The Gardener

An Ian Hogben story


Page last updated 11 June 2013


A Staines 218, dominoed.  RF428 between the Scilly Isles (Marquis of Granby) and the Orleans Arms in February 1979.

Photo © Dave Jones


'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 218.


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 all.)


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 1979.

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 job.


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 fault’ gesture.


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.'

More of Ian's memories of driving RFs at Kingston are on the 216 page, his recollections of high jinks on early 218 journeys are on the Operations in Practice page, other stories are Bullet Holes and the passenger called The Gremlin.