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Get on board the love train

Time at Warwick Avenue
Tim the 'extraordinary' tube assistant

By Sheila Ruiz
BBC London

While commuting on the Tube can be an arduous experience for most of us, Warwick Avenue passengers are getting a treat thanks to Tim Pinn.

Commuting on the underground, particularly during rush hour, can be an uncomfortable, stuffy, and somewhat alienating experience for most.

However, for those beginning or ending their journey in Warwick Avenue station there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Timothy Pinn, known as Tim, is the popular customer service assistant at the west London station.

Tim is renowned in the local community for writing warm, humorous messages on the station's notice board and for his capacity to 'make a difference' to people's tube journeys.

Tim has worked for London Underground for 10 years and says he has never wanted to move up the ladder from his people-oriented role.

I want to do my little bit to actually help people realise that in fact we're humans, we're all part of a family and really we should be spending some time just interacting and getting on with each other
Tim Pinn

What aspect do you enjoy most about your job?

It's actually dealing with the members of the public that I come into contact with, either to give them advice on the route to take, listening to their problems or a little detail about their life, giving them suggestions as regards which restaurants to go to, which films to see, or anything like that. I find that I can really interact with people as they use the tube and I just love that aspect of it.

In your career you will have had many chances to move on to a more senior, managerial role - how come you decided to remain as a customer service assistant?

One of the good things about London Underground is that there is always the opportunity to move up the ladder as it were.

At times I've been encouraged to think about becoming a supervisor, a train operator, or whatever, and of course it would have meant more money, but whenever I've looked at what's entailed, it's always meant moving away from dealing with the public and I can quite clearly see that that's where I get my enjoyment and my satisfaction from.

So I've never really wanted to work anywhere else but on the gate line dealing with the members of the public.

When did you start writing up your personal messages on the notice boards?

It was probably about 18 months ago. In fact, it all started with a dolly. A dolly was found in the platform of Warwick Avenue where I work, so we inherited that dolly.

I was playing with this dolly one evening and I thought we needed to give it a bit of a make-over, so we managed to get something that resembled a London Underground uniform and we put it on the dolly including a hat, tie and a name badge and we sat it on an area in the station where it could be seen by commuters.

Tim at work
Tim lets an elderly couple through the gate

Then I thought, "wouldn't it be nice if the doll was actually saying something?" So I cut out a speech bubble, wrote a little message and attached it to the dolly. People were going out reading the dolly with the message and it went down well. I did it another night, and so then people got to expect it.

Unfortunately somebody came and claimed the dolly, so the dolly actually disappeared from the station, and I thought it'd be nice if we could continue this idea of giving out something a bit personal, something a bit humorous to the customers.

I then had the idea of writing messages on the white board and I've been doing that since. It's nice because the regulars look out for it.

Occasionally if I've forgotten to do it or perhaps I haven't been inspired, they'll be saying, 'so where's the message?' They'll be pulling me up on it, so it's a nice way of interacting with the regular commuters.

What has been your best line so far?

It's very hard to think of the best one. It's probably things to do with Friday. They're usually the ones that go down well. It's amazing how juvenile grown adults can be when it comes to the weekend.

You speak to these bankers and these barristers and it's Friday and they're as excited about Friday as anybody else is, so just tapping into that with a simple picture or a simple message usually is enough to get people smiling.

What inspires you to perform as you do?

I think it's because I look around London and I see that we're becoming increasingly a distant set of individuals all living together. We live in the iPod age where everyone is tuned into their iPod, cut off from the outside world.

There's free newspapers, free magazines for people to read and immerse themselves into their own little bubble, so people pass each other without really communicating or interacting.

I find that sad because in a way we're losing what makes us human. We find it easier to interact with the computer than we do to act with another human being.

I want to do my little bit to actually help people realise that in fact we're humans, we're all part of a family and really we should be spending some time just interacting and getting on with each other.

Message on notice board
One of Tim's messages for the commuters

What do you think about Mayor Boris Johnson's recent announcement to increase public transport fares next year? How do you think that will affect the ordinary commuter?

I suppose the reality of life is that you've got to increase the fares. It's just a shame that the people who this decision is going to most affect are those who really can't afford it.

It's OK if you're a banker and your fare goes up by a bit. That's not a big deal - no offence to the bankers. But for somebody who is earning minimum wage, if they find the cost of their travel has gone up, it's obviously a significant, much larger proportion of their wage.

That could mean the difference between using the tube or having to rely on buses, which might increase their journey time by 100% which would mean, of course, that their working day is ever so much longer.

We hear about accidents and deaths on the tube every year - what has been the most traumatic experience you have encountered in your time working for London Underground?

About three years ago in Warwick Avenue, we had an elderly Asian gentleman who committed suicide by jumping in front of a train.

A customer had run upstairs and told me it looked like he was going to jump. I ran down alerting the rest of my colleagues. I ran down, but I didn't actually get to him in time.

I arrived at the platform just as the train had come in with him underneath it. So that was probably the most traumatic moment of my career.

Tim and Oliver Sandig, a regular commuter  from Warwick Avenue
Tim and Oliver Sandig, a regular commuter from Warwick Avenue

How did this incident affect you and how were you able to overcome it?

It's very hard to go round with a big smile on your face immediately afterwards and I think the important thing is to be empathetic.

At the time, people were upset because they had witnessed the suicide, so it was a case of trying to help them to leave the station without them seeing more than they needed to, comforting the driver, and so on.

I was able to interact on quite a deep level with some of the customers and colleagues that dealt with that, and to offload with my family and friends afterwards. That was important for me - being able to talk about it with my wife, with close friends, to get some sort of understanding of what had happened.

And then it's a case of just realising that these things do happen and that although these bad things happen, essentially life is good and life is there to be enjoyed.

We have an obligation to the living to enjoy life and to help other people to enjoy life, even though we want to remember those that have died and those that are suffering.

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