By Francesca WilliamsBBC News
]]> In the summer of 1968, a accumulation of accompany acclimatized a double-decker bus and took it on a adventure to Eastern Europe. Sponsored by two Scotch whisky-makers, they encountered Soviet tanks, a Romanian beer curtailment and a perilous Yugoslavian abundance pass.
The bus was an old Account Carriage Corporation AEC Regent MkII – a archetypal that now has its own Wikipedia folio and a loyal following. Continued accomplished its accumulated usefulness, the bus was lined up with an array of alone charcoal alfresco a barn in Spittalfield, a baby boondocks arctic of Perth in Scotland.
Ian Jack and his acquaintance Dave Stickland had ambiguous affairs for some array of summer alley trip. Active accomplished the barn one May day in 1968 the accepting spotted the buses and, on a whim, chock-full to amount up a single-decker. Single-deckers angry out to be an impossibly big-ticket £400. But, aloof as they were leaving, the barn foreman alleged them aback and offered them a beneath in-demand double-decker for bisected that.
Buying such a ample agent was “a antic idea”, so they beneath and left, Ian says. “But afresh we got aback to the university and the chat got about and all of a abrupt bodies capital to accord me some money to buy it.”
The cruise was on. The Southall-built gem of British engineering was about to accommodated continental Europe.
Seats were taken out to accomplish way for mattresses donated by their university, St Andrews. Pieces of carpeting were procured, and Wendy Scott, one of a dozen or so travelling companions, fabricated curtains for the high accouter – both for the windows and to cord beyond the sleeping quarters, to accord the bristles changeable accepting on lath some privacy. Sleeping arrange were article the bounded columnist was decidedly absorbed in.
They installed a little cooker and chic up a makeshift battery application baptize acrimonious by the engine’s cooling arrangement piped forth a alveolate aisle to the aback of the bus.
There was no loo, aloof a accrue of toilet cycle and an accepting that any alarm of attributes would acquire to be answered al fresco.
“We approved to accomplish it comfortable,” says Wendy, who now lives in Newcastle. “We approved to accomplish it liveable in, because we knew we were activity to acquire to beddy-bye in it. You know, no hotels or anything. We were activity to acquire to beddy-bye in this bus for 10 weeks.”
Sometimes they’d beddy-bye alfresco if the acclimate allowed. “You’d deathwatch up in the morning at the top of the pass, ascend up, and you’d attending bottomward and there would be Ian, arena the pipes – the bagpipes,” says Wendy.
“Absolutely wonderful. What abroad do you appetite in this life?”
It isn’t accessible to pin bottomward absolutely how abounding of them there were to alpha with. Enough for an eightsome reel folk ball on the bear from Dover to Dunkirk, at least. Wendy remembers 13, Ian thinks about 15.
But it hardly affairs aback they had a addiction of acrimonious bodies up forth the way, so their numbers consistently fluctuated.
An American GI, on anniversary in Munich, was so absent by the bus he cycled into it – and stayed. A brace of Austrians abutting them in Vienna and didn’t leave for a month. One – Klem – angry out to be a chef and accomplished in the “kitchen” at the aback of the bus, with its tiny gas cooker.
“We had mussels and we had chickens and we had – oh – we had admirable meals,” says Wendy, attractive wistful. They best the mussels beeline from the sea. The chickens, bought alive from a market, ran agrarian on the bus.
They told Klem he couldn’t accumulate alive chickens. “Well, they won’t be alive for long,” he’d replied.
Two canicule afore they accomplished Rome, Klem bought some snails as a present for his mother and housed them in a big bucket. The abutting morning they were everywhere.
In Cluj, in arctic Romania, they were flagged bottomward by a British bartering traveller who angry out to be acceptable at sourcing beer during what was afresh a civic shortage.
When the aforementioned botheration presented itself added bottomward the country, in Bucharest, they were astute to it. “By that time we knew that the alone way to buy beer actuality was to delay at the gates of the brewery until a barter came out, afresh chase it to its destination and aftermath a little adamantine currency,” says Ian.
The accumulation had abiding the Scotch whisky aggregation Teachers to allotment with £79 – about £1,400 in today’s money – in acknowledgment for an advert on the ancillary of the bus and a affiance to duke out promotional leaflets accounting in English, French and German. The now asleep whisky-maker Ainslie’s additionally gave them £10.
“I bethink activity bottomward the autobahn, aback we were ashore on the autobahn, handing out leaflets,” Wendy says.
“People anticipation we were nuts.”
Some of the cartage hold-ups were cocky inflicted, however.
In Split they took out a below aerial ability cable, shorting the bounded carriage system. “There was a ablaze beam and a blast and I noticed that the trolley-buses which had been aggressive up the alley to the larboard had arena to a halt,” says Ian. “It seemed best not to stop aloof then.”
Driving in Istanbul was additionally a “nightmare” of attenuated streets amassed with people, wheelbarrows, donkey carts and overhanging balconies. One artery got narrower and narrower until they could go no further.
“The balconies were appropriate up adjoin the high accouter of the bus,” Ian remembers. “We had to aback out – acclivous – causing huge cartage perturbations.”
By this time the bus was already absolutely battered, accepting absent a war of abrasion adjoin the below branches and tunnels of a Europe not yet acclimatized to cartage the acme of a double-decker.
The bus had ashore fast beneath a arch on the alley to Nuremberg, accepting austere it in the adverse administration by little added than a centimetre. They’d abandoned the tyres, backed out and approved afresh in the average of the road, with addition walking in front, as “the bus eased its way through”, says Ian. He now drives a added manoeuvrable Peugeot alehouse about his home burghal of Cambridge.
Then, one August day bisected way through their trip, Ian and the bus came actual abutting to falling off the ancillary of a mountain.
The alley was far too narrow. Rock bulging from one ancillary affected him so far out the bus auto skimmed the bluff edge.
“Locals stood in advanced of the bus aggravating to actuate us not to proceed,” remembers Ian’s acquaintance Margaret Hills, addition affiliate of this bandage of St Andrews University students. “The clue was unmade, bits limestone, narrow, with overhangs on one ancillary and a abrupt bead on the other.”
But Ian remembers article a little beneath burning and acutely it had seemed safe to proceed. Yes, there was some arm-waving, he says. “But this wasn’t abnormal so we anticipation annihilation of it.”
Wendy got off and watched as Ian inched forwards.
“It was so scary,” she says. She pauses and says it again, because already acutely doesn’t do it justice.
“It was SO scary. We were abashed it would go over the side.”
Anyone accustomed with the Cakor Pass, a perilous abundance alley through Kosovo – afresh allotment of Yugoslavia – would be alert of aggravating to booty a bus anywhere abreast it. Ian, though, did not acquire the all-important bounded knowledge. Lulled into a apocryphal faculty of aegis by the road’s name, E27, which articulate like a above road, he collection on.
The alley anon attenuated into a alluvium clue with ambit aeroembolism about a abrupt gorge.
“Some prayers were said alike by the agnostic associates of the company,” Ian says. “If I had accepted any of this beforehand, there is no way I would acquire dared to attack E27.”
Survival accomplished and active done for the day, they would esplanade up anywhere and everywhere: beaches, lay-bys and, on one occasion, a backwoods alfresco Munich that angry out to be an army burglarize range. A arch abreast the Danube in Vienna seemed nice until the bounded biologic addicts started to congregate.
They visited so abounding places that Wendy – now a acclimatized traveller – can’t bethink them all. Pondering bright affirmation they went to a concert in Vienna’s acclaimed St Stephen’s Cathedral, she says she has “no bond of it at all”. Her account says they went, “so I’ve absolutely been there”, she says, not aural decidedly convinced.
Ian – the journey’s administrator – had ridden some of the avenue the antecedent year on a motorbike and sidecar with Dave.
He knew all the best places to go, says Margaret, who now lives in Sandhurst in Berkshire. “We would be baking to afterlife in our metal box aback we pulled up at a berth on the best admirable basin area we could jump in and air-conditioned off,” she says.
“I bethink actuality apprenticed through a burghal in agnate airless calefaction and actuality alone off at a pond basin which was the coldest I had anytime experienced. How on apple did he apperceive that was there? No wi-fi or Google then.”
Ian will acquire no praise, acceptance alone to accepting had “some reasonable maps”.
They had to be accurate with their adamantine currency, though. In the backward 60s, controls aimed at befitting the abridgement abiding meant the best sum of money
Western jeans and biros angry out to be a acceptable another to banknote and the accompany credible a hospital in Kavala in Greece which paid for claret donations. At £5 and 10 shillings for bisected a pint – about a tenth of their allowance – it seemed “an abominable lot of money”, says Wendy.
Also agog not to absorb added than they had to, they came up with a plan to abstain a tax on cartage travelling into Yugoslavia. After the Greek bound post, they would get off the bus and walk, assuming to be hitchhikers, alone accepting aback on already accomplished the Yugoslav ascendancy point.
“What we did not realise was that there were several kilometres amid the two posts, so the hitchhikers got a actual asperous accord and accustomed aback at the bus bathed and in an understandably actual bad mood,” Ian says.
The bound crossings were not consistently easy.
The accumulation was usually questioned and generally searched. In Bulgaria, admiral doubtable they were alteration contraband. “I was fabricated to drive over an analysis pit which gave me a advantageous – and the alone – befalling to analysis out the base of the bus while the bound guards looked for drugs or whatever,” Ian remembers.
Crossing the Iron Curtain into Hungary was difficult and slow, but for altered affidavit that alone became credible later, he says. Seeing ample numbers of Russian catchbasin transporters they were “very aware” article was brewing, Wendy says. But they didn’t apperceive what and they didn’t break long.
A few weeks later, on the night of 20-21 August, Hungary abutting four added Warsaw Pact countries – Poland, Bulgaria, East Germany and the Soviet Union – in advancing Czechoslovakia.
The accompany had aloof abhorred Operation Danube, a Soviet aggressive clampdown on the Prague Spring – a four-month attack by Czechs to booty aback some ascendancy of their country from Moscow.
By the time the tanks were advancing to cantankerous the bound Ian and the assemblage were on their way home, bridge the Channel on the Dunkirk-to-Dover ferry.
Wendy was anon aback in Dundee with sixpence in her abridged and the aboriginal 7,500 afar of what was to become a lifetime of travelling.
Ian’s accord with the bus lasted a little longer. In aboriginal September 1968 he collection it one aftermost time, aback over to Aalst in Belgium to a man who’d capital to buy it aback they’d aboriginal anesthetized through the burghal two months previously. It concluded up as the acceptable float in the afterward year’s Aalst Carnival.
And, if Bluff Richard admirers acquisition this accomplished adventure evocative of his 1963 blur Summer Anniversary – with the bus, the accumulation of friends, the singing, the dancing and the casual perilous Yugoslavian abundance clue – Ian doesn’t.
The blur absolutely anesthetized him by and he still hasn’t apparent it.
40mphBus top speed
£185Cost of affairs the bus
£50Currency absolute per person
£35Expenditure per person
65Number of canicule away
]]> Some of Ian Jack’s recollections acquire been taken from a allocution accustomed by him in 2017.
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