I went to Yorkshire to see my mother. Arriving at a little country train station I went into the adjoining yard, where there were four bus stops. One of them indicated that it served the village that I wanted to go to so I stood there and waited. After ten minutes or so a double-decker arrived. It was entirely empty, except for the driver, an enormous man. I got in and at his suggestion introduced my London bus pass to his machine; it worked. I sat down and waited to set off.
Five minutes passed. The enormous man struggled out of the driver’s seat, stood and faced me.
I’m sorry, sir, he said. I have to ask you to leave this bus.
Good heavens, I said. Why?
There’ll be another one along very shortly, he said.
I’ll leave the bus too, he added. With you.
All right, I said, with some asperity as it was cold. Is something the matter?
It is a certain bridge, he said with a sigh.
I thought of it then as a great sigh, but maybe that was just because he himself was so big. Maybe it was just an ordinary sigh.
This bus is a double-decker and it would not go under the bridge, he said. We need a single-decker bus to go under the bridge. It’ll be along very shortly.
Shouldn’t they have thought of that? I said.
I blame the Base, he said.
He sighed again.
Five minutes passed.
A single-decker bus drove up. The driver, a much slighter man though still stocky, got out and handed the keys with some ceremony to my driver, who installed himself in the cabin. I proffered my London bus pass all over again, since of course it was now a different machine. I could afford to be generous. It cost me nothing – nothing that is but a working lifetime of paying my taxes, paying my rates and loyally supporting the London bus service through what can only be called vicissitudes.
He waved it away, however – with a gesture.
There were still no other passengers. My driver shut the door and we set off in a series of little jumps. His clutch-control, I thought to myself was probably mentally adjusted to the greater weight of the double-decker bus with which he had expected to face the journey. Maybe he was over-compensating.
We lurched through a number of little villages. They had that dogged refusal to charm that is so much a feature of life in Yorkshire. For all that, I am sure that they were fine little villages.
Then we came to the bridge. It was immediately clear to me that it was the ‘certain bridge’ in question. There was no doubt that a double-decker bus would not have got under it; no doubt at all. But we sallied in, braked hard and shot out into the sunlight beyond.
Half a mile later he stopped.
Stop here today, he said. Saturdays. Sir.
I got out and walked, thanking him as I passed his cabin. Twenty yards on I looked back. I almost expected him and his single-decker bus to have disappeared into the mist, so strange had the whole episode been. Not that there was any mist, just the cold Yorkshire light. But the bus was still there, the driver still at his wheel. He had found a pie somewhere in his voluminous clothing and was masticating it with great ruminative circles of his jaw.