Story Snippet No. 401 – books and covers

I got on the tube at East Finchley heading into town, sitting in a corner seat by the glass. Opposite me was a woman in her late fifties or sixties, loud, stocky and short. To my left was an elderly man with a proper voice, who just added in the odd question or remark to keep the conversation going. Because she was performing diagonally across the carriage the woman’s monologue was audible and, in some way, for public consumption.

She works on the Underground, on the other branch between Edgware and Golders Green, but lives on this branch because she likes the separation. She was highlighting the amassing problems on the Underground – lack of staff leading to lack of team work; well meaning, personable managers who are clueless; growing discontent that she predicts will spill over in the next two years as the individual lines are teed up for privitisation. Watch this space, she warns.

She recounted the lack of demand for the night services, which she saw as mainly politically motivated. She said she mainly sees drunks and stoners, people pissing and shitting on the platforms, which her and her colleagues have to clean up. A man comes in, asks if there are public toilets in the Tube (there aren’t any inside or out in the streets these days), is drunk, is spotted moments later on CCTV urinating on the platform. That’s typical on these night shifts she now has to do. She mentions she has a chronic medical condition which accounts for her short stature. She was not supposed to live into adulthood. She now has grandchildren.

She likes to do art with her grandkids, as doesn’t allow them on phones when they visit. They like this. She does talks in schools and opens with two questions: Who’s got a phone, tablet or similar? (Most of them, even in primary classes.) Who knows how to sew on a button? (None of them.) She recounts the story of a man she met on holiday somewhere in Britain who paid £5 to have a button sewed on by a dry cleaner. Can’t you sew a button on? She was appalled.

She mentioned her A Level achievements, including in Biology. (I’ve a vague memory she wanted to follow a particular course of further study but was somehow thwarted.) She explained how she and her colleagues have to go on many courses each year to retain their licences (many to do with health & safety and emergency procedures), that it is actually a skilled and technical job.

She moves on to talk about how many of the staff are talented amateur artists. (We’ve seen this at East Finchley where for a while, before they pulled out the ticket office and most of the staff, we had an enthusiastic painter decorating the entrance with his framed pieces.) She mentioned a display at the back of Southwark station organised by staff (and where all costs are borne by the staff). She had a shopping carrier which turned out to contain some of her works. She buys high quality sheets from charity shops and uses them as the base of her embroidery. She described three pieces she’d done to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War. Then she pulled them out. (She knew I was watching too over my book.) They were very detailed depictions, interestingly composed. One had a soldier writing home to his loved one in a trench enclosure. Another had a soldier silhouetted against a golden sunset in a cornfield. A great deal of work in both, both framed, both a little surprising in contrast to her weighty hands and projecting voice. She rammed them back into the tightly packed shopping trolley as I got off at Euston. She mentioned she had done her own version of the Bayeux Tapestry over many years, 55 feet long.

[This last fact enabled me to find her story online and discover her name, Annette Banks. She is one of eleven children from Canning Town.]

east finchley underground tube station

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