GRAY LIGHTFOOT: A VIEW FROM A CAB (a review by Frank Ruhrmund)
Not being the best of drivers, even of a small car, I’ve always had great regard for the skill of those who drive big ones, heavy goods vehicles, buses, coaches and the like. I’ve also often wondered what such drivers, who spend much of their lives in their cabs, think about, while being, as it were, cocooned from the rest of the world. Now, after reading A View From A Cab, I know what one bus driver, namely Gray Lightfoot, thinks.
It’s about all that he sees and hears during each day’s work, from the places he visits to the behaviour of passengers and other drivers, while considering if there may be a poem to be written about any of it, for, as unlikely as it may seem, he is a poet.
A Lancashire lad, the first Lightfoot of his bloodline, we are told, not to be born in Cornwall for more than 350 years, he is rightly proud of the fact that he has a Cornish father and grandmother and, if called upon, could even play football or rugby for Cornwall. His Cornish heritage includes Marazion tin miners, Newlyn fishermen, the ubiquitous agricultural labourers, and he has, as he says, “a natural passion for all things Cornish.”
From the first of the two dozen or so different and delightful poems that he includes here, the title poem A View From A Cab to one of the last, the appropriately named The Last Bus (And Death shall have no dominoes), this passion powers all that he writes. While that may sound forbidding, his passion is laced with good humour and laughter is never far away in either his poetry or his prose. He pokes fun at everything from the driving skills of tourists and the mispronunciation of Cornish place names to the amusing things that passengers say and do.
He also has the great gift of being able to laugh at himself. One of Cornwall’s many ‘extreme bus drivers’, he remembers an ambition he had when young and was taken to school in West Looe by bus. He says: “If ever there was a job I wanted to do as a nine year old boy, it was to drive those splendid mid-green buses of the Western National bus company around those challenging Cornish lanes.”
He wasn’t to know then that it would not be until several years later, more than a decade ago, when, with his wife Wendy, he came to settle in Cornwall. Needing a job, he says, “I’ll always be grateful to First Kernow for taking me on and training me to be a bus driver…fulfilling that nine year old boy’s ambition. So it was I found myself driving buses of all shapes and sizes around the Cornish landscape. Squeezing a bus like toothpaste through gaps that we drivers refer to as just a fag paper’s width either side, is just part of the job now.” He includes a number of photographs that, from an open top bus rounding the Library corner at St Ives to another brushing the hedges at Rosemergy, bear out all that he says.
A self-appointed Pirate Poet Laureate of Penzance, he has three pirate poems to his credit, while Gray Lightfoot is hugely entertaining and his poetry in particular is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, he is more than just a funny man.
From his Murmuration: Marazion Marsh and Discovering Nevada Cottage to The Cornish Nation and The Brain Freeze of Choice (Jelbert’s Ice Cream), there is a sense of directness, honesty and truth in all that he does that is a refreshing as it is rare.
I shall be looking closely at the driver of the next bus I catch, if he is wearing glasses, a navy-blue jumper, and has a beard, then he could be Gray or his colleague Ray. I’ll have to wait to hear his accent to be sure if it’s the former, and if so, then remember to make my thank you on alighting loud and clear in fear of some future reprisal. To be honest if I were to meet him and his bus when driving my small car down one of our country lanes, I think I’d stop, jump out and run for the hills. In order to get maximum effect from his poems, he recommends reading them aloud in a northern accent, something I’m unable to do, but I’m sure he is right. Bearing this in mind, Gray Lightfoot is performing as part of Penzance Literary Festival fringe in The Crown Inn, Penzance 8pm onwards, Wednesday, July 5.
A View From A Cab: The poetry and musings of a bus driver in Cornwall by Gray Lightfoot, published by Graylight Publishing at £8.99 is available from the author (add £2.80 postage) details grom firstname.lastname@example.org and as an e-book on Amazon RRP £3.99
The review appeared in The Cornishman July 6th 2017