Life In The Fast Lane!

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 . .


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Buses, Nicknames, and the Scaremonger!

quotescover-JPG-28My current job is a safety critical one. I work in an emergency control room and many of the decisions me and my colleagues take have highly serious implications. It can be stressful work and sometimes I look back to a much easier control room job I had years ago. I once worked in the GM Buses Control room in Manchester.

Back then in the mid nineties the buses in Manchester had radio communication so the driver could advise control of late running or breakdowns, and even call for help in an emergency. I worked in a team in the enquiry section and we took queries from the bus travelling public of Greater Manchester.

In many ways it was a good job, lots of fun, good workmates and plenty of practical joking. Everyone had a nickname and one fellow I worked with, Paul, was known as ‘Mister Nasty’. He was the guy to deal with abusive callers and when a caller turned unpleasant we would put him on hold with a cheery ‘hold the line please!’ and shout across to Paul who would take the call and give back as much abuse as the caller would be giving.

One day ‘Nasty’ realised he had perhaps overstepped the line and the caller demanded to speak with his manager. The call was sent through to the duty Inspector who on that particular day was a nice guy called Alan who had the nickname ‘Leave it wi’ me’. Paul ran from his desk in the enquiry section, through the control room to where Alan sat on a raised dais where he could survey the whole room. Paul wanted to get his version of events in first and knew that with our antiquated telephone system the call would take its time to ping across the room. However, just as he reached the Inspectors desk the phone rang and Alan stopped Paul in mid sentence. ‘Just a minute Paul, I’d better take this call.’

Alan took the call, listened for a moment and said ‘Someone in enquiries called you a bastard? Leave it with me!’ and put the phone down. He turned to Paul and asked him to carry on. Paul thought for a moment then said, ‘Actually Alan, it doesn’t matter . .’ and went back to his desk.

Another staff member had the nickname ‘Norm’ which I think was based on a character from the TV comedy ‘Cheers’ but anyway, Norm had a particular dislike of the identity badge we had to wear in the control room. When it was time for a break, Norm would pull off his badge, slap it down on his desk and go off to the canteen. One day, some of the guys decided to cut out a shapely pair of breasts from that day’s newspaper page three model and insert the picture into Norm’s badge. I personally could not stop laughing and everyone was calling me to shut up and be quiet but I couldn’t help it. Thirty minutes later Norm returned, sat down at his desk, put on his headset, switched on his phone and clipped on his badge. I must have looked ready to burst and after stifling my laughter for about five minutes Norm looked over at me and asked what was wrong. He eventually found the offending picture and removed it convinced that I was the offending culprit.

GN BusesYes, that wasn’t the best job I have ever had but we did have some fun with fake calls and wind ups. We used to get calls from the Police and they would ask our radio staff to broadcast radio messages to our drivers. ‘Please be on the look out for a red Ford Fiesta registration number . .’ and so on. One day Norm called our radio man, an old chap called ‘Stoddy’ and pretending to be the Police asked him to put out information about a stolen Ford Camper van with a registration number of . . and gave out the registration of Stoddy’s beloved camper van. Stoddy had a near hysterical reaction and rushed out to the car park where of course his camper van was still parked. When he returned fuming to the control room we were still laughing.

Finally, I must tell you about Mr Scrimingeour who was one of the top bosses at GM buses and in charge of our fraud team. His rather unwieldy name was pronounced  SKRIM- IN- JUR- and many calls  came through the switchboard asking for him as anyone caught fiddling their bus fare received a letter demanding a five-pound fine which was signed by him. We had a list on the wall of the many mispronunciations of his name but the best, the very best came in a call taken by our very own Mr Nasty.

A caller had asked to speak to a Mr Scaremonger!


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