It was never going to be a normal week ,the Covid-19 pandemic has affected us in ways we could never have imagined, while other factors have also been in play, and while I try to keep railway politics out of these tales, I was truly shocked this week to see how low morale has sunk. That said, we are doing our best to re-open safely and not let the strain show to the general public. Perhaps the oddest things were the fact there was only one train off each end, oddly, with ours being numbered S2, apparently so as not to confuse us as had there been two trains (Which there weren't) we would have been in the path of the second one (I'd have gone for S1 as we were the first South end departure, or even just S) This meant that there was no David Brattan to annoy with silly tricks, and less need for me to be on the look out for Dave's response (Who can forget the Cumquat Hurling of a few years ago?) The second oddity, is that loco crews have not been able to book a full midweek together, so this isn't a week of working with the same crew either, but a different crew each day. Despite all this, I shall try to knock together a story with it's usual humour. Day 1, Monday 28th June 2021. and I have gone to AJ's for breakfast, and bump into the Last of The Summer Wine gang from the wagon department. the pandemic has kept us apart for too long, we chatted over breakfast for a good while, but one rather worrying topic kept returning, and it was one which had been playing on my mind too, it is beyond the scope of this article, but the same subject was to come up in most conversations I would have this week. I made my way round to the station, and went to sign on. Now I'm not superstitious, but I do have my lucky set of detonators, there is no logical reason behind it, but when I was a fresh, green guard, someone noticed that I always took set KD2 (Now renumbered KR2) and commented that the universe would collapse if I were to find them missing, well, the universe must have teetered on the brink as for most of the time we have operated during 2020 and 2021, they have been missing, however, today, they had returned and the universe could breath more easily. I checked my train over, and greeted my TTI's Ian Powick and Matt Davis. I must admit, the mask and the fact he no longer wears glasses meant I didn't recognise Ian at first, I am quite good when it comes to names and faces but when all you can see is eyes, even I struggle. The train was a mixed bag of stock consisting of a mix of pre-1948 coaches, giving a train made up mainly of compartment stock. It had been one of those days where everything had taken longer than expected and so with about 5 minutes to go before departure, I went to go and make myself a coffee, on my way back to the train, I was chatting, when I realised that my fingers were not as warm as they should be. a quick check of my coffee was to reveal that the boiler wasn't working and my coffee was stone cold. By this point, I had been joined by my friend Steph, who was here for her annual pic on (Or for the last 18 month beside)a loco with her dad and her twin sons, her dad being the fireman on the Bridgnorth turn. Those with long memories will remember Steph as being the half naked girl in my brake van from around 12 years ago, she turns 30 this year, and is the mother of a pair of very active 8 year old twin boys. So I set off, 11 a.m. exactly on time, and before long, I had my first puzzle. I put the lights on for the tunnel. The GWR didn't give much consideration to convenience in this matter, the control box for the lights being at the opposite end of the coach to the van. With hindsight, I should have popped my head into the next coach to see if her controller was closer, however, it didn't occur to me until we exited the tunnel, and I attempted to turn the lights off, the door to the control box was stuck, the hook which holds the door shut had dropped to such a position that while a gentle squeeze would be needed to release the door, the same gentle squeeze would also jam the hook in place holding the door shut. As I fiddled with it, I was thinking about where the other controllers were so I didn't flatten my batteries, at this point, I realised I had made the wrong choice by not checking the next coach. We crossed the other train at Arley, they were running late owing to 5 mph TSRs in two well known places for instability, Sterns and Alveley Wood, and for good reason. Both locations have tilt indicators in situ at the moment, and while neither one had gone off, Sterns looked awful, and the coaches visibly rocked as we crossed it. Our return run, which, oddly, was timetabled to terminate at Bewdley, which with no buffet on the train, the buffet at Bewdley being closed and not enough time to go into town, was proving unpopular with staff and passengers. The station had no staff present so the porters room was unavailable, so I headed to the wagon department to grab a brew. The weather had forced the lads to give up and go home, so i let myself in, noting we were low on coffee and milk, so resolving to bring some more tomorrow. The afternoon was event free, until the phone went just as I was giving the driver the 'all clear' from Sterns. Given that the tilt monitor equipment automatically messages the D.O. if there is any movement, this made me twitch, it turned out to be the Volunteer liaison office to inform me of a group who would be on my train later in the week to disperse some ashes of a late volunteer as we passed through Eardington. He had checked the roster to see who the guard for Thursday, but was surprised to find me not at work on Monday, having not noticed it was me all week! Day 2, Tuesday 29th June 2021 Well today did cause a few chuckles. The day started as usual in AJ's café, with Steph and a confusingly named friend called AJ, they were off to Bewdley, to meet up with Stan jones to make up a trio of platform staff, or as they had termed themselves, team Ginger (For very obvious reasons to those who know them) meanwhile I headed off to Kidder station, where TTI's Jim Seaton and Pete Evans were waiting. Pete was trying to water up, and asked me if I knew why the hose next to the coach he wanted to water was disconnected. "I suspect it's knackered" I replied, looking at how discoloured it was and assuming it had gone hard and started to leak. On closer inspection, I was half right, there were two crimp marks on the pipe, roughly 4' 8.5" apart, suggesting it had been run over. I went to the signalbox to get some radios, a recent introduction with the two slips at Sterns and Alveley wood, to assist if we needed to set a train back out of section. As signalman Richard Heap handed me the two radios, i noted one of them had a chunk missing from the aerial, and pointed this out to Richard. "Probably gone the same place as the rest of your hose pipe," he replied. Arriving at Bewdley, the girls were on the platform, and AJ suggested that as Steph wasn't passed for dispatching trains but she was, she would shut the doors and go to the back of the train. "Actually," I said, "If Steph shuts the doors and goes to the back, and lets me know when she has done, could you do the front please? I can't see the bridge from here, and as you are passed, I could do with your eyes up there." AJ agreed and went forward. It proved to be the right decision. We were in platform 3, and the platform alcoves block my view of the bridge and most of the stairs too, as I went to give the right away, she stopped me, as a couple of very late running passengers hurtled into sight and rushed to join the train. decision very much vindicated! At Highley, I got chatting to a couple, who were asking directions to the pub, I mentioned the steep path, and the alternative of around a ten minute walk down the road, a couple of comments of the potential for slipping on the hill brought me to the tale of my friend Ash, who had gone on the carol singing train with me and another lad a few Christmases back, and having slipped and fallen on the snow, hurtling past the two of us sat on his backside, and crashed into the gate at the bottom of the hill, all with his pint, very skilfully held aloft above his head. so back to the present, and as we left Bridgnorth, there was a frantic sounding of a horn, I quickly checked the train to see that all was well, a Caffrey International lorry was heading down the bypass, and the lorry driver was doing exactly what we do for free P.R. sounding his horn and waving to the train. Sterns slowed us down a bit, but Hampton Loade gave me chance to show how much time I can recover at stations, I may be older these days but my brain is still as alert as it was when I first passed out. Poor old Hampton Loade has become something of a forgotten station during the current situation and we had dropped no one off on the way down, so if no one got off on the way back, we could recover the time lost at Sterns by getting away swiftly. As we stopped the two TTI's immediately had their heads out, suggesting that no one was getting off, I put my hand up to ask for an all clear, and their hands came up in reply, I gave the flag and we were away in under 30 seconds, and back on time. On arrival at Bewdley, I took the tail lamp round to the other end of the train, and said hello to Steph, AJ and Stan before delivering supplies of Coffee and milk to the wagon department, and walking back up to the porters hut via the car park, a route chosen deliberately to allow me chance to photograph AJ's vintage Austin, which was parked in the carpark next to an equally vintage army "Hippo" transporter lorry. The afternoon looked to be shaping up to be event free, but never under estimate the general public and their ability to make you smile, on this occasion, it was a lady asking us to hold the train, as with seconds to go until departure, her husband had elected to go to the toilet. Day 3, Wednesday 30th June 2021. Our driver today is the driver I am normally found sharing a footplate with, Si Brookes of the 2857 society, so it is appropriate that the loco for the week is 2857, my TTI being former head TTI Leigh Weston. Our first smile of the day coming from a lady complaining that she had arrived at her compartment only to find people in it, and with the current situation she didn't want to share her compartment with strangers. The TTI checked the load sheets, the lady had been part of a coach party, and the total strangers that she was unwilling to share a compartment with had come with her on the same bus. I had noticed earlier in the week that the plaques on the benches at Bridgnorth were looking rather tarnished, one in particular, which happened to be opposite where my brake van was stopping, was of significance to me, being the one remembering my late Godfather, Alan Trend, my Godmother is in a home these days, so I thought I would spend the duration of my brake with some brasso, rag and elbow grease giving it it's shine back, I hope I did a good job. Running into Highley on our way home, I felt a pin prick in my hand, and some little beastie was happily biting my, leading to an uncomfortable trip home. Thursday 1st July 2021, where is this year going? If the end of the week was Friday, the previous day was definitely Bri-day, by TTI's being Brian Cartwright and Brian Southam, while our driver was Brian hill, leaving myself and fireman Jim Cooper feeling like the odd men out. The day started almost as a carbon copy of Monday meeting Steph and the wagon lads in AJ's for breakfast again. The day started uneventfully, until we arrived at Highley, and I got chatting to a couple about Thomas the Tank engine and how they used to bring their kids to the Thomas events. I suggested that if that was of interest, then the Engine house was currently home to Gordon the big blue engine. "We'll have to look into that for our niece," she said, "she's autistic, she used to be obsessed by Thomas, now it's dragons." "Ooh, like this one?" I replied producing Idris (One of my toy dragons, and yes, named after the dragon from Ivor the engine) Such circumstances are exactly what my family of dragons are there for, and before long, they were lined up on the guards van step, with me crouched behind them. At Bridgnorth we swapped 2857 for Taw Valley, meaning my break got squeezed as I had to go round pulling strings, stopping every two paces to explain to people why I kept kneeling down, looking under the coach, followed by a hissing sound. Taw Valley proved to be a little more troublesome than the 28 had been, taking a good 5 minutes to re-start the train out of Bridgnorth. the big engine proved difficult all trip, and approaching Highley, I found myself in discomfort again as some winged thing decided to bite me again, this time on the arm! At Bewdley, I again headed to the wagon department for a chat with the lads and a brew. once again the same subjects came up but soon we were heading North again and with the fact that the end of my holiday was approaching slowly dawning on me. At Arley, we were about to leave, the keen eyes of Arley Staff member Alan Davis drew my attention to some passengers scurrying along the other platform, they had made the fatal assumption that we had used that side in the morning, and so would do so in the afternoon despite the signs saying otherwise. We swapped back to 2857 at Bridgnorth and once more headed for home. Day 5, Friday 2nd July. Friday was definitely an entertaining day, my TTI's today being Martin Rees and Alan Timbrall, and the footplate crew being the regular 1940s pairing of John Price and Tom Clarke,assisted by trainee fireman Harry Bradley. During our 7 minute stop at Arley, the footplate crew took the opportunity to lay some flowers by a tree planted in memory of our late friend Chris Bowler, Normally Chris's family would have done this, but a mix of the Covid pandemic, and an injury to Chris's dad, have prevented this, so the loco crew had the honour (and it is an honour) of doing so. The morning passed uneventfully, although Sterns was still tripping everything over. On arrival back at Bewdley, Harry shot off round the front of the loco, and to everyone's surprise, returned with a wrap of tin foil, containing a chicken which John promptly cut up, passing round chicken rolls to everyone. Tom and I spent a good chunk of our break reminiscing over 1940s weeks over the years, the subject of the day he booted someone who, in his words, was "Fat and smelled of drugs" over the fence and off our property, and the day I filled Dave's det box with Potatoes, Carrots and turnips. It was also good to see Tom's partner Dawn back enjoying 1940s events, she is a lovely character and always good to have her around. The old team set off once more for Bridgnorth for one last trip as a trio, and what a trip it was. At Highley, I was greeted by the platform staff and a couple with a problem, asking if we had any spare compartments, they had been on the other train and had been staying in Bridgnorth, it was only once they were on the railway that they realised that they still had their hotel room key, so as a result, were keen to return to Bridgnorth as swiftly as possible, to avoid being charged an extra night. Normally of course, this would not be a problem, but the restrictive nature of the prebooked service means I can only let them on if Ihave a spare compartment, luckily my TTI's knew the loadings better than I did and we found them somewhere to sit for the short trip back to Bridgnorth. Leaving Highley, I got bitten again, the insects of the area must find my blood particularly tasty, this time on the face! So a red and blotchy face could join the arm and hand on the list of insect bites for this week. Looking across at the cycle path as I was looking our ready to give a green flag from the TSR at Alveley, and the whole path seemed to be blocked by an odd looking, moving brown and black mass. Now my eyes are pretty good (read the bottom line of the chart kind of good) but my brain was struggling to process what I was seeing as this moving dark mass seemed to move as one, it is too early in the year for a mass of leaves blowing along it, and the movement seemed too uniform and too heavy, on closer inspection, it was a flock (If that is the right term) of about 30 female Mallards seemingly making their way from Hampton Loade to the river, and using the slow passage of the train over the TSR as their chance to make their journey without being shot at (Although having seen the abilities of some of the shooting parties there, even without the train, those ducks are about the safest birds on the planet). So with the slack at Sterns, as usual, we arrived into Bridgnorth slightly late, and ran round for the final time this week. The trip home was a master class in how to do the job properly, a trip when the crew did exactly what was required, nothing more, and nothing less, the TTI's were right on the ball, sadly the intermediate station didn't yield any passengers, but that is the nature of this service. We couldn't help but delay the Bridgnorth bound train at Hampton Loade, although, obviously, you make every effort to avoid adding to it. As it happened, we were there first, with a swift stop at Highley we kept the delay manageable. People ask why we don't just go faster when we are running late. While the line is built for 50 mph, we are only permitted 25, there would be a lot of hoops to jump through to get that raised, so we have no scope to go faster, in addition to which, Tom is a professional railwayman, and any issues here could cost him his career, John is the also a retired pro, and I have my reputation to think of. The second point is, given how long we are actually doing 25mph, we wouldn't save that much time. There is no point breaking your nexk to be exactly on time into Bewdley when the current time table will allow you to be 2 minutes late and still arrive right time at Kidder, and allow the engine to be driven more efficiently. So, with us a couple of minutes behind, we left Bewdley for the final time. This is probably the last time the three of us will work together as a trio, John retires at the end of this year, while Tom and I are both passed firemen, so will be, hopefully, going up to full driver soon. I have done 40s week for many years, and have to give some thought to whether to carry on, if we have the school kids next year, I'll be back, but if, as it seems, the Railway decides to turn it's back on that traffic, I may not bother. And so with all this on my mind, we swept down over the newly repaired Falling sands Viaduct, and climbed the short bank under Hoo Road Bridge, and up into the loop, we rolled under the footbridge, past the running dummy and into platform to, and to the end of an era.