Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Christmas - Is This The Way To Do It?

Is It Only A Year Ago?
fbb wrote a blog in which he compared Seasonal bus provision in Bristol with the Festive Flop that is Sheffield. Here are a few extracts from that year-old posting, praising developments in Bristol..
One good house point.
A near normal service with some judicious pruning as thee evening wore on. Another good house point.
Not bad at all (and much better than most) but not as good as, say, London. But another good house point.

For those that would like to read about the full comparison, the blog itself is (here).

Roll forward to 2017 and ...

Sunday 24th Dec Christmas Eve
Normal Sunday timetable will operate from the start of service,


however... The last departures will be from around 6pm, with no services operating after approximately 7.30pm ...

Ever heard of the 24 hour clock?
It is used in all other publicity!

... (except Airport Flyer Services A1 and A3 which operate a normal service). Click here for a list of last departures

Nope. Its a backward step and a festive raspberry!

Tuesday 26th Dec Boxing Day

Special timetables will operate on a number of services in and around Bristol, click here for more details. Sunday timetables will operate on Airport Flyer Services A1 and A3. There will be no services operating elsewhere on the West of England network.

And the list of these services? There isn't one as far as fbb can tell. You must scroll through the PDF pages in the leaflet ...
... and see what is one offer.
But there is a positive on New Year's Eve.

Sunday 31st Dec New Year's Eve
Normal Sunday timetable will operate.

So in Bristol, NO early shut down on 31st. Even better, many night buses will run; here are some of the last "night" (i.e. early on 1st January) journeys on offer.
Thus it is that you can have a party at the pub on New Year's Eve, but you have to stay in on Christmas Eve.

But why withdraw the evening service on 24th after only one year?

The word on the Bristol streets is that they didn't carry enough passengers. Possibly true, but as 2016 was the first year for many an aeon that such a service was on offer, the take-up would surely need time to grow. But once established, surely a Christmas Eve evening service should attract more punters?

Bus industry short-termism strikes again?

And, is the "booklet" available in printed form? Our Bristol correspondent will doubtless let us know.

Just for the record, whilst Sheffield has selected services running until about 1800 on Boxing Day and fewer such on new Year's Day, everything finishes between 1700 and 1830 on the two "eves". There are no Boxing Day and New Year's Day services anywhere else in the whole of South Yorkshire with some notable exceptions in Barnsley (of which more later).

Bristol has gone backwards in many ways, but it is still far, far better than Sheffield, and ever farther better than Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

Why the difference?

Over the border in West Yorkshire ...
... you can download a summary leaflet (so presumably not available in print!) which offers all the usual reductions.
But there are no details - for these you are obliged to search and download. No paper copies?
But this time we have an index ...
... to go with the timetables.
But despite the plenty of buses on Boxing Day, there is a paucity on New Year's Day.
And the voluntary services?
Just two!

O.K., a reasonable service on Boxing Day and (almost) nothing on New Year's Day with (fbb assumes until informed otherwise) no printed material at all.

Not good.
So they arrive at Bethlehem and we are immediately on familiar territory. The innkeeper has pity on the pregnant Mary and allows her to use his stable or cattle shed. Baby Jesus has "no crib for a bed" and gets plonked in a manger - an animal's feeding trough.
The rest of the detail goes to make up innumerable Nativity scenes and innumerable nativity plays which are all part of the "Christmas Story".

Except that most of it has been added in - without the slightest whiff of evidence.


The Innkeeper is not mentioned. It is very likely that there was an innkeeper but his part in the story remains an assumption..

She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger - there was no room for them to stay in the inn.


The cattle shed/stable is not mentioned.

In about 150 AD, a high flyer in religious circles named St Justin Martyr wrote about the Nativity.

But when the Child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger.

Today you can still see caves in and around Bethlehem. Some of them are turned into shrines but some remain in their original usage. It is where the animals are kept in the winter.
And while we are looking at Luke's actual words as they describe the nativity scene, please note ...


... there was no star, no animals, no wise men and no angels.

We have seriously damaged the Nativity story by adding in so much irrelevant clutter. What matters, what Luke records, what Justin Martyr records was beautiful in its magnificence; just a man, his unmarried pregnant wife, later with child, in a gloomy cave behind the pub with that not very clean feeding trough in which The Son of God was laid.
Nothing else happens until some smelly, scruffy and rough-mannered shepherds turn up.

Not a very auspicious start to a major world religion? But most Carols get it right:-

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
 Next "no idea yet" blog : Thursday 14th December 

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Christmas - That's The Way To Do It!


One of the mysteries of "Festive" Public Passenger Transport in the UK is its lack of any logic. Why, you must ask, are there hardly any buses on New Year's Day, but a reasonably good train service? Turn the modes round and London has a good Boxing Day bus service but no National Rail.

If the decision is made on the basis of revenue and profitability, one of the parties has got it badly wrong in each case. fbb reckons that the underlying reasons are (a) what we have always done and (b) it's all too much trouble anyway.

Perhaps those who wish to jump to the defence of hard working drivers who need a break, or hard working schedulers who have insufficient time to draw up special services, or the dead hand of the Rail Regulator etc. etc. should hold back their comments until your chubby author has completed this pre-festive series of posts?

There is a second aspect to the "problem" of Christmas and the New Year. It is all very well running special bus services, finishing early etc. etc, but how well is the travelling public informed of the arrangements.
But before we look in detail, a further comment on the curse of the snowfall from 0930 yesterday morning.

Wednesbury Bus Station and Bearwood Bus Station are unable to be served by all routes. 

Whatever happened to the bus station inspector with a shovel and a sack of grit/salt? Or is it a case of "It's not my responsibility, mate? Bus stations are run by the PTE"
the shovel's just a prop -
snow clearing is contracted out

And from Travel for West Midlands, the new name for Network West Midlands, itself the new name for Centro - i.e. West Midlands PTE:-

All services are having difficulty accessing West Bromwich and Wednesbury bus stations. Our teams are working to clear these sites. Contractors have been asked to attend Park and Ride sites. Please take extra care until the sites have been cleared. 

The first "good thing" no note is that National Express West Midlands has a massive clickable banner shouting loudly that "things" will be happening. Sadly, on fbb's laptop, its is one of the those infuriating sliding panels that whizz off left just as you are about to click on it.

What is wrong with a fixed list of clickable "headlines"? Sorry, fbb forgot. A web site has to be full of twiddly bits to show off the "skills" of the site's designers and ensure thy can charge pots of money for doing it. Don't worry about making things complicated for the user!

But clicking on the panel leads to this:-

We will be running the following levels of service over the Christmas and New Year holidays. This page will be regularly updated with more information and revised timetables.

Sunday 24th December - normal Sunday daytime & evening service until approximately 2300 - full timetable details here

Monday 25th December - no service 

Tuesday 26th December - a Sunday service will run until around 6pm on all services except the 35 and 77 in Walsall, 62 in Wolverhampton and 1, 27 and 96 in Birmingham which will not run. Certain busy routes will continue to operate throughout the evening - full timetable details here.

Wednesday 27th to Friday 29th December -  a Saturday service will run with additional early morning journeys on certain route - full details will be available shortly. 

Saturday 30th December - normal Saturday service

Sunday 31st December - normal Sunday daytime & evening service. 

Monday 1st January 2018 - as for Monday 26th December - full timetable details here.

When fbb looked on Sunday afternoon, there they were - all the timetables for all to see.

Sadly when you eager author sought to download some examples yesterday 1030, all he could get was this:-
And it was all going so very well! Drat that wrong kind of snow - it even gets into our computers! (?)

Try again later.

Yep. All is well. Here is the Christmas Eve schedule from the Sutton Coldfield hinterland into Birmingham.
Ditto New Year's Eve.

And here is the same service on Boxing Day ...
... actually running a tad later. And at normal fares, too.

This pattern is replicated throughout the National Express network. You have to ask the question (and fbb is sure that his correspondents will rush to reply), "Is this generous provision just because Birmingham is a bigger place? Or it that Birmingham City Corporation Buses ...
... always ran a good "festive" service and their successors have never felt the necessity to change the policy. The passengers have become used to a proper service and therefore use it! 

How does Brum compare with Manchester? There was a panel headed "Whats Happening at Christmas" but ...

What’s happening

The transport network is expected to be busier than usual over the Christmas period as there are a number of festive events across Manchester. Journey times are likely to increase during the run up to New Year, so you should plan ahead if you are taking part in, spectating or simply travelling around the local area.

Manchester Christmas Light Switch On takes place on Saturday 4 November. Stars on the night include DJ Sigala**, boy band Yes Lad and the casts of the musicals Elf and Shrek.
The event starts at 7.30pm but the event is always busy so make sure to get there early. Bag checks will be in operation so please if at all possible, leave them at home.

Manchester’s iconic Christmas Markets return on Friday 10 November until Thursday 21 December. They take place across the city centre and again bag checks will be in operation.

Manchester City Council has more information about the markets and the Light Switch On on their website.

Manchester Arndale is open seven days a week in the run up till Christmas. You can find more information on their opening times on their website.

... it did not tell you what was happening bus-wise. fbb did find a document from Transport for Greater Manchester ...
... dated from November, which gave a summary.
The bus operators have given details of what they are doing. First Bus has simply published a set of "forthcoming timetables" on line.
So here is the prestigious and highly successful guided busway service on Christmas Eve.
And, similarly, on Boxing Day when it is one of a few services operating until early evening.
Here is the lavish selection:-

The following services will run to special timetables:
Metroshuttle, V1, V2, 8, 17, 36, 37, 68, 81, 93, 100,
135, 163, 184, 409, 471 and 582.
No other services will be operating.

So what's Birmingham got that Manchester hasn't?

One more pressing problem which fbb cannot answer.

In Birmingham and Manchester, what printed publicity for these services will be available?

** D J Sigala??? No, neither did fbb!
The King James version of the Bible (The "Authorised" Version) was a huge scholastic "tour de force" and many people still derive great spiritual strength from its mellifluous language.
Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy of Jesus but the language brings a wince or a smile to modern readers - with all that begatting.

Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob;
and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;
And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar;
and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
And Aram begat Aminadab;
and Aminadab begat Naasson;
and Naasson begat Salmon;
And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab;
and Booz begat Obed of Ruth;
and Obed begat Jesse;
And Jesse begat David the king;
and David the king begat Solomon;

quite a bit missed out!

And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary,
of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Matthew is anxious to show that, by human standards at least, Jesus is a descendant of King David and before that from the family of Abraham, the "father" of the Jewish race.

Luke also has a genealogy in his Gospel but they are different. Bible knockers jump onto the is difference and say that the Bible must be wrong. Realistically both versions are a guess in places because birth records simply did not exist. The writers have gone to the Old Testament of our Bible and added in Rabbinic traditions to piece together a viable family tree.

It all fits together, as recorded in "While Shepherds Watched ..."

To you in David's
Town this day
Is born of David's line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign
And this shall be the sign.

The heavenly Babe
You there shall find
To human view displayed
And meanly wrapped
In swathing bands
And in a manger laid
And in a manger laid.

Odd isn't it? When else do we use the word "manger"?
Even cartoons find room for the non-existent donkey!
 Next Seasonal Service blog : Wednesday 13th December 

Monday, 11 December 2017

Christmas is Coming!

And It's Been Snowing ...
Today's blog was due to be the start of a review of how various bus operators and local authorities are publicising their Christmas bus services. But it was immediately obvious from various web sites that all was not well weather-wise. In the balmy environs of Seaton (or, indeed, the barmy environs of Seaton) not a frosty flake has fallen - although the rain was very cold yesterday afternoon.
The first hint of excessive hexagonal crystal precipitation came via an email from Alan with an attached photo taken at 0915 yesterday morning.
Alan comments, "What an absolutely splendid idea for the County Council to cut its snow clearing budget"; the consequences of which were apparent in Stagecoach's news later in the afternoon.

We are attempting to run a limited Northampton town service as well as Bedford, X4 & 19. However the following alterations are in place:

1 (Rectory Farm - town centre)
Buses will be unable to sereve Rectory Farm

 2 (Camp Hill - town centre - Kettering Rd - Rectory Farm)
Buses are unable to serve Ringway

7 (Grange Park - Hardingstone - town centre - Broadmead Ave - Moulton Park)
Buses are unable to serve Grange Park Estate. 
Buses will be unabel to sereve Broadmead Ave

8 (Kings Heath - St James Square - town centre - East Hunsbury)
Buses not serving Kings Heath. All journeys will turn at Gladstone Rd

12 (Kings Heath - St James Square - town centre - Towecster Rd - East Hunsbury)
Buses not serving Kings Heath. All journeys will turn at Gladstone Rd
Buses are unable to serve Granary Road

15/15A (St Giles - Upton - town centre - Acre Lane)
Buses unable to serve Upton or St Cripins

16 (Kingsthorpe - town centre - Weston Favell - Ecton Brook)
Buses unable to serve Tonmead Rd/Penistone Rd.

88/X7/D3/X46 will not run

X4 (Peterborough - Corby- Kettering - Wellingborough - Northampton - Milton Keynes)
Buses will not serve Earls Barton, Red Hill Grange, Oundle, Elton or Lynchwood

In summary what this tells us is that anything off the mainest of main roads will not be served - presumably because there has been no attempt to clear the white fluffy stuff.

One positive thought, however ...
Northampton was significantly better off than Birmingham! The juxtaposition of the travel offer and the news item is perhaps "unfortunate"?

At 0930 yesterday London Underground was having problems.
The delays and suspended problems were quoted as caused by "power supply problems due to snow". By 1700 it wasn't much better.
Same reason/excuse as earlier.
It does seem odd that a bit of snow should be so disruptive to travel. Surely it never used to be like this? Perhaps yet another example of trimming back the snowfall budget?

There didn't seem to be anything about disruption to the bus services. The daily Telegraph tagged this picture ...
... "a bus struggles in North London" - with no further details. The Evening Standard on-line had a picture of what looked suspiciously like the same bus from a different angle.
The sub-editor's take on the weather story was different, however.
Meanwhile, National Rail also had problems with snow and their electricity supply.
This all calls for s song:-

Oh, the weather outside is frightful
Bus travel is not delightful.
And since we've no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Underground service is stoppin'
And I was thinking of shoppin'
We've decided that we won't go.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Electric supply is dying
Travel, it ain't worth trying
Can't get to work what a blow
Let it snow, let it snow, and snow

The council has given up gritting
Drivers with venom are spitting
The traffic refuses to flow -
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Repeat as required.

This blog will return to Christmas travel publicity tomorrow.

Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load
Been a long time, little donkey, through the winters night
Don't give up now, little donkey,
Bethlehem's in sight
But why, donkey-less and wearing khaki garments, did Mary and Joe toddle the 100 miles to Bethlehem. Oh yes; to take part in a Roman census. Joseph was a descendant of Old Testament King and Goliath-slayer, David.
Remember the verse from the carol about those flock-watching shepherds?

To you, in David’s town, this day
Is born of David’s line
A Saviour, who is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign:

Throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, Bethlehem keeps popping up, most notably as the birthplace of said King David. Combine this will umpteen prophecies that David's descendants will "rule for ever" and a powerful picture is emerging.

The eternal Son of God would be born in a small, utterly insignificant village south of Jerusalem. Now you might expect a radical and divine leader to pop up in Jerusalem, maybe in the temple ...
... where richness and holiness, plus a whole army of priests and hangers-on could offer a truly religious welcome.

But no; it was to be in a tin-pot village of no status other than a thread of history. The prophet Micah gets it just right in his writings, penned about 850 years before the first Christ Mas.

The Lord says, “Bethlehem Ephrathah**, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times. When he comes, he will rule his people with the strength that comes from the Lord and with the majesty of the Lord God himself. His people will live in safety because people all over the earth will acknowledge his greatness, and he will bring peace."

Bit there is another spooky kink between Bethlehem and Jesus. Beth mans "house" in Hebrew and "Lehem" is a form of the word for "bread".  And how does Jesus describe himself, born in the "House of Bread"?

"The bread that God gives is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” his followers asked him, “give us this bread always.”

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them.

The "Bread of Life" was born in the "House of Bread".

** Ephrathah - an old name for the Bethlehem area, used here to distinguish David's/Jesus' Bethlehem from "the other one".
 Next Seaasonal Service blog : Tuesday 12th December 

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Omitted Oddments

Northampton Corporation Transport Rarity
Whilst researching Fulford Drive (sic!) and Links View, fbb came across this delight. It was a poster (from the late 1950s?)  advertising Northampton.
The road is Derngate and the bus is totally wrong. No Routemasters ever adorned NCT's fleetlist. From just after WW2 until the arrival of some Leyland Nationals, it was always Daimlers.

The block of flats is surprisingly accurate ...
.. and the building still stands. Sadly the other distinctive Art Deco structure that once stood a little nearer the town centre ...
... is no more, being replaced by the far less attractive Theatre Complex.
Surely, it would have been better to retain the old bus station frontage with, perhaps, the exit for buses becoming the grand entrance to the complex.

Where Are You 266?
Another bit of nostalgia leads in an interesting direction. These to Daimlers are, of course, leaving Northampton's ill maintained, much maligned and eventually doomed Greyfriars bus station. A uick search on-line for their registration numbers brings up some history for JVV 266G.
It has been re-registered COY 815 but also appeared in the livery of the Garden of Eden Garage, also on Malta.
But one on-line source records this vehicle differently.
The same source correctly records other Malta open toppers as hailing from Swinton (Thamesdown) as with OHR 189R ...
... re-registered and in Sightseeing livery.

Memory Fades Oh So Easily!
fbb wrote that NCT service 13 to Links View ran every half hour when it started. Drivel! Northampton supplier of wisdom Alan forwards a timetable from 1973.
Every 29 minutes, upped to every 10 at peaks; and note that Monday to Friday lunchtime was also a "peak" because many Northamptonians went home in their lunch break. Likewise Saturday morning was always busier that Monday to Friday off-peak - everybody would go into town to shop especially at the superb market.

Just three years later, however, decline has begun.
By 1976 it runs every 20 minutes (every 30 in the evenings) six days a week with no peaks and Sundays service has faded to every hour.

A reminder of today's commercial and doomed service 11 ...
... together with its tendered oddments (also doomed) on rout 60.

A Tease From Alan
Of these two vehicles ...
... on which one is your OAP bus pass valid?
The answer (easy peasy?) is the top one. Passes are valid on the ferry from Tilbury to Gravesend - which illustrates the nonsense of the so-called "National" system. Valid on this ferry, valid on Sheffield trams, but not accepted on Blackpool trams or even those in Croydon.


The "Astromega" was bought by Southend Corporation in the early 80s in response to massive growth on the X1 which ran, for a time between Sarfend and Reading. Long distance coach ravel was deregulated before buses and the X1 was a surprising consequence.

This particular bus/coach found its way into the hand of  ...
... Fords of Althorne.
It was bought by Ensign and restored to its original livery. Correspondent Alan enjoyed a ride thereupon as part of the recent Ensign running day, and, as it was not a "bus" service, he had to pay!
Wherever you look, IT appears. There is Mary, dressed in blue, riding on a donkey, led by Joseph as they toiled their way from Nazareth to Jerusalem. It is about 70 miles as the fly crows, but their journey would have been between 90 and 100 miles.

We even play/sing a Christmas song about it.

Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load
Been a long time, little donkey, through the winters night
Don't give up now, little donkey,
Bethlehem's in sight

Little donkey, little donkey, had a heavy day
Little donkey, carry Mary safely on her way
Little donkey, little donkey, journey's end is near ...


There was no donkey. It is the invention of a much later story teller or illustrator.

Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant.

That is all that Luke tells us - Matthew does not mention the journey at all, as we shall see. It is inconceivable that a humble trader from Nazareth, together with his pregnant and unmarried wife-to-be, could have ever afforded to hire a donkey.

They walked. 100 miles. Probably at night because the days would be too hot. (no snow, remember?)

It gets worse! If there had been a donkey, Joseph would most likely have ridden it and Mary would have walked - that was the custom of the day.

Oh yes. Mary would not have worn a blue frock - such luxury was reserved for the wives of wealthy lawyers, politicians and businessmen.
The rouble with embroidering the simple but stunning Biblical nativity story is that the central power  and purpose of the event gets lost in the clutter.

The Birth of the Son of God becomes more and more unrealistic.

Which is a great pity.
 Next Seaasonal Service blog : Monday 11th December