It was in the mess room at Kentish Town that I got the reputation as a great womaniser. Then as now, getting accommodation in London was very hard. I lived locally by myself in a large flat on the top floor of an old town house. Occasionally I would put up friends who were desperate for somewhere to live. One day a Finnish lady friend asked if I could accommodate her friend for a few weeks as she was desperate for a roof over her head. Her name was Merja (pronounced Merrier). She was also from Finland. She spoke excellent English with a Scandinavian accent, was curvy but slender, and had long blonde hair and grey eyes. She looked like every young man’s dream, but we were just friends. One evening we were going to a party but Merja had to tell me of a change of plans. She knew that I was driving DMUs around the Barking branch so she went to Kentish Town Station to leave a message. In the messroom were six drivers and guards sitting and talking as she walked in. Apparently all conversation stopped instantly. She asked if I was around and one of them told her that I was out on a train. He asked her if she knew that I lived locally. She replied; “Sure I know, we live together.” Apparently her reply left them in stunned disbelief. When I walked into the messroom twenty minutes later there was a great cheer. “You dark horse, Brooksie, you never told us that you were living with a gorgeous Swedish bird.” I just smiled knowingly. For the next few weeks I never heard the end of it.
A few days later I terminated at Luton with a DMU. The guard approached me as I walked along the platform. He was a religious middle aged Caribbean gentleman. He said; “Brooksie, I am a very worried man. I am havin' to pray for your soul.” I asked what I had done wrong now. “You have done nothing wrong; you is livin' with a beautiful, blond Swedish woman an' enjoyin' every minute of it.”
You can’t moan at a reputation like that.
Occasionally I ended up looking stupid. Sometime in 1982 the electrification of the Midland was completed and the new class 317 EMUs had started to run. There was a farewell tour for the Rolls Royce Class 127 DMUs. I think that it was organised for the Loco Club of Great Britain. It was on a Saturday and I was the driver of the first leg which was empty from Cricklewood to St Pancras. Everyone would board there and I would take it to Bedford. From Bedford it would continue on to Bletchley and somehow eventually end up at Quainton Road.
Two days earlier I had had an accident with a car jack and had badly bruised my right hand. I could still work provided that I was careful and carried my bag in my left hand. I could still drive a DMU so things were OK. At St Pancras I changed cabs and walked along the platform to the other end of the unit. Waiting by the cab were a group of men. One of them introduced himself to me as the tour organiser and made to shake hands whilst being photographed. We shook hands. His grip was like a vice. A terrible jolt of pain shot through my hand. Both my feet left the ground as I let out a deafening scream of pain. It probably looked hilarious but the poor chap who shook my hand looked horrified and I felt a complete fool. I tried to explain that it was not his fault but I still felt pretty stupid.
New and old at St Pancras. Arno Brooks.
Due to the shortage of fitters there were occasions when there were a lot of rush hour cancellations. The Transport Users Consultative Committee regularly had meetings with senior managers.
Cricklewood was a fairly young traincrew depot. When a lot of young men work together it is common for them to behave like the oversize children that they really are. Thankfully things are much the same at York today. One summers evening in 1977 at about 7.30pm at the end of the evening rush hour a group of drivers and guards were sitting in the mess room drinking tea, smoking, sitting and talking. As usual people were taking the mickey out of each other in a friendly way. Like many young men of the era I had long hair. One particularly large guard had recently come from the navy. He gave a theatrical wink and said;
Guard. “These long haired lads are really a bunch of girls.”
Me. “Well we’re the sort of girls you sailors like to chase.”
Guard. “We will see about that.”
He leapt up, grabbed hold of me, tossed me in the air and caught me by my ankles and started shaking me up and down. It was all silly, friendly horseplay.
I was suspended upside down by my ankles. My jacket was dangling down over my head and my money, tobacco, lighter etc had all fallen on the floor. Everybody was howling with laughter. At that precise moment our Area Manager accompanied by members of the Transport Users Consultative Committee walked in. The Area Manager calmly took stock of the situation and said “Please could you put Mr Brooks down for a moment?”
I was carefully lowered upside down to the floor. As I was picking myself up the Area Manager pointed to me and seriously announced “This is Arno Brooks, he is one of the experts that regularly drives your trains.”
Inside Cricklewood Depot. In the foreground are some DMU final drive units and a class 47 bogie. During the day the repair shop was fairly quiet. At night it was a mad house of thick blue smoke, engines revving and fitters swearing. Arno Brooks.
One Friday afternoon during the summer of 1978 I was the driver of the “Calvert”. This was a class 47 hauled container train of London refuse that went from Greenford in West London to the gigantic landfill site at Calvert in Buckinghamshire. Calvert lies on the line north out of Aylesbury, it is about 10 miles north of Quainton Road. I had another driver with me who was learning the road. At Calvert he went for a wander to have a look at this fascinating place. He came back having found a policeman’s helmet which must have been thrown away. As the train was empty and much lighter on the way back I let the road learner have drive. As we headed back to Greenford and then Cricklewood he wore the helmet. Going through Aylesbury, Princes Risborough and High Wycombe we got some very strange looks from waiting passengers. Back at Cricklewood he gave me the helmet. He said his wife would “do her nut” if he came home with such a thing. I put the helmet in my locker.
I was on duty next on the following Monday morning for a Bedford rush hour service. I decided to take the helmet with me. I ran the eight car DMU empty to Bedford. On leaving Bedford I put the helmet on (luckily it fitted quite well). I stopped at all stations to St Albans and then ran fast to St Pancras. Before rolling into St Pancras I removed the helmet. Standing at the buffer stops was my friend the area manager. He stood there looking for all the world like a peeved headmaster facing a naughty schoolboy.
Area Manager. “Ah it’s my old friend Mr Brooks again. The jungle telegraph tells me
that you’ve been getting dressed up as a policeman. Have you by any chance joined the
Me. “Err no. I was wearing this.” I showed him the helmet.
Area Manager. “I wouldn’t dream of asking how you acquired such an item. Most of my drivers seem perfectly happy with their official British Railways headwear. Is there any possibility of you becoming just a little bit more conformist and not pretending to be one of the boys in blue?
Me. “Err, yes alright”
Area Manager. “Ah splendid. Good morning.”
Towards the end of their lives a few Class 127 units were embellished in some way. I took this picture whilst driving another 127 heading for Bedford. Arno Brooks.
Sometime in 1983 a strange and final chapter happened in the life of the Class 127 DMUs. I only can provide vague details but I photographed the result. Either the Greek Railways or a private line in Greece needed some new passenger trains. British Railways had been approached. At Cricklewood a three car Class 127 set was selected and given a thorough clean and service and the paintwork had been touched up. The set then made a number of trial runs with various Greek officials onboard. Sadly nothing came of the affair.
Note also the white gutter the length of the train. Cricklewood station, summer '83. Arno Brooks.