The Seeing Eye
One of the main problems which besets a small local band is moving all their equipment around the countryside for engagements. Over the years Brassford have used almost every mode of transport from horse drawn farm wagon to train. At one time it was a common sight to see the village postman cycling along to a rehearsal or a concert with his tuba strapped to his back and Bill Turpin had made a special bracket to hold his bass drum like a spare wheel on the side of his dog cart.
Inevitably, one of the busiest times for the band was always the few weeks before Christmas when the sound of a traditional brass band could lull even the most hardened cynic into a warm haze of conviviality. Also, of course, this was also the worst time of year for bad weather with frosts and chilling mists. So it was on the day of the annual Oddfellows carol concert at Hatherton.
The day had started with a flurry of snow which turned into a steady drizzle for most of the morning. The concert was to be at 2:00 p.m. in the Village Hall and, as it was a fair distance from Brassford and the transport of the larger instruments would otherwise be a problem, it had been decided to accept the offer of the free use of Toby Wilson's old coach 'Betsy'. This was a vintage vehicle in every sense of the word. Built in about 1939 it had seen service as the local bus for 30 years until even the local vehicle examiner could turn a blind eye no longer. The it had become home to Jim Green's three goats for ten years after which it was acquired in exchange for an old lawn mower by Will Garlick who 'did it up a bit' and lived in it on waste land by the railway embankment until he died last year. Now it had been taken in hand by Toby who was in the process of 'restoring it to its former glory'. Inevitably this work was quite slow and, whilst the mechanics of the vehicle had been repaired to such an extent that it could be just considered roadworthy, the remainder of the vehicle left a lot to be desired. It had no fixed seats but was equipped with a three piece suite and a couple of old dining chairs, the bodywork was rusted to resemble lace and was largely held together by the remains of the faded blue and white paintwork. Through the destination board windows moth caterpillars could be seen devouring the last remains of the cloth destination blinds.
However, Toby was convinced that the bus would hold together long enough for the journey and was anxious to help and so the band agreed so long as they could set off in plenty of time 'just in case'. Originally it was intended to put all the instruments in the baggage lockers under the bus but when it was realised that none of these had floors in them a rethink became necessary. There would not be sufficient room in the bus for both the band and their instruments and, in any case no one was prepared to risk the bus floor with all that weight. A committee meeting was called. After much deliberation and argument a plan of action was formulated and various members were dispatched to acquire the necessary accessories. Within half an hour people were swarming all over the bus and a roof rack made from ladders and scaffolding was beginning to take shape which gave all the appearance of being twice as strong as the bus itself. Onto this was loaded the instruments and, with the rest of the band inside, the bus set off on its precarious journey. To the amazement of all, the journey there was without further incident and the band arrived so early that, surprisingly, they had to pass away some time in the 'Bulls Mouth'. This relieved all tensions so that, by the time of the carol concert, everyone was in such a good mood that the concert turned out a great success. However, when everything was packed away and the band emerged from the hall, their spirits fell with a bump. While they had been enjoying themselves, darkness had fallen and worse still fog had appeared. You couldn't see more than ten feet in front of you and the fog seemed to cling to everything. Toby, however, was as effusive as ever and was enthusiastically hoisting the instruments up onto the roof of the bus and chivvying everyone along.
"Come on, we'll not be back before the chip shop shuts!"
The usually ebullient band were unusually quiet.
"How on earth are we going to find our way home in this fog" asked Jim with a worried frown.
"Oh! don't worry" said Toby "we'll manage, just leave everything to me and good old Betsy. We'll get you home alright".
No one was really convinced. Indeed, as they left the car park it was difficult to determine whether they had actually turned onto the road or were just heading off across the fields. The headlights, such as they were, gave out only a dim glow which was reflected back onto the oil smeared windscreen by the swirling fog making the view forward almost non-existent. Toby, however, did not seem unduly bothered and was humming the last tune of the concert gaily to himself as the bus bowled along at a steady twenty miles an hour. Most of the band were petrified. "For goodness sake slow down" urged Janet from the back ,"it's my birthday next week and I've already baked a cake, it wouldn't look right at a funeral tea!".
"Stop worrying," chided Toby "I know what I'm doing. Unless someone comes the other way, which I doubt in this weather, we are OK. for at least ten miles."
"But how the heck do you know where we are?"
"Aha! that's one of our little secrets, isn't it Betsy?"
But the further along they travelled, the more fretful became the band. Noses were pressed to every window, straining to catch even a glimpse of a hedgerow through the all-pervading gloom.
"What on earth has that man got - Radar?" asked Jack of no one in particular, "he doesn't even seem to be looking at the road. I'm going to try to find out his secret, the military would probably pay highly for a secret weapon like him!"
All the rest of the band had, by now, gravitated to the back of the bus, reasoning that if they were going to run into something, they would be in the safest place.
Gingerly making his way up the rocking bus, Jack clutched onto the back of Toby's seat. "Are you sure you know where you are going?" he whispered breathlessly only too aware of the eerie yellow glow in the windscreen.
"Of course," laughed Toby "do you think I'm a fool? You all thought old Betsy is just a rusty wreck but age and experience count for a lot in weather like this. See that hole in the floor under the pedals, well, all I need to do is keep that over the white line in the middle of the road and we're OK. till we get to Hatherton cross roads, then we turn left and it's follow the line again right into Brassford. We should be in time for a bag of chips before Fanny's closes."
"We'll need it, you wily old bird, and something to wash 'em down with."
"I'm sure that can be arranged. Now will you go and sit down again and let me concentrate?"
This work is Copyright to Ian W. Wright 1994. You may use it for your own private purposes but reproduction by any means or its use for commercial gain is strictly forbidden without the written permission of the author.