“You realise there are a number of people downstairs without masks on?”
“Yes, it’s unfortunate”, I say. Experience tells me passengers who ask this can’t be placated.
“You are playing a lot of announcements, but what are you going to do about it?”
“Very little”, I say, perhaps too candidly. So I add: “I’m not able to enforce it, and I don’t want to have confrontations with everyone not wearing a mask. We are all trying to keep our distance from people, even when we are assisting them”.
“So nothing then. You mean nothing. We have to rely on the police to fine them? You think you’ll end up in confrontations with people you challenge? And where are the police?” he says, gesticulating to prove there are no police around.
I bite my tongue and shrug.
He walks off shaking his head and scowling. “Another satisfied customer”, D says, as he comes to relieve me. “He asking about masks again? Every time he comes through, same thing. I get people are stressed out, but has he not got better things to worry about?”
We’ve got more to worry about. Our station has been busier than Waterloo at times. And it’s small. It’s getting harder and harder to keep our distance from customers. Situation isn’t helped by the end of cash payment on the majority of the network. Once the shops are closed and you can’t top up your Oyster card there, we feel the brunt.
“I get it. It’s less for us to do, they want to stop the sketchy people hunting for Oysters and begging, but it doesn’t feel exactly fair.” G says. “If they speak to me, ok, I’m letting them through. Lots of people don’t have bank cards”.
“Government wants to write our policy”, says P. “Then they’ll come for the pensions. I hope I can get out before then, because nothing we can do about that. You think any of the unions are gonna get ballots on that? No chance”.
I say P is a bit quick to write things off. He’s retiring? Fine for him, but no good for rest of us.
“Well, Night Tube isn’t coming back, is it? Not for a while”.
“Or we could say we’ll prepare to fight those cuts, wherever they come, and we won’t just accept it?”
“Yeah, yeah. Well, I don’t expect much for any of you that stay”.
E shakes her head. “Fuck sake man. It’s alright if you done 25 years and can look to sitting on your backside for rest of your time. Ain’t the one for most of us”.
• Jay Dawkey is a London Underground worker and RMT union activist