Today – which is Bank Holiday Monday – offered the chance to visit Birmingham's two transport museums and to travel between the two of them on buses you would normally expect to see in a bus museum. This one event was the sole reason for my being here today. Let me explain.
Now, I'm a real sucker for museums and transport museums are a particular favourite, so the opportunity to visit two of them in one day was probably a good enough reason to be here. And the possibility of a curry, of course – this is, after all, the home of the balti (I may have mentioned this already).
But the opportunity to travel on real museum pieces was a huge bonus and an experience that doesn't come along every day. Plus I was keen to see and meet bus enthusiasts up close and chat to them about transport and stuff.
Oh. Big mistake.
I arrived at Aston Manor nice and early (in fact, it was before they'd even opened, but they still let me in... easy-going bunch, these bus enthusiasts). I soon got chatting to one of the museum helpers, but as soon as he realised that I hail from the North East of England, he immediately launched into an extremely technical and detailed conversation about Bristol REMH's, after first admitting to me that "...he'd always been a Bristol man" and had even lived there once.
This was all slightly disconcerting. I hadn't a clue what he was talking about, yet he clearly thought that I was just as knowlegeable as him. However, before I had a chance to commit a major faux pas by telling him that Bristol's are all well and good but I was personally more a leg man, it slowly began to dawn on me that we were actually talking about buses. So I quickly slipped into MRM (Male Recovery Mode) by starting to nod, smile and generally "ah, yes... ah-ha, well now..." in a non-committal sort of way in a bid to keep him going whilst I figured out what the hell we were talking about.
Incidently, and I probably shouldn't be giving this away, but this is a technique practised by most men, usually on their womanfolk. Blokes can find the "ah, yes... ah-ha, well now..." technique very useful for covering up the fact that whilst their wife was explaining something terribly important about, say, next door's washing machine, they were in fact thinking about what that weathergirl off the telly would look like in just her underwear and a pink duffle coat. So when said wife then proceeds to seek the husband's perspective on, say, next door's washing machine, he can use this technique to flannel about convincingly for a bit whilst he picks up enough clues from his wife to make a reasonable stab at an answer.
Anyway, I finally figured out that this gentleman was referring to the long-distance coaches that I used to travel on to London as a child, so after exchanging a few personal anecdotes we eventually parted on good terms. But it was a close-run thing.
And it illustrates an important lesson on the dangers of speaking to any kind of enthusiast – unless you really, really know your stuff, I mean right down to chassis numbers and engine specifications and moquette variations, you can quickly get out of your depth.
In fact, the same thing happened to me again later in the day when I shared a picnic table with a father and his teenage son. It was a simple enough conversation, but I was totally floundering within seconds. Thank God they didn't ask me any questions...
Whilst Aston Manor Transport Museum was fairly big – it has previously been a corporation tram depot - the museum at Wythall was a lot bigger and rather well laid out. The main exhibition hall was carefully arranged by period – the 30's, the 40's, that sort of thing – with loads of well-written and helpful information panels for idiots like me. Outside, there were two other hangars full of buses, some preserved, some less so. And some a lot less so!
There was also a collection of electric milk floats and other vehicles to look at, plus there was an exhibition of model buses from a local modelling group. There was even a little steam railway in the grounds.
What was common to both museums, however, were the trade stands selling all manner of model buses and other vehicles, books and videos about buses, photographs of buses and bus jumble – cap badges, mechanical items, bus tickets, that sort of thing. These all seemed very popular.
Eventually, I caught an elderly Daimler double decker back into Birmingham and even though the bus was more than 50 years old it was a pretty smooth ride – at least as smooth as some of the more modern buses I have used on this trip – though a little slow on the hills.
So, it was an enjoyable day even if I was afraid to speak to anyone. It's been a pleasant enough day off, but the journey to John O'Groats starts again tomorrow and, if I'm honest, I'm itching to get going again.
And tomorrow starts with a tram ride...