Page last updated 11 June 2013
A Staines 218, dominoed. RF428 between the Scilly
Isles (Marquis of Granby) and the Orleans Arms in February
Photo © Dave
'In one of my previous missives (on
‘punching up’) I included the following paragraph:
"But despite this, during the peaks, if a driver was really
struggling (and he’d have to be if you managed to catch him up with
the headways we had), with few exceptions we’d always go round and
help him out."
I feel then it might be worth relating one event which, when
trying to be a good buddy, nearly proved my undoing.
One of the other drivers had a reputation for never, ever, going
round anyone else to help them out. For the purposes of this
tale I will call him ‘The Gardener’. It’s not his real name, nor
even his nickname, as that too would identify him to anyone who
worked at Kingston, but it’s near enough and, if he reads this,
he’ll have plenty of his own stories of stunts he pulled on others
(me included) when he almost invariably came out on top.
‘The Gardener’ was (and still is) a hell of a nice bloke (I
still see him occasionally around where I live) and he was always
the best of mates with everyone but, once on the bus, he was
ruthless. If you were his leader he would fill your rear-view
mirror, make sure you saw him, and make no attempt to go round. And
later, in the canteen, would extract the Michael mercilessly out of
those he’d ‘stitched up’. Consequently, if the opportunity ever
occurred to get one back on ‘The Gardener’ (and it was rare for
someone else to get the upper hand), you grasped it – everyone did.
It was all part of the daily cut and thrust of working on the buses
(Reg Varney and Blakey had nothing on us).
When I joined the buses in late 1970, ‘The Gardener’ had, it
seemed, already been driving for years, and he’d been a conductor
before that. His experience was second to none. If there was a
dodge going, he probably invented it but, even so, you couldn’t
help liking him.
This tale took place one Saturday mid-afternoon on route
On Saturdays, to cope with loadings, there were a considerable
number of short workings on 218 from Kingston to Esher. Now for
some reason best known to themselves, London Transport timetabled
the through bus to Staines to depart from Kingston a few minutes
before the Esher shorts. This meant that passengers wanting to go
beyond Esher often had to wait for several buses to pass before
they could get on, whilst the Esher buses would often run almost
empty. (Well come on . . . . it was London Transport after
This particular Saturday I was on an Esher and by the time I got
to Winters Bridge I only had a couple of people on. As I passed The
Angel bus stop I was inhaling the exhaust fumes of the Staines in
front and could see he had punters hanging out the windows and
sitting on the roof (in other words, he was dominoed – i.e. a tad
busy). Although I was only going to Esher, half-a-dozen stops
further on, I determined to do the decent thing and help him out,
even if it only meant picking up a handful of passengers.
A 218 Esher
short, with just a couple of people on, has just passed the Angel
at Giggs Hill Green and heads for the Milk Marketing Board, January
Photo © Dave Jones
At the Milk Marketing Board, I hung back to give myself room to
pull out from behind the other bus, dropped off the last of my
passengers and pulled out. As I drew level I glanced to my left and
almost froze. I had committed the ultimate folly. I’d gone round
‘The Gardener’, and I knew that even if I picked people up at every
stop from there to Esher and he had no one getting off, he wouldn’t
come round me again (although it was doubtful if there would be
anyone at all to pick up).
What was I to do? The ignominy. I’d never live it down. Then I
had an idea.
With an empty bus I floored it (or as best you could floor an
RF). There was no one at the request stop after the Milk Board and
I shot under the long arch and pulled up at Couchmore Avenue. By
the time I’d switched off the engine (which required giving it a
lot of wellie in neutral then lifting the pedal until the engine
surrendered), ‘The Gardener’ had pulled up behind me. I walked
slowly down the left-hand side of the bus, peering quizzically
underneath it. By the time I reached the back ‘The Gardener’ was
gesticulating in no uncertain terms that I should get on with the
I gave him a helpless shrug of the shoulders, strolled leisurely
back to the front, climbed in and fetched out one of the seats.
Then, going back to the rear of the bus I propped the seat up
against it in the universally recognised sign of a ‘mechanical’,
and held out my hands apologetically in a ‘sorry but it’s not my
This provoked a number of even more mystical hand signals from
‘The Gardener’ as well as some colourful mouthed observations,
before he pulled out and went round me. (He might have wished he
could wait me out, but that would have given him one hell of a road
to Staines and back and going round me was the lesser of the two
evils.) As soon as he was in front again I grabbed the seat,
legged it back to the door and climbed aboard. By the time he was
pulling away from the Marquis of Granby (the next stop along) I’d
caught him up.
The only other passengers he picked up before Esher High Street
were two men, at the Orleans Arms . . . but at least I didn’t pick
them up, and from Esher High Street of course, ‘the road’ was all
his, and I felt my honour was restored.
It was several days before he spoke to me again, other than to
accuse me of fiddling. But I knew it wouldn’t be many moons before
he would get his own back. He was too wily an old bird not to.'