Ray of sunshine has been on the buses for 44 years…

Thirty years ago if you wanted to get around the Six Towns then most people hopped on the tried and trusted buses mainly operated by Potteries Motor Traction (PMT).

In the early Eighties, there were nowhere near as many cars on the road and public transport was the lifeblood of the local economy.

Buses ferrying workers to major employers such as Shelton Bar, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and the pits were crammed from 7am.

Hanley bus station – that huge, dirty, decaying carbuncle which is set for demolition – was a hive of activity as the main terminus for the Potteries.

My nan wouldn’t buy her bloomer loaves from anywhere else other than the bakery in the underpass where other businesses such as a dry cleaners, chemist and bookies were thriving.

This was a place Ray Newton knew very well.

In August of 1980 he passed his driving test not in a little car like the rest of us – but behind the wheel of a PMT bus.

Ray had begun his career on the buses on May 6, 1968, when – as a 21-year-old – he had swapped his job as a stores clerk for a firm in Newcastle for the better paid job of a conductor PMT operating out of its Clough Street depot.

Ray, aged 64, of Bentilee, said: “I started on a basic wage of £13 nine shillings – which was a big jump for me. And we could work overtime to earn some more.

“It was a great job and I really enjoyed it. There was wonderful camaraderie on the buses and the drivers became good mates – a big part of your life. As well as collecting the fairs, the conductor was responsible for ensuring the buses stuck to the timetable and arrived on time. It was an important job.

“Back then people were more friendly, polite and courteous. Lads would give up their seats for a lady if the bus was full and the drivers and conductors were treated with respect by customers.”

Ray’s working life came to a crossroads in August 1980 as conductors were being phased out in favour of single-operative vehicles.

He opted to re-train as a driver and during the interview we worked out that he must have ferried yours truly to Sixth Form College, Fenton, and home again to Sneyd Green in the late Eighties.

Long before that, however, Ray had to pass his driving test.

He said: “It was terrifying, to be honest. My knees were knocking the first time I sat behind the wheel of a bus. I only had a provisional licence at the time and so I passed my test on a bus which I suppose is quite unusual.

“By the following year (1981) there were no conductors on PMT buses and the drivers were doing it all and so I had to learn to take the fares as well as getting my head around the mechanics of driving a big vehicle.”

Ray has no doubt why the number of people using the buses across North Staffordshire has fallen in recent years.

He said: “It’s the local economy. We just don’t have the companies and workplaces we had back then. Workers would fill our buses.

“It was standing room only at certain times of the day. They just aren’t there anymore.”

And the biggest change he has seen over the years?

Ray said: “Definitely the switch from a manual gearbox to an automatic. That was a really big deal for all of the drivers and totally changed the job.”

Of course, you can’t work on the buses with the public for forty-odd years and not have a few stories.

Ray has seen it all – including one elderly passenger he picked up near Cobridge Traffic Lights expiring in his seat.

But one story which still tickles Ray is from his time as a conductor in the seventies.

He laughed: “Our bus came to a stop in Highfield Road, Blurton, and I told one of our passengers – a blind man – I would get off and help him cross the road. Just as we got to the other side I heard the ‘ding-ding’ of the bell on the bus and off she went. The driver drove off without me.

“Some comedian had obviously seen what I was doing and pretended to be me, rung the bell, and left me stranded. To be fair, the driver did come back for me. Eventually.”

On May 5, Ray will finish his shift at First Bus, hand in his keys at the depot in Adderley Green, and head off to a well-deserved retirement – just one day shy of 44 years on the buses.

He’s had a long and distinguished career and admits he has enjoyed it.

So how will he fill his retirement?

Ray said: “I love making things. Doll’s house furniture and the like. That’ll keep me busy.”

With seven grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, three great grandchildren (and another on the way) he won’t be short of takers for those hand-made toys.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia


You know you’re a Potteries child of the Eighties when…

The end of my first year of 80s nostalgia columns has prompted me to consider what it means to be a child of the Eighties.

I guess there are some general criteria, such as understanding the profound meaning of the phrase ‘Wax on/ Wax off’, knowing the words to the original McDonald’s advert off-by-heart and remembering when Betamax was the cutting edge of technology.

Alternatively, there’s being at school at the same time as Tucker and ‘Gripper’ Stebson, knowing what YUPPIE stands for and still owning a few cassette tapes.

Of course, these could apply to any children in the UK who grew up in the decade of decadence.

However, if – like me – you were raised in North Staffordshire during those years, here’s my somewhat localised list which defines you as a child of the Eighties:

*You were annually enrolled on the Staffordshire Police Activities and Community Enterprise (SPACE) scheme which kept you out of mischief during the summer holidays

*Your were dragged to the 1986 Garden Festival several times in all weathers because your family had bought a season ticket and the thought of the Twyfords ‘cascade’ still makes you laugh

*You remember the brown and cream Sammy Turner’s buses but more often caught buses run by PMT (Potteries Motor Traction) and thought nothing of the connotations of the acronym

*You can’t remember what was on the site of the Potteries Shopping Centre before it opened its doors in 1988

*You viewed it a badge of honour to have survived a ride on The Corkscrew at Alton Towers

*You either went to Rhyl or Blackpool for your holidays during Potters’ Fortnight and ate cold toast on the journey

*You remember the city centre having two cinemas on the same street – The Odeon (now The Regent Theatre) vying for business with the cheap and cheerful ABC down the road

*You considered Fantasy World and Lotus Records the coolest places in Hanley and knew Bratt & Dyke as that posh shop your mum took you to when the sales were on or you needed a winter coat

*You bought a 10 pence mix from ‘The Outdoor’, including Black Jacks and Fruits Salads, and remember some of the sweets costing a tiny half a pence

*Your drank Alpine pop in a variety of radioactive colours delivered by the milkman

*You remember when our Spitfire was displayed in a big greenhouse outside the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and the best thing inside the building was THAT skeleton

*You recall Stoke City changing their manager more often than their socks and poor relations Port Vale earning a reputation as FA Cup giant killers

*You viewed Eric ‘Crafty Cockney’ Bristow and Ray Reardon as local celebrities – even though neither of them were actually from the Potteries

*You were amazed when a newsagent from Cobridge won an Olympic gold medal in Seoul – mainly because you thought hockey was for girls

*You partied at The Place, attempted break-dancing at Regimes, fell in love with Indie music at Ritzy’s nightclub and should have known better than to have been seen dead in Chicos

*You remember people having jobs at Shelton Bar, Royal Doulton and ‘down the pits’ and being told during a careers fair at your school that a job at ‘The Mich’ was a job for life’

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Courtesy is a rare thing in today’s selfish society

I’m a big believer in common courtesy.

The world can be a pretty grim, dog-eat-dog place these days and a little consideration toward your fellow man goes a long way.

Holding doors open for people or letting the miserable-looking bloke in the Vauxhall Astra join your queue of traffic on a wet Tuesday morning might just put a smile on someone’s face.

It’s actually quite cathartic and, what’s more, it costs you nowt.

The very fact that two regular bus users in the Potteries have taken it upon themselves to campaign for people with prams and pushchairs to be more considerate is a sad indictment of modern Britain.

It may not be an issue central to the forthcoming election, but it certainly gets to the heart of much of what is wrong with our society.

It is, presumably, the same reason why North Staffordshire’s very own Reverend Ian Gregory felt motivated to create the Polite Society almost a quarter of a century ago.

In 1986 he wrote: “British courtesy is a myth. It’s based on foreigners’ reading of romantic fiction.

“The reality, especially in our inner cities, is that we are heading back to the Stone Age.
“It’s simply appalling, the way people treat each other.”

Amen to that. Although I reckon things are actually worse in 2010.

Just ask Mary Milakovic and Jessie Jervis, who say they are fed up with being threatened and forced out of the way by parents transporting their pride and joys across the Six Towns.

Sadly, I fear their plea for a little more consideration – via a petition which already has more than 200 names – will just fall on deaf ears.

Why? Because unless bus firms decide to employ ‘courtesy conductors’ a minority of passengers will simply continue to act selfishly.

Bus drivers have enough to do without refereeing the aisles.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Increasingly, in recent years, we’ve seen The Sentinel’s letters pages peppered with complaints about mums barging the elderly and disabled out of the way with something akin to a lunar rover.

In response, more articulate parents have cited the fact that some pensioners feel they have a divine right to a seat and are generally rude and condescending to anyone with children.

What’s got into people? Surely it wasn’t always like this.

If memory serves me correctly, 30 years ago such behaviour on public transport was the exception rather than the rule.

When I travelled to Hanley and back with my mum on Sammy Turner’s or PMT buses, any breach of common courtesy would have been stamped on by the majority of passengers.

Nowadays, it seems apathy rules. People avert their gaze when voices are raised or conflict arises, allowing the yobs and the ladettes to call the shots.

The ignorance and inhumanity of those people continues to go unchallenged.

Let’s face it, there is a selfish streak that runs through some people like lettering in a stick of rock.

Nowhere is this behaviour more prevalent than on our roads.

Take, for example, the increasing incidences of ‘road rage’ or the abuse of disabled people’s parking badges just to enable some lazy drivers to leave their cars closer to the shops.

Then you have the drivers of more expensive cars who park across two spaces, depriving someone else of a berth in order that no-one touches their paintwork.

Or you have selfish parents who can’t be bothered to fold down their buggies on a bus so someone else may pass by them or have somewhere to stand.

I will always give up my seat on public transport for an elderly traveller, or a harassed-looking parent.

But it shouldn’t just be about the younger generations making sacrifices.

A sizeable proportion of senior citizens can be equally selfish and it wouldn’t hurt them if they occasionally got up off their backsides and demonstrated a little kindness to others.

After all, reaching a certain age doesn’t suddenly mean you are somehow more important than the next person.

It’s time we all took a stand against the not insignificant minority of people who think life revolves around them.

How else can we teach future generations the importance of civility and common courtesy if we tolerate such selfishness?

Fred Astaire, of all people, once said: “The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.”

He wasn’t just a great dancer, you know.