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A Shout From The Attic: Catching The Rocket

Ronnie Bray recalls the bus that failed to stop - morning after morning.

Before I had access to a motor car, I had to catch a bus in to town to get on the works coach from St George’s Square that took our merry band of workers to Shaw’s (Palettes) Ltd, in Dobcross. The coach left at seven in the morning, so I had to catch a bus on Lower Reins in Honley at an unmarked stop just a little way down the road from our house. There was a bus stop sign on a pole at the opposite side of the road, but rarely did anyone use it, except Matt and I, and occasionally a couple of children who lived in a hidden house on that side a little stretch further up the road.

I could not begin to tell you how many times the motor bus roared past me at breakneck speed, the driver’s attention focused on his next tea break rather than searching the gloom for intending passengers. It is somewhat understandable, because Lower Reins, on which the block of four ancient stone houses known collectively as Reins Terrace, stood, was a dark and usually deserted stretch of road with only a couple of houses there that actually had anyone living in them, their grime covered windows mutely attesting to that fact.

It is Huddersfield’s answer to the eponymous town in the Spencer Tracy film “Bad Day at Black Rock” and conforms to the bemused conductor’s outburst to the one-armed military veteran, who has one more thing to do before he heads off to kill himself for being useless on account of his disability, “No one gets on here, and no one gets off here!” Except, Spencer Tracy did, and, in the case of Lower Reins Omnibus halt, I did, or rather, I wanted to.

My only course of action when I was left in the dusty blast of the single decker that rocketed past me on its way to deliver drowsy kindred from further up the valley to places further down the valley to work at their day labour, was to run at a pace between a canter and a gallop to Berry Brow where buses from Newsome and Armitage Bridge that joined the traffic flow on Woodhead Road increased my chances of not having to leg it all the way into town just in time to miss the coach, and then have to decide in my distressed condition whether to take the Oldham bus or to hitch hike. Either way I was going to be late.

One day, having been left standing forlorn, like someone with industrial strength body odour at a grand ball, by the bus company’s answer to Stirling Moss, I tore down the three miles to Berry Brow and hopped a bus into town. I sat looking nervously at my watch, breathing like a small dog delivering a fully grown African elephant, telling myself that there had to be a solution to this problem; that life could not continue this way because I was past forty years old and it was beginning to show when I had a brain wave!

I knew it was a brain wave because I have only had three of them in seventy-five years, so the event was extraordinary enough to register, and this one hit thirteen on the Richter Scale! It was foolproof, or so I thought. I was to learn, however, that for every foolproof plan there is a fool that will circumvent it. The solution was to adopt a slogan from my childhood plaything, World War Two, and “Wear something white in the blackout!”

The council did not put its gas lamps along stretches of rural roadways where no one lived, and so Reins Terrace along with the rest of Lower Reins had been left out when artificial illumination had been introduced to the Holme Valley by Victorian grandees a hundred and fifty years earlier. However, thanks to the automobile industry transit vehicles had large round headlamps whose penetrating yellow beams lit up the road ahead for a hundred or more yards. I would put my lunch in a white plastic carrier bag and hold it up for the driver to see and then he would stop his hurtling omnibus and let me board. Perfectamundo!

Next morning, eagerly I took my place a good five minutes ahead of the time-tabled arrival of the commercial conveyance, clasping my ‘see-and-be-seen’ synthetic sack. Although the morning was unusually chilly, I warmed as the flickering lamps of my carriage hove into view round the bend by the old Newtown Laundry today I knew I would not be missed! O, deep joy! I would catch the bus and be in time to get on the works coach without having to hurry, run, fret, puff, pant, sweat, become exhausted, despondent, or fall into despair or any of those things that prevail on the punctiliously punctual when a pertinence penalises his perfect performance by its non-appearance.

The welcomed bus roared towards me. I did harbour the suspicion that it seemed to be delaying the operation of its arresting equipment until the last minute, although my hopes were not crushed.

That is, they were not crushed until the insensitive machine roared pauselessly past me like a bottle rocket to disappear round the big bend towards Berry Brow leaving me alone, cold, bereft, wearied, disappointed, and not a little envious of the nodding souls that it carried past me inside its dimly lit interior.

My perfect plan lay shattered in the dust, some of which, in a billowing cloud whisked up by the speeding omnibus, crept into my throat and made as if to choke me. As it is impossible to run and be angry at the same time, I took the day off.

Next morning I initiated Part II of Plan A. I recognised that this would place in serious personal danger, but you will understand, I was desperate. Matt was still sleeping in the bedroom of number thirty-nine when his father, c'est moi, armed only with a plastic tote loaded with corned beef sandwiches as protection from the ten-ton mechanical monster that might well devour him, detected the advancing behemoth and stepped out in front of the noise-belching monstrosity when it was a hundred yards away, waving the bag like a demon linesman at a cup final.

Do they sleep on stretches when they ‘know’ there are no – to use transport legalese – ‘Intending Passengers’? I had to jump nimbly from the middle of the roadway to avoid being flattened by Huddersfield Corporation Passenger Transport’s appliance of annihilation because the driver didn’t see me, he confessed, “until the last minute!”

The diesel-belching beast came to a screeching and shuddering halt fifty yards further down the road and - miracle of miracles - the door opened. I ran towards it before its purblind chauffeur could convince himself that he had seen a phantasm and should get out of Honley as fast as his wheels could carry him and, blowing like a labouring steam engine, loaded myself on busboard.

I give the driver credit for expressing unfeigned surprise, admitting that he hadn’t seen me until it was almost too late for anything other than a funeral, and for acknowledging that he had come dangerously close to being compelled to answer some rather embarrassing questions at my inquest!

Although I felt that in the circumstances he ought to have let me ride for nothing, I paid my fare, and listened as he asked in a kindly tone, “Do you catch this bus every morning?”

His question was a gift such as comedians wait for, pray for, long for, but are often disappointed. Despite the immaturity of the day, my lack of sleep, the deadly terror of my plan, the near death experience it provoked, and my oxygen debt due to the fifty yard sprint, I riposted, “No. Most times you go straight past me!”

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