Workers' Diaries

Red, blue and talking

The maintenance engineers are all back in the building, on normal hours. It’s fantastic being able to have breakfast at home, and commuting in at seven instead of five. The days seem indulgently short, and my free evenings are long and sunny. I’m with the electricians, so the week is filled with small jobs — changing light fittings, replacing a flow sensor, installing security cameras in the workshop, and deep-cleaning it the next day. We’re not used to working in teams; we communicate badly and make stupid errors. J sends the wrong calibration certificate to a manager; A routes the camera...

Diary of a paramedic: "Proceed with caution"

I’m working with a new paramedic. After we check our equipment we sit and have a quick cup of tea. We talk about the pay offer, the miserable 1%. He says he can’t believe that the government is using the crisis to pit those that have suffered most financially against us instead of recognising our work. Our conversation is interrupted by our first call. We go out and get on with the job. On our break there’s, unusually, a few other crews on station. One of them is writing a report about a violent incident they’ve been to, and we get into a discussion about everyone’s experiences. A few people...

Diary of an engineer: Nest of vipers

Work is depressingly slow. The fewer jobs there are, the more lethargic we become. L keeps suggesting: “We’ll do that tomorrow — spread it out. Our problem today was that we started too early, that’s why the morning’s dragging.” A trip to the control room turns into a drink in the control room, then long discussions that become increasingly awful to listen to. I offer to make a round of drinks and A says says to N — “It’s International Women’s Day, you should offer to make drinks.” N doesn’t offer. Instead everyone goes silent and looks at me, as if they expect me to make a speech. I feel...

Diary of a Tube worker: "Leave me alone, I'm staying the night"

“You can’t stay here”, W says. “Sit up, and, please, you’ll need to leave.” The man with the red face and tangled hair continues to relax on the floor, his bottle of rum by his side and the Sainsbury’s bag as his pillow. W walks back to his office, shaking his head. The guy has been here an hour, and by declaring he plans to stay the night he’s caused more trouble for himself then he might have wanted. “Excuse me”, someone says, doubling back to the barriers. I know what they are going to say. I pre-empt them. “Yep, we’ve seen him. Don’t worry he’s drunk, not collapsed.” “The humanitarian in...

Diary of a paramedic: When does your shift end?

I’m working with a newly qualified paramedic today. As we check our equipment we chat about how pissed off he is that, although he’s been doing the full role and not getting any extra support during the pandemic, he’s still on the probationary wage. He says his girlfriend is a student nurse covering wards on no pay at all. Our first job is helping transfer a Covid-positive patient to hospital using specialist equipment. We’re all in highest level PPE. It still feels very odd to be outside on a suburban street in that gear. Once we’re finished and tidied up, we try to clarify what cleaning...

Diary of an engineer: In the cold snap

February’s snow storm is colder and dryer than January’s. The snow is fine and the wind is biting, but it doesn’t stick to the gritted roads for long. I set my alarm early each morning to check the roads are clear for cycling, then snooze for an extra half hour. I find if I get dressed rapidly and layer up, I can get out the door and on the road before I feel the cold. The bakers in my back yard start work at midnight, and give me a second heads-up on the roads. “Be careful,” M says, “It’s clear but it’s icy in places – just be careful.” At the plant gates, someone has drawn a smiley face in...

Diary of a paramedic: Filing yet another report

I returned to the road last week after a couple of months off recovering from Covid, most probably caught at work from a patient. More than half the patients we were seeing before Christmas had symptoms. The numbers are noticeably lower on my return, and workload has reduced generally, though not compared to the first lockdown, when the streets were very quiet and everybody wanted to stay away from hospitals. There seemed to be an increase in calls to community cardiac arrests back then, as people got really sick at home but were scared to contact health services. I catch up on who is off work...

Diary of a Tube worker: A quiet shift

It’s cold and not a lot is happening on a Monday as I start my shift at 5 am, at a quieter station than I usually work at. There are passengers, but those travelling to work at that time know what they’re doing and don’t need help from staff. I sit and wait for someone else to come in and take me off the gateline so I can get a cup of tea. Everyone is tired, waiting to go home while others make their way to work. By the time the clock winds its way round to 12:30 pm and my shift ends, I have probably uttered two sentences at most. I walked round the station twice and wondered what I will have...

Diary of a Tube worker: Stretching us thin

Getting information in writing seems almost impossible. Putting something in an email makes it more official, of course. So I am presented with the email on a day off that just says “call me when you can”. I email back. I can see I’m spare on the roster, and with Covid now running riot through some station groups I can see I’m likely to be moving between stations, covering here and there. But I want to know if I’m having to get up at 0500 and to come in at 0700, or If I can hold on till I’m needed to fill the first gap at 1100. An email pings back from a manager. “Please give us a call”. Why...

Diary of an engineer: Proud to keep the heat and light on

My first job early Monday is to swap a burnt-out heater. The workshop is freezing and L really feels the cold. We put on hi-vis puffer jackets and thick gloves — I’m glad of my bomb-proof boots. M, who cleans bin waste off the tipping apron, is almost invisible behind two snoods and a balaclava. The switch room is always warm, and we spend a good afternoon in there dismantling a pump soft-start to replace the cooling fans behind heavy copper bus bars. We drink a lot of instant coffee. L spends most of his lunch break on the phone trying to resolve some personal drama, and J checks in with his...

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