The Telegraph commissioned me to write a light-hearted comment piece on a recent Southern Rail story.
You can access the online version here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/20/75k-drive-train-sign-southern-rail/
The full text:
At 22-years-old, it’s time for a career change. This isn’t uncommon for my generation, but I’m taking things more drastically. Forget the First-Class in English Lit – everyone knows the Humanities don’t count anyway. Forget the recently completed Masters, the metaphorical ink still drying on my thesis (there’s no panache to be had in electronic submissions). I’m shifting gears, quite literally. I’m going to become a train driver.
It’s not, I’ll admit, the direction I envisioned my career would take. On the plus side, once I become a train driver, I’ll always know which direction I’m headed. More importantly, I’ll know exactly the direction my pay packet will be headed: up. When I read the recent headline that Southern Rail drivers had just rejected a £75,000 pay deal, I had to re-read it to make sure I’d got it right. Then I remembered that I was using data and my mum still pays my phone bill, so I benevolently put a stop to that.
I know no one my age with a stomach strong enough to turn down £75,000. The majority of us are at least £40,000 something in debt. Besides, most of us have experienced miserable unpaid internships, where the highlight of your day is when someone asks you fetch a banana from the Pret down the street. What’s a little more misery to the train whistle of £75,000?
There will be problems, obstacles on the train track to my success. Spatial awareness has never been my forte, for instance. I haven’t yet taken a single driving lesson, to the dismay of my father, who could handle a tractor as a pre-pubescent. As the “academic one”, I’m a disappointment in that regard. I used to embrace this defect, but not anymore. What does it matter if I can quote John Donne’s ‘The Flea’ from memory or churn out 5,000-word essays, if I can’t even tell the difference between first and second gear?
It’s enough to make you shudder in embarrassment. I’ve drawn a line under that part of my life, however. Chalk it up to experience and move on. No doubt train school will stamp out all that airy-fairy talk. Yes, train school will be the making of me. I’ll learn about gears, and train whistles, and the right angle at which to pull the train whistle, and the correct train whistle noise-levels for different events (‘loud’ for greeting another passing train, ‘moderate’ for when you’re just showing off).
Besides, I can’t ignore my heritage. I’m from Yorkshire, the land of sporting prowess, of Jessica Ennis! Beneath my gangly 5 ft 10 frame lurks an Ennis-style six-pack, just what’s needed for lifting and shovelling all that coal into the train’s engine. No matter that my sporting career peaked at twelve when I won the long jump for simply being the tallest in my class. I’m quite sure most of my generation would shovel human faeces for the prospect of £75,000.
And Yorkshire’s also the land of steel! My god, it’s even where The Railway Children come from! Once I’ve completed train school, oversized children will flock to wave me off with red hankies made of underpants. I’ll pull the whistle (sound level: ‘celebratory’), speeding towards my moderately sized London flat, secure in the knowledge that becoming a train driver was the best career move I ever made.