Harrow, we have a problem
When things don't quite go as planned....

We all know that old adage ‘failure is not an option’ – but what happens when it is? Life can have unpredictable twists and turns, outside of anyone’s control. They can pop up at a moment’s notice – and often disappear as quickly as they arrived. No matter how ‘well’ something is going, or how successful you are: there’s always a chance that it can come crashing down.

It’s happened to me.

See that look in my face? Pure, unadulterated joy mixed in with a whole dollop of privilege. Edgware Road will always hold a fond place in my heart. (All photographs © Kaye Fordtography)

In January of this year I began training for my dream job – Service Controller, an intense, fast-paced role that looks after the smooth, day-to-day running of an entire London Underground line. That’s not to say I don’t adore what I do at the moment (even the most occasional of followers will know that I absolutely do!), but unfortunately the traditional ‘Service Operator’ (Signaller) role within London Underground has a limited lifespan. By the end of the decade all of London Underground’s remaining signal cabins will be but a distant memory. I’ve had a fantastic three years learning and mastering the art of the Cabins, and in particular had the most amazing two years working Edgware Road; if it was still open to traffic I almost certainly wouldn’t be writing this at all.

Hammersmith was a very sedate cabin, but still had its moments. When something happened, there was no option but deep concentration!

So, the timing was right for a new challenge. With Edgware Road closed, as well as my ‘first’ cabin at Hammersmith, I’d been able to reach my ‘other’ objective of getting qualified at Harrow-on-the-Hill – an altogether different beast from those already within my repertoire. I’m also a Signaller Instructor, meaning that I teach brand new signal operators, fresh from the training school, how to work a particular cabin, with all the local quirks and quips that that entails. January also marked my five year anniversary with London Underground; a nice, round number to embark on a new adventure. If only things were that simple.

The six week Service Controller training course got off to a great start (except maybe getting up at 6am… I am not a morning person), with lots to learn and take in, as well as refreshing existing knowledge. It’s an intense course, reflecting the reality of the role and the multitude of challenges that can arise during any particular day. Although I’m fortunate to have had a lot of good exposure and experience to the life of a Controller through events that have happened during my career, it’s still a significant step up from my current role. But, I was in a strong starting position, ready to learn, evolve and adapt. In short, I was ready to give it my all.

Despite this great start, the ‘January Blues’ got to me. I’m not a huge believer in the idea that certain days or times of year are worse for mental health than others, because we all have our own experiences and circumstances that can shape how we deal and process things. Sadly, for me, this is January (and February) – I’ve touched on some of these reasons in previous blog posts – and coupled with other elements of my mental health this made the stakes all the higher. I frequently doubt my own abilities, have very little self confidence and always feel that I’m never going to be good enough. Sadly, in this instance, I was proven right.

Let’s not exclude Jack from all this! A big part of the Service Operator role is to make and receive phone and radio calls, skills which are easily transferrable into other aspects of the business.

I don’t hugely want to go over old ground once again. I’ve spent the last three weeks inside my head going through every possible option, outcome, scenario. What could I have done differently? What if I’d done this? How could I have missed that? I’m finally getting into a place where I’m ready to move on, and I’ve been back in the cabin at Harrow to try and find some normality. Part of my ‘avoidance’ of social media has been to try and get back to that point, but also an overwhelming feeling of shame… and, perhaps worse – of letting every single person who has supported me down.

Now, I know that I’m probably being silly. I worked my socks off, I did my absolute best and, unfortunately, my circumstances got in the way. As I say, I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it is true that grief affects everyone in different ways, and never truly leaves you. You can have one of the best performances of your life and hours later be in a lonesome, helpless, dark place. Grief is just as debilitating as any physical illness. People are important.

In spite of all this, I’m no quitter. I haven’t made it to 27 (genuinely had to check how old I am just then…) by giving up and by not being good at what I do. I’m determined, I’m resilient: in the words of the great Chumbawumba, “I get knocked down, I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down”.

My dream has been knocked back, but it isn’t over. More people have failed this particular course than have ever qualified as Controllers; I’m very much not in the minority here. It’s taken a while to get to this point, but all this means is that it isn’t my time.

Sometimes, Failure Is An Option. It absolutely sucks – but it’s not the end of the world. I’ll still reach my dream – I’m just taking the Scenic Route.

Of course we weren’t going to get through a blog post without seeing MY ACTUAL FACE on the ACTUAL SIDE of an ACTUAL TUBE STATION. Southwark. The Bower of Bliss. THE PROUDEST achievement of my life: I am not a failure, even if sometimes I fail.