Greetings dear reader. Once again we gather so you can hear me talk about myself. Sometimes I wonder what it is that fascinates you about my life but then I realise that my life isn’t fascinating, just distracting.
This weekend is a big anniversary for me. On Sunday, I celebrate 25 years in my current job. Yes dear reader, Sunday marks 1/4 of a century of my life devoted to driving trains for the NSW Government. That’s the longest amount of time I have spent doing anything (other than being alive of course) without getting bored and moving onto something more interesting. Believe me, there have been days when I’ve woken up at stupid o’clock in the morning wishing I had a more stable career, but I figure that everyone has those kinds of days.
Driving trains is actually the one thing I always said I wanted to do when I was a kid. Everyone else wanted to be a policeman or nurse or whatever and out of all the people I still know from those days, only I seem to be doing what I said I was going to do. Sometimes, following a dream does work out.
My eventual permanent arrival into the railway system was actually my 3rd or 4th attempt at it. Back in 1982, I applied to join the railways as a station assistant a couple of times and failed the maths portion of the entrance “exam” – by exam, I mean 5 words that needed spelling and 5 maths problems to be solved.
I am fucking terrible at maths.
So eventually, I managed to overcome this problem and ended up on the railways towards the end of 1982. This lasted a grand total of 4 days, the shortest amount of time I have ever been employed to do anything. My interest in driving trains led the powers that be to place me in a signal box at Enfield goods yard (Enfield South Box) as a telephone boy. My job was to answer the phone when drivers called in to find out where they were going and record this in a register. It also was doing general dogs body work as well. Unfortunately, the signalmen who worked there didn’t care too much about teaching me what my job entailed with one of them simply stating “If you don’t learn what you have to do by the end of the week, you’ll be fucked when you’re on night shift next week”.
Yeah, that’s gonna motivate me for sure. Next stop, unemployment.
Okay, so i wussed out and spent a year unemployed. Fast forward to November of 1987 and I’m working the Department of Social Security (DSS) in Sydney and my section is about to close down and I am expected to go do shift work in the computer centre. I figured that if I have to do shift work, I might as well take a stab at getting my dream job again. The exam was a tad harder this time, but my 4 years of office work prepared me for what they wanted and I also managed to pass the medical and got an interview with a really nice guy called Maurice Johnson who was in charge of the Drivers section of the training college at the time. I must have said all the right things because he told me to turn up at the college on January 27 1988 to start my training.
Side note, Maurice was one of the nicest people I have encountered in my 25 years on the job and I will always be thankful that he saw something in me that told him I’d be an asset. He now runs his own training company.
Anyways, after 2 weeks of initial “safeworking” training with an inspector who may (or may not) have had a nervous breakdown at some stage in his career, and an oral exam with an examiner who actually seemed to answer all of the questions he asked me himself, I was sent off to a place called DELEC which was the locomotive depot attached to Enfield goods yard.
Yes, fate had returned to the place of my defeat in 1982. I also managed to re-acquire my old employee number as well.
18 months of shunting yards, being the second person on main line trains (occasionally driving them too) and being treated with disdain by some of the older drivers because I had the audacity to be regular mates with a “scab” from before I even joined the job saw me ready to take the examination to proceed to acting driver but I elected to transfer across to the suburban network (ETR).
Initially, the ETR was to be a one year gig to get my appointment, then head back to the freight so I could transfer to Dubbo where I had bought some land. Unfortunately, they changed the rules and I got stuck for 5 years. In the end, that wasn’t such a bad thing because I got a social life again and made a lot of new friends. That’s the one thing I found about my time on the freight – I met a lot of people but didn’t get to know them or become their friend. Most of their names were “Mate”.
Now I am what you could call a “Senior Driver”. In my depot at Blacktown, out of 70+ Drivers, I am about the 15th most senior. Nowdays, the only thing that means is that I get to lord it over the “junior men” every now and then (in jest of course) and it allows me to appear wise in the eyes of the newbies should they see the need to actually talk to anyone. In reality, it means that most of the people who are in a managerial position are people I either knew as Drivers or were simple functionaries when I started but have somehow managed to bluff their way up the ladder (sign on clerks and failed guards as supervisors and managers? I’m soooo scared).
So, on this anniversary weekend, I can sit back and reflect on how the past 25 years have changed me in some ways but at the same time, it has reinforced in me the importance of remaining the person I was all those years ago. There is so much bureaucratic bullshit involved in doing the job nowdays that you have to turn off the part of your brain that acknowledges it and just do the job. As I was telling a newbie driver the other day, you do what you have to do today and worry about the consequences tomorrow. At the end of the day, the traveling public is what our job is all about and no management directive will ever change that in the eyes of us career Drivers.
I have about 14 years to go before I retire and I am sure to see a lot of changes in that time. Judging by the last 25 years, I’m going to see a lot of change that is just going to make me say “what the fuck?”, shake my head and just keep doing what I do best. On the other hand, I can say that I have at least 14 years of doing what I enjoy plus I get to be a pain in the arse to everyone I work with because that’s who I am.
Trivial Fact 222: Due to staggering inflation in the 1920′s, 4,000,000,000,000,000,000 German marks were worth 1 US dollar – yet you still couldn’t get a decent bagel for that price.