Glasgow must be the only place in the world where they have built two railways that go nowhere. There’s the dinky wee subway that has been chasing its own tail under the streets of the Second City for years.
Then there’s the Cathcart Circle, or to give it its Sunday name, the Cathcart District Railway where the trains begin and end their journey in the cavernous interior of Glasgow Central station. The Circle was built to cater for the affluent parts of the ‘Sooth Seid’ (Anglice:- South Side) There were no stations in the Gorbals or Hutchiesontown. In steam days before the age of the automobile dawned, special stock was built with a higher proportion of first class than usual. The ‘circle’ was a very special railway.
When I planned my escape from the hell of the ‘Communications department’ at what was then called ‘Buccanan house’ I found myself as what was then termed a ‘Traction Trainee’ Appointed to initially the Glasgow south Electrics. As I waited for my seniority to build, I found myself on the spare links, during which time I worked mostly on the ‘Magic Roundabout’ The Shift controller was a guy who will remain nameless but was always known as Gorgeous George. He had an attitude problem, serious B.O. and a pair of moobs that Dolly Parton would be proud of. About the kindest thing one could say about Gorgeous George was that he was an unconscious arsehole. Given that he resembled a pregnant elephant, some have wondered if he was the inspiration for W.H. Awdrey’s ‘Fat controller’ Not that Gorgeous George had the sartorial elegance of sit Topham Hatt, usually he looked like an explosion in a rag store.
It was once said that on the occasion of an old firm football match at Ibrox, a much higher than usual percentage of SPTE staff would call in sick. Anyone who has worked a Circle train when there’s a big match at Hampden will know the feeling. To drive a 303 unit with a full load of Rangers supporters giving a lusty rendition of ‘The Sash My Father wore’ accompanied by full percussion accompaniment on the bulkhead behind you is quite an experience. Same goes for when those loveable louts from the East End were singing about Ireland’s favourite sons. At least if it was Partick Thistle’s travelling support, there was a chance that all seven of them would travel in the back coach.
Naturally one could get somewhat pissed off by this spectacle but there were ways to strike back. You could fail the train somewhere that would guarantee that you would not only detain a train of idiots but ensure that no other train would ever make it to Mount Florida much before the final whistle. Naturally that didn’t make you flavour of the month with Gorgeous George but got you extra brownie points among your fellow drivers.
On one other occasion, I found myself on a late night train headed not for the circle but for Gourock. On that particular evening, the Scottish
National team had been playing another ‘Vital’ match against some country that amounted to little more than a speck in the North Atlantic or a hill in Italy. I know not, or care less exactly who they were playing that night only that the result was ‘Disappointing’ (I.E, they were comprehensively taken apart)but according to the (Then)National Coach Andy Roxburgh, It was ‘always going to be a difficult fixture’.
Anyway, to the action. This particular working was full of kilted idiot with tartan scarves and crates of beer. (This before the alcohol ban) They were noisy but no real trouble, unlike the Old Firm yobbos who were prone to sundry acts of naughtieness. The only problem was that as the 303’s had no toilets, they had a habit of peeing in empty beer cans and throwing them out of the window which could be unpleasant for the guard.
Anyway, all went well until, pulling away from Port Glasgow, the train came to a shuddering halt. Someone had pulled the ‘chain’ the communication device for use in an emergency. I took the appropriate action and wound the handbrake on as it was necessary in those days to reset the thing manually. Now the train was stopped on the bridge at the end of Port Glasgow station and a slip on leaving the cab here could mean a potentially fatal fall to Balflour street below. Gingerly, I climbed to the ballast and walked along with my lamp. I identified by the ‘flag’ that the alarm had been pulled in the front coach. Using the manual door actuating valve I opened the doors of the rear door. Inside ther was silence. The kilted ones were muted.
‘WHO PULLED THE CHAIN?’ I demanded in my most authoritarian voice. I was just ever so pissed off. No answer. The guard, Gordon ‘the Greek’ Graham was making his way forward from his van.
‘Right Gordon!’ I shouted. ‘Call the polis!’
‘RIGHT!’ Gordon replied.
‘Excuse me?’ came a timorous voice from ones of the kilted ones.
‘It was me, by the way!’
‘WHY?’ I snapped.
‘Er, My scarf was hanging over it and I pulled it by mistake.’ He said sheepishly.
‘Well, DON’T hang your scarf over it!’ I growled. ‘That’s not what its for!’ I closed the doors again, and reset the mechanism. We continued on our way to Gourock without any further incident but most of the kilties had alighted and sidled off into the night by then.
Many years have elapsed since the 303’s went to the big depot in the sky and even more since I ceased my wanderings on the ‘circle’ but I will never forget my days on the ‘Magic roundabout’
by Jane Helen Jones
What were your prompts?: Spectacles, Gorgeous, Automobile.