For all those of you that are interested in such things (by that I mean those of you with discernible tastes) I would like to present the first couple of pages to ABOVE HIS STATION, released at the end of this month. If you like what you read, why not pop back again soon when I will have some more nuggets of pan-fried gold…
Please to enjoy, ja?
I had expected neither bells nor whistles upon my arrival at Regal Street, but I had at least hoped to be greeted in person. Still, it gave me an opportunity to inspect the place without someone breathing down my neck. I am pleased to report that it was all in order; more so than any other Underground station that I had seen in all my working years (of which there have been many). There was no litter strewn across the platform, no graffiti or bills posted anywhere, the strip lighting was working at full capacity and I could have seen my reflection in the white-tiled walls. Not a stain or smear or smudge or soil was to be found anywhere and my mouth drew into a broad smile, the edges of my moustache tickling my nostrils. A rather pleasing start to my first day in the job, I thought. The place had a calming atmosphere and I almost felt as if I was returning home after a pleasurable walk. I wasn’t in a particular rush to take my post (even thought I was almost 10 minutes late!). Well, I said to myself, if the newly-appointed station guard can’t blame the Tube for a lack of punctuality, then who can?
As that thought graced my mind I was forced to contemplate the responsibility of the position that I had accepted. Not a function that I had curried favour to obtain, or even my reward for a lifetime of service. As it turned out, the poor chap that had originally been offered the job had fallen prey to cancer, and abruptly so by all accounts. As I was the only other applicant on the list that had passed all the security clearance checks, I was offered the position in his stead.
Death, as my father used to say, often creates opportunities for the living.
Regal Street was empty once the train that I had arrived on sped from sight, flinging a wall of air to my back by way of a goodbye. It left at such speed that I’d had no time to thank my driver. The journey had been relatively short, travelling swiftly through seldom-used tunnels, past abandoned and nameless stations, but as I was the sole occupant for the duration, time seemed reluctant to be spent.
I had worked on the Underground most of my adult life, and before that I cut my teeth at rail depots all over London and the South East. I’d been around trains since I was in short trousers, so my lungs should have been accustomed to the smoke and soot, but nowadays they complained whenever I inhaled. I was not in my youth anymore – as I was frequently reminded whenever I attempted to perform even the slightest of physical activity. My son said that I should think myself lucky to even have a job at my age, beyond pushing trolleys at the local supermarket. David (relatively intelligent with a substantially well-paid job and a lovely wife in Laura) often fails to appreciate anyone’s feelings other than his own. It comes from working in sales. He sees everyone around him as a potential source of revenue and if he feels that he can’t benefit from you in some way, he has a tendency to come off as a bit callous. Of course, I couldn’t tell him or my daughter Claire what my real job entailed, or who my employer happened to be, or even the address of where I was to be stationed. I had signed several non-disclosure agreements confirming this fact and it was made abundantly clear on many occasions that my soul was forfeit should I speak of it.
Those were the exact words of the young man conducting the third of my five interviews for the job. When I informed him that my wife was recently deceased, his first response was “Fantastic!” – although thankfully he redressed his faux pas by explaining that there had been several unfortunate incidents in the past where employees had revealed their work location to their spouses. This had caused a fair amount of disruption one evening when one of the guard’s wives accidentally reversed the family Volvo over the family Labrador. She was in a dreadful state (the wife, not the dog) and the bitch had to be put down (the dog, not the wife). I replied to my interviewer (several decades my junior with a build so slight he had to button his shirt all the way to the top to stop it from slipping off his shoulders) that I had previously worked for the Ministry of Defence in a similar capacity, and I was used to keeping sensitive secrets. My interviewer then made a remark about wishing the best man at his wedding (Ray or Roy, I forget now) was like that. Looking through my file, he proceeded to gloss over all my references (where I was judged in the highest esteem by many of my old bosses, thank you very much) and instead he opted to relate what his best man (I’m pretty sure it was Ray now that I come to think about it) had revealed to the assembled guests at the reception – including his brand new wife, I hasten to add.
It pertained to certain events during the stag weekend in Amsterdam (I shan’t divulge the details in this volume, sufficed to say that they are of an explicitly sexual nature). I pretended to listen and smiled in all the right places whilst glancing up at the clock on the wall, amusing myself by recalling all the trains departing Waterloo at that moment and their respective destinations (including stops on route) and thus, I thankfully avoided most of my youthful interviewer’s anecdote – although I did catch the word “Brazilian” towards the end, which I took to be the nationality of the young lady in question.