One Under

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sometimes, just sometimes, I think there's something wrong with me. Chaos and disaster seem to follow me around like frightened children.

Admittedly I rarely plan stuff, and despite purchasing an iPad last year, upon which I detail all of my engagements, I still get a surprise nudge in the goolies every time the iPad reminder alerts me to the fact that I need to go to work or not go to work. So, as the old adage goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail, but I'm not talking about simply turning up to a wedding with only flip flops to accompany my suit (yep, done that), I'm talking about the type of disaster befalling me that an iPad alert and an electronic diary are gonna do absolutely fuck all about.

Take my journey home after assisting Mrs Mac with the Clyde Stride ultra marathon. It's Sunday morning and I need to be at work, in London, for 20:00 (excuse the use of the 24 hour clock.....I've been trying to polish off some of the remaining militaristic ingressions left over from my army days but I can't face saying eight O'clock when that might either be bacon and egg time or wine and kebab time). A swift look at the iPad and its handy train timetable app tells me I'm gonna have a battle getting home. Sunday, is of course, the day when track maintenance is carried out because every one is at church or sitting down to a roast dinner with the family. Not this call sign.

It's gonna take me the best part of the day to travel from Strathaven to Glasgow, then onward to Edinburgh, then, and only then, start heading south for Englandshire and eventually, London. I can't lie any longer in this bed, I need to get my sorry arse up and shake a tail feather.

A short while later I'm at Glasgow Queen Street with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier by my side and we're saying goodbye to Mrs Mac. The journey to London is aboard a train that has two overheating carriages. I wander through the train looking for somewhere that Mason (dog) and I can park our butts. The carriages are crammed with passengers and luggage and looks of disgust and bemusement are fired my way whenever the suggestion that I might sit down is demonstrated. In my years of travelling with a pooch I've discovered that the majority of the transport using public prefer to share their space with other bipeds rather than a four legged fighting dog.

As I enter carriage 'F' the heat hits me. It's not unlike walking into a sauna but there are seats abound in this carriage sans air con. I take a seat and Mason (dog) stretches out in the aisle. Before long I've stripped off most of my clothes down to a running vest and shorts yet the cushioning under my arse is getting damper by the minute as I sweat into it.

Just over four hours to London; I reckon I can hack it and with a regular ingestion of bottled water should be able to avoid heat stroke. Then, as we approach York, the bastard train in front of us breaks down and we're stuck for ages on a train that ain't moving, in a carriage that is slowly cooking my flesh.

The rest of the journey is typified by a short shunt forward followed by a long spell static. By the time the train pulls into Kings Cross I'm already late for work and in serious need of rehydration. The  weekend model for public transport delivery is mirrored on the underground where the Northern Line is shut for maintenance. No problem, I skip across to the Victoria Line where I can travel to Vauxhall then onward to Clapham Junction where I can begin my night shift, albeit two hours late.

I stand on the platform alongside dozens of other weekend travellers. Next to me is a slightly dishevelled, middle aged man who stares blankly at the tracks. Something about him unnerves me so I take a half step backward. As the train slows down and travels along the platform approaching the head wall to the tunnel the fella standing next to me kind of flops down onto the tracks. In a flash he's lost under the train and gasps and cries ring out from our fellow travellers.

I've been here many times before. I know the drill. As a London firefighter I've lost count of the times I've crawled beneath a tube train to release an unfortunate victim but it's never done without ensuring the power is off and PPE is worn. And this is the first time I've witnessed the act first hand.
Some of the passengers on the platform are either unaware of what just happened or are lost in the unreality of the occurrence. They swarm around the carriage doors waiting for them to open and disgorge their travellers and allow them onto the train. I know the driver is sitting in his cab, informing control of a 'one under' and awaiting the arrival of my colleagues from Euston fire station. The doors ain't gonna open any time soon.
There's nothing I can do here so I head off as police officers and community support personnel come haring toward the platform. I understand the futility of their haste: I always tell my lads and lasses to never run to a one under, you'll get there quickly then wait around feeling useless while you wait for confirmation that power is off. Better to walk quickly while carrying out a dynamic risk assessment and going through a decision making model in your mind, it pays dividends at the scene.
I arrive at street level to see fire appliances arrive from Euston and the surrounding stations. I stop briefly to inform the officer in charge of the scene below ground before being castigated for being late for work.
And this, Dear Reader, is a typical day in my life. To prove it I direct you to the story in this blog where I was travelling home from a training session in Southwark a couple of years ago when gunshots rang in my ears and two police officers were shot. I'm not making this shit up.
I considered not telling this tragic tale of a person who decided that life was so terrible that an end to his misery would be found under a London Underground train. But I discovered recently that he was recovered by crews from Euston and is recovering in hospital so I've recounted it here. I got that shift off work so my lateness was never questioned. My Station Commander decided that attending two suicides in five days was enough for anyone and my welfare dictated a night off. To be honest, I've become used to it now and I was more affected by the overheating carriage and the torturous journey home.
And I tell this tale while aboard a Virgin Pendolino to Scotland. So far there are no occurrences other than Mason (dog) farting and my fellow passengers looking at me in disgust. But I'm used to that too.


Lee Maclean said...

You will notice dear reader that the chaos and disaster almost never directly involved me! !