Boldly Going from Supermarket Stacker to Tube Driver

No one plans on being a train driver.

I certainly didn’t.

When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut – a little rote, I know, but what do you want from me?

I was ten-years old, I loved Star Trek and in my great wisdom I believed that by the time I was ‘all grown up’ the Federation would be hiring and I’d be the first of a chosen few to boldly go where no man had gone before.

Unfortunately, by the time I’d scraped through school and college I’d come to the nagging realisation that Star Fleet was perhaps a few more decades away from coming into existence and unless they dropped their standards, I’d probably be relegated to a less exciting, less glamorous section. You never saw any cleaners vacuuming the pristine corridors of the Enterprise-D, but something tells me they were probably behind the scenes, dutifully tidying the top-tier officers’ quarters and cleaning after their raucous drinks parties and amorous social engagements with alien life forms.

I digress.

By the time I’d left college and come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be exploring the stars for a living, I had to sit down and have a long hard think about what I could realistically do with my life. I’d made a few errors during the later years of my education, like so many young men are wont to do, as such an air of melancholy had clung to me, like an ankle high cloud of dry ice in a music video from the 80s.

I found a summer job in my local supermarket and found myself surprised with how I enjoyed such an unglamorous job. I found a strange kind of camaraderie at that first job. The odd formless uniforms that we all wore bonded us in mediocrity. There were no cliques, we were all in it together and pretty soon I found that my ‘summer job’ had turned into a full-time career. When I was offered my first promotion there, after a year’s service, I knew that I’d stayed too long. I like my team, but ennui had set in. I’d had enough of living in my childhood bedroom and I couldn’t be certain, but I had the feeling that my Mum was done with cooking my dinner every night. It was time to leave.

After a year spent stacking shelves, passing items through the checkout, I felt like I’d spent enough time in a supermarket to last me a lifetime.

The cloud of disappointment had lifted, it had been replaced by something new. I’d been emboldened by my year of work, I knew that I was capable of more. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it was a ‘fire in my belly’, but there was certainly a seed of ambition that had not been there before.

When my agency called me to say that I was perfect fit for the role of a train driver, there was no hesitation in my affirmative reply.

Transport for London might not be Star Fleet, but it sure pays better than shelf stacking and once more I’m part of an excellent team – it’s just a little larger than before.

Around 27,800 larger…

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From Arts Student to Station Manager

No Arts Students dreams of working on the Tubes

During the 3 years I spent frantically tearing through books and writing essays, the last thing I thought I’d be doing with my well-earned degree is working on the trains.

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There are certain industries and sectors that appeal to Arts students – trains tend not to feature in any of these.

Arts students living in London, especially those hailing from the deep heart of the Northern countryside, are often the Graduates to fall the hardest. They spend 3 or 5 years embroiling themselves in an Arts driven community. The friends they make, along with the environments they grow accustomed to, are endemic of the course that they are taking. Living in a world where questions of artistic intention are more important than meeting deadlines or taking on responsibility, can lead to a shift in mental priorities that can limit people’s ambitions in later life.

When I was knee-deep in my Fine Art degree, the first job I had in mind was a pipe dream.

A chic, understated office, where everyone would make their own lattes. People would take turns putting on records and meetings would be held whilst sitting on bean bags. My vision of how a business functioned, never mind the world, was seriously warped. I was yet to discover that people who spent all their time discussing coffee and indie bands were rarely the people who could get things sorted or projects executed.

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Despite my current employment, I’ve managed to hold on to a handful of old friends working in these chic offices. Well-meaning creatives all of them, they’re now rammed into square meeting rooms and are desperately brain-storming inventive ways of marketing to college students. Where they once had the time to draw parallels between the works of Samuel Pepys and French Renaissance Pastorals, they now only have time to binge watch whatever’s hot on Netflix and pass out for 7 hours, before doing it all over again.

I count myself as lucky.

I could have been with them, stuck up in the glass plated prisons of the Information Age. I could be nobly scrapping with other creatives for credit over a lousy piece of  ‘content’. I could be mournfully looking back at my University life as the ‘good old days’. But I’m not.

In my final year at University, I ran out of money. Easily done. To make ends meet, I took a job as a Customer Service representative in Tottenham Court Road Underground Station. I dreaded that first shift, thinking of myself sinking into a dull, grey world of mediocrity. A million miles away from the sophisticated ply-wood clad office that I was dreaming of. What I found instead was a bustling, thriving community of passionate individuals striving towards one goal.

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Seeing the Underground system from the other side suddenly made me appreciate the vast, intricate nature of this convenience that I had been taking for granted for the last three years. Not only was I actively engaged in this system, I was helping it function better. My manager at the time recognised my enthusiasm and slipped me some information regarding their Graduate Scheme. A younger, shallower version of myself would have snorted in derision at this – but I did no such thing.

I took the opportunity with both hands and now I’m heading towards managing my own station.

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Working as a Revenue Protection Inspector

There’s a certain respect that an RPI gets, living in London.

In the commuter’s mind there are members of Transport for London who either exist to help or hinder them in their goal of reaching their destination.

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The status between a law-abiding citizen and an RPI is a simple one.

The citizen has bought a ticket, so all the RPI has to do is check and validate it. In this city, the upkeep and maintenance of our transport system is heavily reliant on fares. 40% of Transport for London’s running budget is generated from the honest travellers of the city. So it follows that citizens of London are more than happy to show their tickets and even exchange some pleasantries – it can be a surprisingly social job.

The parking attendant, however, falls into the latter camp. Although they perform a very similar job to myself, they are seen as barriers to the commuter, another nuisance that is halting them from getting to where they need to be.

I have many friends who are in this line of work. They struggle to make friends outside of the public sector, such is the prejudice against these decent men and women. They are not vindictive people, they are simply paid to walk the street checking tickets, much like I do on the trains. However, they are seen by the commuter as acting in a predatory fashion. Prowling the streets, hunting for cars that are just moments away from being illegally parked. Just aching to put a damper on someone’s day.

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It’s rare that you’ll hear a positive anecdote relating to a parking attendant. In return for the necessary work they do, they are branded with the status of a social pariah. Like ‘the taxman’ himself, they represent a faceless Government body snatching money out of the hands of ‘good, decent folk’. When all they are doing is simply apply unbending rules and regulations to this mess of a city. If these headstrong people didn’t commit to their jobs to the full extent, not only would the system start to bleed coins, but the streets would cease to function with any semblance of reason.

Human beings will always seek the easiest option. This isn’t a damning indictment on the human race, it’s simply a statement of truth. I include myself in this. We are hardwired to consume energy and then conserve it. If we can find a way to complete a task that takes up less energy, whether that’s illegally parking a car to shorten a walk, or skip paying for a train to save money for other things; if we can exploit a loophole or find a short cut, we’ll more than likely do it.

The next time you find a parking ticket taped to your car, and try stopping yourself from blaming the person who put it there. Think about the actions that you  have taken to get to where you are. Consider if you perhaps could have parked in a different place. Then think about the parking attendant, taking the challenging path and getting no thanks for it.

Next time you see an attendant, have a chat with them, they’re still people after all.

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