This post is entirely Chris’ fault for posting an impromptu bus-journey poetry-fest that spiralled out of control on a Facebook status – and therefore you can either immediately disregard it, or blame him if you read on!
I used to love catching the bus when I was young, now I consider it a singular displeasure that sometimes I have to endure. My dim memories of waiting on Mapperley Top with Mum as a kid, awaiting the 50 to take us to town, heading down Woodborough Road. As independence followed we were still on the same bus route, albeit further away from town down Westdale Lane. The first child’s fare I can remember paying was about 30p.
Back then people smoked on the top deck, but it was also where you inevitably wanted to sit as a kid. If you got the front seat on the driver’s side then you could look down the ‘periscope’ style arrangement of mirrors and see-through panels that the driver could use to observe the upper-deck. No security cameras in these days, if there was a rumpus on the upper-deck then the driver needed to decode mirror-in-mirror images to determine the best course of action.
Marple Square Shopping Centre in St Ann's - shortly before being demolished.
On the way home it was much better to sit upstairs at the front on the left side, though. The reason for this was on Woodborough Road as you passed the Beirut-like Marple Square shopping Centre in St. Ann’s and continued up past the Catholic Church, you’d start to encounter a series of over-hanging trees as you skirting Mapperley Park on the way up to Mapperley Top. These trees would veritably thwack against the window giving you a real adrenaline ride experience in the name of public transport.
Back on to Marple Square I can always remember wanting to get off the bus at some point and explore this strange urban wasteland. I presume during the nineties it was open, but you never saw many people hanging around there – there was something really attractive about the bleak vista that clearly some kind of soulless town planner had thought would be a good idea at some point in the 50’s or 60’s. I never did, it’s been razed and replaced with new apartments now.
I’ve skipped ahead of something quite important though, Nottingham City Transport buses have – like now – always shunned the idea of giving people change, expecting you to have the right amount of cash for your fare. Unscrupulous children could gather a collection of coppers and see by how much they could short-change the driver by chucking enough low-demonimation coins into the hopper. I never did that, well, not unless I was genuinely short of change.
Once you had paid the driver then you’d need to advance to the ticket machine mounted behind him (or occasionally her) to take a ticket spat forth by a cranky sounding dot matrix ticket printer with a ‘bzzzzzt-bzzt-bzzzzzt!‘ noise – it would give you a small sliver of paper emblazoned with branding down the middle (and later would evolve to adverts) the two edges had been adorned with purplish printing detailing your fare, bus route, date and the all important ticket number.
There was a mythology surrounding the four-digit ticket number – kids would add the four individual digits together – if they added up to 21 they were lucky. As we got older they became something you were supposed to write your telephone number on and give to a member of the opposite sex that you fancied. I’m not sure how many budding romances were kicked off with a bus lottery ticket – probably not that many really. They are an unsatisfactory shiny paper thing bubble-jetted at you from next to the driver now. It’s not the same.
All NCT buses looked like this - so you had to look at the number!
All the Nottingham City Transport buses were green – they had hideous upholstery of black and orange fabric, and they certainly packed the seats in more tightly than in modern buses. I’m sure when I used to catch the 210 from Westdale Lane to school there were scores more children on there than you’d fit on a modern bus. The tension between the Arnold Hill kids and those going onward to Christ the King eased by the sardine effect of being crammed into such a confined space. 22p was the first fare I remember paying on that route – having grown old enough to be too lazy to walk to school.
Being a bus regular for school and right through to my first forays into work in town there were regular drivers too – one had a mullet and looked a bit like Ian Botham, one was unpolitically-correctly referred to as ‘Saddam’ by us – but not to his face. They used to drive to their colleagues driving the route in reverse too – they might still do that, for all I know. When I was a student I had a bus pass, after I didn’t – but the fare was just 65p to get to town from Mapperley. It’s £1.70 now. Robbing bastards!
As seats became spaced out, more contoured and technicoloured, as buggy areas expanded and the big flat luggage area where we used to fold ourselves into as school children was retired (as was the ‘under the stairs’ luggage triangle) whilst video screens show a mash-up of security footage and advertising, the ‘ping’ of the bell has evolved into a buzzer along with a light to confirm the pressing, digital displays to show numbers and destinations instead of a scrolling affair furiously updated by drivers with a series of levers and pulleys – well, something magic about bus journeys has gradually been eroded into sterile tedium.
Some bastard has even cut back the over-hanging tree branches on Woodborough Road.