So it was in the news over the last week that Tim O’Toole is quitting. The commentary on this has been interesting.

I’ve met him a few times I think. I say ‘I think’ because he’s an oddly background person for someone in such a position. I remember being introduced properly and I know I’ve been around him at least one other time but possibly a few more. He always struck me as a reasonably nice chap and that’s probably been the key to his success. In footling around the various rail fora and news sites I’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone saying the equivalent of ‘Thank goodness that guy is going! He sucked!’. There’s been a bit of idle speculation in the press but that’s fairly normal when any Chief Numptie of a large company or public body leaves.

Mr O’Toole seems to be genuinely liked by those who work with him. This is no mean feat. LUL is a vast organisation which interacts with many, many others. Network Rail, TfL, Aslef, RMT, TSSA, the London Mayor’s office, Borough officials, the LGA, all the political parties and the incumbent government not to mention the various passenger groups and the various divisions of LUL itself. None of these groups seem to have a bad word to say about him and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard of such a high-profile figure being so generally well-liked. The man is clearly some sort of genius and it’s entirely possible we need to be offering him a job with the UN.

Quite what that job would be, I’m not sure. I’m not even sure what it is he does for LUL, hence my resorting to the ‘Chief Numptie’ descriptor. The times I’ve seen him or met him he’s been going round various depots or stations to see what’s going on. I think that’s quite admirable in a Chief Numptie and I bet that the CN of somewhere like BT doesn’t occasionally just pop down to the corner to see if the phone box is in good nick. Typically, Chief Numpties are off doing Important Things and neglect the obvious point of checking whether things work as they are supposed to.

What the LUL Chief Numpties do is a bit of a mystery to me. We have several different types and I’ve never been clear who does what or why they do it or who reports to whom. Broadly-speaking it doesn’t matter that I don’t know but it is something I’ve pondered whilst trundling up and down tunnels. What do Chief Numpties do all day?

I imagine there are a lot of meetings. And probably conference calls and suchlike. Status updates regarding various projects are most likely a given. But otherwise? What do they do? One part of me can only get as far as thinking ‘well they must authorise things’. But then I get stuck because really that’s just about signing bits of paper. They wouldn’t have to do any of the research for a proposal, they probably wouldn’t even have to come to a decision on most of them. Good Chief Numpties have people to do those sorts of things and whatever comes the Chief Numptie’s way has probably been through a fair few committees and by that time is probably a fairly reasonable solution to whatever the current issue is. So Chief Numpties sign things – except isn’t that what PAs and secretaries are for? So what do Chief Numpties do then?

In my speculative trundling I have, at times, imagined wholly different versions of being Chief Numptie. That it’s not a nice job where you have to think about things and find solutions to problems. That it’s a position where you are trapped into going to an office each day and having to pretend to be doing things. If you do not pretend sufficiently well then you’d lose your job, credibility and status. Every day is 1984 but there’s no way out. So each day the Chief Numptie dutifully goes to the office and grapples with the increasingly-limited internet access and plays solitaire. I’d bet that he’s got his computer set up so that you can’t see it from the door… In this version it does not surprise me any that the Chief Numptie would choose to visit the places where the actual work gets done. It’s probably the only unsupervised time he would get.

But this imagining still does not answer the question of what the Chief Numptie does for a living. We have a system whereby we (allegedly) get regular performance reviews and the opportunity to ask for any training in any area of the business that we think we want to progress to. This can involve shadowing a person who does that job so that we can see if we have aptitude or would like it. I sometimes wonder how the conversation would go if I asked to shadow the Chief Numptie for a day:

‘You want to what?!’
‘Shadow the Chief Numptie.’
‘The….Chief Numptie?’
‘Yeah, Tim O’Toole.’
‘You want to shadow Tim O’Toole the [insert actual job title here]?’
‘Yeah, I think I’d like to be Chief Numptie one day.’
‘You’re a traindriver…’
‘Yeah but you gotta have ambition.’
‘I don’t think you can progress from traindriver to Chie…er…[insert actual title here] in one go.’
‘I know that. There will be other grades in between. But there’s no point setting out on that career path if it turns out I don’t actually like the job of Chief Numptie is there? Be reasonable.’
‘Er….I suppose not, no.’
‘So can I shadow the Chief Numptie then?’
‘You wouldn’t like to, say, visit the control room and see what the signallers do?’
‘Nonono, I don’t think I’d make a good signaller. Can I not apply to shadow the Chief Numptie then? I thought we were allowed to explore any area of the business in which we had an interest?’
‘But you have no idea what the job is. You don’t even know what his actual job title is. How can you say you want to explore doing a job when you have no clue what it is?’
‘So is that a ‘no’ then?’
‘*sigh* Ok I’ll put in a request. You probably won’t get it though. Was there anything else?’
‘No, that’s all I want. Drive trains and then progress to Chief Numptie.’
‘Ok then. Well your performance is good but stop turning up late and why do you never wear a name badge?’
‘Nobody ever gave me one.’
‘Well I’m marking you down for it, now go away, I need to work out how to word this request.’