The Past

I used to wake up suddenly, in the middle of the night, believing that I had forgotten to do something important in work. It would seem so realistic that on times I couldn’t separate the actual things that I had forgotten to do and the imaginary ones. The only time that I would get any form of continuous sleep would be when I was drunk. If I were sober then I would wake up almost every hour. My alarm clock would blink at me with its beady red eyes. I would be at my most tired, minutes before the machine would scream. Lucky I always seemed to wake up just seconds before that wretched sound. There is nothing more sinister than that sound. Starting your day to the sound of an alarm clock is a horrible way to live.

I would lie in bed, underneath my three quilts, dreading the cold. My mind would race forward to the day ahead and it would upset me. I reach over and kiss my wife on the back of her head and summon up the courage to leave. Almost in unison, the first sounds of the creaking pipes bellow from under the floorboards as the central heating kicks in. The cat, that I hate, brushes itself against me and walks in front of me trying to deliberately trip me up as I walk. Every few seconds it cries this horrible little cry.

I go into the bathroom and brush my teeth, the cold water far too sensitive for these pegs. I finish the routine with a gargle of Listerine and a splash of cold water on the face and then it’s onto my body. I spray my armpits with Dove; spray my neck and chest with Hugo Boss and head into the toilet for morning prayers. After reading some miserable story in the paper next to the toilet I flush and go into the spare room and put on my clothes. The same black pants I wear every day, fresh underwear, socks and shirt all underscored by my dirty black brogues. I go into my son’s bedroom and kiss him on the head before telling him I love him and then I am out of the door.

I jump into my white van. It smells industrial, almost like stale cigarettes. The interior is filthy and I have no idea why I never clean it. It resembles my mood. I drive but have no memory of it. I arrive at the giant mouth of the Steelworks and show the guard my pass. It’s raining heavily and has been for days. This means the road to the diesel depot will be flooded. The drivers will have to use the emergency road meaning I will get complaints from everyone about the damage the road does to their cars. I can’t fix the road because I can’t get any money sanctioned to fix it. I can’t move the drivers out of the depot because they don’t want to move. I feel as useless as the emergency road.

I park outside my office and ignore everyone. I open the door to my portacabin walk in and put the kettle on. I can hear the water dripping through the ceiling and splashing onto the floor. I kick the bucket back into place and the noise changes as the dripping thuds against the tin. I make myself a cup of tea and sit down in my chair. I force myself to turn on my phone and as the battery sparks to life I prepare for the dread. How many messages of doom are there to greet me this morning? There used to be a time turning my phone on would be the first thing I ever did. These days I hide from it. I switch it on and find that I have ten messages. There are messages telling me that the road to the diesel depot is closed, drivers are complaining that they have to use the emergency road, there is a locomotive shortage, one of my members of staff has trapped his finger in a BYA wagon and another one has reported sick causing complaints that they are undermanned in the yard.

After the phone I now have to read the logs. The logs are a collection of everything that went wrong in my patch during the previous 12-hours. My phone never tells me I did anything right and it never delivers good news. The log is the same and I go through it with a fine tooth comb picking out all of the actions that I have to fire fight my way through before I can finally go home. That’s all I do for a living – I fight fires.

I go over to the yard to find out how the personal accident happened. This personal accident is a microcosm of how frustrating my job is. The man trapped his finger in the BYA wagon door because the door is broken. It is broken because the customer had smashed the frame to bits trying to close it with a crane. The customer has tried to close the door with a crane because it won’t open properly. It won’t open properly because it was designed incorrectly. I cannot get a new design approved. I cannot get the correct tools to fix the hood. I cannot do anything other than just tell people to get on with it. So people trap their fingers, my boss calls me inadequate and then we rinse and repeat.

“Good morning,” I lie through my teeth to the first person I see.

“What’s fucking good about it,” comes my reply.

For the next 10-hours my brain is assaulted by complaints, whines and moans. My managers complain to me, my drivers complain to me, my groundstaff complain to me, my engineers complain to me, my customers complain to me and my boss complains to me. While all the complaining continues I receive e-mail after e-mail telling me to do tasks that make little sense. I get phone calls from my boss asking me why trains are running late when I don’t have a locomotive to pull the thing in the first place.

I would get home and my son would want to play with me.

“After I have had a bath,” I would lie.

I would go into the front room and kiss my wife and ask her how her day had been. I didn’t care and the question was just mechanical. She would tell me that her day was the same as always and I would reciprocate. I would go upstairs and lie in my bath thinking about people trapping their fingers in BYA doors. After drying as much of the day’s complaints away as I could I would come downstairs sit on the couch and watch TV. Nobody said much, especially me; I was just so physically drained from the day’s events. My son kept asking me to play and I kept thinking of excuses. Afterwards I would put him to bed, read a story, sing to him and stroke his hair. Then I would come downstairs and cuddle my wife while watching a movie.

Before you know it I am back in my bed dreading the morning and telling myself that I won’t sleep. Before you know it the machine screams at me, the pipes bellow and the cat cries and it starts all over again.

What does your life look like?


This used to be my life and I assume it echoes the lives of so many people out there. I loved my wife and my son but all of my energy was sucked out of me during the 8-12hrs per day I would spend in work. I hated everything about the place and it affected my whole mood – my whole life. I recently talked about change in the blog post I Am Too Old! I changed all of this. Every single aspect of my life changed in a series of months. These days I could write a completely different story. You do not have to put up with things. You do not have to accept situations just because they have always been the same. You cannot put off the fact that you may have to hurt some people in order to have the life you deserve. Change is good. Change is positive. Change is a necessity. It will save your life.

Photo courtesy of rbackowski (cc @

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  1. I’m so glad you were able to accept and effect the necessary changes in your life to get out of that lifestyle. I have been through boring times of life, through challenging and depressed times, but never anything like you experienced. Overall I enjoy my life. But then it is much different than it was before I became a Christian. I may have gone through a similar experience had I not chosen this way of life which is, really, an ever-changing life. I have way too many things that interest me and my one “cry” is that I can’t do all of it. It’s so much better to go through life without a heavy burden weighing you down, a burden often of our own making because we fight change. Thanks for being so honest in sharing your life.

  2. So glad you made the changes toward a more positive life. Many people don’t. Good for you!!!

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