I’ve written plenty about my previous life in its various incarnations, bus driver, cigarette man and so on. I currently work in the Highways Agency North West Regional Control Centre and if you want to know what I do there’s a TV documentary programme that’s currently airing on BBC2 called Life in the Fast Lane. Alas, you won’t be hearing my dulcet tones as I broadcast to our traffic officers, as they filmed it down Birmingham way and the North West was sadly not featured.
When incidents happen on the motorway we have a log on which we record all kinds of data about the incident and we add updates as the job progresses. ‘Vehicle recovery has arrived.’ ‘Speed restrictions cleared,’ and stuff like that. There’s a lot of mundane stuff we add too and it involves a lot of typing. One colleague suggested the other day that a thought transference/ ESP link would be quite handy and save on the fingers as they continually thrash the keyboard. The problem there though is that certain unwanted things might appear on the log, especially if the incident is on CCTV and we are watching.
“Watch what you are doing you pillock!”
“Look at that idiot in the Fiesta!”
Or, to the man who wanted to get something from his car, despite the fact that it was on fire and had turned into a minor inferno: “Don’t go back into that car!” He did and was lucky not to be burned to death.
In our control room we answer the ERTs, emergency roadside telephones used by motorists who have broken down at the roadside and sometimes we hear things like this:
“I’ve broken down and can’t remember who my breakdown recovery is with.” Ok, so what do you expect me to do about it? Guess which recovery organisation you have joined? Call a number of recovery agencies randomly and hope one of them knows you? No, what I can do is have you vehicle towed off the motorway and charge you £200. £200! Yes, it is an expensive business breaking down on the motorway. Here’s another one:
“I’ve run out of petrol. Can one of your patrols bring me some fuel?”
No, but we can tow your car away and charge you £200! That response, as you can imagine does not always go down well but as I have said, breaking down on the motorway is a serious and expensive thing. Do not go on the motorway without checking you have enough fuel as it’s not only expensive but dangerous.
Running the motorway is a serious business and there aren’t many comic moments that I can tell you about but here’s one that comes to mind.
Some years ago we had a new recruit that I’ll call Eric, (once again, the names have been changed to protect the innocent!) Eric sadly was not doing too well in his training and it was later found that he was dyslexic so sadly he was unable to continue his career with us. Anyway, on one of his last days one of our managers decided to give him a go as the radio dispatcher, passing out incidents to our patrols over the airwaves. Well Eric did OK until a patrol came across a pedestrian. We reported this to the police and they asked for the person’s name and date of birth. Well, the pedestrian had one of those cross gender names, something like ‘Lesley Smith,’ that could be either male or female. The police asked us for the sex of the person, were they male or female? So Eric asked this question over the air, the patrol however were in one of those radio blackspots were there is poor reception and couldn’t seem to understand.
“Please repeat your last message,” they kept asking.
Eric was getting a little flustered by now and repeated, “Is the person male or female?”
“Please repeat,” asked the patrol.”What details do you need?”
“I want the sex. I need the sex!” called Eric.
I haven’t laughed as much since . .