One of the joys of slowly getting older is the simple fact that over the years there is a tendency to forget a lot of things that you have done or indeed experienced in the past. This is not surprising given the wealth of things that happen in a single week, these days it is hard work remembering what happened on Monday by Wednesday let alone Friday. So, given the modern frantic pace of life it is a nice moment when you get the chance to sit down, away from the pace and demands of work to sit down and delight in the simple joy of reading a book.
I do not know about you but it strikes me that these days people actually do not seem to read books as once they did. Our attention span is reduced so much these days by social media that instant micro seconds is all you get to decide, if you are going to bother reading or more often than not. Watching something that actually once watched is often not worth the effort. Singing cats, banjo playing dogs, the spaghetti of utter nonsense is all consuming, and sadly in my view has eroded the joy of turning a page and getting absorbed into a different world.
So, I was deeply indebted to receive a rather wonderful book called the The Story of Ribble Motor Services or as it is actually titled “Glory Days Ribble” remembering the empire that was the Mighty Ribble, in its heyday the biggest Bus Company in the North West of England. It was published by Ian Allen publishers and reflects what was known as the Ribble family. For me it was a real treat, as I was a part of that family for a period of nearly two years, it all started off when I was rescued by the then General Manager, one of life’s true gentlemen Mr Ian Chapman, I had been about to get the sack following a most tempestuous interview in London when I was a National Bus Company Senior Management Trainee. The deal was that every 3 months we were hauled down to London to be grilled a panel of between 6 to 9 senior General Managers of the mighty NBC.
It was without doubt a stern test and it went on for a two year period, if at any point they felt that you were not made of the right stuff, then they would simply terminate your contract. The process was designed to be challenging, you submitted a report based on your 3 month training programme and then they grilled you about it. It was bad enough but it soon became apparent that if you were interviewed after dinner then it was more of a challenge. Why? Because usually dinner was a 4 or even a 6 pint affair for the great and the good, and this meant that the questions and the grilling were more intense than ever. In my case I ran foul of a man who had the reputation of being a bully when he was sober, let alone after several pints and we had what they call a difference of opinion.
Basically he had a go at me, and I did the unthinkable and had a go back, this was not the done thing, but I had basically had enough, and challenged him back and stood my ground. This was a highly dangerous tactic, I was immediately sent out and told to wait until they had finished the interviews, then when all the trainees had gone i was called in and told that I was very fortunate the panel was split with half saying I should be got rid off for my insubordination, and the other half saying that I had shown balls and should be staying on. So, a compromise was agreed I would be punished by being moved away from my own training Company, which was the West Yorkshire Road Car Bus Company and cross the Pennines from Yorkshire to Lancashire and join the mighty Ribble under the custody of Mr Chapman, where I would be given a second chance and a second opinion could be gleaned..
Looking back best thing that I could have done, I moved to Preston sharing a house with 2 other NBC trainees my mates, Martin Bott, and Jeremy Hooper, we had a nice little terraced house just around the corner from Frenchwood the imposing head office and so began my new life at Ribble. It was a great education covering a huge geographical area. I had my first bash at depot management initially in Chorlton (Later home to Chorley FM made famous by the one and only Peter Kaye), and after that a 4 month spell as the District Traffic Superintendent Fleetwood and the Fylde Coast. This was a massive undertaking and included Blackpool with 3 sites, as well as Fleetwood, all the way down to Lytham Saint Anne’s, it was huge with over 500 drivers. To be honest I loved it, it was tough, challenging, frantic, made worse by closing down one depot in the middle of it, and then dealing with the Glasgow fortnight, where literally tens of thousands of Glaswegians descended into Blackpool by Coach when the ship building factories closed down for the annual factory fortnight as it was known back then.
It is hard to imagine in todays world how these industrial strength holidays worked but that was how it was back in the early eighties before Thatcher destroyed the old traditional industries like, mining, ship building, car manufacturing etc. But as a young 24 year old I was well and truly in at the deep end and every day was full of decisions and issues to resolve. One man who I had a huge amount of time for and who took me under his wing while I was there, was a legend called Fred Dark, he was a big, imposing, fun but capable character who had interviewed me for selection to the NBC scheme. I recall him saying to me what would I do if I was not selected, I told him that I would apply to join the RAF, oh yes he said and be a fighter pilot like your brother? No Sir, I said I would like to join the diplomatic corp, he spluterd a bit then said. Well, young man I never saw any bloody diplomacy when I was in the RAF.
Fred was renowned for enjoying a libation as it was commonly referred too back in the day, and he was one of those characters who just used to light a room up when he walked in. He was very well known in many local pubs across the region. On one famous occasion after he had retired a party was held in his honour at a large pub just outside Preston, the party was grandly titled Friends of Fred, all of the the senior management team were in attendance with scores of others, lead by the G.M. Mr. Chapman a pillar of the community and a Justice of the Peace to boot. As the hours went by well past the official closing time of 1030 pm, the landlord was more than happy to keep serving, more booze. Suddenly a police car pulled up with lights flashing and 2 uniformed officers got out. It was reported that Mr Chapman on seeing the officers arrive panicked, and hid behind a curtain thinking that they were all going to get arrested for after hours drinking. However, as it happened the 2 policemen got themselves a beer as they too were Friends of Fred.
Yes good memories of a by-gone age and the book was an exceptional read, superbly crafted by a man I am proud to call my friend over the years, Roger Davies, his style of writing is warm and friendly he brings the people that made the Company come alive, and he has done in my opinion the mighty Ribble justice from start to finish.