As many of you are aware, I worked for a few seasons on the Isle of Wight Road Trains. They operated in three seaside towns - Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin and I have driven and been a conductor on all of them at one time or the other. In the absence of anything deep and meaningful it is probably the best job you can have. You're out in the open, by the sea, meeting pleasant and at times interesting people, you've got regular hours and you're not rushing around. What more could you expect from a job; apart from anything deep and meaningful that is?
You might at this point wonder why there is a need for a conductor. Well, it's a legal requirement for any road train that operates on the public highway and the conductor is as much there to ensure safety as he is to collect fares.
Back in May 2008, I was asked to drive the Sandown Train. The weather was overcast, and we weren't busy; just ticking over.
My conductor was 'Mini Me' and he was the son of one of the managers. He would fill in for the regular conductors when they were sick or on leave.
Mini Me was actually sixteen but looked twelve. He had thick curly blondish hair and a face that would make a choirmaster weep. He was also quite short - he may not have even been five foot - and the passengers would sometimes look bewildered when they heard a voice requesting their fare but couldn't pinpoint where it was actually coming from, as he stood at times, depending on the camber of the road, often below the level of the train's sides.
Character-wise he was fairly shy, but he possessed a dead-pan sense of humour at times. He was in addition quite creative and artistic - he posted short animated films on YouTube which I felt showed great promise. I liked him. He was a nice lad.
Anyway, we were waiting our time at Eastern Gardens when three, remember three, passengers got on. Mini Me collected their fares and I asked him where they were all going. He told me that were all just having a trip right the way round. This meant that the only place I would need to wait time at would be The Isle of Wight Zoo, though I would keep a lookout and listen for the buzzer should anyone change their mind.
I jumped into the cab started the engine and set off. We trundled past The White City Amusements, Sandham Gardens, the Canoe Lake (in a poor state of disrepair) into Dinosaur Isle and out again re-joined Culver Parade past The Grand Hotel and then stopped on the concrete apron outside the entrance to the Zoo where I'd killed the engine and had got out of the cab. I then casually observed Mini Me help two passengers out of the carriage.
I was absolutely certain there were three passengers and we hadn't stopped anywhere so that anyone could get off.
So, I'd gone up to Mini Me and had said: "I could have sworn that we had three passengers on when we left Eastern Gardens."
He'd replied, matter-of-factly: "Well, there was one man, one minute he was there and the next time I had looked he had disappeared."
I'd thought: Is this a wind up?
I'd then responded, extremely sarcastically: "But, where's he gone? Has he been fucking abducted by aliens? Maybe he's spontaneously combusted?"
Mini Me had just shrugged, and I'd seriously wondered if I was losing it.
Then across the car park a family had run up to me. The father, out of breath, had said to me: "Some old fellow has just thrown himself out of your train just before you got to the hotel. He landed on the road flat on his face. He had blood on his nose, and he started scrabbling around on the road picking up the money that had fallen out of his pockets. We asked him if he was okay and he said 'yes' so we let him get on with it!"
I'd thought: How the fucking hell did I miss that? I must have been checking the offside mirror at exactly the time he threw himself out of the nearside and landed behind the train out of my vision.
Mini Me had been sitting in the front carriage facing forward - officially he's supposed to sit at the back so he can observe the whole train - and wouldn't have seen him.
I'd phoned the police and informed them of what had happened - I think they were trying not laugh.
I then took the names and addresses of the witnesses and had started off on the return half of the trip.
As I had passed along the section of the road where he had apparently fallen out, I had scrutinised the surface for signs of blood or coins, but I'd seen nothing. I'd also looked out for old men with bleeding noses; again nothing.
The rest of the shift had passed without further incidents.
When I'd got back to the depot I'd filled out an accident report, which another driver I'd entrusted to deliver to the inspector at the bus station had failed to do, leaving it in the rest room overnight for all the other drivers to read; and laugh their fucking heads off!
I'd never heard any more about it but I did wonder what had happened to the chap who was most likely over here on holiday. I imagined him getting back to his guest house or hotel with his nose caked in blood, a couple of black eyes, maybe his trousers torn, and the owner asking him if he had had a good day.
"Well, I had a little trip on the Dotto Train..."