Monday 3rd February 2020
I gave my mate Roger Davies’ book Ribble a plug when it was published last summer by my mate Ray Stenning and now it’s time to extol the virtues of another book about ‘the mighty’ Ribble, by another colleague from years back, Paul Kirkham.
Except this book takes a completely different approach in being part auto-biography, part history, part geography, part lots of different aspects of working for a bus and coach company at the sharp end (or ‘in the outside lane’) such as operations, depots, industrial relations and more. The book is full of anecdotes and real work life experiences encountered by Paul in a very easy read style.
And it’s not just about Ribble either; in fact much of the book is devoted to Paul’s experiences working as a driver for Standerwick which although a subsidiary of Ribble since 1932, was run pretty much as an autonomous strong-willed independent company. It’s a great read.
I’m not just saying that because I know Paul; from the days when he was Licensing and Fares Officer at Southdown when I arrived at that Company’s Head Office in Brighton in 1982. It’s a well written, engaging book bringing to life what it was like as a young impressionable twenty-something year old in the fashionable, promiscuous, politically-incorrect seventies working as a driver and conductor in Blackpool and in Ribble’s Preston Head Office followed by the excitement of being a motorway express and excursions coach driver for Standerwick in those care free (and car free) days between 1969 and 1976.
Paul warns the reader “if you are looking for a factual history of Ribble and Standerwick … then this book is not for you” adding “the book is written mostly from memory”, and what a memory he has. I’m astounded by the detail and all the names Paul recalls as he paints a vivid picture in words of the many incidents and experiences he encountered, even down to individual journeys from London to the Lake District or wherever and what happened on different occasions in the digs the drivers used down in London in between trips – all over forty years ago. I sometimes struggle to remember where I’ve travelled last week!
If you like buses and coaches, you’ll love Paul’s descriptions of what it was like to drive all the different types he encountered. If you like routes and timetables, his explanations of the way the schedules worked in practice will enthral you. If you like people and stories about the characters that make up any bus and coach depot, you’ll enjoy the many anecdotes and descriptions Paul includes on page after page.
There are also plenty of photographs (many in colour) of vehicles in action in the 302 page book; all with helpful captions. There’s even an index at the back.
For those who like facts and figures, there are a few fascinating tables including one listing all Ribble’s garages with the number of vehicles as at June 1970 and June 2018. I enjoyed reading the comparison between bus routes radiating from Keswick in 1971 compared to a subsidy-free Cumbria today. Spoiler alert: today’s network to all the main towns is more intensive and frequent.
If you want to know what it was like “livin’ in the outside lane” between 1969 and 1976 this is the book for you. It’s published by Ribwick Books at £14.99