Jane Bradley: On board for magical mystery tour

I get the bus a lot. Four mornings a week, I push my 19-month-old daughter to the bus stop. After watching at least two double deckers merrily drive on after a gruff “buggy space is full, pal” from the driver and a disappointed screech from her, I risk my toddler’s life on a third vehicle.
Mums wait at a bus stop. Picture: Ian RutherfordMums wait at a bus stop. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Mums wait at a bus stop. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Convincing Lothian Buses employees that they should park either closer to the kerb – or further away from it – to leave space for parents to successfully manoeuvre a buggy on board without tipping the child out – is a mean feat. With emphasis on the mean.

If it wasn’t for the kindness of many a fellow passenger who has leapt forward to catch her as the buggy lurched sideways, my girl would have landed on her head months ago.

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Once on board, I am regarded with suspicion by said driver as I empty the contents of my wallet into the black hole change collecting thingy. If he deems that my handful of coppers totals exactly £1.50, he prints me a ticket. And grunts. If he thinks I am short changing him, he does not speak. He just stares at me menacingly until I have scrabbled around in the bottom of my bag for another 20p piece.

Unlike me, my daughter loves the bus. She waves, smiles and plays peekaboo with anyone who’ll join in. She takes on the role of Lothian Buses’ official meeter-and-greeter: “Hi, hi, hi – lady!” she shouts as people get on. And a definitive “Bu-bye” as they leave.

As for me, I am stressed, tired and covered in banana by the end of our journey – and we haven’t even got to her nursery yet.

But for now, my faith in Edinburgh’s buses has been restored.

For the first time in my life, I got on the No13. My previous avoidance was not for any superstitious reasons, you understand – but because I’d never had cause to travel on that route before.

It was like being an extra in Summer Holiday. People were wearing Hawaiian shirts, performing dance routines and singing. Cliff Richard was there, his perfect white teeth gleaming.

Not quite. But it was unlike any other bus I have ever been on in our capital city. Bizarrely, it is operated by a private coach company, Edinburgh Coach Lines, which otherwise spends its time shipping people all over Scotland and on European holidays.

For some odd reason, this utopian firm also runs one solitary city line, taken over from Lothian Buses four years ago.

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The bus shelter showed no sign that I should expect such a bus to turn up. No timetable. No hint of its existence on the electronic bus tracker.

I almost walked away, had it not been for a lovely lady who immediately singled me out as a fellow No13 passenger.

“It’s coming in a few minutes time, dear,” she hissed, furtively looking around her in case any Lothian Buses fans should hear. “It’s always very reliable.”

Bang on time, the No13 pulled up and she and I got on. The driver smiled, laughed, joked with us. The bus was spotless.

It reminded me of a time on holiday in Vienna when I once got on what I thought was a regular bus to find that it was free. A group of bus lovers had bought an old vehicle, restored it and ran it on a normal route for fun every Sunday – dressed up in vintage 1940s clothes. Lovely.

Back in Edinburgh, the lady regaled me with tales of the No13’s regular passengers; told me a story of how a driver had once helped her find her final destination by looking up the address of her friend’s house on her sat nav.

When a passenger is seen sprinting towards the stop as we pull away, the driver does not grin, look him in the eye and put his foot down on the accelerator. Oh no. He actually stops… a few metres away from the bus stop. And lets the panting man on.

Doing so risks death, according to Lothian Buses. I know, because I have tweeted them about it before. It is far more dangerous, apparently, to stop for a tardy passenger when the bus’s front wheels are just a couple of feet outside of a stop than it is to let a small child tip out of its buggy because you can’t be bothered to park closer to the kerb.

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Like Harry’s journey on the Knight Bus, my trip on the No13 was over all too soon and I was quickly deposited back on the streets of Edinburgh, rubbing my eyes and wondering if it really happened or if it was all just a lovely dream.