A long life gives you a varied and cosmopolitan view of transport. It is so changing so variable, so frustrating in its illogical way.
When I was younger during the war years, transport was limited to the public kind, buses and trains. Buses took me to school, took Mum to work otherwise we had to walk. Other than buses there were trains. Trains were far more exciting. They went to more interesting places, such as London where my Dad commuted every day.
Our world was very centralised around home. We lived a mile or so from Farnham, where I went to school at East Street School, which was on the eastern end of the town. Another few hundred yards on was the main shopping centre, West Street and The Borough, off of which was Downing Street where Mum worked in a Walkers Stores grocery shop. The Borough was where we caught the bus home at night after school, because we walked along East Street to the shop each night then went home with Mum after she finished work. Dad worked in London and he came home most nights after six o’clock. We travelled on the number 14 bus that in those days went from Aldershot to Winchester every hour.
Dad caught the train at Aldershot early in the morning after a long brisk walk from our home at Heath End to the Railway Station there. None of us had a bike and strangely enough my Mum never learnt to ride one. She was funny that way, she would have been more at home if modern inventions like the bicycle, the car, escalators and lifts had never been in invented. She didn’t understand them and was consequently petrified of travelling on them. Buses were O.K. but only just. I remember once she nearly had a fit when the bus driver took his hands of the steering wheel to comb his hair, the bus was probably stationary at the time!. She was up out of her seat and banging on the glass partition that separated the driver from the passengers to get him to be more attentive. She then protested long and loud to the bus conductor who embarrassed by this outburst was clearly hoping we wouldn’t be travelling far with him.
Because we so rarely rode in a car we were unaware of the correct etiquette in doing so. After the War when we were permitted to go on holiday again our once a year trip in a taxi would take place. It would be from home to the station and from the destination station to the holiday accommodation. Everyone in the family would be embarrassed not knowing whether we were allowed to talk in the car while we were being driven or worse still if conversation with the driver was permitted. Our journeys in taxis were therefore endured in utter silence or rarely in self conscious whispers. Dad was left to conduct business with the driver and handle the luggage. Mum and us boys were mute and invisible.
All this changed when my brother and I were given bikes. Learning was easy as the road we lived at that stage was level and not frequented by many vehicles. It was many years before the ownership of cars by the ordinary citizen became possible. If our road was used by vehicles they were mainly delivery vans plying their goods at a very slow place along the street. The baker in fact used a horse drawn van for a very long time. The Milkman came so early in the morning on his electric milk float that he was never a threat, the Grocer, the Coal merchant, Rag and Bone Man were easily avoided and the French Onion man travelled by bike too. So our wobbly beginnings were unimpeded by traffic and confidence was soon reached.
Later cycling opened up the countryside for us as we were able to explore the whole of the environs of Alton where we then lived up to about 15 miles radius. Our passion in those early teen years was train spotting and having done our dash with the local shunting engines and boring electrics, we went further afield to Basingstoke, Hook, Winchfield and Farnborough to sight these denizens of steam that were like the dinosaurs soon to become extinct. With our Ian Allen check list of locomotive numbers we hoped the next express train to pass by was hauled by a locomotive not sighted before.
Train journeys too after the War were great broadeners of the mind. Travel in wartime was a problem especially in the early years when the bombing of London resulted in many delays to schedules. It was exciting then to visit the capital, because that was where Dad worked and we boys were fascinated by the crowds, the traffic, the noise and the dirtiness of the place as well as the destroyed and derelict buildings to show what war really meant. London as I remember it from those days was a damp and grey world, almost like a nether world of strange sights and sounds that were quite alien to our cosseted way of life forty miles away.
At the war’s end train travel meant holidays, new adventures, sunshine and the blessed release from the normal way of life. Most of the south of England of my childhood was serviced by the ubiquitous Southern Electric trains. Generally they were comfortable, fast, smooth conveyances that we should have been really proud of. We were not! Our fascination for steam meant that these trains were boring and as more of our holidays were spent on the South Coast we had no option but to suffer trains without steam engines to haul them. Luckily we spent one holiday on the Isle of Wight at Sandown in 1950. The trains there were all old steam tank engines of great vintage. That holiday we spent much of the time exploring the island by train which was possible back then. Us boys were delighted and mother was calmer as she couldn't see the driver!