I was still a kid when I came to the realisation that there are two types of people in this world: a) those who are reliant on Leeds buses to get around, and b) everyone else. My parents never owned a car, so as a child I dreamed of being in the second group – that glamorous breed of people who could set off to, and come back from, places at a time of their own choosing instead of having to plan every outing as though it was the invasion of Normandy.
Not unlike the D-Day planners, our day trips had to take into account several variables. Thankfully machine-gun nests were unlikely to be met as we passed from Middleton through Belle Isle (although we ducked down just in case) but factors such as the weather were game-changers for any outing. Back then my parents bellowed “Be quiet!” prior to watching every possible TV weather forecast as well as listening to the Radio Leeds predictions (just in case one of them had forgotten to mention an impending tornado).
Taking an admirable belt-and-braces approach to knowing if it might rain, they also took heed of Bill Foggitt’s observations of moles, pine cones and seaweed to ascertain the chances of needing an umbrella on a trip to Schofields. The final deciding factor would be to see if my Mum had “a feeling it might rain”.
This final factor, Sheila’s Feeling For Rain, was later called into question in what nowadays would be called “Weathergate”.
Perhaps a little clarificatiion is called for on this point. Monday was washday and once the washing had been done it was hung outside to dry. From then on she mounted a steely weatherwatch, a relentless sentinel, determined than no untoward precipitation should ruin the drying process. At the first sign of a single raindrop she would scream “It’s raining!” in the manner of a demented harpy and everyone in the house, regardless of what they were doing would have to drop everything and run outside to rescue the endangered socks, shorts and underpants and bring them in and out of harm’s way.
To this day, whenever I hear anyone say “It’s raining”, I involuntarily jump up and run outside like a scalded cat. She often declared to anyone who was listening that it rained more on Mondays than on any other day of the week feeling, as she did, that the weather gods had singled her out for particular torment, perhaps for some undisclosed sin committed in a previous life.
Because ours was a House of Eccentricity, my father retaliated by secretly keeping a note of each day’s weather for a full calendar year in his William Hill Diary until he was able to triumphantly confront her with his findings disproving her theory. Which she immediately dismissed as the work of a madman. My parents exerted a degree of planning and seriousness into arguments that puts today’s petty squabblers to shame.
But back to the buses. In my giddy and foolish youth I thought it not unreasonable that I might one day learn to drive and thus gain access to this world without timetables, weather-checking and limitation of bus routes. It just goes to show you. It wasn’t only varicose veins and male-pattern baldness I inherited from my parents – the inability to drive was stitched tightly into my DNA.
And so bus travel has been a part – a major part – of my life. From the earliest trips into town to be dragged round by my Mum, who seemed to treat Debenhams as some kind of Temple Mount, to the excitement of going to school on the bus and eventually being old enough to intimidate younger children by sitting upstairs at the back and chain-smoking while sneering and talking about The Clash, through to the drudge of the daily commute to work and back, taking in late-night drunken discussions on the last bus home from town, to the exciting trips to meet first dates (usually followed by the much less exciting return home alone). Me and buses have got a thing going on.
And I’ll tell you about it next time …