Aside

It’s not supposed to happen this way

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Today I have been mostly investigating the rules of irony. It turns out they are set in stone.

I had a slightly puzzling start with two spurious defects before I’d even got out of a siding. I say “spurious” but I’m not entirely sure. The trains have been acting funny lately with all sorts of things happening that shouldn’t. The current favourite game in the messroom is chucking around theories on what went wrong with particular trains and how to fix them. As I was alone in the siding I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off but I did spend some time trying to work out how the train could have been defective. For the first defect I couldn’t come up with anything mechanical. When you find yourself seriously considering the actions of a passing badger in the middle of the night you realise you might need a bit more coffee. So I had some and continued to think about badgers. It really was the only explanation for what was otherwise a logical impossibility. The second was a bit strange and I couldn’t fathom that one.

Once I got going the train seemed fine. I was met by a manager further down the line who informed me he was assessing me today. We regularly get assessed on various elements of our jobs and sometimes that involves a manager being present in the cab and sometimes just hiding out in the back. Depending on who the manager is it can be quite fun to have some company for a bit to distract you from the badgers.

Sometimes assessments require us to drive in and out of depots, stable trains or to drive or brake in a particular way to demonstrate competency. Today’s was more or less just about driving around so not very intimidating and I just got on with the routine. Routine is a pretty important part of doing this job – many mishaps are averted by learning to do something in one particular way and then doing it that way forever more. Getting taken off a train and put in a classroom to be assessed is more difficult because then I’d be trying to consciously remember automatic behaviours while being completely out of context.

We zipped up and down for a bit then pulled into the terminus. At which point I decided that although I only had a few minutes before I needed to get going again,  more coffee was a necessity. The assessing manager grabbed his coat, handed me mine as I got my bag and we shot outside to the coffee shop. As we wandered back I realised something was bugging me. Something about routine. But I wasn’t sure what it was.

I pondered over the last routine I’d gone through. Stop train, open doors, go get coat, turn key next to coat hook, grab bag, go get coffee…wait, that’s not what happened. That’s the standard routine but surely last time it went stop train, open doors, take coat from manager, grab bag, go get coffee? So…keys? Where are my train keys? Fuck!

Despite my manager maintaining that I’d definitely got my keys we got back to discover the train broadcasting an emergency alarm to the Controller. This is…unfortunate. And extremely embarrassing. I cancelled the alarm and shut down the train properly while I tried to figure out how the hell I managed to forget my key. It took me a while. Have you figured it out? Yes, I was thrown out of my routine by the assessing manager handing me my coat which meant I wasn’t near the key and forgot to turn it. So basically, I’d have passed that pesky assessment if I hadn’t been being assessed.

No, it’s ok, there’s too much paperwork involved for that level of irony. We agreed that it never happened. 😉

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Railway Law

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Today I had to invoke the second law of the railway. These laws were written by Passenger Action (with a little help from Aasimov) a while ago. I’ve repeated them here for you to see. And also to see what I think of the new version of the blog. The LJ one is still there and I’ll cross-post if I can figure out how to. Feedback on the look etc are appreciated!

1. A driver may not fuck up the railway or, through inaction, allow the railway to be fucked up.

2. A driver must obey any orders given to them, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3.  A driver must protect their own service as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Guess who is haunting me in the tunnels now?

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I haven’t been posting much lately. Partly because I’ve been busy with the Bloomsbury Pro Choice Alliance (whose glorious adventures can be found here) and partly because I’ve been placed in the Pigeon Stalkees Witness Protection Programme.

I live in fear for my very life.

We’re all in denial

I was amused to read the following on a colleague’s facebook wall. It seems we’re all in the business of vigorously denying any involvement:

Friend of Colleague: Severe delays this morning – what did you do wrong lol

Colleague: Was there? Nothing to do with me!

And there I thought it was just me who was routinely accused. 😉

I am Severe Delays. I think the NHS Bill is bad for patient care. Because I am Spartacus…

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I am not disabled. Generally I’m in good health. But when I wake up in the morning I can’t walk.

Since my late teens I’ve had arthritis. It is in many of my joints and this is a chronic condition. This will not go away or get better. Mostly I’m ok. Stiff in the mornings or after I’ve been sitting still for a while but otherwise not too bad. The first thing I do in the morning is most certainly NOT rush to get some coffee to wake up. I can’t grip well for a while so it’s best for me to not be handling containers of hot liquid. Not that I can rush anyway. I am not able to walk smoothly or properly co-ordinate my limbs for a while. It takes a bit of time until I can walk this off. Once I get my joints used to moving again they gradually get with the programme and return to normal. By the time I’m ready to leave for work you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong with me.

It’s not always like that though. This is a condition which comes and goes. Right now it’s bad. When I wake up I can’t stand. I’m lucky that it rarely hits all joints at once so I can push myself up to my feet and then use furniture to propel myself by supporting my weight on my arms rather than my legs. One of my heels is really painful lately so I can’t put that foot flat on the floor. This, coupled with the stiffness and loss of co-ordination means my balance isn’t good. More than once I’ve managed to get to my feet only to tip over and land straight back in bed again. And then I’m tempted to just stay there because I also experience a lot of fatigue when the arthritis is bad.

One day this is not going to ease off and let me function normally. My medical needs will slowly increase as things get worse. Over time my joints are going to be gradually damaged and at some point they are going to stop me from doing things. Because my arthritis is in the majority of my joints I don’t know exactly what this will be. I might lose useful functioning in a wrist or I might have longterm problems manipulating my legs well enough to walk. I might not stiffen up but could experience chronic, neverending pain. At some point I will probably not be fit enough to drive a train and if things get really bad then I may be unable to work at all. It’s not inevitable but these things are realistic possibilities for my future. And there’s quite a lot of future to have this happen in. This is not an old codger writing. I’m in my thirties.

It’s possible in the future I will require some help to have a normal life. I might need someone to go to the supermarket for me because I can’t walk that far. I might need to use a taxi instead of public transport because I can’t reliably grip the grab rails on a crowded bus. I might need help with basic housework because I can’t grip or lift easily. Yet all this costs money. People don’t clean your house or go to the shops out of the goodness of their hearts. Taxi drivers don’t live on fresh air. And if my future does turn out like this then I’m going to have to whistle for it because the current government wants to take away things like Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit and either reduce the numbers of people who can receive them or make them impossibly hard to get.

And then there’s basic medical care. I look at what Lansley and Cameron want to do to our health service with the NHS Reform bill (or more properly the Health & Social Care bill) and I fear for the future. The proposals are focused on losing a centralised system of care and farming it out to private practitioners. Private practitioners who don’t have to provide any kind of care they don’t want to. Currently healthcare can be something of a postcode lottery. That’s going to get much worse. The NHS Bill is not about reform. It’s about slash and burn and creaming off profits for private business. If the bill passes then the NHS as we know it will be dismantled and our future access to medical care will be very different. It will be costly, bureaucratic and reduce the quality of patient care with NHS patients being in direct competition for treatment with private patients.

Opposition to the Bill is not being tolerated. David Cameron’s recent emergency healthcare summit at Downing St was a farce. Only those medical bodies who tolerate it were invited.You can see Ben Goldacre’s excellent analysis of who was and who wasn’t invited here. And a doctor who openly opposes the changes is being threatened with disciplinary action for doing so. The mere act of adding his name to a letter condemning the proposed Bill has been said to be a breach of the NHS code of conduct. Other critics are being similarly silenced.

At the time of writing this the e-petition calling on the government to drop the health bill has over 156,000 signatures. It has already surpassed the 100,000 target at which the government claimed parliament would consider debating the issue. But every signature counts. Every single signatory is a person who lives in this country and who at some time or another will have need of healthcare. If you live in the UK then you will need healthcare too. Please sign it.

I’m a traindriver. I earn a lot and thusly pay a lot in taxes. And I’ve always been proud to pay tax in a country where we use that money to help those less fortunate. Not any longer because my taxes will be used to pay for needless cable cars across the Thames and sporting jamborees. They’ll pay for operations in one private clinic and partly pay for recovery in another instead of comprehensive, centralised, patient-focused care. I’d far rather my taxes were used to support those less able than myself and to provide universal, centralised healthcare that is free at the point of delivery. Just like I’ve always been promised.

I am Spartacus.

You are Spartacus too.

Dear London, I am leaving you…

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By the time you read this I will be gone. I’m sorry but I just can’t take it anymore. I’ve left you and gone back to my mum.

Things used to be so good between us. Things were warm and easy-going. Our lives were filled with flowers and birdsong. Now there is nothing but a frozen desert and a howling wind.

I’m not sure when things first cooled between us. I’m sure we were happy together until recently. I know I left you briefly at Christmas but that was only for a couple of days. I didn’t mean it to be a long term thing. But since I got back there has been a noticeable chill in our relationship. Where did that come from? How did this frostiness come about? I just can’t understand it.

So I have gone back to my mum’s where I got a lovely and (most importantly) warm Scottish welcome. How can my life be warmer here than with you? That makes no sense at all.

I’m not sure if I’m going to return to you. I’d certainly like to come back to you but that all depends on how you behave. I can’t stand this icy relationship we’ve been having and I want that to change. If you are willing to work at this then I’ll come back. Until then I’ll stay away.

It’s not me, it’s you.

Looking forward to the heat of our relationship to be restored,
Severe Delays

Snow Train Running

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The more alert among you may have noticed that the rain has been rather fluffy and white lately. And given that this is the south of England this has naturally caused all sorts of chaos.

Much of the line now looks like this. The rails are dry, the current supply is pretty steady and we don’t really have any problems. It wasn’t always this way.

This is how the rails looked before the trains ran on them:

Not a huge amount of snow but certainly enough to start covering the running rails. That’s not really enough to stop our trains running and we had trains out overnight to keep the rails cleared. We certainly struggled during the evening as the snowstorm made driving trains around difficult. But our biggest problem was transporting staff by road.

Taxis sent to take the late crews from sidings back to the depot didn’t turn up for hours as the drivers struggled in the snow. This meant the late turn traindrivers didn’t finish work until many hours after their shifts should have ended. Shifts are worked out carefully so that minimum times offshift are observed and the whole debacle meant that the late turn drivers had to come in later than usual the following day. LUL operate with a rolling shift system and this left us with a bit of a gap in drivers starting work.

Another difficulty was in people getting to work the next day. Most people in the south don’t experience snow very often and are woefully inexperienced at driving cars in it. People took it slow and ultra-careful and quite a number from more remote areas weren’t able to get in on time. And there was also the issue of this:

Yep, snow on the rails again. Although this is LUL track, the Train Operating Companies which use Network Rail track had exactly the same problems we had. Which meant that if our staff were travelling to work by train they had to wait patiently for the other TOCs to get their service up and running.

The stations had their own problems with snowy platforms. LUL’s current method is to have as few staff in a station as they can possibly manage. Often there will be only one person on duty. That person has to do all their usual duties regarding opening up, dealing with customer queries, ticket machines and information management and also to pick up a shovel and start clearing snow to make the platforms safe. It’s a big job for one person.

Of course, being the helpful person that I am, I spent a frantic ten minutes at the terminus “helping” to clear the snow.

What? It’s piled up out of the way isn’t it? 😉

I was only following orders, guv

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So I was rattling along last night happy as Larry when something went wrong with my train. Oh dear.

I’ve mentioned before that when we are in train-ing we often hear the phrase “that wasn’t supposed to happen” as trains break in inexplicable ways. Last night I gazed in puzzlement at the defect and then muttered the immortal phrase to myself. I won’t bore you with the details of the defect but will just say that it was an odd one that logic dictates should not occur.

As there was no safety issue I continued to rattle along while I tried to figure out a workaround to the problem. This was more of an intellectual challenge to pass the time than a real, pressing need as we had so few customers it was easy enough to explain what they should do (nothing) while the issue was happening. I tried a few things which didn’t work and as I reached the terminus I added another minor defect to my list of woes. I fiddled around and fixed the second issue though this meant leaving rather late in the other direction. And as I pootled along I tried something else and lo, it was fixed! Or rather it wasn’t. For as soon as I once more reversed and started driving in the original direction the problem reappeared.

Never one to be bothered by the idea of making a complete idiot of myself, I called the Voices. Although they haven’t all been drivers with experience of fixing defects they do always hear about what goes wrong with the trains and can sometimes offer some good suggestions. In this case I didn’t need advice but did need permission to do something rather drastic to the train – I wanted to kill it.

Some defects are best solved by doing what I call the Windows Option. Turn it all off and then turn it back on again. Trains are similar to PCs in that it can take a few minutes for the systems to be restored fully so killing the thing is not something we are encouraged to do. But as I had some time to spare at the terminus the Voice agreed and told me to keep him updated on whether it worked. So I duly committed foul murder and set about restoring my train to life. During which I just let customers (all three of them) board through the cab since I was too busy to mess around with doors. Heading off in the other direction I realised I still had the defect and called up the Voices to tell them.

I got a different Voice this time who asked me to give him the entire history of the defect. He hadn’t any other ideas but did check the train ID and realised this was a problem we’d had last week. The train had been returned to the depot to be fixed and either was ignored or had somehow become defective again. And while the problem was fairly minor on a wet Wednesday evening where there were only three customers who I could warn, it would cause plenty of confusion and delays on a Thursday morning rush hour. So the Voice did the sensible thing and asked me to take it out of service, dump it in the yard to be fixed and bring a better train back out.

This would be all well and good if it were not for the manager waiting for me on the platform to ask me details about the problem train. This is common when a driver decides to take a train out of service due to a defect. In this situation I’d have thought that if the Voice already knew what the issue was then they could fill in the forms but I humoured him and provided the general story before heading home. Today, I was asked to write a report on the train. I’m now really puzzled by the reaction to this because I only took the train out of service because the Voice told me to. As I was given no time to actually write the report I declined and this gives me a bit of time to come up with a fun scheme. I just have to decide whether to Nuremberg on this or to write something very, very silly. Ideas are most welcome. *weg*

Behold it is the most ironic Christmas decoration ever!

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Is this not the most ironic thing you have ever seen in your entire life? It is a number of tiny lamps fashioned into the shape of a Victorian lamp and hung on a functioning-albeit-currently-switched-off lamp.

TREMBLE at the potency of the irony!

This is stalking now, right?

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Do we all remember how earlier this year I wrote about this guy?

Well he’s back with a vengeance and it seems he’s no longer so circumpsect. Lurking on a windowledge in the dead of night is clearly for amateurs. He’s now spying on me in broad daylight! This leaves me wondering what it is that I do that is so fascinating to pigeons.