The following Monday I was up bright and early in the new uniform and with all my equipment in the money bag over my left shoulder. As I was going to be working on the trams soon (providing I passed-out successfully) I decided to travel by tram and watch the conductor and, hopefully, pick up a few tips. The first thing I noticed was that his money bag and punch harness was soft and supple, a lovely chestnut colour and very highly polished - unlike my own - new, hard as a board and biscuit coloured. On asking how I could get my leather to look and feel like his I was told I would need two things - a tin of Cherry Blossom Boot Polish in a shade popular in those days and called Oxblood - and about ten years service! I made a mental note to buy the boot polish as soon as I could but, thinking that women would no longer be required when the war ended, hoped that ten years service was out of the question. By the time I reached Camberwell I had also discovered something else about the trams - their rocking, swying motion had made my stomach decidedly queasy and I wished I had not eaten a breakfast which showed all the signs of returning in the very near future. This was an appalling situation. Here I was going to train as a conductor, spending up to eight hours a shift on these vehicles, and feeling sick as a dog after barely a quarter of an hour's travel. Only when I finally got out on the road and worked on a tram did I discover that standing on the platform and running up and down the stairs gave me no discomfort whatsoever - as a conductor I was a good traveller but as a passenger I was a dead loss. I kept my secret and solved the problem by standing on the platform and ringing the bell for the conductor while travelling to and from work - or catching a bus!
When I first attended the School at Camberwell I could not understand why it was necessary to spend two weeks, twelve whole days, learning to conduct a tram. After all, it wasn't difficult to take money, punch a ticket, give change and ring a bell or blow a whistle, was it? And that's all they did, surely? After two days at Camberwell I began to think that a whole month wouldn't be long enough to absorb all I was going to have to know to enable me to pass the exam in two weeks time.
We spent a whole day on the rule book alone, pages and pages of does and don'ts and disregarding any one of them could result in anything from a mild ticking off from a Road Inspector or several days suspension and a black entry on my Record Sheet right up to the ultimate disgrace of Instant Dismissal without a reference. However, I soon discovered, to my relief, that the rules were mostly a matter of common sense. Only an idiot would ring off a vehicle without first making sure that no one was boarding or alighting, no one in his right mind would expect to remain very long as a conductor if he put the fares in his pocket and neglected to issue any tickets and to walk off without giving a working man his change was simply asking for trouble. To my amazement, two of the girls decided to learn the rule book by heart and used to fire questions and answers to each other across the canteen table when we broke for a meal. The rest of us were in despair at this display of learning. It later transpired that the girls had spent some years on stage and were used to learning their scripts this way!
Each rule was read out and carefully explained to us and questions relating to the rule were invited. Not until the instructor was quite sure that we thoroughly understood the first rule did we proceed to the next. After going through page after page of rules for conductors and drivers, covering every possible situation likely to occur (and a few highly unlikely ones) we were delighted to discover there were quite a few rules devoted to the behaviour of passengers too. For example - no passenger is allowed to beg, offer articles for sale or distribute literature of any kind on a Public Service Vehicle - neither is he or she permitted to sing, shout or play any musical instrument while en route - nor take up more than one seat while other passengers are standing - nor reserve a particular seat on a vehicle - not use obscene language - nor attach to the outside of the vehicle nor dangle from a window any streamer, balloon or any other article likely to cause inconvenience to other road users - nor molest oter passengers nor behave in a drunken or offensive manner. Should any of this behaviour manifest itself the conductor should, politely but firmly, request the passenger to desist in his offensive behaviour or leave the vehicle. Having a somewhat vivid imagination, I found myself wondering how I should cope when confronted by a drunken navvy, singing an obscene song, while accompanying himself on a guitar, and molesting the passengers who refused to pay up when he passed the hat round? Any attempt to be polite but firm under these circumstances would surely result in me being dangled from a window!
Of course, we all had our share of awkward types to deal with and most of us developed our own way of dealing with them. Personally, I always aimed to run a happy vehicle and, as long as the majority of passengers did not object, I found a policy of jollying them along far more satisfactory than wielding authority. Very few awkward customers travelled any great distance and a vehicle full of people singing 'Sweet Adeline' is much better that a punch up, in my humble opinion.
However, we were at the School to learn by the book, so we all practised being polite but firm, each taking turns to act the part of offending passenger who meekly allowed herself to bow to authority and desist in her riotous behaviour!
The following day started with a mini-exam to find out how much of the rule book we had managed to forget and what little we had absorbed and then we were initiated into the mysteries of waybills and log sheets. The log sheet is merely a record of the journeys undertaken by the vehicle from the time it leaves the Depot in the morning until it finally returns to base at night - each crew entering the duty number and time of take-over on the road. Thus, in the event of a public complaint, it is only necessary to ask the complainant the route number, direction of the vehicle and the approximate time of the occurrence for the offending crew member to be traced.
The waybill is also a record, but it is kept by the conductor and showed the number of tickets of each denomination issued in the course of a day's duty. To demonstrate the purpose of the waybill we were all issued with a Bell Ticket Punch and a complete range of tickets. It was pointed out to us that the top numbers of each denomination of tickets was already entered on the waybill and our first job was to check these numbers to ensure that they were correct. Then we began issuing several tickets of each denomination until out duty was deemed to be finished and the new top numbers were entered alongside the starting numbers. Then a simple subtraction would give the number of tickets issued in each value and an equally simple multiplication would, hopefully, supply us with the total money taken in each denomination. Then all that remained, to discover how much our takings should be, was to add up all the values. Having always been quick and accurate with figures, I found the waybill child's play but a few of the girls were pretty hopeless and after several erasures and alterations their waybills looked a sorry mess indeed. So the ones who found it easy helped the others along and while they learned a lesson in arithmetic, we learned an equally important one of co-operation and good fellowship. We found that we were eager, not only to pass out successfully ourselves but to do our utmost to see that the whole class got through.
We learnt to load the ticket racks in sequence so that we could select a ticket blindfold and know that we had got the right denomination. This was going to be almost a necessity in the blackout - but for daylight working we learnt the colours of the tickets. All tram tickets had a white flash down the centre to distinguish them from bus tickets. This was considered necessary especially in the case of transfers. The minimum fare was a penny ha'penny and was all white, a penny child - salmon pink, tu'penny - blue, thru'penny - bright pink, fourpenny - green, fivepenny - grey-brown, sixpenny - yellow, sevenpenny - cerise, a tu'penny ha'penny workman's ticket was apple green, a ninepenny return - blue and grey and the shilling all day ticket was in three colours which changed over a three year period so that people were unlikely to keep them to use in future years!
By this time it was obvious that the trainees still remaining in the class had the potential to make the grade so the next day we started with our application for the PSV (Public Service Vehicle) Licence. This application form was quite extensive and there was a long list of questions to be answered. Starting with name, address, date and place of birth, it continued with questions about our parents nationalities and asked for details of any debts or hire purchase payments still owing - living expenses (rent, rates, fuel bills and whether we had any family financially dependent on us). We were obviously not going to be allowed to take money from the passengers if there was likely to be a great temptation to steal it! We were questioned closely to make sure we had no criminal record and finally asked for the names of two responsible persons who would affirm our honesty and moral values! There is no doubt that these application forms were investigated quite closely - within a few days of applying one chap as reminded that the had been fined two and sixpence (twelve and a half pence) at the age of twelve for cycling on a footpath some fifteen years previously. His application was refused on these grounds for failure to report a criminal record. He had leave to appeal to the Chief Commissioner of Police at Scotland Yard and, if granted a pardon, would be allowed one more chance to apply.
The rest of the first week was devoted to learning how to issue tickets and using fare charts of the routes we would be working on in our own Depots. For the first time I discovered that I would be conducting a trolley bus on some of my duties as Wandsworth Depot had started the process of going over to trolley buses just before the War broke out but had only converted one road (from Clapham Junction to Mitcham) - this was now Trolley Bus No. 612. The tram routes were No. 12 - Wandsworth to London Bridge via Nine Elms, No. 26 - Clapham Junction to London Bridge via Wandsworth Road, Embankment and Southwark Street and No. 28 - Clapham Junction to Victoria via Wandsworth Road. So I had three tram and one trolley bus fare charts to learn. Once I had learnt the number given to all the stages on the fare chart calculating the fares was very easy. For the initial fare of a penny ha'penny the passenger could travel two stages - paying tu'pence for four stages, thru'pence for six stages and so on through the rage of tickets up to sevenpence. This was the maximum fare in those days so that any journey that lasted over fourteen stages was a sevenpenny fare. Bearing in mind that sevenpence in the old money was equivalent to three pence today it is easy to see just how cheap it was to travel through London in the War. You could board a 38 or 36 tram on the Embankment either at Blackfriars or Westminster and travel via Elephant and Castle, Old Kent Road through New Cross, Greenwich, Woolwich, Plumstead and right on to Abbey Wood for the equivalent of three pence today! And these were the full fares.
There were workman's tickets that gave you a return ticket for a penny or tu'pence more than the single fare provided the passenger boarded the tram before 8 a.m., cheap midday fares of thru'pence all the way inside the LCC area, ninepenny return to cover the sevenpenny single journey, the shilling all day tickets issued after 9.30 a.m. Monday to Friday and Bank Holidays which allowed passengers to travel on all London trams and trolley buses on the day of issue and the sixpenny Evening Tickets which had the same facilities as the shilling all day but were not available until 6 p.m. There was just one more ticket available, for luggage, which cost tu'pence for each parcel. The parcels were carried on the front platform alongside or behind the driver. The passenger would show the parcel to the conductor, then run round and give it to the driver after the conductor had stuck a luggage label on it. This label carried the same serial number as the luggage ticket issued to the passenger when he had finally boarded the tram. AS long as the parcel was tied with string it could be several items and go for the same tu'pence. This facility was used a lot by newsagents who would travel as near as possible by tram to Fleet Street, pick up their papers and take them back to their shops ready to open at 6 a.m.
There were still a great number of flower girls in London in those days too, sitting with their big baskets of flowers fresh from Covent Garden, in any busy part of town. Those I got to know sat at the gates of the Houses of Parliament, at Vauxhall, the Elephant and Castle, New Cross Gates, Greenwich and Lewisham and all travelled up to Covent Garden on the very early trams so that they could be back at their pitch before 7.30 a.m. But the funniest were the street market traders or barrow boys. They would push their goods from Covent Garden to the Embankment on a market barrow, pay a lad a couple of pence to take the empty barrow back then busy themselves with long lengths of string to parcel up four of five flat boxes of flowers with one piece of string - managing to get a whole barrow load of produce back home for a total of about eightpence! I often went home after and early turn with a pretty buttonhole, an apple or even a bunch of carrots. We were told at the School that we might get quite a few weird-looking parcels so, apparently, the barrow boys' tricks were quite well known to the authorities and no one seemed to mind as long as that all important piece of string was in evidence.
So now we knew how to read a fare chart, how to calculate the fares and what the large range of tickets were there for. Now all we had to practise was how to issue a ticket. This wasn't as easy as it may sound because some, from the fourpenny onwards, could be transferred from one route to another so that they would be punched not on the fare stage of the final destination but at the point of exchange. The change points from Wandsworth Depot were Clapham Junction, Vauxhall, Victoria and Embankment for the trams and Tooting Broadway on the 612 trolley bus. In those days all the tickets were printed with the names of the destination alongside the stage numbers, so that a passenger (and ticket inspectors) could easily see how far the passenger could travel before the fare ran out. Later on, all tram and trolley tickets became deaf and dumb, only indicating the stage numbers, so enabling any conductor to work any route all over London.
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