One thing I could always do was spell. From the earliest age I can remember, I would look down my nose with all the supercilious smugness of the insufferable teacher's pet that I strove to be, as the other children put their 'e' before their 'i', allowed a silent 'k' or 'w' to slip away undetected, or were in two minds over which 'too' to resort to.
But I have finally been outwitted by the residents of Winchester. From the start of this week we have been operating a short term contract for Hampshire County Council, providing local routes 2 and 6a in Winchester until June. The 2 is easy. Oliver's Battery and Badger Farm hold no fear, but the 6a has me beaten!
It goes to Abbotts Barton, but in my mind - no matter how hard I try to train myself - it goes to Abbots Barton. Even though a simple glance at the map reveals the truth, and the tender documents and existing publicity reinforce the point, I cannot bring myself to double that 't'! Every time I write it, I write 'Abbots' and then - if I'm lucky and remember - go back and correct it.
I don't know why this should be so. It has something to do with the poor, innocent people of Abbots Langley, a Hertfordshire village that I served at the first bus company that gave me a home - the late, great Buffalo Travel. I must have read and written 'Abbots' so many times on official forms, in publicity and probably replies to complaint letters that I have that spelling firmly embedded in my mind.
(As a complete aside, in Buffalo days I once registered the evening service on route 344 through that village entirely in German - von Hemel Hempstead Busbahnhof nach Croxley Green Reptonweg ueber Watford Exchangestrasse - and the then Office of the Traffic Commissioner accepted it!)
To my shame the timetable leaflets refer to Abbots Barton, because I drafted and proof-checked them and failed to spot it. I only realised today that the website referred to Abbots Barton throughout, and even now the Bright Tech destinations on some of our Darts show '6a Abbots Barton' because I programmed them.
Luckily the Mobitec kit on the Solos that we are actually using has been programmed by our Commercial Assistant Mikey, and he has no such hang-ups. Indeed it is he - displaying the full condescension of one half my age and twice my ego - who has gleefully pointed out most of my slip-ups so far! He has also designed the roadside publicity which is equally correct and has attracted much favourable comment.
So all is not lost, but I'm getting to the age where old habits are hard to break, so I apologise in advance if the odd Abbot manages to slip through the net in the future! If it gets too bad, I might just have to Hyde!
The good news is that the new routes have started off extremely well. Timekeeping has not been the issue we were told to expect, with both routes running comfortably to schedule, and early passenger numbers are exceeding expectations.
Hopefully we are also exceeding theirs - certainly many positive comments have been received about the vehicle, the publicity and the drivers. Steve and Geoff are the regular presenters, backed up yesterday and today by Mikey doing the 'meeting and greeting'. Indeed for a while today all three were on the bus together, outnumbering the passengers at times.
During today's brief period of triple manning, Steve (or 'Scooter' as some of his former colleagues might apparently recognise him) managed to escape for long enough to take this rather nice shot of 222 pausing at Winchester Station on its way to Badger Farm.
The 6a also appears to have its own Les, which will no doubt add interest and colour, and it is already clear that the regular congregation have their own interpretation of where the bus is required to stop, which bears little resemblance to such trivial issues as where there happen to be signs on poles saying "bus stop"! But these are the kind of routes we love, and we look forward to being of service to our new Winchester clientele for some time to come.