A Saturday Spin…

Saturday afternoon. A lazy, hazy Saturday propped up in front of the telly watching Jeff Stelling wax lyrical about his beloved Hartlepool United, whilst whooping about the joys of ball hitting net? Or maybe, having read something in the paper about sedentary lifestyles being bad for you, I ought to be out in the January sub-zero temperatures, at least moving a little bit. Some arbitrary bus-riding it is then.
Scarf, fingerless gloves, woolly hat that ill-fits and £4.60 in coins (for an “n-bus”) sees me at the bus stop on Bells Lane in Wordsley. It’s a wind-chill factor of around minus 20 I surmise. Next bus: 1308.
It’s going to be a 226 to Dudley, operated by Diamond, who continue to challenge Hansons on the route (Hansons were there first, but hey, this is choice). But it’s 1321 – a good 13 minutes late – that Diamond’s Optare Solo appears. (For good measure, in the non-appearing bus stakes, the Hansons 1316 267 service had also failed to appear, almost rendering me a frozen object, stuck to the bus stop pole).
The driver appears unperturbed by whatever has delayed him. With the classic “bin man” look, sporting luminous hi-viz, he barks out the price of my n-bus day ticket as I fill his palm with silver (and a bit of gold). I take my place amongst the shoppers.
The bus is fairly decently presented, but struggles badly up the steep hill on Balmoral Road. I have no rice pudding skin readily available for comparison purposes, but I suspect this engine may have found it challenging. We then experience a flooring of the bus to make up time on the flat bits, with more frustrating crawling up anything where a gradient is involved. The bus also possesses an ear-deafening whine when it reaches a certain speed. Then we ride rodeo over the speed humps on Tiled House Lane, which my dodgy back finds most disagreeable.
I decide to jump off at my old workplace – Russells Hall Hospital – to see if Hansons are far behind. We’re only 11 minutes down now.
The small independent is indeed not far behind. Only 2 minutes behind to be precise. It’s a boring Dennis Dart single decker and the lady driver really ought to be more grateful for my patronage, seeing as the slow Diamond is scooping up most of her passengers just in front. No cheery thank you forthcoming, I’m soon seated on one of those dreadful “Urban 90” seats that assumes you’re not going very far.
We arrive shortly into Dudley bus station and I spot my erstwhile Diamond bus leaving on another trip in the opposite direction, complete with new driver. He’ll have a nice surprise with the first hill he encounters…
Dudley is high up. In fact, the next highest point is apparently somewhere in Russia. It’s always cold in Dudley and today, of course, is no exception. The digital departure screens still aren’t working here. They’ve been out for a good few weeks now, such is the joy of technology. Mind you, I’m surprised anything works here, it’s so cold. It’s a miracle that human life exists in Dudley.
There’s a fair bit of activity though, to be fair, in the bus station. Everyone’s given up with the digital screens, and all eyes are fixed on whatever the next bus to enter the bus station is, in the vague hope their Siberian experience will soon be over. Mine is, almost immediately, as I have the luxury of being total random with my choice of next bus. Oh, the joys of being a bus geek.
As it happens, Central Buses 74A rolls in. A very smart, very tidy Enviro 200, spot on time.
The 74A is one of those routes no one wants to operate commercially. A real “round-the-houses” affair, it is, however, clearly valuable to its users. I swear we circle the same estate about three times and I’m sure I can see the sea…
A man of few English words attempts to board at Dudley Port but he is refused with his NXWM pass. He looks at it longingly and returns to probable frostbite in the shelter. Our progress is impeded by one of those vile bright pink bus-length “limousines”, so beloved of school proms and hen parties. Much tooting of horns ensues. A second intending rider is refused on account of his “wrong” pass.
Asda Great Bridge is ridiculously congested. We thread our way around the car park, narrowly avoiding shoppers retrieving pound coins from their trolleys and errant motorists who can’t park their cars properly if their very lives depended on it. We scoop up one passenger so it was all worth it, but not before the horns are on the go again. Rat race doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Then a woman stands up and declares she wants to go to West Bromwich. I tell her that’s where we’re bound, but she’s confused about our excursion into Asda. Another passenger informs her about the finer points of the route, but she stomps off down to the driver, who, despite pulling out his last strand of hair from its follicle at the shenanigans of the parking, manages to compose himself and explain that the bus, despite it being a 74A, is not the 74 – but will still arrive into West Bromwich. Our passenger slinks back to her seat. I marvel at the Neanderthal motorists.
And we do eventually arrive into West Bromwich bus station.
Here there is the sound of a mad accordionist to welcome us to this most Black Country of Black Country towns. A recorded voice invites us to “say something if we see something” – a plea to report the evil actions of the n’aer-do-wells. I undergo thirty questions in the nearby Subway before taking my seat in the window to watch even more buses – at least the temperature is above freezing point in here.
West Bromwich bus station is busy. The late afternoon darkness is beginning to descend (as is the temperature) and I take my place in the queue for another “round the houses” experience – the 53 to Merry Hill. My bus – an elderly Mercedes 0405 – arrives eight minutes late. About a dozen of us pile on and we set off for a mini tour of Sandwell, taking in Smethwick, Bearwood and Cape Hill. At one point the driver emerges from his cab and attacks the door as if it’s a personal argument – there’s obviously a fault with it. Apart from that, the long winding journey is uneventful, save for the sight of a life-size bunny outside a shop in Bearwood waving at us. I contemplate whether I really have just seen this, or whether there was something in my steak and cheese sustenance earlier…
One hour and fifteen minutes later, my voyage around the finer points of Sandwell is over, and I’m back across the border in Dudleyshire.
More shoppers queue for their carriage home. There’s plenty of activity here too. The driver of the 81 to Wolverhampton hogs my stand. He’s wearing around 20 layers of clothing and a bright red scarf. Eventually he disappears with his happy band of travellers into the gloom of the January evening and my Diamond 226 appears, much to the delight of the queue, who, I feel, should maybe have applauded the emergence of their chariot and the end of their sub-zero experience. It’s another boring Dennis Dart, but no one apart from me is remotely bothered about this. Instead, we run the gauntlet of more speed humps around Hawbush before I arrive back in Wordsley.
With a deft ring of the bell, my random ridings for the day are over. The network works.