The Bringer of Joy

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Craig George shares his experience of driving an unusual and very festive Go South West vehicle

As I sit down to type this I can still hear a ringing in my ears, a big smile brightens my face and I have a new prized Christmas jumper in my wardrobe. What could possibly connect these three rare occurrences? Grab a mince pie together with a glass of something mulled and allow me to explain.

Getting the call from my friends and colleagues at Go Cornwall Bus at this time of year means that I’ve either got more Christmas light road closures to worry about or, much more excitingly, they are asking if I want to come and voluntarily crew their fleet number 469: an ADL E400 partial open-top.

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If you weren’t already looking at this very vehicle on these pages, you’d wonder what on earth could be exciting about an early Enviro400. However, as you can see, the engineering team at Go South West’s Plymouth depot have really worked some magic on this one! Magic is indeed the perfect term to describe this glorious and unashamedly festive spectacle on six wheels. As I arrived at the Scorrier depot of Go Cornwall Bus, I felt my face light up and I caught the first glimpse of the aptly named ‘Santa Bus’ sat on the wash, resplendent in its bright red paintwork alone. Whilst this is the natural reaction of this self-confessed ‘anorak,’ it is the first of an ocean of smiles this special bus will bring to many as the evening unfolds.

Craig George is seen with his son in his son Morley in his home village. CRAIG GEORGE











As I met the team from Go Cornwall Bus – Josh, Mel, Caroline and of course Father Christmas himself – I delicately washed the exterior to bring back the fresh glisten. I had to be delicate as the whole side and rear of the bus is clad in a second skin, to which a plethora of blue and white LEDs are attached to form the unmistakable silhouette of Santa on his sleigh flying through a starlit night. The rear hosts a waving Santa cartoon: his arm powered by a hidden wiper motor. Behind this second skin, the many wires and cables are stowed, which are connected to a bank of 5 ancillary batteries stowed in the covered portion of the top deck. These ancillary electronics are independent of the vehicle’s own charging system and are charged from the mains at the depot during the day. The upper deck also houses an incredible PA system (hence the ringing in my ears!) and a very effective oscillating snow machine. The lower deck, arguably more importantly, carries a healthy stock of sweets and confectionery.

With the crew aboard, a Go Cornwall Bus Christmas jumper and wooly hat commissioned especially for this event were thrust in to my hands and I climbed in to the cab. From that very moment, it is impossible not to smile: the bright lights glinting in your mirrors, the music pumping and a healthy Cummins power plant make for a uniquely enjoyable driving experience.

Alas, the Santa Bus does not exist simply to keep us colleagues entertained – it has a much more important job: to bring joy to the families of Cornwall and Plymouth and raise some funds for the excellent Childrens Hospice South West charity. Each night over two separate weeks the bus will visit various Cornish towns and villages on planned routes which are publicised on social media and the various Go South West brand websites – it is the sharing of these social media posts to local community groups and pages which spreads the word and builds the growing hype over this new local festive event.

An inflatable Christmas tree adds to the festive feel of the Santa Bus. CRAIG GEORGE











The four-hour route I piloted included Falmouth, Penryn, Truro and many local villages and communities along the way: taking in as many residential areas as practically possible in a vehicle of this size. Although I was pleased to have a healthy load of potential bankspersons, I successfully managed to negotiate housing estates, rural villages, stunning coastlines, town and city centres and a university campus without issue, all whilst the top deck crew greeted those lining the streets to see the Santa Bus and rewarding them with confectionery carefully thrown to the ground below.

What is most incredible of all isn’t the remarkable effort that has gone in to creating this vehicle, but the sense of occasion that it creates. Every person we passed, regardless of age, gender or race looked on in awe and gave a wave. If you ever meet my wife, she will assure you I’m not the kind of chap who has a history of being particularly comfortable around children, or indeed being particularly joyous in the festive season. Yet, this experience has left me a changed man – I was as shocked as anyone to find tears of joy running down my cheeks as I pulled up to a stop, opened the doors to reveal Father Chistmas himself to the waiting group of excited children of all ages: their faces full of nothing but pure joy, adoration and disbelief. I later caught myself dancing in the cab to ‘Last Christmas,’ much to the amusement of many!

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Go Cornwall Bus team for having me on board to drive this unique vehicle through my home town, but more importantly for bringing tangible magic to the local community.

Oh, and if you were wondering: Rudolph’s red nose is indeed a tail light lens!


The team from OTS and Go South West with 469.