Pissing Competition

More signs of spring. Not the clocks changing – although it was nice to cycle home in daylight today, even if it did mean getting up at I-don’t-care-what-the-clock-says-it’s-still-five-fifteen in the morning. No, it’s the foxes. In the streets around us, there’s always a faint whiff of fox, but come the spring the smell gets worse, and they particularly seem to like our front garden. Apparently the only way to deter them is to have a bloke pee there, but despite London’s army of al fresco urinators, none of them has graced our front step yet and the other half for some reason is reluctant to oblige. So this morning, as I stumbled blearily out of the door, I was blasted with the rank stink of fox pee that was all over the railings, all over my bike, all over my bike lock and consequently, as I discovered when I got to Vauxhall, all over my hands. And it’s tricky stuff to get off. When a dog fox marks something, it stays marked, which meant even after repeated handwashings I could still detect a faint scent of animal urine with top notes of randy fox (I believe Jade’s latest fragrance was something similar).

Of course, when I got to the station this evening, I found that someone had liberally applied some fox deterrent to the Vauxhall underpass so my bike smelled even worse. Whether it will, as advertised, stop the foxes, I’ll have to wait and see. But I’ve a feeling it will only encourage them…


More Signs of Spring…

…the guys in the news-stand are getting positively frisky.

(Note to self. I really must stock up on my reserves of traditional British hauteur)

More Top Tips for Travellers

Say you’re at a busy station – King’s Cross, to pluck an example at random from the air – and you are having trouble with your wheely suitcase. All around you, people are trying to catch their trains at the start of the long weekend. It’s a good idea NOT to try and simultaneously sort out your luggage and walk backwards into the flow of traffic. Just one of those little tips you learn in the big city, I suppose.

Of course, if you are walking along a narrow corridor in – say – King’s Cross, and you see someone walking backwards towards you fiddling with his suitcase, then it is also not a great idea to keep walking straight at him in the hope that he will magically disappear. As the other half pointed out, it wasn’t that close to platform 9 3/4. Barging straight into him and making rude comments is no way to get Easter off to a good start.

And neither, frankly, is travelling to Scotland. Since arriving we have had rain, sleet, snow, hail and a flying birdbath going past the kitchen window. Every time I look up – alerted by a banshee howl from the north wind – the weather is worse.

Still, have a happy Easter, everyone. I just hope that yours is somewhere warmer. Like Iceland, maybe, or the North Pole.


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?

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…