I spent an enjoyable two weeks at Webb House, a Training Centre in Crewe. Going down for my first breakfast, at one end of the Dining room was a long table
filled with every conceivable packet of cereal, jugs of milk and to my great delight bowls of grapefruit. Seizing a bowl I sat down at my table and devoured the fruit. One of my five companions nudged me and nodded to another table. One person had a bowl not unlike mine, but he carefully spooned a portion of fruit into an empty bowl and handed the grapefruit to the next person. I had eaten enough for six people!
Senior Conductors normally worked Sleepers and High Speed Trains. An H.S.T consisted of eight coaches - five Standard Class, two First Class, a Buffet and a Power Car and Guards Compartment at each end. A Sleeper train was twelve coaches in length, made up of four Standard Class and two First Class Sleepers, a Lounge Car, two seated coaches, two motorail vans and a Guards van.
Part of the equipment a Senior Conductor carried was a carriage key. This is a T-shaped piece of steel with a tapered squared end. It is useful for opening and closing numerous compartments and doors on trains. I carried mine in a pouch attached to my belt. One day while working an H.S.T from Edinburgh to Perth I proceeded to walk through the train. A tall, well-built woman was standing in the aisle talking to a seated passenger. As I approached she leaned over to allow me to pass. There was not much room and as I squeezed by her, I saw to my horror that the carriage key had been caught by her skirt and was pressed very firmly between her buttocks. I made an effort and pushed past her, ready to duck, expecting a scream and a slap from the outraged woman. What I did get was the biggest smile that I had seen in a long time. I didn't know whether to boast or confess - in the event I just blushed, said nothing and left her guessing.
Again working the H.S.T from Edinburgh to Perth, we were running about twenty minutes late. I'm checking tickets. A woman passenger was concerned as to our arrival time in Perth. I assured her that we would make up time and probably arrive a few minutes late. I had to reassure her two or three times throughout the journey. We arrived in Perth as I predicted, only a few minutes late. I'm walking up the platform and the woman waved and shouted to me, "Thank you Driver."
Driver??? Who did she think was driving the train while I was speaking to her and checking tickets. Perhaps on automatic pilot?
One night I was waiting on Perth platform for the Sleeper train to arrive from Inverness. I was to work it through to Edinburgh and return in the early morning with the Sleepers from London. Six Spaniards with bicycles asked if they could travel in the seated portion of the train. I said yes but that it would cost £3 for each of the bikes. When the train arrived the bicycles were placed in the van. We left Perth with the foreigners crowded round my compartment. I said, "Six bikes, £3 each, £18." They formed a scrum and spoke excitedly in their own language until suddenly one broke loose from the pack with a handful of £1 coins. I held my hand out and he slowly counted the money into my palm, "One, two, three...Eighteen." I said, "Gracias", then I counted them into my other hand saying, "Uno, dos, tres...diez y ocho." There was much hilarity and back slapping on their part and they all spoke to me at the same time in rapid Spanish for about five minutes. I just stood there grinning and every so often nodding my head and saying, "Si". They then went happily to their seats. I haven't a clue what they said. It wasn't my fault I could only count money and ask for a drink in Spanish! Dos Bacardi con Coke, por favor.
The 'Highland Chieftain' is a High Speed Train from Inverness to London and one Saturday I was booked to work it from Inverness to Perth. At that time Standard Class passengers could sit in the First Class on payment of £3 at the weekend. This ticket was known as a Weekend First. We left Inverness and I proceeded to check the tickets. Sitting in the First Class were seven elderly Japanese matrons and a young interpreter. I asked them for their tickets and the young lady handed me eight Standard Class tickets saying, "We give you money, we sit here?". I said, "Yes, £3 each". They immediately went into a huddle and after a discussion produced £24 which the interpreter gave me. I gave her the Weekend First ticket whereupon the eight of them stood up, clasped their hands as if in prayer, bowed to me and said something which sounded like 'ah-so'. Unsure of what to do I nodded and half bowed then disappeared. Arriving at Perth I went into the messroom and told the story to my colleagues. One wit said, "No Willie, they didn't say ah-so, they said A***hole".
Each year in the Spring Senior Conductors from all over the country would meet in York for a two-day briefing. We stayed in a four star hotel which I enjoyed as I wanted to see how the other half lived.
How the other half lived.
Green dollop on plate.
"Broccoli," the haughty waiter explained.
"And whit's this stuff?"
"Red Oak Leaf Lettuce."
"And am supposed tae eat it!"
Evening meal. Same waiter.
"Wae the skin oan?"
"Whaurs the chips?"
"We don't serve French Fries."
The bedrooms had the usual fittings, shower, tea and coffee, telephone, trouser press, radio and television. There's a small box on top of the TV with three buttons.
Press button one - Mary Poppins appears.
Press button two - Clint Eastwood's shooting someone.
Press button three - Oh! Blue Movie.
Switch off. Should I? NO!!
The next day we are handing our room keys to the attractive receptionist.
"Thank you room 211"
"Room 263 you have £5 to pay."
"You used the pay TV."
Red face, "But..but..och here's the Fiver."
I was in room 211.
In 1992 Intercity was supposedly losing money and some bright spark thought that if they paid off the Senior Conductors at Perth all would be well.
On Saturday 26th September I was made redundant.