10 December 2020
View from the Cotswolds
The Chipping Norton omnibus
By Paul Branch
Tuesday afternoon, still the wheels of Brexit negotiations turn turgidly but with no perceptible movement on the three main thorny issues outstanding since last January. We await with bated breath the outcome of Boris’s dash to Brussels where he hopes to charm Ursula with sweet reason, but at least we now have a leader – if only he could spare more time away from scoring goals in the Premiership.
What we’ll do with our time once this is all over is a hard question, especially as Trump now seems to be fading from the limelight at long last, if only for the next four years. Time then to get back to something approaching normality, with life on board our local community bus service.
The pandemic caused much non-activity on the buses once the first lockdown happened – we were off the road, passengers (most of whom are pensioners, many of them quite frail) had to find other ways to get out and about for essentials, drivers were at a loose end, and many drivers’ wives were searching for other things for hubby to do to make lockdown bearable. Getting back into service in August was a joy for everyone concerned, with the buses regaled in full PPE and signage, plastic screens for drivers, hand wipes and sanitisers everywhere, without the need for expensive consultants or dodgy PPE deals, and bright sunlit uplands beckoning.
Restarting after the second lockdown has been more problematic as, unlike the first one, we could detect no great infection rate improvements in our cosy little part of West Oxfordshire. So when Boris, his ministers, SAGE and above all Carrie decided the country could re-open, albeit jolly carefully, this presented a dilemma. Everyone desperately wanted to get the buses going again, but how would we feel if one or more of our passengers or drivers (many of whom are also in the elderly bracket) caught a nasty dose of Covid and suffered for it, with the precious vaccine only a few weeks away? So we took it slowly with a partial restart involving only the Chipping Norton shuttle service, and postponing opening up our mainstream cross-country routes where passengers spend longer together in the midst of dangerous aerosol droplets. This has worked well so far, our main issue being what to do if a passenger boards with a scotch egg at the ready – are we legally bound to provide an alcoholic drink with which to wash it down? Government guidelines are silent on this point, but luckily our master file marked “Common Sense” has the overarching statute which proclaims “No eating, drinking, dancing, swearing or spitting on the bus. Merriment optional but only at Christmastide, in moderation. And please do not feed the driver.”
We have yet to decide on opening up our other routes, and the 5-day Christmas relaxation period will surely result in more infections so it’s unlikely we’ll be fully operational again until well into the New Year. But our passengers on the whole are a sanguine bunch, realising the dangers and happy to comply with the rules, and perhaps above all grateful for the little buses and their volunteer drivers who get them out and about. With their advanced years and general vulnerabilities, making do with their often scanty means is a trial but they absolutely detest the thought of being a burden on anyone. Rural life is not easy for them, the pandemic has made things even worse for their mental health as well as physical wellbeing, but they try to get by with friendships and whatever other support is available. And this in relatively wealthy Oxfordshire, home to so many of the alleged great and good.
Our passengers do keep a keen eye on events and of course express their opinions on whatever or whoever takes their fancy especially when it affects them personally. There have been debates about the work of our government, more so recently with Covid and Brexit, and of course Boris figures highly on occasion. These folk take matters into their own hands with actions that speak far louder than words, to the extent that a month ago on bonfire night one village Guy Fawkes was adorned in a tousled mop of blonde hair but no trousers. I fully expect a similar effigy to be impaled atop that village’s Christmas tree ere long.
Speaking of which, a dear friend of mine had an interesting experience recently when queuing in his car for a Covid swab test prior to being admitted into hospital for hip surgery. On pulling up to the young and quite attractive nurse holding both clipboard and swab kit, she politely asked him to remove his trousers, which came as something of a surprise to my friend, not to mention his wife in the driver’s seat. The plot thickened when the nurse asked if he’d prefer to go somewhere more private. It turned out that he was booked in for an MRSA swab as well as a Covid test in preparation for his operation, but be warned.
Mea culpa: following last week’s article a number of disgruntled comments have surfaced bemoaning the omission of certain footballers of note, for which I apologise but can only cite lack of space. To be specific, two Number 7s: Cristiano Ronaldo (admittedly a truly dreadful error on my part) and Sir Stanley Matthews, the fastest winger over 20 yards and perhaps our first footballing superstar. No one thought to question the omission of perhaps the most celebrated No 7, David Beckham, but one did point out that that his companion No 11, Ryan Giggs, was worthy of mention especially for his goal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay which kept Manchester United on course for their unique treble.
Closer to home, I was reminded forcibly of Phil Woosnam, ex-Physics master at Leyton County High School in the late-1950s, transferred from Leyton Orient to West Ham for £30,000, became Commissioner of the North American Soccer League and was responsible for the development of the game in the US for which much credit, especially for the way the World Cup-winning women’s game has taken off in that former colony. The men still need to do better though.