Condor Ferries exclusive: life behind the boats
In a new twenty-eight part series, we take the time to learn about the people and practices of Condor Ferries. In the first instalment, we begin by listening to chief engineer Nick Hamstring, the man responsible for maintaining and servicing the fleet
My day starts at around 6am, when I get up as quietly as I can, and tiptoe around the place so as not to wake my wife. She gets cross if I disturb her.
I tend to steer clear of breakfast these days. It just makes me feel more sick when I get to work. I have two double espressos and then walk the dog. It is supposed be my wife’s dog, but in recent years she has taken to increasingly referring to it as my dog. I don’t mind too much. Walking it gives me a good chance to try to play-out all of the confrontations I’m about to face when I get in, so it’s good in that way, I guess. Even if it is raining.
At work, I begin the day by reading about the most recent breakdowns. I try to get there a good hour before anyone else - to give me some sort of chance to try and prioritise them in some way. Depending how many engine failures we have had, and how many passengers are stranded where, I will try to put together a work schedule that has the best possible outcome for Jersey-based travellers. It’s just better that way, what with me living here and all.
The mornings tend to go quickly. There is always someone shouting for something or threatening us, and it can be hard to try and stay on top of what needs to be done at any given time. We must be the only passenger provider, globally, where people have such low expectations – and then get so angry when those expectations are then met.
It’s not easy, here. In fact, working for Condor at all. My boss hates me because I can’t get the boats fixed quickly enough. My wife hates me because I’m always late home. My kids hate me because my wife hates me. And the public hate me because they’ve never the faintest idea what’s going on. And because we don’t strike, even the French hate me. I know they hate everyone, but…. If it weren’t for the Prozac and the dog, I might very well hate myself.
But it’s the kids that I worry for. Sometimes. Ever since the other children found out that I work for Condor, Louise and Tommy have started getting bullied. Nothing too serious I suppose. Apart from when Tommy was chased onto a dual carriageway on his last school trip.
Now, when people ask me what I do, I tell them that I am a traffic warden. No-one really asks any more questions then.
Lunch gives everyone in the workshop a good opportunity to thrash out their disagreements and try to clear the air a bit. When there are fights, we always resolve to have them done-and-dusted by 1:15pm, so everyone can have something to eat and get themselves patched up and what-have-you. There will always be conflict, it’s just essential that it is managed properly in a workshop environment.
If any more breakdowns have come to my inbox since lunch time, I pretend that I haven’t seen them. Someone from upstairs will then come down to speak to me about them in person. Sometimes though, they don’t bother until the next day, which is great because it allows us to properly concentrate on the emergencies we are currently dealing with. I guess they’ve got a whole heap of their own shit kicking-off and it's hard for them to achieve anything either.
The phone rings a lot. But we have recently tasked our apprentice with fielding calls for us from midday until four. He’s brilliant at it. Better than he is with any spanners. We’ll then just sign off all his training forms and stuff at the end of the day. He’s a good lad. I’ve told him to get out of all this as soon as he can, and go into something better. And he actually seems to have listened. Which is weird, for someone so young.
In a role where everyone hates you, it’s a question of teasing out the positives where you can.
It’s great when you first start. I used to take home kilos of those boiled sweets that they give to people who look like they might be sick - and the actual sick bags themselves. They’re useful for so many things. Especially for walking Lola. I would take bin bags, straws, napkins, aftershave samples. Everyone does. But over time you just lose interest. You’d much rather just buy stuff at the super market – even if you do lose out financially: If it means not having to interact with anyone. The magic goes, you see. And all you want to do is go home. When you’ve been here for a while, the positives, the bonuses…the small wins are different. Small wins now might be avoiding doing company away-days, avoiding having to speak to anyone from HR, or timing your afternoon shit so that it merges seamlessly into second tea break, giving you, in effect, another lunchtime. You have to be constantly alert to new ones when the opportunity may present itself. It takes time. Geoff from the stores landed a great one. He realised that he could get an extra half day off a week if he made his diabetes flare-up with squirty cream. It’s about working with what you’ve got, and being creative.
I feel for the management here. I lot of all this stuff isn’t their fault. I don’t reckon. They’ve bought some shit-piles, granted, but what are they supposed to do? They’ve done their best at any given time, it’s just that they’ve been done-over by people. Who hasn’t? We’ve got a little saying in the workshop: ‘no second chances at second-hand ferries’. It’s not like going to Glencoe and having a punt on a family run-around.
It’s tough, but I’ll be out soon. Another eighteen months and I’m gone. It’s the young blokes coming in to all this that I feel for. That’s why I tell them to get out sharpish while they’re still able to.