceptable. However, in my view, much of the public drunkenness on display was associated with the restrictive licensing laws that were in force. Pubs closed at half past two in the afternoon, opened again at five o’clock and closed at 10 pm. They were shut altogether on Sundays, although you could get a drink at a small number of “Hotels”, most of which were basically just drinking establishments with a special Sunday license. All this had led to a habit of concentrated drinking, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, when the last hour or so before closing time would be utter bedlam with large quantities of booze going down the hatch at a rate of knots. There was also a greater degree of mixing spirits with beer than there seems to be today. Lest I sound puritanical about all this, let me be perfectly frank and say that I would join in with the rest of them whenever time and money permitted. As I said, there was no real stigma attached to this sort of behaviour.
But the long and the short of it was that come around 10 pm on Friday and Saturday nights, the streets of Glasgow would be filled with thousands of males in various stages of intoxication, staggering and reeling all over the place, puking on the pavements, up closes having a piss, singing at the top of their voices, what have you. And a sizeable number of these would be getting the bus back home. The degree to which you got hammered depended to a certain extent on what part of your route you were on when the pubs came out. Sometimes it was the bus in front of you that got most of it, sometimes the one behind you. But if you were unlucky you could get a full swinger, i.e. a bus so fully loaded that the top deck swung from side to side while you were travelling between stops. It was an experience everyone dreaded, myself included, but what could you do? There were instances of drivers who, with or without the connivance of their conductors, would deliberately cause their vehicle to break down at a terminus just to avoid this sort of mayhem. With Leyland Atlanteans it was sometimes possible to achieve this by pressing the starter button in first gear while holding the bus stationary with the footbrake. This was of course an extremely selfish thing to do for it meant that somebody else got landed with a double load. But then esprit de corps among crews was pretty well absent most of the time, especially if they worked out of different garages.
And so if, on a weekend late shift, I found myself dealing with a full complement of drunks I just tried to grin and bear it, there was no other option. The best approach was to humour them, to act the daft laddie as they used to say. Any display of cockiness or aggression on my part was likely to be a big, big mistake. Funnily enough I nearly always managed to collect their fares off them, even though it was sometimes a slow process, with me waiting determinedly while some inebriated punter attempted to focus his eyes on a small pile of coins in the palm of his hand, trying to figure out the difference between a sixpence and a threepenny bit. But the thing I hated most was when somebody fell asleep and you discovered him slumped comatose in his seat just as you were arriving at the terminus. There were two things I dreaded about this. One was trying to wake him up. The other was asking him for his fare back to wherever he should have got off in the first place.
Of course it wasn’t just on Friday and Saturday nights that you could get a tanking. The rush hour was often pretty murderous too, although obviously you tended to deal with a somewhat more civilized class of punter. Car ownership in those days was not as prevalent as it is now and a lot more people used the bus to get to and from work. Actually, I sometimes wondered which group was worse to deal with, the office workers or the industrial workers. Both groups treated you like shit. The office workers, male and female, thought they were a cut above you, which didn’t particularly surprise me. The industrial workers, such as men from the shipyards, looked down on you because, as they saw it, you weren’t doing a proper job. Woe betide you if there was any talk about the green staff going on strike for better pay and conditions. That was o.k. for them, but not for you. Your function was to serve them, the real workers, so just get on with it and don’t complain. All this may sound like sour grapes, but it was an attitude I came across frequently, it was not confined to the odd disgruntled individual
One of the disadvantages of being based in Partick Garage was the fact that the route you had to work most of all was no. 64, one of the longest and busiest on the GCT timetable. This ran from Dalmuir West all the way to Auchenshuggle which, for the uninitiated, is off London Road just past St. Peter’s Cemetery at Dalbeth. There was a shorter version, no. 63, which ran between Yoker and Dalmarnock. Both these routes went through the city centre via Argyle Street, Trongate and Gallowgate before cutting onto London Road via Moir Street. This took you past the Barras and this was the worst aspect of operating the 64 [and to a slightly lesser extent the 63] over the weekend. On most routes a Sunday was a relatively peaceful day. You seldom got particularly busy, so you could relax a bit and because the service frequency was reduced, you also got longer lying times than you did during the week. But if the whole of your Sunday shift was on the 64/63 ( and there were quite a few of these) you were guaranteed to get slaughtered all morning taking people to the Barras and again picking them up in the afternoon, both eastbound and westbound. It wasn’t just that the the Barras was the place where bargains were to be had. In those days it was just about the only place where you could shop on a Sunday, period. And of course on a Saturday you got the crowds from the big stores along Argyle Street as well.
The other routes operated from Partick, and there were only a few of them, were, as far as I can remember: no. 9, between George Square and Drumchapel; no. 15 between Hillington Estate and Blairdardie; no. 16 to Barmulloch plus no. 16A which went to Balornock East via Stobhill Hospital; no. 32, a very short route which ran between Scotstoun and Keppochhill Road in Springburn; and lastly no. 56, another short route, between Alexandra Park and Scotstoun and a good run to be on because few people ever seemed to use it.
Whether you had been busy or quiet it was always a relief to arrive back at the garage for a break or even better, the end of your shift. Unless your bus happened to be running into or out of the garage the changeover points at Partick were near the railway bridge across Dumbarton Road, more or less at the corner of Merkland Street for westbound pickups and just outside Woolworths for eastbound pickups. The garage was only a short walk away [it closed in 1977 and was eventually demolished to make way for flats]. If you had finished your shift you obviously had to cash up first, although if you had been extremely busy and were loaded with cash you might already have made an interim payment during your break. The Ultimate was returned to its case and handed back over the counter. You were not allowed to take it home with you.
I have already mentioned that standards had become somewhat relaxed by the time I joined the GCT. Previously you would have been pulled up if you reported for duty without your hat square on your head. This rule was no longer enforced, although you were supposed to have the hat with you at all times while in uniform and occasionally some particularly officious inspector might tick you off if you had left it at home. A lot of people didn’t bother wearing a hat while others might wear it but had modified it in some way to give it a less military look. A favourite trick was to bend the wire to make the hat conform to your own esthetic requirements, indeed some people took the wire out altogether.
Speaking for myself, sometimes I wore a hat, sometimes I didn’t, it really depended on what kind of mood I was in.
As for the uniform, there wasn’t really anything you could do with it. I did notice the occasional dandy who had managed to replace their brass buttons with the silver gilt variety which inspectors wore on their jackets. Others had their lapels festooned with various badges, such as miniature buses, Robertsons Golliwogs [pretty much non PC now], T&GWU badges and even CND buttons. There were also some conductors who had been issued with old-fashioned coats instead of jackets [perhaps they had even requested these, I don’t really know]. Some of these had a sort of frogged black braid on the cuffs. Rumour had it that this was a mourning device, commemorating the death of Queen Victoria, although I suspect that this was an urban myth.
Another way of challenging uniformity was to wear cashbag and Ultimate in a non-regulation manner. A favourite arrangement among the more gallus types was to carry them holster fashion, with cashbag bouncing off one hip and Ultimate off the other. For myself, after a bit of experimentation I decided to wear both in the regulation position, i.e. Ultimate square on the chest with cashbag directly beneath, since this was how the old hands did it and I reasoned, correctly, that in practice it was the most efficient and least energy-sapping method.
As I have already indicated – and I am now beginning to repeat myself, so it is time to start bringing this part of the narrative to a close – as I have already indicated, my time as a GCT conductor was fairly uneventful, if by “events” one means such things as fights, assaults, riots on the top deck and other instances of mayhem. My stint as a conductor lasted only a few months however (although the way time seems to expand when you are young made it seem much longer than this at the time) and I daresay that statistically I could quite possibly have got entangled in a serious incident had I decided to stay on.
It so happened that the most dramatic event I was involved in was when the bus I was in charge of knocked somebody down – as usual, drink was the crucial factor. Big John was not my driver on this occasion as I was doing overtime on my day off. The driver, as far as I can remember, was from somewhere in the West Highlands, not a Glaswegian. He had not been a driver for very long, either. It was early on a Saturday evening and the bus was travelling eastbound along Argyle Street when more or less at the junction with Derby Street a drunk suddenly staggered off the kerb and into the road. I saw this happen and shouted a warning but my driver had been looking into his offside mirror and didn’t see the guy until it was too late. There was a sickening crunch as the windscreen slammed into his head, causing him to spin round and disappear from view. The bus screeched to a halt, I wrenched open the doors and jumped out. The guy was lying beside the kerb, unconscious, the side of his face a bloody mess. Some passersby watched over him as I ran into a shop and asked somebody to phone an ambulance (no cab radios or mobile phones in those days of course), which arrived very quickly. A couple of beat bobbies turned up as well. I also had to obtain names and addresses of witnesses, this being part of the GCT procedure to be followed if you were involved in an accident.
During all of this my driver had remained sitting behind the wheel in a state of near paralysis. Obviously he was in no fit state to continue so I took the bus out of service and transferred the passengers to the next bus which came along. He managed to gain his composure sufficiently to turn the bus round and drive very slowly back to Partick where we both went off sick for the rest of the shift. I had to write out the accident report for him as he was unable to think let alone hold a pen between his fingers. What had happened to him was every driver’s nightmare. Thankfully the guy made a full recovery, although he had sustained serious head injuries. The bus hadn’t been travelling particularly fast so in a way he’d been lucky.
This incident shook me up a bit and as I had already been thinking of packing in the job, it merely accelerated that process. The final straw came one sunny afternoon when we were running seriously late (on route 64 as usual) due to a combination of traffic and roadworks, in other words because of factors completely outwith our control. The temperature inside the bus was almost unbearable and as usual when we were running late, we had a full load. I was hot, sweaty, loaded down with cash, dog tired and totally and utterly pissed off. When a group of passengers began complaining in unison about the bus being late I lost it completely and gave them a mouthfull. What I actually said is too undignified to relate. Suffice to say that several of them said they would report me for using obscene language. Well, I don’t know whether they ever did because when I got back to the garage I handed in my notice. So that was the end of that. Two weeks afterwards I left Glasgow for London to make my fortune in the Big Smoke.
2.Just over 3 years later I was back in Glasgow, my fortune as yet unmade (indeed it remains unmade to this very day). After some time spent searching fruitlessly for an office job I decided - with considerable reluctance it has to be said – that going on the buses was again going to be the only option if I wasn’t to end up in dire straits financially. So that was what I did. It was early 1972 and I found myself based at Partick Garage once more. However this time I was determined that I would become a driver. I had to do a short stint as a conductor first but it wasn’t long before I was told to report to the Head Office at Bath Street for my medical. I joined the queue which had formed for this purpose on the top floor of said building and was eventually attended to by a bored doctor in a white coat who shone a light into my eyes, thumped me on the back, felt my balls and rubberstamped a piece of paper with the words ‘fit for driving’. I reckon the medical lasted all of 30 seconds.
The driving school was based at Knightswood Garage although I think there may have been another one on the southside [probably at Larkfield]. The buses used for instruction were first generation Leyland Titans built in the 1950s which had been taken out of regular service. A couple of them I noticed had enormous airbrake handles situated just behind the driver’s cab in the lower saloon, presumably so that the instructor could stop the bus in case of an emergency. I was told this form of dual control was pretty ineffective and the bus I was taught on didn’t have it anyway. In fact once you were ensconced in the cab you were basically outwith the instructor’s physical control and if you let the bus run away with you then the consequences were in the lap of the gods. So much for safety.
There were normally 2 or 3 learners on the bus at a time and you took turns at the wheel. The instructors were uniformed and had inspector rank. Ours was a man called Jimmy Mullen, like the other instructors probably not all that far from retirement. He was the spitting image of Arthur Lowe playing Captain Mannering in Dad’s Army. He knew his stuff though and was a highly competent instructor. One of the things I remember him teaching us was something called “vehicle sympathy”, in other words treating the bus as if it was a fellow human being with the ability to feel pain, rather than as a piece of machinery that could be flogged to death at will. This probably went in one ear and out the other as far as most of us were concerned, but in principle it was extremely good advice.
Much to my own surprise I passed the PSV driving test first time. This was in spite of – or perhaps even because of – taking a wrong turning which led me into a narrow street with an obstacle course of cars parked intermittently along both kerbs. I sweated blood while weaving the bus from side to side with only a couple of inches to spare. By the time we got back to the garage where I had to sit at the back of the bus and answer questions on the Highway Code I was more or less a gibbering wreck. I couldn’t believe it when the examiner from the Traffic Commissioners told me I’d been successful. A few days later I was out on the road as a fully fledged driver, proudly sporting the red PSV badge on my lapel. I should really have said rookie driver, because there was a lot to discover that you hadn’t been told about in the driving school, such as how you were supposed to work with a timeboard that usually bore little relation to how long it actually took to get from A to B.
A few changes had taken place since I had been at Partick previously as a conductor. There were now a lot of spreadover shifts, some of them 3-parters so that for example you could start at 6 o’clock in the morning, work till 9 am, then be off until midday and do another couple of hours and finally be back on from 4 pm to 7 pm before you were finished. I think the maximum spreadover was about 13 hours. This is probably a fairly extreme example but if you were on a cycle and had one of these all week it was a real bugger. You got extra money for spreadovers and the time spent actually working each day was usually no more than 8 hours, but even if you managed to pop home during your breaks you couldn’t really relax.
The other new thing was one-man operation which the top brass regarded as the way to go in the future. Quite a few long service drivers were being trained for this. The concept was in its early stages and the majority of drivers still worked as part of a crew, but already there were a number of exclusively OMO routes, such as no. 20 from George Square to Drumchapel which operated out of Knightswood. As for Partick I think no. 9 [also George Square to Drumchapel but via Dumbarton Road instead of Great Western Road] as well as possibly no. 32 [Keppochhill Rd. to Scotstoun] were OMO. It was a nuisance being caught behind an OMO driver because it took them so long to process passengers. Although they were supposed to tender the exact money there were no such things as Zonecards and every fare was a cash transaction.
< GCT Leyland Titan buses on Glasgow Bridge.
The composition of the fleet at Partick Garage had also changed. There were no longer so many Leyland Atlanteans. There was now also a large contingent of Leyland Titans, that is to say old fashioned backenders as well as the more recent front entry types. This suited me fine because I much preferred the Titans to the Atlanteans. Apart from the obvious advantage you had of being snugly isolated in a separate cab, they were pleasant to drive, manoeuvreable, nippy on the road and with good steering and brakes. I never cared much for the Leyland Atlanteans even though they were regarded as state of the art public service vehicles at the time. To me they felt sluggish and cumbersome. There was also something unnatural about sitting in the driver’s compartment with the front wheels behind you and the engine miles away at the rear. On the Titans you sat right on top of the front wheels with the engine roaring away beside you and you felt that you were in the thick of the action, almost an integral part of the vehicle itself. The only snag was that it could get really hot inside the cab in summer and if any of the injector tubes had worked themselves loose [which happened quite often] you would get diesel fumes as well.
As for Partick Garage itself, only a handful of the people I had encountered a few years before were still working there, Some of the zing seemed to have gone out of the place, it had become a bit staid with a dearth of the kind of characters that had been there in 1968. Or maybe it was just me growing older. I would really have to rack my brains to remember specific individuals. Only one worth mentioning comes to mind. This was Frank French, who had been a bus conductor nearly all his working life and he was getting on in years when I knew him. He had worked for London Transport for many years and had only returned to Glasgow fairly recently. His modus operandi was a standing joke among the crews. A non-smoking, teetotal bachelor, Frank’s way of dealing with passengers was to treat them with excessive politeness. There was no irony about this either, he was perfectly serious, regarding it as the way it ought to be done. He would usher punters onto his bus with all the unctuousness of a Church of Scotland minister greeting his flock on a Sunday morning. All passengers without exception, even the scabbiest, most obnoxious ratbag, would be thanked profusely when tendering their fares. This sort of thing went down a treat with elderly ladies from Hyndland who would continuously write letters to the Corporation saying how wonderful he was. But Glasgow being Glasgow he also had to put up with a lot of stick and it was something of a mystery to me how he always kept his composure. I had him as a conductor once or twice and privately he would complain, in the gentlest possible way of course, about the class of people he had to deal with, comparing them most unfavourably with the travelling public on the London buses. Poor Frank! He stuck it to the bitter end and eventually retired with his diginity intact, continuing to live in Partick. Tragically, only about 3 years after his retirement, he died of carbon monoxide poisoning, the result apparently of gas seeping up through the floorboards in his bedroom from the flat below.
After working out of Partick Garage for a few months I decided to ask for a transfer to Knightswood. This was mainly because I had a girlfriend at the time who lived virtually next door to the garage, in Warden Road. Knightswood Garage was also handier to get to and from on early and late shifts. I was living just off Great Western Road at Kelvinbridge and this would allow me to take advantage of the staff buses. My transfer went through without a hitch and I was soon trying to adjust to a completely different set of routes.
Knightswood was a big impersonal sort of place but I liked the variety of the routes and it was a relief to get away from the 63 and 64. Like Partick they had a mixture of Leyland Atlanteans and Titans although as far as I can remember the Titans were all backenders. However, Knightswood also had a large number of front entry AEC Regent Mark Vs, the only garage to still have these apart from Possilpark. I wasn’t too keen on the Mark Vs. The steering was heavy and had a sort of ‘dead’ feel to it. There were several occasions when I nearly wrenched my arms out of their sockets trying to make a turn with a full load on board [no power steering in those days, by the way]. The brakes were also bad, either virtually non-existent or far too fierce. They had a tendency to go out of adjustment so that the bus would slew to one side when you braked.
All the buses had two-pedal control, that is to say they had an automatic clutch. The Titans had pneumo-cyclic gearboxes with a pedestal gearchange on the floor. To operate this properly you were supposed to use it as if it was an old fashioned crash box, i.e. when changing up, pause in neutral to allow the revs to die down and when changing down, rev up before slipping the lever into the lower gear. In practice many drivers just slammed the lever back and forth across the gate while keeping the accelerator half depressed. This often made the bus jerk when changing gear – not very nice for the passengers or the conductor and not exactly good for the transmission either. Since there was no clutch involved it was often too much of a temptation to adopt this method. The Mark Vs and most of the Leyland Atlanteans had electrically operated gear levers on the steering column instead of a pedestal gearchange. A number of the LAs did have pedestal gearchanges and their overall handling seemed to be a bit better than the other LAs, probably because they had a slightly larger engine. Larkfields and Newlands had a number of Daimlers with pre-select gearboxes. You had to select the gear in advance using a lever on the steering column and then depress a change pedal on the floor to make the bus actually go into the gear selected. This type of transmission was peculiar to Daimler vehicles – they used it on their cars as well before they were taken over by Jaguar. I drove a Daimler bus on one occasion and it was a real bugger trying to master the system.
In all I was a bus driver for about one and a half years. I enjoyed the driving as such but the shifts were pretty murderous and to earn decent money you had to put in a lot of overtime. Usually I would only take one day off every two weeks. Trying to keep a bus running in accordance with the timetable was also very stressful and I didn’t have the sort of temperament that would have allowed me to remain detached about this. On at least one occasion I ran a red light when it was highly dangerous to have done so, irrespective of the illegality. I still break out in a cold sweat when I think about it.
One thing I would like to mention before I go is the fact that I am probably the only driver to have both rammed a car and left a conductor behind all in the course of a single run. One evening, I was driving a Titan on the no. 10 route heading towards Springboig Road. It was dark and the weather was filthy, the rain literally bouncing off the road. I was accelerating away from a stop when suddenly a car shot out of a side street and passed right in front of me. An impact was inevitable and the front of the bus went straight into the rear passenger door which crumpled like a piece of scrunched up paper. Mind you, the car was a Morris Marina, probably one of the worst motors ever to have disgraced British roads, so it wouldn’t have taken much to produce such an effect. To make matters worse the driver turned out to be Chinese and spoke very little English. He had either misjudged my speed or the poor visibilty had made him assume I was still standing at the stop. We managed to exchange particulars in spite of the language barrier and after I had ascertained that the damage to the bus was minor I decided to keep it in service and carried on to the terminus. I had already told the conductor that there would be no lying time because of the delay. So at Springboig Road I turned the bus round without stopping and was soon back on Edinburgh Road heading towards the city. As I drew up to a stop on Alexandra Parade another bus passed me and there was my own conductor waving at me from the platform. What had happened was that as I turned into Edinburgh Road he had stepped off the platform in order to stamp his timecard in the bundy clock which stood on the corner there. I had completely forgotten about the stupid bundy clock and had roared off without him. To say that I felt like a complete wally would have been an understatement. But the conductor was a phlegmatic sort of chap and there was no ill feeling.
Not long afterwards I got what was called a St. Enoch line for turning a bus short without authorisation. This was one step up from a garage line and was regarded as quite serious. I was on a no. 2 heading for Rutherglen and had become seriously delayed. A further two no. 2s had caught up with me and were dawdling along behind playing silly buggers. The sensible thing to do was to turn my bus short so at least some semblance of a service could be kept going. But for this I needed authorisation from an inspector and they all seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. So eventually and off my own bat I told the conductor to run upstairs and change the screen to show Mount Florida. Of course the inevitable happened. On the way back from Mount Florida an inspector made an appearance and I got booked. The conductor got booked as well which annoyed me. He was just a young boy and not long in the job. But of course he was officially in charge of the bus and so technically the responsibility for the misdemeanour was his.
So I duly presented myself at St. Enoch (now the Travel Centre – at that time the first floor was the HQ of the Northern Division inspectorate) at the appointed date and time, resplendent in collar and tie, uniform brushed, hat under my arm. I was interviewed by a senior inspector who looked old enough to have started on the trams as a pointsboy back in the nineteen-twenties. He hawed and harrumphed, sternly reprimanded me and told me to be a good boy in future.
“If it wasn’t for your good timekeeping,” he said, “I would have sacked you.”
“I was only trying to show some initiative,” I replied.
“Son,” he said, “you’re not in this job to show any initiative.”
Which sort of summed it all up for me, really. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had another job lined up anyway. I had applied for a clerical position with a shipping agency – the sort of work I had been doing in London – and had received my letter of appointment in the post that very day.
In a final ironic twist, on the day I left the garage manager at Knightswood called me into his office and asked me why I was departing. I got the impression he was becoming concerned about the number of drivers handing in their notice, probably in view of the OMO situation. When I told him that I was basically an office worker and felt that my future lay in that direction he asked me whether I would be interested in working at the Head Office in Bath Street! Let me just say that I declined the offer, politely.
Well, there you have it. My career on the buses. It didn’t amount to much and it was a long time ago. However I hope that at least parts of this narrative have been of interest to those readers who happen to be bus buffs as well as those, myself included, who are not really members of this fraternity. It brought back quite a few submerged memories as I was writing it. Happy days? Well no, not really, but interesting and eye-opening ones most definitely.
© Neil Owen