My Story (2)
My first day at Bletchley was exciting but I was so nervous wondering what everyone would think of me, being the second female guard at Bletchley. The supervisors did not know what to do with me as I did not have a course start date. I spent months being sent out with various guards, conductors and drivers to see what life and the job was about. I also carried out odd jobs in the supervisors office like issuing hard hats for ballast jobs, well it was one way to meet people. I spent a week down the Bletchley - Bedford branch with a conductor getting to know the passengers who were regulars and spent a few days with a driver on the main line. I was sent out with a driving instructor who had to take a class 31 locomotive to Wolverton to pick up some empty coaching stock for Willesden but the points were stuck so we had to go to Northampton to come back and go in via the up slow points. The driver asked if I wanted to drive at first I said no but he insisted and when we got to Northampton, my dad saw me driving, I knew he would say something when I got home. Then I spent a week on T81 mainly going to the tip down the branch and the guard who is now top management showed me how to couple up the wagons and connect the vacuum hoses and I did so much work that week I really enjoyed it.
Class 31 locomotive, Bletchley Cambridge Sidings
Shrewsbury Signal Box
I got my start date for April at the training school at Euston, and I was humiliated in front of everyone when I was told I could not start the course due to my pre-booked holiday in May and sent packing back to Bletchley. I got another start date in June this time at Watford Junction for two weeks and then six weeks at Hatch End with an Instructor from Crewe. Everything was going well working our way through the Rule Book and we had a few days out for hands on training. We went to Willesden to make a manual TOPS list and then the train started to move off and some of the group tried to follow it to get the list complete. Then we went over to where the vandalised coaching stock was and we were shown various things of no importance to us as we would not be working coaching stock often. We went to Crewe and among ten of us worked a two car DMU to Shrewsbury and then went walking along the track to a ground frame and shown how it was operated. Another day at Willesden, this time to see if we could couple to locos together everyone said I wouldnt be able to do it but they did not know I had had some practice. We had to keep going over and over semaphore signalling and the block system until we understood it as it was then used down the Bletchley to Bedford branch.
We went to Melton House, Watford to take our rules and the entire group failed, now either someone was lying or something had seriously gone wrong. We went back to Bletchley in shame and instead of road learning we had to start all over again with guards instructors. Learning the Rule Book was easier this time as it was practical learning not reading from a book, but atleast we all passed second time round.
I missed two weeks road learning due to Tonsillitis but the instructors were not concerned by it as I had spent four months up and down the routes. I was also battling with pain from a prolapsed disc but I had got this far and was not going to give up. Looking back now it was foolish to have carried on. We went out on engineering jobs learning about 'possessions' and more coupling up and brake tests as we had to attach the loco to the other end ready to come back to Bletchley. We also went out with the wiring train at Wolverton on the down fast which has a very steep curve going round to the left and the train sat at an angle for all the shift until another crew relieved us.
Green Bubble Car for Bletchley - Bedford service
Wiring Train at Wolverton
We walked around sidings and yards learning the layouts and which signals did what and learning official walking routes. And in between we were learning the routes and features and 'announcing' points for approaching stations, we went down the main line round by Weedon and Steve Lloyd picked out a field of chickens do not know why and for what purpose?
We had to know the bell codes to signal to the driver, 1-stop, 2-ready to start, 3-set back etc. But it was different departing Birmingham New Street as it was the station staff that gave the driver 'right away' by pressing the OFF plunger, you did not signal the driver to depart.
So much to take in but by the beginning of November we were ready to work. I took my first train out on my own Saturday 5th November 1991 on a rest day, I remember it well, yes I was a bag of nerves and left Harrow and Wealdstone five minutes early due to re-timing then on top of everything we were diverted on to the goods lines at Willesden as they were replacing the bridge, slight panic. When we got to Euston it was a huge relief and celebrated with a cup of tea.
I moved into my first house in December 1991 and it was only a ten minute walk from Northampton station which made life alot easier.
I had to slim down what I was carrying in my leather guards bag as the weight was a bit too much at times and carried the essentials, Rule Book, Flags, Bardic Lamp, local notices (which were issued weekly and had to be signed for), various keys, tea bags and mug and the rest lived in my locker.
We were issued with a 321 manual and I read it over and over because if anything tripped we would need to know which cupboard the offending switch would be in and I wasnt going to proved as a useless woman and 'yes' the knowledge came in handy.
The locker room was shared and as quite a few drivers and guards cycled into work I had to be careful not to catch someone half dressed. There were no female toilets near the mess room so I had to cross to the other side of the station to use the public ones. Eventually the 'mens' were ripped out and new toilets were installed for ladies and gents, so while all the men had to share, Sarah and I had a toilet each.
Bletchley Carriage sidings
Bletchley Train Maintenance Depot
I was getting well known over the network or 'notorious' and was treated equally well by most staff. When I worked nights many staff used to come out and meet the train just for a chat and one rail man used to bring Indian sweets for me at festival times. The platform staff at Euston would make me a cup of tea and carry it and my bag to my train and open the door for me. But there were occassions when unwanted advances were made and one driver was very persistent that I should sleep with him, and he would not give up so I did my best to avoid him.
I was gossiped about and picked up a reputation for allegedly sleeping with someone from every depot and graffiti started appearing on cab doors and the repair books. I began swapping my day shifts for nights to avoid people and my back pain was getting worse, it was so painful going over the points and junctions it was easier to stand up and then by the time I was on my way home I could barely walk. I carried on until August and went sick and had the surgery on my back in October 1992 and luckily returned to work just before Christmas but was restricted to passenger work only by the company doctor. Some guards and supervisors saw this as my way of getting out of freight/ballast work and made their feelings known.
On one journey out of London Euston in the evening rush hour the cab to cab phone was not working and the driver gave 3 - 3 signal on the bell meaning 'guard required by driver', so I made my way through the train and when I got to first class found it a bit strange that one compartment was full and the other was empty except for a single male. All was obvious when I walked through the door, he was sitting there with his trousers undone and playing with himself. I carried on and went in to the driving cab and told the driver and he immediately called up Watford signal box and requested the police meets the train at Harrow and Wealdstone. They were there waiting but the person had moved farther down the train and disappeared as soon as the doors opened. The passengers in first class were understanding and gave names and addresses as witnesses but as the train was delayed some other passengers started complaining to the driver and he turned round and asked them "what would you do if he had done that in front of your wife?" I was shocked that he had defended me. It was a different reaction when we got back to Bletchley, I had to suffer the crude remarks. When I booked on the next day the British Transport Police were waiting to take a statement as they were taking it seriously as this wasnt the first time it had happened then attitudes changed and I started getting apologies.
There were a more incidents like the traction motors catching fire, losing power and coasting to a halt in a neutral section, opening a cab door and it nearly fell off its fixings, having a toddler fall between the train and platform at Wolverton, fights on the train, an alleged attack on a Sun newspaper reporter, and an angry passenger trying to get into the drivers cab. Some drivers nicknamed me 'Jinx'.