Going Loco

This little ditty is the first story I’ve ever written that uses a dream. We all dream in one way or another and this is one of mine. Enjoy.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, for our excursion this evening, our train is being pulled by this delightful ex Great Western Railway Tank Engine, No 9466. This was build after the Second World War by the GWR and used for a lot of its life in the London area. This is the only one of its class preserved.”

The Dinner Jacketed man who was addressing a group of approximately 20 others also wearing DJ’s or Evening dress looked on intently.

“Our loco has been expertly prepared by Fiona who is standing at the end of the platform. I think you will agree that the loco looks perfect. Can you give Fiona a token of your appreciation?”

A round of polite applause came from the group.

“Can we all get on board as I am sure you are all getting hungry and I know that the team have prepared an excellent meal for us tonight?”

Slowly the party climbed aboard the two-coach train. One coach was for the diners and the other was the restaurant car that contained the kitchen.

Fiona stood at the end of the platform slowly shaking her head. She’d gone very red in the face as being singled out like that. She knew that she was not the only one to help to get the train ready for the evening trip. She was also not very pleased at the man who gave his party the history lesson. Almost all the facts were completely wrong. In her mind, this was inexcusable because the man had been given a history sheet that contained all the correct facts the previous day.

Three and a bit hours later the evening was over and the passengers began to disembark and make their way home.

‘Fiona’ was waiting for them to all leave the train so that she could clear the train and ‘put it to bed’ with the help of the train crew.

She was about to step into the dining car when she noticed that there was still one of the diners sitting alone at a table.

She put a bit of a smile on her face and climbed aboard the train.

“Hello? This is as far as we go tonight. Everyone else has left to go home,” she said as she entered the compartment.

The man turned around to face her. He smiled.

“Ah Fiona. I’ve been waiting for you. Please take a seat?”

“We have to get the train put away,” she replied with a bit of urgency.

“This will only take a minute. Please…” he said pointing at the vacant seat on the opposite side of the table from him.

“I really shouldn’t sit in these dirty overalls.”

He looked a bit hurt.

She saw this and decided to sit as long as it was ‘just for a minute’.

“What did you want to speak to me about?” she asked slightly impatiently.

The man chuckled.

“I saw you shaking your head as our host for the evening was describing the train. I would hazard at a guess that he was totally wrong.”

“I…”

The man put his hand up.

“Let me guess one thing before you put me in my place.”

Fiona started to protest but the man put his hand up again.

“The loco was built well after Nationalisation and another of the subclass is preserved at Swindon Works.”

He smiled.

“How did I do?”

Fiona relaxed.

“Not bad. Not bad at all. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you come up with that information?”

He smiled.

“I saw the makers plate on the side of the Cab. Then I found that the other loco is at Swindon via Wikipedia.”

Fiona relaxed a bit.

“If that is all then I’d like to put this train to bed for the night?”

“Fiona? May I call you that?”

She didn’t respond.

“My name is George Harrison. Yes, the same at the former Beatle. I run a number of Engineering Companies and I’m always on the lookout for promising people to work for me.”

Then he pulled a card out of his top pocket and handed it to her.

“When you have finished University come and see me. I’ll have a job for you.”

Fiona’s mouth dropped open as she held the card.

“But…. I’m …. But….”

George smiled.

“You don’t need to say anything. I only want the best people working for me. I don’t care if they are Green-Skinned, Lesbian Dwarves as long as they are good at what they do. Do I make myself clear?”

Fiona managed to nod her head.

With a smile on his face, George stood up and left the table. As he got to the open door of the carriage he turned around and looked at Fiona.

“There’s an envelope under the Menu. Please distribute the contents to the crew. You guys really did well tonight.”

Then he was gone into the night.

Fiona found the envelope and stood there open mouthed for almost a minute as she stared at the contents. There were at least twenty fifty-pound notes inside. As she put it inside her overalls pocket, she thought to herself, ‘if he wanted to make a statement then he certainly went about it in the right way’.”

[Nine Months later]

“I’d like to see Mr. Harrison?” asked the young man.
“Do you have an appointment?” asked the secretary.

“Well… Not really,” came the reply.
“Mr. Harrison is a very busy man. You need to make an appointment.”

“Ok then. When can I see him?”
“What is it about?”
“It is about a job.”

“You need to speak to HR. Send them your CV and they might be able to find you something but frankly we have already employed all of the graduates we are looking for at the moment. Perhaps next year?”

The young man went a bit red in the face.

“Mr. Harrison gave me his card and told me to come and see him. Well, I’m here and I’d like to see him.”

“Now young man. I’ve told you what you need to do. If you don’t leave now, I’ll call security.”

The secretary made a show of picking up the phone.

The young man left her with a glare.

[The following Day, outside the main office]

“Mr. Harrison?” called the young man.

The man turned around to see where the call came from. He was just on his way home for the weekend.

He saw the young man.

“Do I know you?”

The smile that had been on his face instantly disappeared.

“Mr. Harrison, my name is David White. You gave my your card last September, the evening you were on the railway. You told me that I should come and see you when I graduated? I tried yesterday but your secretary fobbed me off.”

Suddenly it dawned on him who this was.

“You are a bit different then weren’t you, Fiona?”

“Yes, I suppose I was,” he responded.

The young man looked disappointed.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have wasted your time,” he said and started to walk away.

“No. Don’t go. Let’s talk.”

The young man stopped and looked at George.

“I remember talking to and admiring a confident young woman. Now I see a timid young man.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’d better leave. I can see that you are a busy man. I’m sorry for wasting your time.”

“No. Please stay a minute. I’d like to talk to you.”

“About what? I don’t think you want to employ me. I’m not Fiona.”

“Ah but you are but you don’t know it.”

“What do you mean?”

George smiled back. He thought ‘perhaps I might be making progress here’.

“Let’s go somewhere and talk? Then I can explain.”

“Where? Where do you suggest?”

George looked at his watch.

“It’s Friday and the roads are going to be hell for a while. There’s a Coffee shop just down the road. Let’s go there?”

“This one’s yours I think?” said George as he handed a Coffee to David and sat down at the table.

“Now tell me about yourself and how you were ‘Fiona’ that night at the railway…”

David told him his story without thinking if it was the right thing to do or not. At the end, he felt exhausted and confused.

George had sat back and let me spout forth without interruption or comment.

He sat back and looked at me long and hard for what must have been no more than 10 seconds but to me, it seemed an age.

Then he asked, “What do you think of Tornado?”

This totally floored him.

“You…. You mean the A1 that was built a few years ago?”

“Yes. That’s the one,” he answered with a wry smile on his face.

“I think it was a great achievement,” came his slightly hesitant reply.

“You don’t sound convinced?”

“Well, for a loco that new, and built with the latest technology and manufacturing techniques, it should have been more reliable. To have boiler stay problems so soon that is not very good engineering if you ask me.”

The smile turned into a grin.

“What would you have done to prevent it?”

He thought for a moment before answering.

“Well, if I had the money I would have had two boilers made. If you think of buying an A380 or a 787, you build into the contract spares and as regards the engines, you have spare ones right from the outset. There is no telling when you encounter a bird strike. So you need another engine or two on standby. The same goes for the boiler. It is the heart of a steam engine. Without it, and all you have is a 100 tonnes of scrap metal, water and coal.”

George didn’t say anything for a while.

Then he asked,
“That might be ok for an express loco. What about an 0-6-0 general purpose engine?”

“If you look at it logically, all the preserved loco’s have boilers that are all more than Fifty years old. In most cases, there are no spares available and if there were, what condition would it be in? Rusted to hell and without a boiler certificate. They are really no different at all.”

George smiled again.

“What about the other teams building new locos?”

He sighed.

“What’s the sigh for?”

“In most cases, I think they are just pissing around trying to cobble something together. Granted, there is some talent but for many of the teams, it seems that all they want to do is build a new loco but can’t be bothered with the long-term operational matters. Then, if they had pooled their resources and built them all in the same place at the same time, you might, just possible start to get some economies of scale and enough people to want to look after the locos in the long term. Otherwise, 95% of all they make is a one-off bespoke item. Where are the spares coming from?” came his rather more confident reply.

“Given the opportunity what would you build?” asked a smiling George.

David laughed.

“A GWR 9xxx Pannier Tank. The Superheated long wheelbase version.”

George smiled back. It was another member of that class that had hauled his dinner train where they’d first met.

“Well David, I am very impressed by your attitude. It is very mature. I fail to understand why you are stacking shelves at a supermarket. You should be in a proper job as befits the holder of an Engineering Degree.”

He sighed again.

“The problem is that most employers don’t want Mechanical Engineers who love Steam and are prepared to get their hands dirty these days. Its all high tech electronics and CAD software. I feel like the last of the dinosaurs.”

“What would you say if you heard that someone was planning on building not one but several identical locos?”

David grinned back.
“I’d say that they are totally mad and have more money than sense but I’d still ask them for a job. Even if they are totally bonkers, it sounds like a decent project that would interest me.”

George grinned back and then finished his coffee.
“I’ll be in touch,” he said as he stood up.

He left David wanting to continue our conversation a lot longer but at least he’d met him and put his case. Frankly anything was better than getting up at 03:40 every morning just to stack supermarket shelves.

When he got home David researched George and his companies. In everything he did, he was Conservative with a Capital C. Caution was the other word that came to mind. People watched his various moves in business and followed him when he moved into a sector or sold up from another one. Like him, they made a lot of money over the long term. That really didn’t fit with the conversation h’d had with him.

“David, time to get up. You will be late for your shift!”
It was my mother shouting at me to get up. It was nearly 04:00. My shift started at 04:30. I’d slept through the alarm once more.

“Ok Mum. I’m awake.”

He lay in bed for a minute trying to remember the events of the dream. As hard as he tried, it, like most dreams faded away. He felt rather sad, as he got dressed for another boring shift, it had been a nice dream, the little he remembered of it.

[Three weeks later]

David opened the front door of my parent’s house. Another tedious shift of stacking shelves was over for another day.

“David, there is a letter for you. It looks official,” shouted my mother from the kitchen. As it was a Saturday and I was heading to the railway for the afternoon, she was getting me some lunch.

He was a little confused as he hung his coat up. He couldn’t remember applying for any jobs in the past three or four months. Then he saw the letter with the words ‘Harrison Group’ embossed in silver on the front. That name seemed vaguely familiar but he couldn’t place it right away.

David opened it and read the single sheet of paper inside.

“Dear Mr. White,
Mr. George Harrison requests your company at his new factory in Gorton, Manchester, next Tuesday and Wednesday. Transport and overnight accommodation will be provided. He wishes to discuss a position that will be of interest to someone close to you.

Please phone the number at the top of this letter to arrange a time for the transport to pick you up.
I look forward to meeting you very soon. Mr. Harrison has spoken very highly of you and your friend Fiona.

Yours sincerely
Cynthia Lennon,
Personal Assistant to Mr. George Harrison.

An astonished David read the letter several times. Each time, his mouth dropped open even wider.
That dream was not a dream, or was it?

He could only infer that that ‘someone close to you’ meant Fiona. He wanted him to become Fiona.

His next thought was,

“What the hell am I going to wear? I don’t have anything suitable at all…”

Or was he going Loco?

[Then End]

[Authors Note]
I wrote most of this story after a visit to Didcot Railway Centre. I finished it a week later after visiting Beamish Museum and the Shildon outpost of the National Railway Museum.



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