Thursday, December 01, 2005


I do like a good docu-soap. I've never actually seen one, obviously, but I always live in hope, and while I'm waiting, there's always 'Big Red Bus', the latest offering from BBC1, which sounds like it should be on CBeebies, but probably isn't intellectually stimulating enough.

The show covers all aspects of bus-driving (including getting blown up - but that's not until next week), with tonight's edition focusing on the trials and tribulations of the trainee bus driver. Apparently "it's like the wild west on London's streets for trainee bus drivers", presumably because they're always being shot at by people in stupid hats, but with 8,000 buses, 22,000 drivers and 6 million passengers, the voice-over informed us that it can be "a bit of a hurly-burly whirligig that can leave you feeling a little double-deckered". Which is the point I'd have sacked the writer. Interestingly, one look at the closing credits told me that the writer, the narrator, and the executive producer were all one and the same man (Nick O'Dwyer - brains behind 'The Most Pampered Pets in Britain'). Which shows what happens when you try to save money.

Anyway, as if to illustrate the negative effects that a lifetime of bus-driving can have on the mental health of those involved, the programme introduced us to 65-year-old Dennis, who calls himself Wolf (possibly after one of the Gladiators), and spends his weekends in Dorking dressed as an Apache Indian. There's nothing Wolf likes better than strolling down the main street of Deadwood (such an appropriate name) and indulging in some below-par amateur dramatics with a couple of blokes from Surrey. I'm not entirely sure what relevance this had to the programme, but it did prove that you're never too old to black-up for a TV show. In the words of Dennis, "Being an indian is what I do". Although these days we call them Native Americans of course.

Leaving Wolf behind, the programme moved on to 37-year-old single mum Mya, who stated "I love driving anything that has an engine", which is why you can't get her off the lawnmower, and also why she's decided that public transport is the career for her. Unfortunately for Mya, she has a problem with what her instructor Mike calls "wandering". Which basically means swerving all over the road and hitting the kerb every five minutes. But hey, Mya is new to the job, which is why we were also introduced to Sebastien, another trainee, but one with over fifty hours of bus-driving under his belt. Which would be good, were it not for the fact that most trainees pass their test after only forty.

Sebastien, a 44-year-old father of one, and former self-employed plasterer, was clearly impatient to pass his bus-driving exam. Which is probably why he broke the speed limit at every available opportunity. He may need more training than most, but in the words of his instructor, "He's got a good attitude". Yes, he can't actually drive, but he's always quite cheerful.

Mya, meanwhile, was still all over the road, and in danger of mowing down everything in her path, but having been asked by Mike what she thought of her progress, she confidently replied "I think it's good", so Seb's not the only one with the good attitude. Mike, however, spoke for the six million bus passengers of London, by admitting to being "very concerned".

But hey, why faff about with training, when you could be taking your test. Sebastien, he of the fifty hours training, duly stepped forward for his big day, which began with a simple manoeuvre - reversing the bus between two cones. Sadly for Seb, he proptly crushed one of the cones under the back wheels, thereby failing the test before he'd left the depot. But on the bright side, at least he saved them some money on petrol. And in the comforting words of his instructor, "99% of the time you'll be going forward". Yeah, who cares about the 1% of the working week when you're busy reversing over pedestrians - most of the time you'll be fine.

Much like the lovely Mya, who was undergoing an assessment in the form of a mock driving test. She performed well. Which is to say she clipped a cyclist, veered onto the wrong side of the road, and drove through a red light, but believe me, for Mya that represented progress.

According to the programme, only 10% of those who apply to be trainee bus drivers are actually accepted onto the course. Which does make you wonder what the other 90% are like.