“Seeing those green Leyland buses sure does bring back memories from the good old days!” This is where my father’s story begins, one sunny Saturday while we were sipping coffee at a cafe in Bugibba. He took me on a journey to the 1980s, when we he was a light-hearted 12 year-old boy, still fit as a fiddle.
He reminisced on his days using Malta’s public transport, which were big, green-coloured buses known as xarabanks and tal-linja steered by Maltese drivers whom he jovially described as often “bis-sigarru tat-tlett soldi f’ħalqhom” - puffing on three penny cigars. Only costing three pennies, these Dougall Cigars, also known as Tal-Farfett became synonymous with Maltese bus drivers at the time.
He added that the drivers often displayed coarse manners. More often than not, these men left school at an early age to continue their fathers’ and grandfathers’ legacy. Despite their rough edges, however, with a smile on his face, my father described them as some of the most amiable people he has ever met.
He recounted the days where he used to take the bus number 55 to Valletta, driven by a guy nicknamed “Tan-Naw”. “The best place to sit was on the engine!”, my father exclaimed, “That way, your buttocks was kept warm in the winter, and you didn’t have to worry about sitting on an uncomfortable seat.”
The fare from Naxxar to Valletta was three cents five mills. However, the fare was not standard - the fare depended on the distance travelled. Different coloured tickets represented different fares. The only standard fare was that for children, which was cheaper than any of the adult tickets. Every village and town had its own Venda or terminus where bus drivers waited, earnestly, for people to come and fill the seats.
The buses were privately-owned by the bus drivers themselves. My father described how there was constant competition between the bus drivers. Each driver picked up as many people as possible; rules regarding the maximum amount of people on each bus were scarcely heeded.
With a huge grin on his face, Dad recounted how he used to give the driver a nudge when coming near his stop. This nudge meant only one thing: the “Tan-Naw” driver slowed down the bus, giving my father the opportunity to jump from the “staffa” - the last step and out of the bus.
As he jumped out of the vehicle putting his life in imminent jeopardy as the bus rushed over threatening to squash him, my Grandmother yelled at my father and his ruined shorts. And that is how the story aboard the green Leyland bus ends.