Saling Yacht

What a job! The best and worst……….

“Get ‘em off” and “Use the cloth!”

I remember in my musical travelling days of spending months going around American and British Army bases in Europe. The British gigs were generally ok but devoid of deep emotion from the audience, but the Americans, well, if they recognised an introduction to a song, you’d get a standing ovation!

I was musical director to a very accomplished vocalist/comedienne back in the 1980s and we were halfway through a tour of European bases, both American and British. 

One gig in particular has always stood out for me – it was in North Germany, and was a British base, with the audience consisting just of newbie squaddies, 16-17 year olds in their first year of service.

They were just out for a good time. Yes, they loved the fact that they could get to a concert, but as for the content, they couldn’t give a toss. All we heard during our stint, was directed at our unfortunate female lead – “Get ‘em off”, “Show us your tits, you c***”, and, to be honest, a lot worse than that.

Understandably, our vocalist/comedienne was deeply upset after the show, and, whilst ever-professional on stage, was inconsolable back in the dressing room.

I was with her, trying unsuccessfully to placate her, when the woman in charge of those squaddies slipped into the room, and gently started talking to us. I won’t ever forget her words.

“You were sensational”, she told our vocalist. “What you have to remember, is that these youngsters have no hope. They’ve not had anything like a decent upbringing, without the army they would be completely lost – they can only be trained to kill. When shit hits the fan, they will be on the front line – they will be the first to be maimed or to die. Tonight was a rare piece of fun for them, maybe the only decent night they will ever experience.”

So there you have it – my worst job imaginable, a no-hope squaddie in the army.

So let’s look at the bright side. A job that I would have wanted above any other. As regular readers will have gathered, I have a passion for trains. So, surely, a train driver would be the greatest job for me. 

Not quite.

Railroad Signal Box
Railroad Signal Box

Don’t ask me why, but the best job ever would have been a signalman in one of the old-fashioned manual signal boxes, preferably in a busy market town station, around the early 1900s, when the British rail network was at its maximum level. 

I have always been fascinated by track-work – not the locomotives themselves, but the track upon which they ran.  The more complex the track-work, the more it engaged me – and I soooo wanted to be the man who set the paths, and the signals, to enable the trains to run smoothly past my signal box.

Only a few years ago, as a very special birthday present from family and friends, I was, amongst many other things, given a day pass to spend on one of Britain’s best preserved railways, The Great Central, right in the middle of England.

Not only that, I was invited into one of the old-fashioned, but still perfectly preserved, and working, signal boxes. Just when I thought the day could not get any better, I was told that a train would be approaching shortly, and would I like to set the signals??? Would I like to set the signals??? Wow, not half! 

First mistake – I checked that the line was clear, and went to put the first signal to “clear” – I heard a howl from the signalman who grabbed my hands just as I was about the grab the lever. “Never, ever touch these beautiful, immaculate brass handles with your bare hands. Use the cloth!”

Second mistake – thinking the rest was easy. I put the second signal to “clear” but then needed to put the “distant” signal, some two kilometres before the station, also to clear, showing the train driver that the signals ahead were all clear. That’s two kilometres of heavy duty wire that had to be pulled by this one lever. I could not believe the effort that was required. No wonder you never saw any fat signalmen – no need for the gym for them!

What a day, what an experience, which left me in no doubt what my best job would have been…….  



The best and the worst jobs 

When I was a kid I thought that the best job would be an Aeroflot pilot. My relatives lived in Kamchatka at the time and occasionally visited us. By plane, of course. It was my dream back then both to fly and be a pilot later. 

Later I’ve done a number of romantic jobs to dream of: I wanted to be a sailor, a ship’s surgeon, an oceanographer. 

Old Aeroflot PosterTime after time the reality has been cancelling out my dreams. I couldn’t be a pilot because of my imperfect eyes (shortsightedness). Same reason for not being a sailor. Ship doctor? I found out that I had no interest in chemistry and biology, just wanted to sail. Oceanographer? I hated maths and physics. Again, just wanted to be out there in the ocean. 

Yeah, then I wanted badly to be an archeologist but didn’t make it trying to enter Moscow State dept of history in 1991, right after my high school. But I still like it and, for instance, Graham Hancock’s research and discoveries (and his non-fiction books, of course) truly fascinate me. 

To be an Alaska guide would also be great. 

Still, I think the best job in the world is to play in the NHL, i.e. the National Hockey League. That  was my true childhood dream – to be a professional hockey player, I was never brave or persistent enough to really think about it as something serious. Inspired by USSR v Canada great hockey encounters. Oh boy, those were the days… 

In my next life I’ll be playing in the NHL, preferably in the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders or Montreal Canadians, dream teams of my early years. Preferably in the late 70s – early 80s, during the Age of Gods. It’s like Bodhi, Patrick Swayze’s character, saying in the film Point Break: ‘I’ll see you in the next life!’

So with the next turn of the Samsara wheel you bet I don’t miss it. 

P.S. The worst job? This is easy and dull. No, it is not something like a scoop pooper at an Alaska kennel, no way: this is a very cool thing to do: you do it and think about your life, that’s inspiring. So here we go: working in the office, wearing a tie, drinking coffee at the corporate kitchen. Trying to look busy and decent at the same time. Trying to convince yourself that you’re not in the trash bin.
I don’t do it now and I feel good about it. 


Flesh Picker?

This is something of a two-part Blog: The best & worst jobs. One is easy and even now I don’t know what the best job is. I’ve thought about this for a couple of days and its so subjective. Obviously what’s best for me may blow in your opinion.

I really love creative things in any medium. I’m not into woodwork myself but carefully inspect beautiful, inlaid and carved furniture. I admire people with so much skill… Harley Davison builds motorcycles. I’m not sure when a motorcycle ceases to be a motorcycle and becomes rolling art but I do know the Heritage Soft-tail Classic is the latter.

Being President of any major country would be an awful job just now. The UK held a recall vote yesterday and guys in bright vests are on a rampage in Paris. The American President may not finish his first term. No, I don’t think this would be a great job the way it would have been thirty years ago.

From my teenage years until today I have always loved well done computer animation. The art has advanced to the point that we can no longer tell a real train crash from an animated one, even when its fifteen meters across a giant movie screen.

And so I dabble in my spare time and have used that skill in my professional work. I know I could never work on something like StarTrek because I would care too much, every pixel would have to be perfect and that takes too much time for a weekly TV series. So for me being an animator would be the ultimate job. While I have dozens of renders (most from real buildings), I’ll share a couple from StarTrek because I mentioned that. This is a cargo tug converted from a Federation Starship. I can tell you what each little widget does and the complete story of the class. 

At StationMedical PodsPods DownShip in Moonlight

That brings me to the worst job. For that, I have to go back a long, long time. I was in High-School in the US and took an Ancient History course. The teacher was a wonderful, older gentleman we all called Ancient Stan, for Stanley Lewis. 

He was a veteran of the vicious World War Two fighting that burned from island to island across the Pacific. As many of you know, this campaign saw some of the most abysmal carnage of the entire war. 

Ancient Stan had the worst job I have ever heard of. Each morning, he would leave the safety of his position and crawl out to the barbed wire. His job was to pick the human flesh off the razor wire while Imperial Japanese Troops tried to kill him. He crawled along, reaching up to pick off bloody cloth, hair and skin, along with the occasional finger. This would prepare the scene for the next round of fighting. The wire needed to be sharp to rip.

I’m told this affected Ancient Stan; I can’t say… We boys never asked him and he never betrayed his scars publicly. A kind man with an affable style, he didn’t deserve what that job surely did to him.