Monday, 24 February 2014

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

When, along with long trousers and body hair came the threat of having to work there was the question of what and where.  As it happened this was avoided on a permanent basis for a while but it was still necessary at times, if only to provide essential beer money.  So I found myself on the railway in the early 1950's.

The picture above is of the Kentish Town locomotive shed in North London, essentially serving the passenger services out of St. Pancras station, although with other sundry duties.  As you see it was not a welcoming place, in line with most others of the period.  Where I was the shed was much the same, just as dirty and with the same duties to be done.

The three loco's you see in the picture are typical of many of those on the system at the time.  They are workhorses for the ordinary and basic work and apart from the much smaller number of loco's working the major long distance passenger services.

The one in the middle is of 1870's design, although some built rather later.  The one on the left is an 1899 design and fitted with a condenser for work around the tunnels of the London system.  That on the right is a state of the art 1935 design, a great deal more efficient in coal use and more flexible.

After a few journeys they would need to be back at a shed having their boiler tubes gone through, the smoke box cleared of ash and the firebox thoroughly cleaned.  All the oiling and greasing would have to be done.  On the rare occasions when they had a complete external clean this would be done largely by hand with a hosepipe.

Imagine, if you can, the scale of the manual labour needed at this shed alone, and then replicate for the very many over the whole system.  Then think about the carriages, also dealt with manually, and all the movement of goods and parcels most of which also involved manual labour.  You will then understand the need for the numbers employed on the railways.

Wherever you went in the economy, with some but rare exceptions the same would apply, vast numbers of manual and low skill employees needed simply to keep it all going.  Very few indeed would have had any secondary education, the great majority having left elementary  school at 14 with some skipping off earlier.

What they then might become was up to themselves.  The opportunities were there but they took time, discipline and determination.  A surprising number did so and made progress of one sort or another.  It was a very different world.  You made your own human rights and entitlements, they were not given.

But there was a sense of continuity and feeling for the past and often a real sense of community.  What they needed was carefully thought through management of change and the truth of the real choices involved.  They did not get it.  They were given platitudes, promises, pipe dreams and planning.

The people doing this were the first among the new breeds of professional politicians and experts, many self appointed or neo-political.  While for a time the rapidity of change and its needs allowed some social mobility, this became transitory as other changes were made.  The result is that we have a new lower class which little resembles the one that has been destroyed.

The only common thread now for all the workers at basic levels is more or less the media we have.  The results are becoming uglier by the decade as a consequence.  Yet the whole thing is based on increasing the amounts of money pushed about.  This is intended to allow greater use of resources in consumption lifestyles to meet the promises made.

If populations increase by a far greater number but our ability to find the resources they demand diminishes meaning scarcities there are going to be a great many losers.  Has the squeeze begun already?

It might be one reason for all the trouble.

1 comment:

  1. The one on the left is a tank engine. But what is the evidence that it has a condenser? Is that statement based on prior knowledge or is some sign visible?

    Interesting to have dates for the left two. I used to travel behind such engines as a boy in the 1940's

    Incidentally, you really ought to get a grip of your plurals, to which you add an egregious apostrophe.