As much of my childhood was spent travelling on buses (Dad was never going to drive a car when he couldn’t master a Kodak Instamatic), I always loved seeing the different livery of buses from other towns. Burnley, Colne and Nelson Joint Transport Committee were our local bus company and their livery was once described as Rose Madder and Biscuit and to catch sight of one whenever you were retur as ning from a holiday was a ‘welcome home’ sight.

This is probably the last poem I shall write about buses but I needed to write a poem about a bus for my book (just finished writing it) called The Bus Drivers (not Pirates) of Penzance and this is it. Focusing on my love for preserved buses, I chose the sort of bus that took me to our weekly swimming lessons when I was at junior school and with permission of its owner, Michael Andrew Banham, show photos of it here.


I love to see a preserved bus, the care

And affection imbued in her appearance

Suggests another time, an age

When mechanics filled the garage

And buses never broke down.

Washed and properly cleaned every night;

A time when standards were met.

A better time in many ways.

Yes, Jack and Reg were sexist

But they’ve gone now…haven’t they?

So, I chose one, not just at random but,

Aided by memory to be the object of my desire.

BHG 756 No 37, a singleton, recalling

Journeys to the public baths from school;

The only joy for a nervous non-swimmer

Was the ride on her shiny, hard, red leather seats

Stitched tight and ribbed for less pleasure;

Climaxed by the packet of Morning Coffee biscuits,

Devoured with chlorine-smelling fingers left

A happier child on his way back to school.

But I see her now…resplendent

And looking so good for her age;

Her rich rose madder skirt, sets her off

Against that pale cream decolletage.

Rose Madder and biscuit. Was there ever

A more beautiful name for the colour of a bus?

Kept apart by a piping of orange;

Sweet as a Jaffa cake and just as more-ish.

Her orange-fired arrow indicators try

To distract your mind away from

The sensuous curves of her bustle

Where two huge TV screens windows

Are set in a custard-creamy console.

Beauty in the back end of a bus.

Born when curves were in vogue,

Before cigarettes came in flip-top packets;

But what lies under your flip top cowling?

“Many a good tune played on her engine, I bet!”

(I thought you said Jack and Reg were gone)

“I’m a Tiger, I’m a Ti-ger…I’m a Tiger, I’m a Ti-ger!”

She roars…purring perfection.

A preserved purity – spotless.

Lovingly polished as part of her beauty regime;

Black mudguards keep the grime at bay

And that recognisable radiator

Her token concession to straight lines.

A Lancashire lass (nee Leyland), then married

To an East Lancashire coachbuilder.

Let’s not talk of your cosmetic surgery;

Forced upon you for economic reasons.

A front entrance made you less

High maintenance…more commercially viable.

It was for me the initium of the terminus,

The point when business outmuscled service.

Thankfully you are preserved

And it’s lovely to see you again

In the buff, devoid of garish marketing.

Be what you are, bus not billboard.

Once more, bidden by the memory’s arousal,

Recall stirs into life, as your destination blind

Rolls through the endless possibilities for a young boy…

Marsden Park Circular, Valley Mills, Reedley Halt…

Further afield…Barley…where even was Slaidburn?

As the stationary buses snoozed like sated kittens

Around the asbestos and glass of Nelson’s Market Hall;  

The welcoming smell of Horlicks, meat pie and gravy

Gusting out each time the market’s double doors open

Leave me bathed in that evocative aroma of days gone.

Staring at her perfection, I sidle up to her,

Admiring her brooch, a family heirloom that celebrates

A union Burnley, Colne and Nelson Joint Transport Corporations;

Three coats of arms belted and buckled into place;

Alphabetically, not geographically in municipal splendour.

A glowing tribute to those signwriters who were both

Aesthete and artisan; old masters of their craft,

That of oil-based coach-painting and sign-writing

With the practised toil of the brush

Against the composure of the mahl stick.

Look at her…stunning in her voluptuousness!

She remains a work of art in my mind;

A Motor Lisa, a Venus di milometer.

Beauty…as well as beast.

©gray lightfoot

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