1. Cold Tea
My first job on the railway was fireman
on steam locomotives
on British Railways for the summer of 1961. The
electrification of the line from Shoeburyness to
The regular fireman welcomed me with open arms – then left! So there I was, only just knowing which end of the shovel to use. In fact, it wasn’t very difficult bearing in mind that we had only to move the passenger stock through the washing machine to get them ready for their next duty. The biggest problem with the fire was not putting on too much coal because the safety valves made a lot of noise. The switchmen were on the driver’s side so I had nothing to look out for – although I had to hold on for the unexpected changes in direction and to keep my head in when we went through the car washing machine.
The engineer spent most of the time in the cabin looking at the page three girls in the tabloids but when he was in the engine he seemed to be behaving strangely. He was a medical case who had been restricted to yard work but then I noticed that he was drinking copious amounts from a whisky bottle which he kept behind a couple of steam pipes just in front of him. As the shift wore on he became more and more erratic and I was happy when our relief arrived and I could go home.
Next day, when I signed on I saw the fireman who had made a bee line for home as soon as I arrived on the scene the previous day. He asked me how I had got on and I told him alright but I was concerned at the antics of the engineer. He laughed out loud and said.
“Old Bill’s always behaved like that since his accident and don’t worry about the scotch bottle – it is just cold tea without milk that he keeps in a whisky bottle”.
His words reassured me but I have never
convinced that there wasn’t something stronger in the bottle.
2. The Strike
My first management position on British
Assistant Station Manager at
The water at
Time passed and still no new kettle. Finally, one day the Foreman walked in the office after a particularly bad day and said:“That’s it we are going on strike until we get a new kettle”
There then followed a heated discussion at the end of which (somewhat) cooler heads prevailed and we were given a little time to produce a new kettle.The great day arrived and the Station Manager visited the shunters’ cabin specially to deliver the brand new kettle. Everyone was happy and we all enjoyed the first cup of tea from the new kettle. However, there was one problem. The cabin was small and the old kettle seemed to take up almost half the floor space. How to get rid of the old one? Just at that time a freight train was passing slowly on the station avoiding line. We all rushed outside and threw the old kettle into a passing empty gondola.
A little while later I was chatting with a conductor who mentioned casually:
“You know, the tea doesn’t taste as good with that new kettle. I preferred the water from the old one”.You can’t please everybody.