Talk Report: 2017-03-08

Report on A Grand Bus Journey

by Manju Ghosh

On 1st April 2008, the scheme was launched providing free bus travel on local buses for people of pensionable age. Since this was to operate throughout the length and breadth England, Dr. Manju Ghosh and her friend Christine Jackson decided to celebrate their retirement by trying out the system: they would travel on local buses from England’s most northerly point - Berwick on Tweed – all the way to Lands End in the far south west.

On Wednesday 8th March Manju gave a lively illustrated account of their adventures to our members. She began by apologising for the fact that the images she was about to show were almost all of buses. Yellow buses, white buses, red buses, green buses - but what else would she have photographed?

Always they met with friendly helpful drivers and very often with curious members of the pubic. The interest was caused by the way - to the friends’ complete surprise - the media became involved. From Day One they were being rung by local and national radio stations, appearing on nightly TV, interviewed on suitable and unsuitable occasions and often being accompanied by a BBC cameraman. One of the journalists who interviewed Manju gave her a camcorder and once she had learned how to use it the resulting blog was followed avidly by many people. On April 1st, the Guardian published a whole crossword with clues based on the journey. No wonder both drivers and the public kept approaching Manju and Christine asking “Are you the friends who are testing out the free buses?”

One driver issued a ticket at the second stop because the only bus that morning was departing five minutes before the 9-30 deadline, when the free fares start, and another called them proudly “My celebrities.” Less grippingly Jenni Murray from the BBC referred to them as “Perky Pensioners”! Being interviewed in a second-hand bookshop in Anwick, en route to Newcastle, the shop’s owner complained that they were causing mayhem with all the people milling around. His irritation lessened however when he recognized Jeremy Vine was doing the interview. Manju commented that “it is easier to get forgiveness than permission….”

There were logistical problems galore to be encountered and solved. Everything they needed had to be contained in a back pack. They needed to ask the question; ‘exactly what is a local bus?’ Answer: “A local bus is one that you cannot book and picks up people at bus stops.” At that time, with less internet, bus time tables were difficult to access and unevenly efficient and it was tricky to link area to area and county to county. They travelled by a zig-zag route so that they could stay with friends at the end of each day, only once resorting to a B & B. This was provided by a bus driver who detoured from his route to take them to the door of a B & B he knew would suit them!

Sitting in 37 different buses during their twelve-day journey Manju and Christine observed that buses tend to run more frequently and efficiently in areas where the train service is poor. They found most bus stations to be depressing: arid places made for buses and not for people. They loved the X route which runs between Oxford to Cambridge and the 510 Western Greyhound buses which dive across Devon and Cornwall in a direct line. They noticed how sociable everyone seemed, often knowing each other and greeting each other as friends, and how passengers nearly always thanked the driver as they left the bus.

The friends passed through varied and often beautiful countryside, and had time to look around many exceptional places, including Wells. We were shown a picture of the West Front amongst all the buses! Had they had to pay they calculated that they would each have paid (at that time) £122-70. This doesn’t seem much for such an exciting journey, but this was FREE - even better. Manju was thanked warmly for coming all the way from Manchester to give us this unusual and particularly animated talk.