Declassified

Ever since I found out that there was no such thing as a first class ticket on my train into work, I’ve wondered why SouthWest Trains have continued to provide first class sections on the trains. Now, many years later, they’ve finally done something about it.

Normally I try and avoid the carriage with the first class section in it. Even though you can sit in the first class, there are fewer seats and so it tends to be a bit more crowded. SouthWest Trains likes to keep us on our toes, so it sites the two first class sections at random along the length of any given train. Avoiding them means not committing myself to any given spot on the platform until the train has appeared close enough for me to crane my neck and look out for the tell-tale pale blue blobs on the side of the train that mark out the First Class seats. So this morning, there I was, craning away, looking for the second of the first-class compartments, but seeing no blue blobs on that half of the train at all. It was only as it glided to a halt that I saw what had happened. The blobs were still, faintly, visible, having been painted out. And the first class carriage had been refitted with scum class seats, crammed in a little closer together but still with a few faded remnants of its old glory (chiefly, power sockets for your laptop* and heating set all the way up to ‘hinges of hell’).

So woo. Give them enough time, and SouthWest trains eventually do something sensible. Give them longer, and they may well bring back guards vans as well (do you think if I mention it often enough it will happen?). And tomorrow, I shall be craning my neck looking for the first class carriage, not to avoid it but to get on it. Because we’re up to Scotland again on National Depress, having left our purchase late enough that it was almost cheaper this way (honest). And I’m just hoping that they hold off the Easter Engineering Festivities to Saturday as advertised, otherwise we’ve just gone and bought ourselves the most expensive coach tickets in the world…

* Clearly labelled ‘this is for laptops and mobile phone chargers only.’ What do they think people might bring onto the train to plug into them otherwise, hairdryers? Lawnmowers?

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Getting an Earful

The even tenor of our journey was interrupted this morning when an unseen teenager* got on at Queenstown Road and started sodcasting their music to the carriage at large. Most of us merely emerged briefly from our semi-comatose state for a moment, realised that, yes, the rest of the journey was going to be played out to a soundtrack of fuzzily reproduced wishy-washy R&B, and adjusted our expectations for the day downward. This, sadly, is not the outrage it once was and has become just one of those things that may happen to you when you’re using public transport, like late trains or people barging in front of you. But one woman on the carriage had not yet lowered her standards to the same extent that the rest of us have. First she unleashed a sigh loud enough to drown out the music, at least for a moment. Then, realising this wasn’t a sustainable approach if she didn’t want to pass out from hyperventilation, she addressed the teenager. ‘Is that yours?’ she asked. The teenager acknowledged it was. ‘Could you turn it down’

The music stopped. And that was all it took…

This is one of the those urban annoyances that people like to complain about – to each other and, yes, on their blogs – and frequently fantasise about doing something about – like throwing the phone out of the window – but I think that’s the first time I’ve seen someone simply and calmly just doing something about it and actually succeeding. Hmmm. I wonder whether asking people to pick up their litter would work as well? It’s worth a try…

*I’m guessing here as he/she sat down in the seats behind me & I never actually saw them, but surely nobody over the age of seventeen thinks this is a good idea?

Sap Rising

This, more than anything else, may be the real sign of spring. Forget that the news is full of gleeful predictions of a cold snap round Easter, forget that the wind whistling down the platform is bringing its icy blast straight from Siberia: on the trains, the canoodling has begun. This caught me unawares this evening when the couple I sat next to progressed from leg entwining to hand holding to neck sniffing to open snogging in the course of the journey from Kew Bridge to Putney. And then when they finally left the train and everyone else could stop furtively watching them from behind their papers, another couple took up the baton further up the carriage. I couldn’t see exactly what was going on, but flirtatious giggling was definitely heard, followed by the odd playful slap.

Now, I know, I know, young love and all that, but I’m sure the rush hour train is not the place for this sort of behaviour. I think we need a little more Brief Encounter, folks, and a little less Debbie Does Dallas… It’s that, or they’ll just have to bring back compartments, and give some people the privacy they need.

Magical Mystery Tour…

…or why I should never be allowed out alone.

It should have been an easy bike ride.  Vauxhall to Tower Bridge, then back to home. Most of the route I’d done before, all nice and flat and not too many major right-turn-across-seventeen-lanes-of-snarling-traffic type junctions to negotiate. And, indeed, the ride out was lovely. I found my way with ease. The Cut is now a lovely smooth surface to cycle on, instead of resembling a system of WWI trenches as it has for the last 18 months. There was the odd useful bike lane, for a few hundred yards of the way. The sun even almost came out, on one occasion (it quickly went back in). And then I decided to turn round and head for home.

I’ve noticed this before, cycling in London. Somehow, the journey back is always three times as long as the journey out. And that’s nothing to do with being tired. London’s one-way system borders on the perverse, and is designed to funnel traffic into the big roads and big junctions, rather than let you thread through back streets away from the really scary bits. Throw in the fact that none of its streets seem to meet any other of its streets at a right angle, and a cyclist (me) with no sense of direction whatsoever, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The first hint of trouble came when I realised that the shortish hill I was busy powering up, trying to keep pace with the traffic, was in fact the final approach to London Bridge. It’s always a bad sign when you find yourself almost accidentally crossing the Thames. Having got out of that one, carried my bike down some steps, woven my way through the outskirts of Borough market, and more or less oriented myself correctly with the river on my right, I set off again. I found some streets I recognised and cycled with more confidence, planning what I would have for lunch. I got myself onto Union St, which I knew from the journey out took me back to the Cut. And from there, I was home free.

Except. Except. Union St is a one way street. It was a one-way street the way I wanted to go on the way out, and now here it was a one-way street the way I wanted to go on the way back. Hmmm. And not only that, instead of turning into the Cut, here I was suddenly turning right into Borough High St. Again. I still can’t work how it happened. I had somehow turned myself around 180 degrees and I was, in fact, going around in circles.

My contention is that somebody must have moved the streets around while I wasn’t looking. I have long considered that South London’s layout follows the rules of no known earthly geometry, and that fourth or possibly fifth dimensions are brought into play, particularly when using the underpass system at the Elephant. I now, I think, have experimental proof of this theory.

The other half is considering getting me fitted with a tracking device as a precaution. But meanwhile, if you do see a cyclist passing the same spot in the same direction two, three or even four times in a row, you may want to flag her down, ask her where she’s going, and give her some directions. Because there’s every likelihood that it will be me…

Take the autobus

Oh boy, I do hate a headwind. I didn’t even try to get on my bike on Monday and walked instead, a decision which left me with soaking wet feet for the rest of the day. Mmm, pleasant. So, as today was a commuting day, I was back on the bike. I rounded the first corner and I found myself at a standstill cycling into a particularly nasty slicing headwind that was (caution, TMI alert) hard enough to blow the snot from my nose*

What I need right now, I thought (apart from a handkerchief), is to be in a peloton. Or rather, not a peloton as that’s too fast and scary altogether, but something more like the autobus that the sprinters form at the back of the Tour de France to get them over the mountains and to the finish without being disqualified. And it struck me that a cycling ‘bus’ might just be the answer for some commutes. When I did the London Freewheel last year, the best bit wasn’t the ride through central London on the closed roads – it was simply too crowded at times to be fun – but the ride in from the mustering points to the event itself. Riding in a group of fellow cyclists, not going too fast, keeping together and following a well chosen route, just felt like a really pleasant and safe way to get through the streets of London, even on some major roads. And if you were taking it in turns to be in front, then everyone would have to do less work, and consequently would get into work less sweaty and dishevelled.

And here’s the beauty of it – you could do it tomorrow. You don’t need to campaign for bike lanes, or law changes, or wait for the entire country to wake up to the joys of cycling. You just need five or six (or even three or four) fellow cyclists who are going your way at roughly the same time of day. And there are enough cyclists now, at least in London, that that doesn’t seem like an impossible ask, especially with the assistance of t’interweb. I see dozens just streaming down the Kennington Road every morning, but heads down, ignoring each other, all in a world of their own and strung out along the road instead of in a nice, wind-efficient bunch.

So who’s with me? Who would prefer to ride in a group than plug away on their own? And who doesn’t ride now but might if it was safer, or more fun, or if there was a bit of a social element to the journey to work? Or are we cyclists all such curmudgeonly bastards that we’d rather go our own speed than take the autobus?

Detailed explanations of why this would not work in the comments box please…

*This is not a figure of speech, it really did

Perspective…

(…as in the thing you lose after you’ve been commuting for too long, and your soul has shrivelled up until it resembles a fossilised walnut)

Suppose you were on a Thameslink Train on the morning of the worst storm this winter / since 1987 / in the history of the entire planet since records began (depending on which of the more excitable news coverage you believed this this morning). And suppose your train failed to stop at West Hampstead, where you were planning to get off, because a woman had just been knocked unconscious by an advertising hoarding, closing the station. Suppose, indeed, that as your train passed you could still see the woman trapped under the billboard, being rescued.

Do you (as my colleague did) think, oh my God that poor woman, I hope she’s okay – that’s the platform I use, it could have been me, there but for the Grace of God etc?

Or do you (as the man sitting next to her did) say, ‘Well, I don’t see why they have to close the whole station’?

Here’s hoping all of you made it to work and back unscathed. And, indeed, without having to give any of your fellow passengers a slapping for being insensitive poltroons.

Which part of Nee Naw do you not Understand?

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the horn would be redundant on a police car. You’d think that the whole flashing blue light and wailing siren thing – not to mention the whole screaming down the road on the wrong side at seventy miles an hour thing – would tip off the other drivers that they might want to get out of the way. But – in London at least – you’d be wrong. For, as I witnessed today, and countless other times to boot, the police car can scream up the road with all (metaphorical) guns blazing all it likes, there’s always one driver who ignores it until the police car hoots at them. And then and only then do they look in their rear view mirror, think ‘blimey, a police car, sneaking up on me like that – do you think it wants me to move?’ and manoeuvre out of the way.

Help! Some of our Platform is Missing!

On one of my infrequent visits to the grindstone the other day, I found myself on a train with the chatty guard. This is the one who, rather than leaving the talking to SouthWest Trains Woman, supplements her announcements with speeches of his own. And what announcements they are: suavely worded mini-essays on the journey ahead. I think he’s written himself a little script because it’s always the same, and it’s always about three times as wordy as it needs to be (‘mind the gap’, for instance, becomes ‘Passengers alighting at the next station should please be aware that there is a bit of a step down from the train to the platform. Please take extra care when alighting at the next station.’).

I suppose it’s nice to hear someone going the extra mile on his job. But there’s one announcement of his that gets me every time: his announcement about Isleworth. Now when everyone else does it, the Isleworth announcement is ‘Due to a short platform, passengers for Isleworth should use the front four coaches’. When Mr Verbose does it, it goes: ‘Please be aware that the platform at Isleworth is shorter than usual. Therefore, if you were planning to complete your journey at Isleworth you should move towards the front of the train…’ (he then follows with some explicit instructions on how to actually get to the front four coaches of the train – and no, it’s not as simple as ‘walk to the front of the train’ – but does at least reserve those for only the people sitting in the back four coaches). Now I know what he means when he says this – that the Isleworth platform is shorter than the others – but every time I hear this I can’t help but imagine the Isleworth station staff turning up for work in the morning to discover their platform has shrunk in the night.

Or perhaps, even, been stolen?

Disloyalty

This weekend saw the other half and I trekking up to town to a fancy bike shop to try out some very fancy bikes. I’ve been spending far too much time drooling over the pictures here (the bikes, not the girls, just in case you get the wrong idea) and fancied getting some of that Copenhagen chic for myself.

The bikes were lovely, in a gliding elegantly around town way, although a combination of a high riding position and wide, wide handlebars made for a rather skittish ride when you’re used to, well, my own bike. And brakes that actually stop the bike rather than squealing at it take a little getting used to. It’s hard to know whether I liked them because they are simply brand new bikes (with gears that work and everything), because they’re gorgeous looking, or because they’re actually a decent and practical bike as well as a bit of a fashion statement. Part of me knows that it’s not a bike I am hoping to buy here, but the whole continental bike-riding lifestyle where everybody cycles along clean open bike lanes and I will instantly look effortlessly well put together and stylish, at least when viewed from the back. So I’m going to try out some more ordinary bikes as well before taking the plunge.

But oh what a difference when I got on my own bike again this morning. What a foot-dragging, leaden ride to the station we had. It could just be the contrast with the shiny new bikes I’ve been trying out at the weekend. Or it could be because it has guessed…

What do you ride?

More Feet

Do I even have to say this? Why do I even have to say this? And yet…

Putting your feet on the seats is wrong

Putting your Ugg shod feet on the seats is more wrong (on taste grounds, if nothing else)

Putting your Ugg shod feet on the seat that someone else is sitting on – someone who you don’t know, and who has to adopt a painful-looking twisted position so that she can keep herself away from your Ugg shod feet while simultaneously glaring at you as you chatter obliviously into your mobile phone about your last skiing holiday – is wronger than wrong.

Aargh

I’d have blogged this last night but I was out and we came back in a tube train full of underaged overexcited teens going out to some nightclub or other and the high-pitched shrill squawking noise they made drove all of the words out of my head.

I’m sure I was never that loud.