Memories from a 1960s BH&D conductor: Part 2
There was a career progression of sorts, through the Spare List to the Relief List and finally on to obtaining a Service. In older times this would have taken years but, with the rapid staff turnover of the late Sixties, I found myself on the Relief List after just two weeks and with my own Service at the end of just two months.
The Relief List introduced an element of predictability into the proceedings in that as a Relief you stood in for a preallocated group of staff on their weekly rest days, usually on a single route. All staff worked six days a week with a rotating rest day so as a Relief you had a weekly schedule of six different duties with six different drivers on the one route (taking into account your own leave day), repeating in the second week but on the opposite shift, late for early or vice versa. My Relief period was spent completely on the rather dreary Service 3 from Wilson Avenue, Whitehawk, to the uppermost reaches of Dyke Road.
As staff members left, you gradually ascended through the Relief List until, as head of it, a Service became available to you. Getting a Service meant that you again operated one route only as a conductor, albeit rotating on a weekly basis through all the duties comprising that route so that each week you worked with a different driver. I was fortunate enough to be allocated Service 5, which was regarded as rather a ‘plum’ route, in part because of the excellent unofficial teashop and toilet facilities provided by a lady called Mary in her wool and haberdashery shop on the parade at Mackie Avenue, Patcham.
Tea and toilet
The provision of tea and toilet facilities was important to staff on a shift that could be up to ten hours long. Only a minority of routes terminated at bus stations, railway stations or other sites providing these facilities. Routes passing Whitehawk Garage enabled the staff to make an unofficial stop outside the garage and scurry in to use the toilets while an enterprising café opposite provided cans of tea which could be picked up as you passed, carried to the terminus for consumption during stopover and dropped off empty on the way back. Most routes had something of this sort, but I recall Service 3 terminating in the remote vastness of Wilson Avenue and upper Dyke Road with no tea or toilet facilities, thus necessitating an unscheduled stop at Hove Station for the latter and at a nearby café for the former. This was where I learned to drink tea from the saucer, to shorten the unannounced stoppage, while the passengers wondered to where the crew had suddenly disappeared.
A bunch of Fives
Service 5/5B connected two of the twin towns’ largest suburban estates, Patcham and Hangleton, via its two largest and busiest shopping centres, London Road and Western Road/Church Road, and the busy axis of Old Steine. (The B suffix indicated slight variations at the two termini, and each duty alternated 5 and 5B runs.) It was the busiest service in the company and on weekdays and Saturdays ran at a seven-minute frequency from the start of the morning rush hour to the end of the evening one. In rush hour traffic, it was not uncommon to see two or even three Service 5 buses ‘staircasing’ (closely following) each other, as the first bus became progressively more and more delayed with its heavy load while the next one or two followed closely behind carrying minimal passengers (even if three buses appeared together, passengers would invariably try to board the first, despite the obvious crush on board). The more assiduous following drivers would overtake and thus relieve the load on the first bus, whilst those less sympathetic would hang back and let the hapless first bus crew suffer.
‘Staircasing’ also took place between buses of rival companies, in which case it was carried out with no sympathy whatsoever. If you found yourself hard up behind a Corporation or Southdown bus that followed your route for some distance, you might well let him ‘take the strain’ to the extent of hanging back and allowing him to take the lead, even if you were scheduled to run in front of him. This was particularly prevalent on the long linear routes through Kemp Town and Western Road/Church Road. Service 3 drivers would regularly hide in waiting until the Corporation 47 crept over the hump of Roedean Road and then slot in behind it all the way to Old Steine, and Service 5 crews would do the same to the Southdown 15 as it appeared from London Road, Patcham.