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Fame! I'm gonna live forever I'm gonna learn how to fly Those of us scarred and traumatised by the 1980's will no doubt recognise lyrics from that song belonging to a television series which I'm pleased to say I managed to avoid entirely. But what is fame? A reputation? A state of being? A mysterious blessing from fate? Curiously enough, people generally either see it with some degree of religious awe or an excuse for utter contempt. I made the mistake once of describing myself on my CV as 'known worldwide' for one thing or another. At the time I considered that appropriate given the attention I was getting on the internet, though to be truthful I never counted thousands of followers on social websites. I naively thought it would add some colour to my dreary collection of dead end jobs and idle interludes. To my suprise the manager of a certain catering company, interviewing me for some worthless office job, asked "So you think you're famous?" Erm... What? No, I don't think I'm famous. "It says here," He said, looking at my CV before him, "that you're known around the world.". Oh good grief. Well I explained that fame was a measure of attention people paid to you, that it was not an on/off switch, more like shades of grey. I did not use the word 'famous'. If I thought I was, I would've described myself as such. "To me this says you're famous" He snarled, holding up his copy of my CV and pointing at it like it was evidence of criminal behaviour. No point being reasonable with this sort of attitude, so I quite correctly told him my name was mentioned in print and that was good enough for me. I didn't get the job. I did learn to fly eventually. Still working on living forever though experience suggests I might struggle with that one. Audience With King George I seem to be getting into the habit of an annual visit to STEAM, Swindon's modest railway museum. It's not a bad experience, and the dummies in period costume are disturbingly real at first glance. A young mother just ahead of me was fooled, she suddenly realised that the old lady sat at a typewriter behind a desk wasn't quite as alive as she thought. I always enjoy that open door to a small office where the manager is telling his employee that if he's late for work once more there'll be a parting of the ways. I like the way the museum starts with this administration background, moves on to stores, then trades, then a diorama of wartime steam engine manufacture with two female mechanics chatting, until finally you wander into a large space with just Caerphilly Castle on her own, a full on express steam locomotive from those glorious days of God's Wonderful Railway. Looking a little shabby these days, but still a powerful exhibit. Secretly though I have another engine to visit. The first GWR King class, No.6000 George V. Not because I especially like that class of engine, or I admire the technical excellence, or respect the history of that particular locomotive, but because as a little boy I briefly stood on the footplate when it had stopped at Swindon station. George had been retired from mainline service long before. On one particular day though, a special train was due to pull into town and my mother took me and a friend along to see it. By sheer chance, I happened to be standing by the cab when a kindly engine driver kidnapped me to experience that forbidden metal cavern where the crew drove this engine for real. I remember the darkness with the firebox closed, the patina of grime, and a few burnished copper pipes. Truth was, I felt a little intimidated, and didn't have the questions the proud crew were hoping to answer. So they kindly returned me to freedom. Of course George is now somewhat cleaner in the cab, bereft of any coal or water in her tender, her firebox cold and empty. Machines are always female, whatever the name. It's hard to describe how I feel when I pause at the top of the steps to look around the empty cab. Part of me is pleased to be there. Nostalgia for that brief insight into a lost era, sensing that attachment to a piece of history, a complex and powerful machine, built by craftsmen in days gone by. All the same I cannot help feel sad the engine no longer steams, no longer moves. All that noise and motion of George in her heyday gone, possibly forever. Like visiting a disabled relative stifled by the regime of an old people's home, it's time to move on, so I pat the side of the cab wall. Great to see you again George. Audience Waiting Back in those heady days of the eighties, my main concern was striving for fame, to live forever, to learn how to... Well, you know the score. It was a time when music stores were commonplace, where you purchase all manner of instruments, gizmos, and accessories to help you on your way to rock stardom. When did I last play a drumkit in public? Must be more than twenty years now. You would think it would be all forgotten, but a reputation is a hard thing to suppress, whether justified or not, and let's be honest, I've never shied away from reminding peple that I used to be a working musician. I passed a bunch of lads lurking in an alleyway between shops on the high street. I heard them point me out, debate the merits of asking me to fill the vacant spot in their band, until one bright spark observed that I was almost old enough for a bus pass, that irrevocable indicator of old age and disqualilication for entry into rock stardom. My music career died long ago, but it seems fate just won't let me me forget it. Audience of the Week The pubs have closed for the night. So gangs of revellers tramp up and down the road outside on their way to a nightclub or maybe just struggling to get home without falling over. Most laugh, shout, or throw punches at each other. Some however continue to make appraisals of me as they pass. Scorn, anger, and amusement. So it seems everyone has an opinion about me, good or bad. Just the price of fame I guess.
Sometimes I encounter opinion regarding my blog. Well, it is there to be read, and I'd rather people formed an opinion good or bad than simply shrug and go back a *or* video. Mostly I hear how rubbish it is. Funny how the loudest people are those who want dismiss or abuse. No matter, but I do understand that not everyone wants to hear the latest whinge or moan from me. So before I whinge and moan some more, here's the fun bit. There I was, bored and miserable, sat on a bus bumping and swaying in unison with all the other passengers, when this old chap sat down next to me and started whinging about how bad the world was today. I agreed with him. The thing is he turned out to be an old railwayman, an engine driver, a man who had stepped onto the footplate of Castle class locomotives for the Great Western Railway in those good old days when coal was king and everyone employed when they were fourteen. He was one of those drivers who deserted the railways en masse when steam finally gave way to diesel. No way was he going to drive one of those 'tin cans'. Funny how much attachment people have toward steam engibnes. I do. The blessed things almost have a life of their own, like big animals that need constant fettling and feeding. "I'd like to get some of those yobboes on the footplate" He growled, clearly full of despair at our nations youths, "That'd teach 'em a few things". Sadly it wouldn't. I agree that working on a steam engine footplate, the control cabin if you will, is no easy option where steam engines concerned. I remember hitching a ride on a preserved line in New Zealand, and even for a little locomotive, the physical effort was impressive. never mind a much larger express locomotive gulping down several tons of coal per trip. Buit the sad truth is it would only be another job to avoid. Bad backs, migraines, too many interesting tunes on their I-pod, or perhaps just a strange tendency to shrug their shoulders would result. Aside of course from injuries inflicted by a coal shovel wielded by an irate driver I suspect. But I admit the conversation was fascinating. He told me about an accident on the railway. A train driver had misread a semaphore signal thinking he was cleared for mainline operation. The fireman realised that he'd made the mistake but by then the locomtive had accelerated to 25mph and derailed on the points, taking with it six wagons from Wills Tobacco factory. "Cigarettes everywhere" He said. "Absolutely everywhere..." I also discovered the sad tale of a canadian flight sergeant in World War Two, who was flying near the Vickers-Supermarine factory that used to be at South Marston. At low altitude he turned and a wing fell off. No chance of survivng that. Apparently his family still cross the Atlantic regularly and visit a small memorial to him. Gone but not forgotten. Not Again... I happened to catch Prime Ministers Questions before I went to work this week. There was Cameron, happily pulling the arms and legs off Mr Milliband, who sat there shaking his head. They've almost become a comedy duo. What I didn't find funny was Cameron crowing about how unemployment figures are down. Of course they are. People are being forced off Jobseekers Allowance by any means fair or foul and forced onto a hardship grant which the figures don't count. That's what they did to me. I went from trusted and hard working jobseeker to petty fraud and dishonesty in one fell swoop. An entire months dole money refused. Suddenly no-one believed my submissions. My evidence was unacceptable or 'not realistic'. For thre love of God, Cameron. Go. Your plan is only working because not enough people have cottoned on why you're able to claim it is. Beggar Of The Week Finally I'd gotten to the bus station and shivered as I strode through an empty town centre on my way home. It was perishing cold, and after sitting on a bus for half an hour, I really felt it despite wrapping up warm. "Hey mate, you got a cigarette?" Said the down-and-out in a shop doorway. Sorry , no. "Eff off then". He replied. One wionders how he expects any sympathy with that attitude. Suit yourself buddy, but stay under that cardboard, it's a cold night. By the way, does David Cameron know you're not earning a living?