Time to Chill, Methinks
Good morning folks. Like David Cameron, my Muse has decided to go on holiday away from words like “recession”, “credit rating” and of course the time honoured phrase “Oh God, we’re fucked, I’m fucked, they’re fucked, we’re all fucked.” so if this latest episode in the Writings of a Fat Motorman make no sense at all, I must apologise – blame the global economy. Or at least the BBC for telling me about it. I am told that in such situations, ignorance is bliss – personally I’m not as happy as I’d like to be.
(Ooops. Break in narrative required: I must briefly chat to a former Wetland Centre colleague. It’s always good to catch up. What’s more she’s wearing a Pixies t-shirt. Potter approves very much of any tribute to Frank Black & chums…)
Now, where was I? Oh yes – the world is screwed, the financial markets are teetering on the edge of oblivion and I can’t find the Toblerone I bought last week. As you can imagine, it’s the chocolate I’m worried about. I really fancied a little triangle of chocolatey almondy yum last night and I couldn’t find it anywhere. After the last few weeks I could frankly do with a bit a chocolate. My absence from the Blogosphere hasn’t been entirely due to an inablity to find anything interesting to write about, though – and I can’t blame disappearing confectionery either. It’s been more a case of the blog coming a long way down my list of priorities. The first and the worst thing has been the death of a colleague.
A good friend of mine once told me quite seriously about why keeping my nose clean was so important on the railway. “It’s like a family, Potter”, he said in Bruce Forsythe-esque tones. “It’s a big family but a close one. Everyone knows everyone elses business and news travels fast.” And as it applies to people who cock-up (“Did you hear about (Insert-Name-Here) – you’ll never guess what he/she/it did”?) so it applies when something more traumatic happens. I finished a late shift a few weeks back and bumped into my friend Tony Baliss. Tony is a depot driver, as I used to be, and a chap I thoroughly enjoyed working with. “Have you heard about Rick?”, he asked me. “No…?” I replied. “The doctors say he has about 48 hours left.” I went cold. Rick Searle was one of the production managers at Wimbledon Park, charged with making sure all the maintenance work on a shift was carried out and that the empty trains for service departed on-time each morning and afternoon. He was a good laugh, decent to his staff and, after I had changed from Fleet to Operations, would always greet me with “Hello Harry – what have you broken this time?” Rick had been taken ill at work some weeks before: hospital had been involved and a fairly serious operation to remove something unpleasant from his digestive system had been carried out. But he was on the mend, and when I had asked after him I had been told that he was on the mend. I thought, we all thought, that he would be back to work. I was looking forward to accusing him of having skived off and generally poking fun
I walked straight across to the Fleet Production Office. The questions I asked were the obvious ones: “What happened? I thought he was coming back…” To be told that someone I admired and enjoyed talking to was two days from death was too much. How friends & colleagues who knew him better than I coped for those few days is beyond me. I walked off the yard in tears that night. Rick died, asleep and with his family beside him, two days later – thinking about it now, I can’t help smiling at that. Rick didn’t like things to be late. The family atmosphere that I had been told of came to the fore. Friends leant on each other, a reassuring word was never far away. The funeral was packed; I thought at the time that we might as well have shut the depot for the day. Everyone who could be there was there. Glasses were raised in public and private. I went home after several shandies and played Metallica’s cover of “Tuesday’s Gone” by Lynyrd Skynyrd – I think Rick would have approved. I shall miss him.
What else to report? Well, I finally managed to report a train defect that DIDN’T TURN OUT TO BE BLOODY WHEEL SLIP INSTEAD OF LOSS OF POWER. My train left Guildford and ran like clockwork – but at Clandon one of the units in my 8-car train went “Bang” and refused to take power. After a degree of swearing and button pressing, it came back to life but it pulled the same trick at Bookham “How cross-making”, thought Potter. I reported the fault via the wonders of CSR witchcraft, and 15 minutes later Control contact my guard to say “game over at Wimbledon, mate – you’re out of service and into The Park.” Normal sensible drivers would have dumped the terminated train on the sidings at Wimbledon and skipped merrily home signing “I’ve finished 45 minutes early, hooray!” I, however, am very much aware of my reputation for reporting traction faults that are actually not faults at all – much to my embarrassment – so I went straight to the Fleet Office and discussed the problem at length before wandering back to the traincrew block to write my report. I was relieved to learn that the unit I reported (5866, for the rivet-counters amongst you) has what Fleet call “a history.” This means that it’s gone bang before and they were keeping an eye on it. So I didn’t make any time out of it, but at least i had some peace of mind. Yesterday also saw my first and probably only experience of a Flashing Green aspect. Yes folks, you might expect them on the East Coast Mainline but not on the platform start for the Down Main Slow at Vauxhall – signalling this stretch for 140mph running might be coined “over optimistic” or indeed “just bloody silly.” It looked to me like the bulb was dying inside the signal. Using the invisble talking witchcraft radio I told Wimbledon ‘box that they had a signal on the blink** (their response? “Oh good grief…” in long suffering Charlie Brown tones). I daresay the S&T boys will have fiddled with said signal by now and made it all better.
I’ve been reading with some interest in the railway press (or as one of my colleagues would have it, “Potter Porn” or “Railway Wank Mags”) that a company in Derby are looking at upgrading the venerable Class 73 Electro-diesels for the 21st Century. I approve very much of this idea, although with one or two reservations. Since railway engineering guru Roger Ford is known to read this nonsense from time to time, I shall direct my questions to him – but if the rest of you know the answers, do please chip in:
- Will the Westcode valve & 27-way jumpers still work at normal?
- Are they going to leave the cabs “as is”; they are fine places to sit & watch the world go by.
- How much of the electric-end of the loco will be fiddled with?
- How much will it cost and can I have one for Christmas, please?
I’m rather fond of the Little EDs, and it’s a tribute to the team that drew up the original design in the 1960’s that their locomotives are still working frontline services today. For all the environmental and economic benefits of replacing the 1960’s technology, though, I’ll miss the thump & whistle of a four-pot diesel engine. The plan for attack, though, is to make sure the prototype works properly and then persuade the company that we need three Thunderbirds and that I should be allowed to drive them. After all, South West Trains exists solely to provide one thing and that’s Happy Potter Railway Playtime.
Hmmm… All of which brings us to today. Here am I , Rest Day Potter, sat in a cafe in Barnes tapping away at my keyboard to bring you all the latest boring railway wibble and sipping a rather welcome cup of tea served by a severe looking lady in a black dress. She doesn’t look happy, you know. Perhaps I ought to have changed out of my pyjamas before leaving the house, do you think? Perhaps wearing the purple ones with the gold frogging & fake medals was a mistake. Maybe next time I’ll just wear the gold satin catsuit…
By the way – if you use Twitter….
PS: 3417 is, finally, safe and well at Bournemouth. Rest assured The Old Girl is to be fettled back to top form in the coming months. More news will follow…
** – “On the blink…?” Get it? On the blink? A flashing signal? Blinking? See what I did there? Hello…? Anyone there…?