30 July 2020
View from the Cotswolds
A busman’s holiday: one step to heaven
By Paul Branch
It’s that time of year again. Blue skies in Europe, warm sunshine, good food, good wine. But this time with a twist, and not a lemon one in your gin. Unless you’re brave enough to try the expensively chilly but crowded beaches of Bournemouth, or even sight-seeing in Durham, the choices for holidaying abroad are looking slimmer day by day, and fraught with the possibility of being caught out with your bathers around your ankles as you slip despondently into quarantine on your return.
So, where to go that’s not going to cause problems? I’ve heard people talking in shops these last few days about The Balearics, followed by a hasty reference to an atlas, queries about Mallorca and whether that’s anywhere near Malvinas, and even Gibraltar and whether quarantine comes into play there if you happen to inadvertently hop across the border. Government advice is less than clear on this point, although the FCO website is adamant that it’s still a British Overseas Territory and that, yes, we have indeed left the EU.
For some of us though it will be a different kind of holiday away from the rigours of lockdown, and in my case it’s difficult to describe just how much I’m looking forward to re-starting our local community bus service in Chipping Norton and the surrounding villages. Our fleet of little red buses has been dormant for the past four months but will soon be Covid-proofed and raring to go, as will the passengers who can’t wait to get back out for their regular excursion and natter. They comprise mainly elderly ladies, usually accompanied by heavy shopping, who need a hand at the best of times getting on and off the bus. So their demands on us poor bus drivers are likely to be that much more extensive with masks to wear, hand sanitising on entry, social distancing, not sitting next to their mates, and all the other government guidelines we need to implement. Plus keeping on top of any changes that come out of the Department for Transport once Grant Shapps finds his way back from Spain. And of course the buses themselves are likely to play up after months of idleness, so those of us who combine driving with “management” will have little time for little else.
Some of the conversations overheard on the bus can be a bit depressing at times, like some years ago when the Age of Austerity was starting to bite. Two ladies were discussing what they would have to give up in order to make ends meet: one was thinking of cutting out fruit, and the other talked plaintively of stopping her local newspaper so as to save 50p. Others were a bit more lively as in the following exchange from when I was a callow beginner at driving:
You seen Elsie lately?
Spoke to her a couple, of weeks ago – she’s not been well, and the doctor won’t give her anything for it.
What’s her problem then?
Well, from what she said it sounded just like what my Ernie had, and he got some tablets.
Did you tell her that?
I did. I said to her “Elsie”, I said, “You tell the doctor it’s your prostate, and he’ll give you some tablets”. So she said she’d go and see him again next day.
So what happened?
Don’t know …. She hasn’t spoken to me since.
I have to admit our clientele are worth the effort, and they really do appreciate it, however such work can be a pain at times, with salaries way way below the minimum wage, no bonus to speak of, and negligible pension. But we drivers often console ourselves with the thought of eventually reaping our reward in heaven.
Speaking of which, I often have a dream of arriving at the pearly gates after a particularly long and arduous trek up from purgatory, a stop-off we Catholics look upon as a means of freshening up before the real hereafter begins. There to greet me is St Peter, ledger in hand, keys to the kingdom at his side, and the conversation begins:
“Aaah, welcome, we’ve been expecting you. You’ll have the usual assessment before letting you in so you can greet loved ones and family. I know you’re dying to see them all …. Sorry, my little joke, always gets them in the mood.”
“Himself is a bit busy right now, there’s a fairly lengthy session on the agenda with Donald Trump, could take a while. But you’ll be on right after him.”
“I thought we might take a moment to look at how you could occupy yourself for eternity, don’t want you dying of boredom … Sorry again, they just seem to pop out. Now, let’s see what you used to do down there. It says here your interests include football (not much good as a player I see, never even worked up a sweat?), and not much else. Educated as a physicist, worked on satellite communications … no call for technology here I’m afraid, all done by telepathy.”
“Now what’s this … bus driver? That sounds more like it. We’re starting up a one-way shuttle service between purgatory and heaven, been told the journey’s a bit of an issue on foot for some penitents. How do you fancy running that in perpetuity?”
And finally, back to the original theme … and if you’re still with me gentle reader. those of you under the age of 65 might want to look away now. Take it away Cliff. No, please, after you Hank:
We’re not going on a summer holiday
No quarantining for a week or two.
We’ll be happy on our Covid holiday
No more worries for me and you
For a week or two.
We’re staying where the sun shines dimly
We’re staying where the air is blue.
We’ve seen it on the telly
Now let’s see if it’s true.
Everyone should stay at home this holiday
Doing things they never wanted to.
So we’re staying on our Covid holiday
Until our dreams come true
For me and you.
Enjoy your own version of summer.