This is my original blog for all our non-caravanning trips since 2009 and more recently posts about coming to terms with being single again having been widowed in 2018. And anything else too really!

My caravanning blog is (Get Your) Legs Down and all our trips in the caravan are there. My grog blog is The Ale Archive where I list every beer I’ve ever tried.

Friday, 27 March 2020

When will I see you again | The diary of a school minibus driver

With plenty of time on my hands for the foreseeable future - as have many - I thought I’d fire up the laptop and recall some of the events of the last few days from my perspective. This may be the first of many, or just the one, we will see how it goes.

Day 0 - Monday 16th March 2020

It had been a long weekend, with a rapidly scheduled INSET day on the previous Friday, to implement remote learning systems and the like and many of us wondered whether they’d call a halt to the school term a week early. There were no updates over the weekend so it was all systems go this morning, bringing the kids in as per usual, nipping home for breakfast then gathering with fellow drivers outside the Prep school, for the short drive down to the sports ground for the younger kids’ games session at 10am.

Our manager appeared, called us all together and informed us that the school would likely be closing today - nothing had been confirmed officially yet - and that it may well be that two ‘Home’ runs were required, taking the Prep kids separately from the those in the Senior school. This of course aroused talk that there was an suspected virus outbreak there.

Rather than head home for lunch I hung around, like many, in case we were needed early. There were no further updates and the older Prep kids were despatched to the sports ground as per normal, although their session was much shorter than is usual.

About 4pm the message came that the school was closing and that the Home run would proceed as normal. Shortly before the 5pm departure time the kids boarded as per usual, noticeably excited. I missed the start of the 5pm briefing but caught most of it as we made our way along the coast to Eastbourne, dropping the kids off on the way. There was no need to take the minibus back to school that night, so I was home a little earlier than is usual for an end of term, catching up with the news and starting to absorb the full implications of the contents of the briefing.

Am email from the college confirmed what we’d suspected - one kid had fallen ill and four further boys in the same house were showing symptoms, along with one of the tutors. This virus, so far confined, in our minds anyway to other places, had moved much, much closer to home. It was getting real.

Day 1 - Tuesday 17th March

There was no rush to take the minibus back - after all it wouldn’t be needed - but thanks to my body clock, not to mention the silly o’clock alarm I’d failed to switch off, I was still awake early, thoughts tumbling around in my head.

Shortly after 9am I departed, the minibus for once being parked close to the flat, for the short trip not to the college but to the sports ground in East Brighton park, near the Caravan & Motorhome club site. Roughly half the fleet was already there, some drivers choosing to bring back their chariots last night or first thing. I reversed in, killed the engine and had a check in the back for rubbish, Thankfully ‘my’ kids - for that’s how I think of them - are pretty tidy. I retracted the mirrors, recorded the closing mileage in the log, locked her up and made my way to the exit, looking wistfully back over the gates. The government announcement about national closure of schools had not yet come but I wondered when I’d be called upon to spin up the engine of the mostly faithful No.2 minibus again.

I could have got a bus along Eastern road to the college to hand in the ‘tin’ - the box containing the keys, fuel card, vehicle log and breakdown and insurance certificates - but there wasn’t one due so instead walked, waving to another driver on the way who was just returning his vehicle.

Tin deposited at the Lodge, I said goodbye to the staff there and made the short walk to the seafront. The No. 27 bus appeared after a short while and I hopped on, doubling the number of passengers to two.

There was a shift change a few stops along and I heard the departing driver comment that it had been a waste of time. Shortly after my fellow passenger departed leaving the bus to myself. It was weird - Brighton & Hoves’ buses are well used - the second most in the country after London - and I’d never known it this quiet. The mind was wandering again and I decided to do a social media update, posting the picture I took of the minibuses all lined up behind locked gates. It was then, I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a few quiet tears. Suddenly a major part of my life ceased to exist - I’ve said before how important work was me in the weeks and months following Trev’s death. It gave me focus, some grounding and a reminder that life goes on. In Transport we’re a pretty close knit bunch, always looking out for one another and pitching in to help each other out when need be. I had no idea when I would get to see them again. The kids too - and their parents. Having done the same run for so long I know a lot of them pretty well and enjoy the responsibility of them being in my care for up to two hours a day, bringing them in and getting them home safely. It was probably the wider implications personally too - my upcoming trip away in Patsy was now very much in the balance - and all this weighed very heavily indeed. It was the loneliest I’ve felt for a long long while.

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