Right on the Button

Right on the Button

Now back in nineteen seventy, when I was ne’r but twenty
I had call for swift employment, as was best
Leaving College prematurely, it was only proper surely
As my love life had given birth to an extra quest

With wife and baby on the way, food, clothes and rent to have to pay
Responsibilities quickly piled upon my plate
And though my preference’s didn’t savour, determination didn’t waiver
so from Labour Exchange I made my way to Leeds’ Swinegate

De-regulation wasn’t a notion when it came transportation
of the public; as it was the Councils’ case
when I signed up on the buses, profit wasn’t where the fuss was
Just how they got their folk from place to place

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t run right, and in the light of hindsight
there is much to favour how the job was done
Standard uniforms, fleet livery, an’ just about assured delivery
The Local Council had reputation long well won

So ‘t'was here after induction, and a few days of instruction
When I donned the garb of ‘guard’ for LCT
From whence I stepped in those mean streets, scant aware of what I’d greet
with new regime an’ a whole new fate in store for me

Now being young and somewhat green with no ‘real life’ having seen
Such working practice was an opener for me for sure
From being delicate as child with manner best described as ‘mild’
my nervousness implored I made for the exit door

Nevertheless I was ‘commander’ - though this sounds rather grand
I had the wherewithal to say who comes and goes
And in the comings and the goings one had to save the bus’s slowings
to minimise the pause in it’s due course.

For to get from here to there, with not always time to spare
It was essential that we let the driver drive
and to execute his lot without him failing in this job,
We’d call out “Hold on upstairs!” and ‘Please move down inside!”

As a ‘guard’ they used to call us, though conductor was the calling
we were trained to herd our flock with manners civil,
and though I did my very best to quell any riotess unrest
for the most, all my passengers were unequivocal

For me ‘upstairs’ could be quite scary, when confronting people burly,
On the night shift through Harehills, route forty two
Though ex-student with a calling, and with long locks still a’falling,
I did come in for lots of stick from people stewed.

Not surprising if you consider, as small guy I’d make to shiver
from six footers who’d refuse to pay their fee,
As my glance would note their gloats, while eyeing past these blokes
my voice would all but squeak ‘...Any more fares please?’

An’ though I was but barely twenty, fielding swear words such a plenty
on this route I’ve made to mention in this discourse,
It opened up my eyes, to other forthcoming surprises
in the time I spent at Leeds City Transport.

Now discipline was order of the day and rules were very strictly laid
To get it wrong meant punishment for malcontents
You did your duty the right way or y’d be sent with scant delay
to Mister Smith to hear the wrath that he would vent

Now n’old style Personnel Manager, ‘Smithy’ ruled with rod and hammer
with his stentorian sternness he could pierce you to the hilt
When commanded to his presence, y’could expect all things unpleasant
and if you weren't, he’d soon convince you of your guilt

Although now others, I remember, who reckoned they had his number
metaphorically blew smoke in his direction
being innocent and younger, t’was not same when I was sent for
believing all my failings nothing short insurrection

And so from platform at the back, this was the job I had to hack,
taking fares and trying to cope with staff and folk
Though t’was not all confrontation, it was my absolute intention
to swap my job for one up front and t’other bloke

To a driver I aspired, to be the ‘Captain’ I required
to free me from all this mayhem in the rear
So following my twenty first, the birthday present I best thirst,
Was granted free, and now the road ahead was clear

And so to driving school I go, just up at Torre Road
Where for three weeks I would revel as a boy
and though the skills I had to gain did not come without some pain
to drive a bus was just a plus, and such a joy!

Now I’ll say t’was easy-peasy, though it sounds a little cheesy
Those AEC’s with pre-selects n’er hard to drive
An’ as instructor was a master, though a-bit-of-a surly bastard
through the lessons and the test I did survive

So from Guard to novice driver, with inexperience, none the wiser
I totted my small toll of bumpsy days
And though minor in extreme, one near-miss that could have been
had potential to propel my early grave

T’was down from Woodcock Terminus in a Regent-gunning rush
I trammed my heavy bus downhill; full tilt I went
Looking far too far ahead, in front a Thames had pulled up dead
to make a turn, but had not indicated intent

As yards diminished by the score, while jamming brake-foot to the floor
I heard the bulkhead crunch and give my back a stab
As standing passengers felt the urge to accommodate inertia
and follow through, by trying to join me in my cab

Then happenstance took over, as for van man he took cover
on seeing an oncoming empty space
for with nonchalant aplomb, he turned right, knowing nothing wrong
with only me with some brown trousers to replace

And so as wet-eared greenhorn driver and daily incident survivor
I progressed with no small measure through the ranks
And took up the OMO offer that us young’uns didn’t scoff at
while the ‘old guard’ crewing drivers’ voted their no thanks

Now it was then the situation that One Man Operation
only took around a ten percent of duties
Though almost universal now, t’was regarded a challenge then somehow
but one I revelled in when I joined ‘Whacky Races’

For the ’OMO’s, choice of carriage was a kind of design marriage
made for comfort and operational efficiency;
This included a layout, made for room - and room for doubt
as to the ‘Atlantean’ ideal for public safety

These bus versions had two doors, one up front for access all
and one half-way down for passengers who’re exit bound
Though at first glance unassuming this did make for some amusing
tales by drivers’ who weren’t exactly ‘public safety’ found

But to be fare to most of them, that once included me, for when
on ‘lates’ at the Town Hall I stopped outside
as opening the entrance doors, what followed then made to cause
me to relate to canteen folk both far and wide

For as this drunk with motion swaying stepped on board intent on paying
with his fist in trouser pocket locked on change,
In impatience and quiet groan, I then moved my bus to home
it’s way along to the next stop and the next stage

Well now this - my course of action - had significant reaction
on the soak as his position was sore’ displaced
and to regain his momentum, to stay upright, he made to motion
down the aisle until the exit door he faced

Now in my duty I’d not made sure that exit door had been secured
as I made to slowly brake at next set of lights
when the drunk, still in imbalance, made move to secure his chance,
and in the proceeds, off the bus he did alight

Seeing this in my rear-mirror, with reaction not to quiver
I took advantage of my ‘fortunate’ position
and as the lights did change to go, I thence closed the exit door
my rear-view vision making for lasting impression

For as the bus I made to gain and to accelerate away
and seeing drunk on pavement parked - still finding fare -
I wondered how, in his confusion, he’d work out this strange illusion
on barely moving a hundred yards from here to there

Well this was tale of more and many, with details rich and plenty
during time I had good fortune to have gained
as first taste of ‘proper’ employment, there’s no doubting the enjoyment
as over years the memories have never waned

For there really is no doubting, when it comes to all the shouting
the benefits it brought this person’s plain to see
As when it comes to ‘end of days’ I will forever sing the praise
of how LCT had helped to make a man of me

Michael Kerrigan

What a splendid piece this is Michael, and I'm especially amused by the verses relating to the forbidding personnel officer Fred Smith - can you imagine him sitting comfortably with the modern description of "Human Resources Manager" ?? - I think not. I was never impressed by Fred's idea of justice - in my experience the employee was always guilty and in the wrong, and the sole purpose of the interview was to tell you so no matter what you might have to say in your defence. As a fair proportion of passenger complaints are unfortunately unjustified and exaggerated this was not a very good attitude. I wonder though if you remember his two sidekick stooges in the second floor pantomime ?? When you reported to the prosecution counter you would be greeted by one or other of them with a "your guilty and you're for it" attitude. It might have been Mr. B. - a young man who pranced along the corridors with shoulders hunched high and almost obscenely tight pants and flowery shirts which would have made him the envy of any Hawaian chief. Or it might have been Miss Kathleen Pawson - universal nickname "Olive Oil" who provided Fred Smith with pre-sentence reports liberally laced with her own opinion of the accused. The last time I saw her was after she retired (she lived near me) and I was running full speed to catch a bus as she was coming towards me. Cheerily calling out "Hello OLIVE, how are you enjoying retirement ??" I was fixed with one of those glares which would have stopped the iceberg which sank the Titanic - realising my unfortunate but unintentional slip of the tongue I slunk away and I've never seen her since. I imagine though that she will no longer be with us, and Fred passed away some years ago.

Chris Youhill

What a brilliant piece of writing regarding Leeds City Transport. I was lucky to start with LCT the last week before the PTE was formed. Your writing depicts life "on the buses" to a tee. The job did have it's up and down days but I honestly can say that I met some brilliant people on the job, and still keep in contact now some 36 years later. I am still "on the buses" now but no longer on the road, yes the job has changed, but then so do all jobs. Would I go back on the road?, I don't think so. Would I like to turn the clock back?. Too true.

Terry Malloy



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