So, held firmly by the elbow, I was marched across the road and over the bridge again to be met by a bewildered but very relieved driver who had broken the golden rule and left his vehicle unattended to look for his scatty conductor. The laughing policeman insisted on staying with us until I was safely back on my platform and when the passengers were told what had happened they rocked with laughter too. Was my face red! "Well, I'm certainly glad we found it all right," said my friend in blue, "I've never had to report a lost ram before." We made up the time before we finished the duty so I didn't have to fill in an official report - but the story soon got around and I wasn't allowed to forget it for the rest of my stay at New Cross Depot.
The days of Winter eventually gave way to Spring and now it was lighter in the evenings and people went out more, the air raids slackened off for a while and the sale of sixpenny evening tickets went up by leaps and bounds, whole families would sally forth to visit relatives they hadn't seen for months and many a romance blossomed on the top deck while we bowled along the country roads of Bromley, Grove Park or Abbey Wood. We were even busier all day on Sundays and when the Easter Bank Holiday Monday arrived several extra trams had to be pressed into service to cope with the queues of passengers at almost every stop. Despite the long list of spare staff in the Depot, the call went out to all depots to ask for volunteers to do overtime and rest day working throughout the holiday weekend. People came out in their thousands to visit Greenwich Park where they spent the day picnicking on the grass or sitting round the bandstand listening to the brass band or walking through to Black Heath to the Fair.
It was, of course, traditional in those days to buy new clothes for Easter and very smart and happy they all looked too. Working people only had two changes of clothing then, one for best and the other the clothes they wore for work. Every Easter out came the carefully saved up clothing coupons and a new best outfit was chosen. Children's clothes were usually purchased one or two sizes too large to allow for growing and mothers were busy just before Easter putting deep hems on dressed and trouser legs and taking in side seams with big stitches they could easily unpick the following year. Cotton wool would be stuffed into the toes of boots and shoes that were a couple of sizes too large and last years best brown shoes would be sent to the menders (or resoled and heeled at home) and dyed black to smarten them up for another year's wear at work or school. When money and coupons ran out, linen hat-shapes would be purchased at the local draper's shops and covered with pretty material costing bout one an sixpence a yard, half a yard would be plenty for one hat, so two sisters or a mother and daughter could have new hats at a cost of half a crown (twelve and a half pence) the pair.
I used to love working over the Easter weekend even though it meant extra hours of overtime and no day off for two weeks or longer. Very few employers gave their workers a paid holiday every year but London Transport did. Of course, like everything else, it was done at each garage or depot on a rota basis and the less fortunate among us had to take our holidays outside the summer months. The holiday rota stretched from 1st March to 31st October and we all volunteered to do rest-day working throughout that period to cover the duties of those on holiday. Provided the full services were kept running, the authorities were very lenient, especially if a husband arrived home on leave and the girl's holiday still moths away. Either her holiday would be swapped with someone due to start the following week or a call would go out for volunteers and a week's holiday covered day by day with rest day workers. The girls would invariably put a cross alongside their names on this list to signify that they would do the duty without pay and several of the men conductors would do so too, although the extra pay of time and a half for rest day working was a very great sacrifice for those among them with families to keep. Of course we all knew that the same would be done for us if the occasion arose but, even so, it was a really great sense of comradeship that bound us all together. I only wish that the same spirit prevailed today - regrettably it does not.
Unfortunately the lighter evenings encouraged people to go farther a field for their evening drinks too. Instead of slipping round to their local and staggering home at closing time they would take a tram ride or travel a short distance from pub to pub along the road until they found themselves miles from home. Then I would have to memorise where each of them was going and shake them awake or stop them in mid-song when we reached their destination. Some were so drunk it is a wonder they ever made it and my heart would be in my mouth when I saw them half climb and half fall off the platform and lurch through the traffic. Of course, there wasn't the mass of cars on the road as there is now, petrol was very strictly rationed for business journeys and only the well to-do could afford cars anyway. But, even so, alighting from a tram in the middle of the road in the blackout always involved some element of risk. To enable us to be more easily seen by other traffic we had a broad band of white shiny material similar to plastic) above the wrist on the left arm of our jackets and overcoats which could be wiped clean with a damp cloth. The whiteness gradually turned to yellow as the months went by until we wore white again after our yearly renewal of uniform.
The crew would sit in the canteen on meal breaks and swap stories involving drunken passengers - some amusing, some pathetic and others not pleasant at all. I still remember a few of my own. One dark night, along the Old Kent Road we were hailed by a young sailor who, somewhat dismayed to find himself talking to a woman conductor, asked if I would mind his bringing his mate along. He explained that they both had to get to Woolwich and from there by train to Chatham where they were due to join their ship at 7.30 a.m. "I'm afraid my mate is a bit under the weather," he said, "but we'll be in dead trouble if we don't catch that train. I'll look after him, miss. I promise he won't be any trouble if you will take us to Woolwich." Well, with my Bill in the Navy I always had a soft spot for sailors but "under the weather!" - his mate was so drunk he was almost in a coma, propped up against the wall of a pub, dead to the world. They both had fully packed four foot long kit bags with them and a small suitcaseeach too. So we loaded the luggage on first and I took it under the stairs so they didn't have to buy luggage tickets (no string!). My driver came round to find the reason for the delay and he must have felt sympathetic to the Fighting Forces too because he lent a hand and, between us, we managed to carry the unconscious sailor into the lower deck where we laid him out on the long seat. Regaining consciousness for a few seconds he opened his eyes, said, "Goodnight, Mum," and lapsed into oblivion again. I dissolved into a fit of giggles - he was about ten years older than me anyway - and his young mate broke into a torrent of apologies - he was only about nineteen years old himself and a teetotaller into the bargain and so scared they would both be turned off again if his mate upset anyone. Of course, we had lots of passengers between the Old Kent Road and Woolwich but everyone understood and sympathised with the two blokes on the last night of their leave, going out to sea the next day to face the elemets - to say nothing of the German U-boats. When we reached Woolwich half a dozen passengers got out of their seats to assist the sailors and luggage off the tram and safely on to the pavement. Two chaps volunteered to help with the source of all the action (now slumped at the foot of a lamp-post with an angelic smile on his face). They had both taken tickets to Plumstead but assured me they could take a later tram or even walk home if necessary after seeing the two sailors safely on their train. I waved them good-bye with many thanks and hoped another lovely crowd would do the same for Bill should the occasion arise!
Another drunken sailor provided an episode which was not so amusing - to put it mildly. To begin with, he insisted on trying to go upstairs - a manoeuvre I judged to be unwise - if not impossible in his state. After several stumbles, lurches and not a few strong words he finally made it to the top deck with me in close attendance behind in case he should fall backwards. I sighed with relief when he collapsed on a seat and returned to the platform. We were running late, having stopped for a while in an air raid and the driver was really pushing it along. So down the empty road we rattled, swaying and lurching along as usual until we reached Woolwich Ferry where I had to swing the pole and fasten it down while we took up the plough. As I regained the platform I heard a shout from the window over the platform and I looked up - and the sailor was sick all over my face and head. Now the smell of vomit is nauseous enough under normal circumstances but when a man has been drinking both beer and spirits, and t is literally right under your nose - it is just indescribable. It was in my eyes and hair and dripping down on to my shoulders and all down the front and sleeves of my tunic. I dashed round to my driver nearly crying and he tried to wipe away most of the foul stuff with an enormous red and white spotted handkerchief, but it was obvious I couldn't face the passengers or continue my duty in that state. So he told me to climb up on to the drivers' platform while he went round to ask all the passengers to alight and wait for the next tram. When he explained the reason the passengers went up and dragged the sailor off the tram, telling him just what they thought in no uncertain terms.
Then away we went down the road, non-stop to Charlton works where all the trams were services. There was a hurried consultation with the Chief Engineer and I was escorted into the washroom. I was on entirely male territory here as no women were employed at Charlton, so the engineer and my driver posted a man on the door to keep everyone else out. Then they helped me off with my tunic and set to with a sponge to clean the worst off while I washed my hair. They went outside while I took off my blouse and washed it and wrapped myself in a clean overall several sizes too large. While I was escorted into their canteen my tunic and blouse went off to be dried in the boiler room, and two cups of tea later I returned to the tram fully dressed and clean and dry again. We had to make out a full report when we reached the Depot and I was told to bring in my uniform the following day (we always had two uniforms every year). Within three days it had been replaced, but I imagined I could still smell it for ages aftrwards.
That little sliding window over the platform was the only one that a passenger could open or shut himself - the rest were all wound down or up with a turning handle kept in the locker, so if someone asked for a window to be opened, everyone else on that side of the tram had to be consulted, as they all opened or closed together. Our passengers must have been a very tolerant crowd because I don't remember anyone ever objecting when I asked.
The only other story I remember telling didn't involve a drunk at all. We were cruising along near the Elephant and Castle one summer evening when a man dashed out of a side street just short of a request stop and ran into the road waving to the driver who pulled up for him. As he swung on to the tram the passenger shouted, "Ring her off, mate - quick!" The reason for his state of panic soon hove into sight around the corner; a really tiny middle-aged woman in a flowered apron and a man's cap and brandishing the biggest rolling pin I'd ever seen. I had rung the tram off by then and the expression on her face, at seeing the tram pull away with her man safely on board, was really comical - she stood there, rolling pin in one hand and the other arm shaking a clenched fist until we drifted out of sight. Well, I'd seen dozens of cartoons depicting the angry wife greeting her drunken husband with a rolling pin at the ready behind the front door - but never met a woman who chased him out with one! What did he get on his return I wonder?
Another time my driver and I provided an inspector with a good story to laugh over and it came about like this. One quiet night we were cruising along with no passengers aboard, my driver on this night was a jolly sort of chap whom I had worked with several times before, and he slid open the connecting door to enquire if we had anyone on board. "No - we're as dead as a door nail," I replied - the usual expression when referring to an empty vehicle. "How would you fancy learning to drive?" said he. Would I - wild horses wouldn't have stopped me - so I ran through to the front platform to receive my first - and last - lesson on driving a tram.
Now the tram driver stands behind a control box about four feet high and controls the tram with an iron lever, somewhat resembling a spanner, which is always called a "key". This key fits round a nut on top of the box and turned through a series of notches, each notch bringing more power and thus increasing the speed of the tram. To pull up and stop, the key turns back through the notches until all power is cut off and a brake engaged and finally a handbrake is applied by turning a big wheel alongside the box. Driving a tram is as simple as that - no steering - no gears - a child could operate it. I stood there, proud as Punch, bringing the tram to a halt at every stop, becoming quite proficient in bringing it nicely in line - with the platform opposite the stop - and then gliding off again - so that when we reached some traffic lights the driver even let me pull up - wait and pull away again entirely unaided while he lit a cigarette. We were some yards beyond the lights when a voice behind us remarked,"Not bad, gel - we'll make a driver of you yet." At least I had the sense to bring the tram to a halt, while the driver gasped and threw the cigarette over the side, then we both turned to find a Road Inspector standing behind us.
Just in case it had escaped our notice, the Inspector totted up our list of crimes while busy writing on his board: No 1 The connecting door was unlocked - No 2 The back platform was unattended on an empty vehicle - No 3 The driver was not at the controls - No 4 The driver was not in possession of the key - No 5 The conductor was driving without a licence - No 6 The driver was smoking on duty - and No 7 We were now (looking at his watch) four minutes late. Point Nos. 1 2 & 7 merited nothing more than a sharp reprimand but Nos. 3 & 4 were serious crimes and Nos. 5 & 6 were not only breaking company rules but were police offences too. We were really in trouble and no mistake. But it must have been my lucky day because, after a telling-off that lasted several minutes and left me feeling about three inches tall, the Inspector showed me the board which he had been writing on while detailing our various crimes. On it he had written "Tram Correct" and told me to sign it - bound us to secrecy and told us if it ver happened again he would be down on us like a ton of bricks. Then he pulled a packet of fags from his pocket and gave us one each! "Just got back from the hospital," he said, "our first and it's a boy - after fifteen years wed!" So it was his lucky day too! He jumped my tram several times after that and neither of us ever mentioned the night his first child was born and I drove the tram. That boy must be about thirty-five years old now, although that makes me feel very ancient indeed.
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