BUS services everywhere reach the end of the road. Use it or lose it, they lament. Down our way they’ve just introduced several new ones.
Admittedly some are a bit like the notorious train service to Teesside Airport – miss one and there’s a week to wait for the next – but clearly they’re heading in the right direction.
The community-conscious company’s called The Little White Bus, not to be confused with the Little White Bull; the services are called the Richmondshire Rover.
I catch it amid the clarts at Middleton Tyas. If the photographs are yet more imprecise than usual, it’s through flagging down the bus with one hand and holding the shaky camera with the other.
The volunteer driver is Stuart Parsons, four times Richmond’s mayor, who remains a member of North Yorkshire, Richmondshire district and Richmond town councils – all three – and is also voluntary manager of Richmond’s tourist information centre.
“I do it because you meet some fantastic people,” says Stuart, a driver driven, though on a dank and deep December Thursday morning there’s hardly anyone to meet at all.
The Little White Bus arrives empty and would remain that way save for the journeyman journalist and the lady who joins at Scorton. Even she – no Little White lies – may not be considered a dedicated passenger.
“I only really want some Christmas wrapping paper,” she says. “If the Northallerton bus had come first, I’d have got on that one.”
Since both of us are in possession of senior citizens’ bus passes, poor Stuart might have found the day more profitable had he gone out carol singing. He remains cheerfully unperturbed.
“Other authorities spend hours just talking about how they can help the community. Here we get on and do things. It’s only the second week of this one; I’m sure there’ll be more passengers soon.”
CREDIT for the Little White Bus initiative, and for many other community-based wheezes thereabouts, is given to indefatigable Richmondshire District Council leader John Blackie, who lives at the top of Wensleydale. “Another reason I do this is that I don’t want to let John down,” says his council colleague.
Usually he works two or three days a week, up to 12-hour shifts but with lengthy breaks. Buses have 16 seats, small enough for the driver not to need a PSV licence and simply to attend a one-day course, called Midas.
Midas may also teach them manners. Stuart apologises for being a bit late, apologises for the weather – “the television said this would be a light shower” – even apologises for a bump in the road.
There are drivers with Other Bus Companies who’d think twice about apologising if they ran into the back of a tractor, and only then if someone was hit on the head by a turnip.
Puddled roads notwithstanding, the bus remains remarkably white, the sky obdurately grey. It’s market day in Ripon, the service offering an hour and 45 minutes in the city.
“I’ll go for a walk and a smoke. It’s the only vice I admit to,” says Stuart.
There’s time for a bit of Christmas shopping and an Appleton’s pie – no visit to Ripon should be complete without an Appleton’s pork pie – but not for a pint. Though there’s a hammer with which to break the glass in case of that and other emergencies, the Little White Bus doesn’t have a loo.
There are now 11 of them, partly funded by local and central government, chiefly benefitting the elderly. Stuart tells of a partially sighted chap, still his wife’s chief carer, who gets out – to Tesco at Catterick Garrison – just once a week.
“Everyone’s so helpful to him, but he’d hardly get out at all if it weren’t for the Little White Bus.”
WHAT of Baroness Hale of Richmond, vice-president of the Supreme Court, most senior woman judge in English legal history and variously described in The Times last week as “feisty” and “a bit prickly”?
“A wonderful woman, incredibly intelligent and incredibly generous,” says Stuart Parsons. “She’s also very approachable, not at all like the image of a judge.”
Daughter of two head teachers in the North Yorkshire town, she shares the Lords benches with former Richmondshire MP William Hague and ex-LibDem councillor Angela Harris. Coun Parsons has a theory that in order for Richmond folk thus to be elevated, their surname must begin with an H.
It’s probably what’s called aspiration.
The Times also reported last week that, in a valedictory speech as Chancellor of Bristol University, Lady Hale cheerfully noted that the legal year traditionally begins on October 1 when judges in all their finery gather at Westminster Abbey to pray for divine guidance and wisdom.
“Fat chance,” she added.
While the Supreme Court ponders its great verdict, meanwhile, Times journalists have had a memo reminding them not to be patronising towards women.
LAST week’s bit on A3 steam locomotives suggested that most were named after racehorses but wondered about 60039, Sandwich. Horses for courses, John Rusby in Bishop Auckland confirms that Sandwich was of a similar bloodline – winner of the 1931 St Leger, owned by the Earl of Roseberry and ridden by the great Harry Wragg. For many years thereafter, Cockney smokers nipped out for a Harry Wragg. That’s another bread and butter paragraph, anyway.
QUOTING a contribution on the benefit of eating sausages in a Daily Telegraph book of hitherto unpublished letters to the editor, last week’s column also wondered if Dr Bertie Dockerill of Shildon were a medic or an academic. The vigilant Garry Gibson discovers a doctorate for Bertie Dockerill on Liverpool University’s geography and planning department website, but whether “sausages” comes under geography or planning, we have sadly yet to learn.
Then there were Richard Gaunt’s wonderful images of the North-East in the 1960s. Colin Ormerod was first to point out that the photograph captioned (by us) “industrial Teesside” might have been industrial but clearly wasn’t Teesside. It was the view from Model Place of Darlington’s once-iconic cooling towers.
...AND finally, a very-last minute reminder of one of Christmas’s great treats. The final carols and mince pies service at Newbiggin-in-Teesdale Methodist chapel – the world’s oldest Methodist church in continuous use – takes place at 10.45am today. They’re wonderful occasions, and all very welcome, though this one, like a dark chocolate orange, may be slightly bitter-sweet. The chapel closes in May. More of that in a festive column next week.