Twenty Years

I’ve been looking for the right location to get this shot for a while. I’d always been looking for a location outside of the station. There is an angle, but it’d require a panorama photo to get everything in, and a very distorted one at that. But I should have been looking for a spot inside the station. I found it today by chance. I strolled up to the very end of platform one, trying to get my ‘stand’ fitness ring to flick on another hour.

Within this photo is twenty years of my professional life. Sort of. Almost. If we are being precise, eighteen years and 10 months. If you want to start nit picking, then its about four years. I am standing on a railway platform, my employer for the last five years and eight months. But my role means I am not fixed to any single station. I move around. But I do a fair few shifts here. I feel that six months is a reasonable estimate.

To the left you can see a pair of canopies with blue strips around them. They belong to a petrol station. Once upon a time, it was owned by Star Service Stations Ltd, a division of Texaco. I worked for Star from 1996 through to 2005 when I fled to Mexico. Fled? Texaco sold all their Star sites off in 2005, most of them to Somerfield. I had no desire to be employed by Somerfield. Or Scumerfield, as we Star service station managers referred to them. I worked at the station in the photo from 2000 to 2001.

To the right of centre, in the background, is a large white office building. I spent about two and a half years of my four and half year long I4R career in this building. I mentioned I4R just days ago, with a photo of the building they occupied previously – the Chocolate Box.

The photo I really want to show you hasn’t been taken yet. It’s of my retirement pad, which doesn’t exist yet. But I’m working on it. Whether it is located in Mexico or in Portugal or elsewhere isn’t set in stone. I would hope that when I look back on my residence there, I can title the post Thirty Years. I’d settle for Twenty Years, I guess. The online ‘Guess Your Life Expectancy’ websites still take a dim view of my previous smoking habit, and suggest ten to fifteen years might be a more realistic target.


The Last Train

I turned up to work early yesterday morning. By early, I mean 6am. When the world is still in the pitch black of night, ice is trying to form on the car windscreen and if you see anyone about, he or she is most likely to be a fox. The chap scheduled to work the early turn wouldn’t be in, so someone was needed to go and open up. That someone happened to be me. It was a very strange shift. Surreal. Sad, even.

It’s the little things you notice that make you think. First thing we do when going into the office is to sign on in the week’s log book. Name, date, time. The chap who should have been in had his signature right at the top, scrawled in on Monday morning. A few hours after signing in on Monday, he called me on the phone to see if I could come in a bit early. He wasn’t well and was going to go home. I said I would. I’d seen him on Friday and he’d looked awful then. He had shivers and felt drained. Perhaps you’re thinking now, what I was thinking then. Given the current circumstances, he probably shouldn’t have been coming in for about a week.

On Tuesday I got another call, from management. Yes, he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Of course he had. By the time he’d gone sick, it couldn’t have been anything else. Management wanted the offices deep cleaned. I went in on Wednesday morning to let the cleaner in. He sprayed everything with some magic virus killing stuff. I did my shift. I went home. Mrs P and I went for our daily walk. We sat down to eat dinner. I moved my fork to my mouth. And my phone rang, a colleague and good friend was calling. It was becoming a bit of a week for phone calls. I answered and heard a very choked up voice on the other end of the line. “He’s dead.”

My departed colleague was part of the fabric of that station. He’d joined the railways 44 years ago, straight from school. He was mid 60s and otherwise fit and healthy. He cycled to work most days. And, plague permitting, he still played football. He was a staunch leftie and a great union rep. He was a genuinely good guy. I relied on him hugely when I first joined. Most people relied on him hugely on a permanent basis. He was looking forward to retirement with his wife. He was just waiting for the right moment.

He has a story to tell, but this isn’t it. It likely won’t ever be written down. But he just joined a lot of folk who get reported each day as a number on the covid scoreboard. That’s all we know of them, but of course they are more than numbers. Every number has a story behind it. A story that’s a lifetime in the making.

So there I am yesterday morning. Pottering about. Getting things done. Noticing all the little things. He will be missed, but there’s so much that remains behind. His green coffee cup is on the cup stand, where he left it on Monday. I finished my work and signed out, where he would have been signing out if things had been different. I looked again at his entry on Monday. You truly never know what each new week has in store, do you?

Stay safe.


Get Ready For Brexit

This week, the railway has been participating in practice sessions to prepare for the new Britain that will fully emerge from the Brexit process at the end of this year. We all recognise that it is important to be ready for a new, independent future. Britain will be a sovereign nation again for the first time since the 1970s.

In keeping with the 70s theme, the first thing we did was turn the electricity off. Just before 6am, the switch was flicked and we were plunged into almost total darkness. With disrupted energy supplies, higher prices for fuels and less cash to pay for the stuff, a key part of preparing for Brexit Britain will be learning to stand around in the dark doing nothing. I feel that my own performance in this regard was beyond reproach. Dare I say, I may excel in this new Britain.

The railways, of course, are all about moving people from A to B as efficiently as possible. Obviously we will continue to do so in Brexit Britain. But differently. With rocketing unemployment, commuters will mostly be made redundant and will no longer need to get from rural towns into the big city. They will instead be camped out in any dry spot they can find in and around the station, wrapped in soggy duvets, dirty blankets and cardboard boxes.

They will still need moving, of course. The lords and ladies who might still be able to afford to travel by rail will not want their senses and sensibilities assaulted by such blight. The pandemic and a recent rainfall has done an excellent job in mimicking the future Brexit Britain, and using a few broom handles, we forced the unclean heathen from their slumber under the canopies and back out into the dark, wet streets. Needless to say, broom stick handles aren’t really suitable for such a job. I’m told we will be properly equipped with electric cattle prods when the time comes.

I really don’t want to paint a picture that is all doom and gloom though. There will be some fantastic opportunities to expand and deliver new services in every industry, and that goes for the railways too. Grand plans are already being revealed to bring back old lines that were closed down long ago and Waterloo station may be one of the first to benefit.

The Necropolis Railway could return to active service to deal with the expected increase in dead bodies. Rising poverty levels generally have two side effects. Movement of people from rural to urban locations. And life expectancy rates take a dive. Maybe they’ll run competitions to name the trains. Brexit Express? Boris’ Body Burner? If there is a big post Brexit U.K./USA trade deal, maybe we’ll see the Chinese Flu Choo Choo, a Trump Train PLC company.

Brexit Britain. It’s just all so exciting and bold, isn’t it!