This column was never published or even submitted to Sidewalk, as I never got round to incorporating any skateboarding into the story. However, ten years on, it doesn’t need any skateboarding, it’s crazy enough already.
[DDET The Ideas Man]
I remember watching the Gentleman in a Jet Pack fly around at the end of the LA Olympics in ’84. I called him the ‘Gentleman in a Jet Pack’ because of the way it sounded – I talked to myself even then. I often wondered why they saved him until the closing ceremony, why such a spectacular feat was left until last. But not long after, I started my first job and I understood why pretty soon. The risk involved – if he had been in the opening ceremony and something had gone wrong, a very messy death would have taken place. That would have overshadowed the rest of the Olympics, and it would be what LA 84 would have been remembered for. My job involves messy deaths, or at least, the threat of one.
I am a Engine Operator for London Underground. To you and I that’s a tube driver, I drive trains up and down the Piccadilly Line all day. They are six carriages long, weigh 200 tonnes, and have 128 wheels. They are powered by 630 serious volts passing through 250 miles of steel track and carry 180 million passengers a year. I am proud of those facts. They keep a smile on my face when I charge through the empty stretches of the line. I feel like an ant pressed onto a giant hammer. I need impressive facts to remind me of my power. Actually, I used to put ants on hammers when I was younger, I thought perhaps they might pop or something, but I’m not like that anymore. I’ve changed now. Sometimes I forgive the young vandals who terrorise the trains behind me. I see them in the mirrors now and then, running off with a bag, or fighting each other. They are not real though, they are just in the mirror. I know that you see, I’m not stupid, and the ants never popped.
It’s quite a lonely job, that much is true. But it’s not to say I don’t have many friends. My best friend’s nickname is Harry. I see him quite often really. He gets on at Southgate around 5.55am and he gets off at Heathrow Terminals 1,2 and 3. He always sits in the front carriage, right behind me, and he wears a blue hat with a green logo on it. I wonder what he does at Heathrow, perhaps he works there, but he’s so untidy I find that hard to believe. A few months ago I had a revelation about him. Perhaps he actually works in Southgate during the night and lives near Heathrow! That would explain a lot, but then I don’t know anywhere to live near Heathrow.
I’ve never been on a plane, although I used to want to. After I got this job I was put off the idea. A single human having direct responsibility for hundreds of people? No thanks!
I often wonder how I’ve kept my job because, to be honest, I don’t feel up to it. There are so many ways that I could kill myself and my passengers it’s crazy. Every year, new safety systems are introduced, but I know how to get around them. The more technology they introduce, the more effective a crowbar can become, it’s brilliant! I marvel at my own ingenuity, but I know I’ll never get the respect I deserve for some of the fantastic ideas I’ve had.
That’s what I am really – an ideas man. Spending the time that I do in long dark tunnels gives you plenty of thoughts. I know that’s why I’m happy really, just me and my friends doing what we like to do. In fact I’m not just an ideas man, I’m The Ideas Man.
It’s funny though. The people waiting on the platform are all my friends, I study them intensely during our brief relationships. But as soon as they step on to my train I become suspicious. What are they plotting behind my back? I realise then that they have the upper hand, they can talk about me and laugh about me no end, and I can never prove it. But I realise that it is I who truly holds the upper hand, with my direct control over 2200 tonnes of metal and glass.
The glass, oh the glass. It is all toughened and interwoven and everything, but when a tube crashes in a tunnel, I know what is going to happen. I can see it. I can cut it! The laws of physics will really be tested on that day. Fireworks of glass will be the final showdown for those conniving bastards behind me, you wait. And then the blood. And the guts. It will be epic! Only the rescuers will see it though, that stuff will never be shown on TV. Not the good stuff.
And I? I will be long gone. My end will be quick and glorious! I will be a kamikaze mole, innocent victim, father of two! “He was always so dedicated to his job”
I stopped watching TV in the late eighties, after the jet pack guy what could be better? But seriously, I’m an intelligent man, and as I matured I realised that I was beginning to be controlled by the TV companies. We have an illusion of choice, but that’s all it is – an illusion. We are really fed poisoned food by them, yes that’s what it’s like – a plate of food. You supposedly have a choice on your plate, but it’s only between the meat and the potatoes and the vegetables. What are you supposed to do when you want something else? There are no other plates of food available, not for people like me. Maybe Johnny Foreigner can eat funny stuff, but I can’t – I’m physically different to them.
I have no choice, but I want a choice.
I thought over this problem for years until I came up with my solution – eat what I did as a kid. You should try it honestly! It’s like going back to the womb or something. I eat a load of sweets when I’m driving the train, often the train creates a rhythm as it moves through the tunnel, and I try and chew the sweet along with the rhythm. It is those moments when I am truly happy. I smile appears on my face, that, when combined with the chewing, actually hurts! Sometimes I laugh out loud, but I feel strangely vulnerable opening my mouth in the tunnels, like a flying rat will appear and fly straight in.
I buy my sweets on my way to work, once a week from a newsagent near my house. Buying ten pounds worth a week, I swear the shopkeeper thinks I’m a child molester or a freak of some kind. But I’m his best customer so he never complains. He’s certainly not one of my friends though, whilst I enjoy carefully selecting my cola bottles and milk mice, when it comes to paying I hand over the cash, and then I’m out of there as quick as can be.
It’s usually straight after I’ve bought my sweets that I enjoy the long walk to work. I see the early traffic already beginning to queue, there’s no escape in London. The drivers at that time are just as rude as those in rush hour. It puts a real smile on my face to see their stress and their woe. They smoke frantically, thinking of meetings and deadlines and sales. I have none of that in my job. I have occasional meetings and stupid training days, but I sit at the back if I can. I listen to nothing and say yes and no when everyone else does.
I used to think I could make friends with other drivers, but I see them as rivals now. I wait for them to empty the trains at Wood Green, or move on at Arnos Grove. They block my passage and I’m powerless. They even block my view, that’s what really gets me. I like seeing the track stretch before me. It’s the track that does all the work. It does all the steering at any rate. I just lie on it with my giant moving bed of death and go to sleep.
That’s what I’d really like, to go to sleep. They introduce all this technology to stop me making mistakes, why don’t they get the bloody computers to do everything? Maybe I should be present just to prevent the computer making a mistake, that would get technology working for us. Maybe, in a way, I already am, I hadn’t thought of that.
One of my other friends, perhaps you could call her a girlfriend even, I call her Mary. I don’t see her very often, but she’s perfect! She often gets on at Hammersmith and off at Knightsbridge, she likes to sit in the front carriage, I guess that’s why she’s one of my friends. When I see her waiting for me on the platform, she looks so earnest and proper. Every detail of her clothing is perfect, and her hair must take hours. She carefully gets on the train and I like to think that she carefully wipes the seat before sitting down. She really is the kind of girl that any man would give his seat up for.
I like to think she is buying me wonderful things in Harrods, gifts for our wedding day, things to put in the house. One day she will suprise me by coming up to the cabin and knocking on the window. I will let her in of course, and perhaps we will make love just before Heathrow or maybe between Turnpike Lane and Manor House. If I drive slowly then it could last ten minutes. ‘Signal failure in the Arnos Grove area’ I will manage to say over the tannoy before we both start to giggle. I will offer her a sweet and she will take a milk mouse and bite it’s head off. Wonderful!
I wouldn’t like to take her to Uxbridge though. It never feels right when I take that branch. That area just doesn’t belong to the Piccadilly line, I feel like I’m in enemy territory. When and if I crash my train it will be around Heathrow or Cockfosters. Mary will be with me, maybe we could flip a coin together to see who gets it! I think Cockfosters is my favourite, it would be such an event for that dull area, they’d talk about it for years. And the emergency services there are hardly equipped are they? I can’t wait! Wherever it is I go when I die, I hope I catch the news that night. I hope they have videos too, so I can tape it. I will watch it forever…