Around 1967 I got a job at a print shop off of Tottenham Court Road, in London. I was a paper guillotine operator. This meant that I had to commute from Brighton to London, leaving very early in the morning. I could afford to do this as the job was so well paid. It usually included overtime. It was common to work from 9am on Friday to 9am on Saturday – straight through. It was helpful that Brighton station was a terminus. I was usually woken up, coming back, by a passenger or a cleaner.
The morning train
Most of the people on the early train were regulars. They were used to having their own seat and expected others to respect that, which they usually did. There was a least one chess group that played every morning. Others hid behind their broadsheet papers, usually The Telegraph or The Financial Times. As they worked through them, they turned each page with a loud ‘thwack’. Being a pretentious young man, I used to read books with the cover turned out so that everyone else could see what I was reading. I occasionally looked up to see how many people were taking notice. None ever were. This was decades before mobile phones.
Making travel friends
It was a train in which friends were made through conversations. I fell in – so to speak – with a man who made prosthetic limbs and we became good friends for quite some time. I think I was intrigued by the exotic nature of his job. The evening train back was quite different. It left Victoria in the middle of the rush hour and was crowded from London to Brighton, with standing room only. No chess groups and no friendships brokered.
Particular station features
At the time, the station had some particular features. One was the giant, wooden, indicator board in the middle of the gates to the trains. No computers then, instead an ornate wooden machine was constantly clattering and showing the times of the trains and the places they stopped at. Like today, with computerised screens, people in the station all tended to stare up at the board, perhaps thinking that their sheer willpower would bring up the notice of their own train.
There were at least three machines, of note, on the platform. One dispensed platform tickets. You put in your coin and got your ticket. This allowed relatives onto the platform to see off families or friends. Also, I would imagine, it allowed trainspotters to get to their favourite spots.
A label printer
The second machine contained a large hand on a dial, that allowed you to pick out letters and numbers which were printed on a thin aluminium strip. As was probably true for many people, I used to imagine that I would print out various labels and use them to organise stuff at home. But, also like other people, I only used the machine once, to print my name and for the fun of it. I doubt it was there to make a profit.
The chocolate machine
The third machine, and probably the favourite one. was the one that dispensed chocolate. This was, as I remember, Cadbury’s Five Boys. On the wrapping, the bars showed a bratish boy’s face in five moods, ranging from anger to smugness. Presumably the smug version was his response to having been given the chocolate bar. The brand didn’t last long – I wonder why?
Do you remember?
Do you remember these platform machines? Maybe you can tell us about others. If you can share your memories, please leave a comment below.