elvis has left the school bus.

(Post by Paul Fitzpatrick, of London – February 2021)

For those of us that lived a fair distance from school the School Bus/Coach was a daily ritual that we took for granted.

My bus journey to secondary school was just under 3 miles and took about 15 minutes but like any daily soap opera it was filled with melodrama.

The transition from primary school to secondary school was always going to be a bit of a culture shock, one minute you’re a big fish in a paddling pool the next you’re back to being a tiddler in the Clyde, akin to a sadistic game of human snakes and ladders.

We’d known all summer that before we got to the ‘big school’ we would have to navigate the first bus journey, albeit we didn’t realise we’d be in such an agitated state due to the terror of the impending first day rituals that lay in wait.

It was clear we weren’t thinking straight when a few of us dashed upstairs as soon as the bus doors opened and headed to the back of the bus.

We learned a harsh life lesson right there.

We discovered with a bit of not-so-gentle persuasion from our elder brethren’s who had ambled up behind us to take their rightful seats, that there was a hierarchy in place, a hierarchy that we had just disrespected.

We moped off, in our pristine uniforms, abuse ringing in our ears past the smug looks of previous offenders, to find seats wherever we could. Our little gang of four, traumatised, alone and licking our wounds, realising that the first ordeal of the day had come a wee bit earlier than anticipated.

The regression from shark to stickleback had well and truly begun.

And so, the learnings began, with the understanding that Age, Status, Gender, Friendship, Relationships, Family associations, and Accessories (radios, sweets, fags, magazines, etc) were all part of the seating-plan pecking order.

As rookies we would need to start at the bottom like everyone else and navigate our way through the various trials and tribulations of school bus protocol for at least three more years before we could reach the hallowed ground – the seats at the back of the bus.

Music was a big part of our journeys to and from school and there were always girls with transistor radios on the bus.

The other sure bet was the radio station, Radio 1, there was no other choice.

So, for 2 years we had the ‘perpetually delighted’ Tony Blackburn to look forward to every morning before a strutting Noel Edmunds exploded on the scene in 1973 with his phone-ins, roadshows and penchant for troubadours and minstrels like Harry Chapin, Gordon Lightfoot and the like. 

It’s weird but I don’t seem to have as clear a memory of the DJ’s on the bus home, however I seem to remember Diddy David Hamilton, a blonde version of Tony Blackburn being one of them, and Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, an older version of Blackburn possibly being another.

If it was our misfortune back then to be limited to one radio station, then we were incredibly lucky to be around for what a lot of people consider to be the golden age of music, with iconic artists like Bowie, Roxy, Rod, Stevie, T-Rex and The Stones, prodigiously releasing new material on a loop.

In fact, it’s weird to reflect that we heard songs for the first time like – Jean Genie, Maggie May, Superstition, Jeepster & Tumbling Dice on a tranny radio on top of a double decker bus, taking it for granted that another great song would pop along in 3 minutes.

Of course, I’m painfully aware that I’m guilty of cherry-picking here because back then the reality was that for every Bowie there was a Little Jimmy Osmond, for every Rolling Stones there was a Wombles and for every Virginia Plain there was an Ernie (the fastest milkman in the west) – however we tend to have rose tinted glasses when it comes to our musical memories.

As the saying goes – you can’t please all of the people all of the time and there were a few guys, namely the prog-rockers, uniformly kitted out by their favourite Army & Navy store in parkas, with their statutory gasmask bags by their side bearing the logos of their heroes, the likes of – Groundhogs, King Crimson, ELP, Man and Yes.

You see these guys worshipped at the feet of the late-night DJ’s who played their ‘underground music’ and they were less than enthused about the Radio 1 playlist.

Therefore, it’s fair to say that the disgust was palpable every time a Donny Osmond or a Bay City Rollers song infected their ears, and the normal reaction was a communal burying of heads in that week’s edition of The Melody Maker.

A memory from the school bus that’s stayed with me down the years, is of one guy a couple of years older than us who had his own foible, he loved, no, it was stronger than that, he absolutely adored – Elvis Presley.

Now you’ve got to remember this was the hamburger-eating, jump-suit wearing Elvis with a paunch, who had become a bit of a joke, but to the big man, Elvis was a god, a hero to most (‘but he didn’t mean shit to me’, as Flavor Flav would later rap)

So, whenever an Elvis song came on the radio the big guy, who was a man amongst boys, would jump up in the aisle and croon along with the King.

The understandable temptation to snigger as Burning Love, or Suspicious Minds (2 great songs btw) were being annihilated was continually quashed by the memory of what had happened to one poor bloke on the bus, who like the Roman Guard in the memorable Life of Brian, ‘Biggus Dickus’ scene, couldn’t hold his laughter in any longer, and paid a terrible price for his impertinence.

You see, Elvis wasn’t the only one who had studied and practiced Karate, however just as our school-bus Elvis was just about to inflict damage on his tormentor that day, a wag from the back of the bus started singing in his best Elvis voice, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, the solo soon became a choir, and as the top deck erupted into a cacophony of song and laughter the big guy saw the funny side and joined in.

The next day he was back on the bus as if nothing had happened, and we all sat there for the 15-minute journey praying to the gods that there would be no Elvis played on the radio that day, fortunately our prayers were rewarded and for once we were quite happy to listen to Donnie & Marie, Showaddywaddy and some of Noel’s condescending chat.

To this day whenever I hear Elvis, I always think of our very own school bus Elvis and why it’s not a good idea to mess with the King.

One thought on “elvis has left the school bus.”

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