‘If it’s a family, as you claim, then it’s certainly a dysfunctional one,’ said a mainstream journalist. ‘Industrial unrest, mis-selling tickets – I bet you’ve even got a dotty aunt in the attic…’
Unkind criticisms of the railway are nothing new, but if the railway is in fact a family it too suffers its share of dysfunction. Shortcomings may be gleefully reported by mainstream media but the railway is fighting back. Chaotic it may be; but the enduring commitment of staff to each other and the people they serve testifies to a group dynamic, strong and remarkable. It deserves celebration and recognition.
Modern families are not neat, suburban or tidy. Rather the idea has become a big sprawling party, taking in friends, neighbours and colleagues. New families emerge from old. Rifts drive some apart altogether. Identity is tribal. Clan, in Gaelic or clanna to be precise, means children.
Cascade of laughter
However it is defined, a family can be stronger than the sum of its parts. For example, the band Madness, currently on tour, travel like a circus of old. Wives, partners, children and friends all come along for the trip. Lead singer Graham alone. To the lead singer of Madness the man appeared an Oasis of calm. ‘And for a second, I almost wished I was him.’
MacPherson, better known as Suggs, describes pulling into the Gare du Nord on Eurostar. The group were on their way to play at the Rock en Seine festival.
Their carriage was packed with uncles, aunts, children and friends. All of them fell off the train in ‘a cascade of laughter’. Beer cans, books and luggage piled up around them. Madness, with the nervous assistance of SNCF staff, prepared to mount an attempt on the Paris Metro. ‘It was obvious to anyone that we’d had a good time,’ Suggs recalls in his excellent autobiography.
Then he looked up and saw Noel Gallagher alighting from the first class compartment at the top of the train, a newspaper neatly folded under his arm, alone. To the lead singer of Madness the man appeared an Oasis of calm. ‘And for a second, I almost wished I was him.’
Being with friends and family forms the backbone of life. Riding out the peaks and troughs of professional life is all the more feasible if you have a family behind you. Suggs himself was brought up by his mother, a jazz singer. His father left the two of them and life was a struggle. Interestingly Suggs married rock singer, Anne Martin, better known as Betty Bright. The couple have two daughters and live in a house they bought in Camden Town close by other band members and a sprawling cast of musicians, pub landlords, footballers and friends – in effect, a wide and rewarding family. The song ‘Our House’ celebrates family life – no wonder another family chose to project it onto the wall of their home a mile or two south of Camden High Street.
Abi Smith, RBF chief executive, relaxes with her family walking along New Brighton sea front eating fish and chips. More alarmingly, she describes getting together with friends – and tackling the local rugby club’s beer festival.
Sharon Willett, who was made an MBE, talks of spending time with family and friends on Cyprus and is keen to draw attention to her fellow workers who also have saved lives.
Ascent of Man
It is important to encourage family and friends. Sharon Willett shot to fame initially as a winner of the Lifesaver Award at the RailStaff Awards 2012. Nominating a fellow family or staff member is an easy and effective way to say thanks – we appreciate our local hero.
Chaotic family life may be – but it almost always wins through. At the subsequent concert at Rock en Seine, Madness were asked to play on a smaller stage – the big one was reserved for Oasis. Good humoured as ever Madness made do. Afterwards, relaxing back stage over a beer or three, the festival promoter burst into the room in some distress. The agitated man let loose a flow of French and collapsed in a chair with his head in his hands. The only word they could make out was Oasis.
Naturally, with all the beer around, he had come to the right place. But in fact the headline act, Oasis, had split that night and would not take the stage. Could Madness play another set? Oui oui, said Madness, anticipating a future album title. With ribald encouragement, much cheering and joshing, Madness took the stage – marching on in their Ascent of Man walk. The French went wild and the day was saved.
The point is families need to work at staying together, looking after and encouraging each other. Families may not be easy but they can give the individual far greater strength and resilience.
Encouragement often means going one step beyond a simple pat on the back. Colleagues and cousins all need support. A little effort goes a long way. Nominations for the RailStaff Awards 2015 are open now.
Go to www.railstaffawards.com RailStaff Awards 2015 is at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry on 10 October 2015.