Memories of schoolboy survival. Why the back of the bus was a dangerous place.

Forget having your head flushed down the dunny. It was the bus that terrified me on the first day of high school.

I thought of this, as The Teenager whined to me about her travel habits.

Granted, she embarks on a fair trip. It goes via the absolute longest route, as buses tend to do. And she has to get up early to catch it, which is difficult for one who believes there should be no resting before midnight.

She could catch a train. I drive past the station every morning. But because her friends prefer the road trip, it’s a more social occasion.

Her complaint was more about other passengers. Apparently, ‘weirdos’ find the bus a handy way to travel. I assume this includes anyone over 25, those in suits, and the unwashed.

If only she knew. Back in the day, we risked life and limb just to get on board. Terror for a 12-year-old.

This wasn’t a private school. Public and proud. Rough and tumble. We knew no different.

The bus company had advised that it would no longer carry boys and girls on the same vehicles. Too dangerous, apparently. So while young ladies compared nail polish on one bus, we walked the gauntlet on the other.

Older boys were always up the back. For early morning fun, they would belt the tripe out of the Year 7 kids. A ritual that had gone on for ages.

From day one, we were warned NOT to get on first. Do that, and you were a sure thing to be pushed all the way to the back seat. And that meant you’d be fighting in the opening bout.

The trick was to let someone else get on, while you fumbled for your bus pass. It was always overcrowded. With an ounce of luck, you would end up in relative safety, jammed up the front.

It didn’t always work. So you took your lumps. Character building apparently. I can’t remember anyone complaining. I guess we thought the consequences would be far worse the next morning.

The bus bouts were a good incentive to ride your bike to school. It took a while, but I finally convinced mum it would be safe. If only she knew that dodging morning traffic was a breeze compared to backseat beltings.

My second-hand bike was a beauty. It had high, up-turned handlebars. I thought that was incredibly cool.

What wasn’t cool, was when those handlebars broke. As I was rocketing down a hill. I looked like a trainee unicyclist, waving the former steering device madly in the air.

I crashed, of course. Laughter echoed around the neighbourhood. I had to push my now bent and buckled machine to class, minus large chunks of skin.

A few years later, life became easier. While others had bus battles and bike bingles, I cruised into the car park in my trusty old Kingswood. There’s something very special about a Senior driving to school.

My new mobility had other advantages. It gave me lunchtime options. And every now and then, that involved a quiet flutter.

As ludicrous as this sounds, I would drive a few minutes down the road, to the local TAB. In my school uniform.

It all went well, until the Friday I bumped into a geography teacher, cheering home a favourite. Nothing was said. We were both caught out. He didn’t tell, and neither did I. The education system was different back then.

No need to let The Teenager in on any of this. She has her own problems. Until she gets her licence, she can stick to the bus, weirdos or no weirdos. She’ll be fine. As long as she stays away from the back seat.

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