The amazing expanding waistline…

I’ve still not worked this one out and neither has Matt, who I was travelling with.

So, I’m ‘enjoying’ a Ukraine Airlines B737, wedged into the middle of three seats between Matt (who sat nicely) and a wriggling young man who seemed unable to sit still for more than two minutes. UIA are a bit low on frills so once I was in my seat, I wasn’t moving anywhere and that’s simply because I couldn’t. What that did mean, as with any bargain bucket airline, is that I kept my seat belt on, even though Captain Yuri had switched the light off.

Finally, though, wriggling man succumbed to the urge visit the toilet and I had to uncoil my legs, remove the seat belt and contort myself into the shape of a human to stand in the aisle and awaiting my fellow passenger’s return.

Eventually my neighbour returned and I folded my legs back up and slithered into my seat. Conscious that we were only a few hundred miles from Kiev, I decided to put my seatbelt back on so fumbled for the male and female parts and pulled them together. Except I couldn’t. There was a gap of at least six inches. So, I assumed that somehow one side had recoiled so wrestled with my wedged frame to try and dig the errant belt out, but no. By now both Matt and wriggling man were getting involved, assuming that we had got our belts crossed over, playing a game of ‘that’s your belt’ until we realised that no, the stumpy belt was indeed mine.

Conscious that we’d started our descent I tugged and tugged to get the two parts together. Did I call the steward and explain that my waist line had expanded by six inches during the flight? Did I pretend it was secured? Did I pull it tight and hope that my circulation survived long enough in my lower body?

To much much hilarity, I decided that the only option was a huge deep breath, pull the buckle in tight and hope. Luckily I had as Captain Yuri thumped the plane on the ground and bounced it down the runway. My legs were slowly turning blue and beyond as we turned towards the terminal and I felt confident enough to the remove the buckle from the depths of my small intestine.

For the record I hadn’t gained that much weight (some may beg to differ) but none of us could work out why the belt had so dramatically shortened…

Seat A73, a eulogy.

I’ve written before, and no doubt will again, about the imminent replacement on Great Western mainline of the High Speed Train (HST). Gradually they are now being phased out and replaced by the shiny new Hitachi electric trains (don’t be fooled though, they run mostly on diesel and go slower) and so, forty years of railway history comes to an end. It won’t be the end of the HST but, for me, my regular trips to London will succumb eventually to Japanese trains and a train which I first travelled on as an enthusiastic nine year old train spotter, will cease to be a part of my working week.

In many ways the HST has been ruined by First Great Western over the years. The current ‘tombstone’ seats and fluorescent ‘interrogation room’ lighting have done little to improve an ambience that once saw comfy seats line up with windows and journeys that didn’t involve a trip to the chiropractor to rectify my sciatica after one hundred minutes sat in possibly the most uncomfortable seats ever invented (though I suspect Thameslink passengers will have a good case to disagree on this point). There are little gems remaining though; seats A01-08 are designed to accommodate the less well abled and have generous leg room. Seat A73 is particularly special though.

This is the railway equivalent of the naughty step. This is seating of choice for the chronically anti-social. For those with no friends. It’s the first seat on the train home, it’s the last one to arrive in London and that makes it rebellious. It’s occupant can peruse the whole of coach A and is safe in the knowledge that no-one, bar the train crew, an occasional inexperienced traveler or the commuter congo, will pass you by. No-one will try to push their ridiculous wheelie suitcase by you, no oversized backpack will wallop you as it’s oblivious host barges by, no-one will clobber you with their over-laden wares from Oxford Street.

Best of all, no-one will sit next to you. No barging elbows, no chompers, no apple eaters, no keyboard killers, no pastie eaters, no smelly people. NO-ONE EATING CRISPS. No-one.

It’s a blissful retreat in a chaotic world. Seat A73 will be misssed.

Trains, planes and automobiles. And a taxi.

I have to admit it but, on reflection, it was a pretty silly idea and if anyone had realised my plan, they would have undoubtedly tried to talk me out of it.

I was to spend the top of the day at a funeral in the West Country and by the evening the plan was to end up in Edinburgh, checked in to a nice hotel and with a nice bottle on the go. The obvious plan would be to catch the evening flight to avoid any rush and guarantee my arrival in Scotland. However, my natural inclination is always to make my life just that little more complicated than it needs to be; with a little research I realised that the mid-afternoon flight from Bristol is due to arrive at Edinburgh at 1700, so, with a sharp exit and a short taxi ride, I should be able to have a ride on a train I’d been seeking out for a while and, should, if everything lined up nicely, depart the local station to Edinburgh Airport, South Gayle, at 1718. A quick check of Google maps showed a ten minute car journey so that was it. Another silly plan duly hatched.

Fast forward to then day and I attend the funeral and reception, it is of course unbearably sad. I realise that my escape and adventure is actually very well timed, I’m starting to look forward to it. Especially the train, which I shall refer to a ‘number six’. So my friend (who very kindly agreed to accompany me and provide the vehicle for the day’s travel) and I depart in plenty of time for the short hop to the airport. Indeed, we’ve left in such good time that we feel we have time to casually pull into the local farm shop for a cup of tea and browse around their displays of exquisitely over-priced wares. Though the cup of tea was fairly priced, I hasten to add.

And it is, I must point out at this point, a Friday during the summer holidays. On the M5. In Somerset.

Now, I haven’t owned a car for a couple of years (of which I will write separately) so had quite forgotten, indeed totally erased from my memory, the wondrous joy that is the M5 in Somerset on a Friday in the summer. We set the sat-nav which happily told us that I’d arrive at the airport with nearly two hours to spare and I happily planned a nice glass of red in the bar before wandering casually to board.

Then we joined the M5.

Or rather we joined the slip road that joined the M5.

Our post-farm shop self congratulatory smugness evaporated at the sight of a Blackpool illuminations scale of lighting, a beautiful harmony of glowing brake lights. It’s ok, we thought, in a way that I can use to convince myself that this situation really isn’t as bad as it looks… I mean, look! I’m sure that car over there just moved! Sat-nav’ expected time of arrival started to creep toward gate closing time…. we edged onto to motorway and accelerated in a way that a slug spotting a tasty piece of lettuce would, elbowing our way into late two and slipping into second gear. And so we moved for the next mile.

By the time we’d flown past Bridgwater at thirty miles per hour, I decided to go the back road across the levels and swung the car off the motorway and into 1956. Inevitably a tractor with a pile of bales at forty five degrees slowed our progress (I’m actually convinced these things lay in wait for anyone looking remotely in a hurry and not-from-round-these-parts) though, as looked westward to the motorway, we were still moving faster. Meanwhile, our arrival time moves past check-in time and (regular readers will have previously imbibed tales of my love of West Country roads) there is the full range of people pulling out in front of me and accelerating to twenty five miles per hour, more tractors, white van man driving so slowly he couldn’t-possibly-take-that-next-job, swaying sales reps of conference calls and (my favourite) Bert and Ada spending the afternoon ‘motoring’.

Eventually the airport comes into view, check-in has in theory closed and my trip is ruined. Undaunted, I dump the car (thank you my friend for the lift) and sprint (in the same way a walrus sprints) through the airport to departures, knocking people lying on the floor in my wake. I think I even got a ‘strike’ as I skittled a whole family with one flail of elbows and knees. I held my boarding pass to the scanner and the gate opened! I barged my way through security and fairly lolloped through duty free and to the gate. The lady on the gate, eyeing the big sweaty hyperventilating middle-aged in front of her, made a wisecrack about cutting it fine. A swift right-hook dealt with her and I jumped on the plane as the stewardess pulled the door to.

And relax. Well, at least for an hour as I absolutely had to be on that 1718 from South Gyle.

By the time we landed in Scotland, I’d regained my breath and was ready to leg it through arrivals to the taxi rank. Here I went through the bizarre ritual of having to order the taxi, having first registered with the company, and then wait for the chosen car (of dozens waiting) to come and pick me up. It’s now 1703.

‘So you want to go to South Gyle station?’ Says the driver, who we’ll call Hamish.

“Yes please”

“Why?”

“Because I’d like to catch a train”

“You can catch one from here” Hamish helpfully informs me, pointing at Edinburgh Park station.

“I want to catch the one from South Gyle. At 1718”

“I don’t think we’ll make that. Edinburgh has the worst traffic in the world you know”. (I think we know that Somerset actually holds this accolade)

I say nothing. I don’t want to engage Hamish but he persists.

“Where are you going on the train?”

“Glenrothes”

“Well I could just drive you straight there!”

‘No. I want to be on the 1718 train”

“We’re going to miss it”. Of course we are as it’s now 1712 and Hamish is driving at forty five miles an hour on the motorway.

So I ask if it’d be easier to drive to Inverkeithing?

“But that’s in FIFE” Hamish responds as if I’d asked him to take me to the nearest leper colony.

“Then we’ll stick with South Gyle”. 1715.

At 1717 we pull up. Hamish parks conveniently two hundred yards from the station so I tell him to keep the change from the tenner as thanks for his help. It was a £9.90 fare and I still felt I was being over-generous.

I’m too late to get a ticket so rush to the platform and to watch the train arrive, bang on time. I was stressed, sweaty and out of breath but, most importantly and despite everyone’s best efforts, it was 1718 and I was at South Gyle station. I would finally travel behind ‘number six’.

The train came into view. The culmination of several hours frenzied travelling and stress. But I’d made it, now I could travel behind the elusive ‘number six’. I dug my camera out of my bag, waiting to record the moment. I was actually now rather excited.

The train got closer.

It it rolled.

It was ‘number seven’.

So I didn’t board.

I really do hate trains

Yes, truly i do. And most of the people that travel in them.

Where do I start? Well, I’ll return to my current journey later but let’s go back a couple of weeks to a particular journey home about which, only now do I feel calm enough to write about.

To set the scene I must explain that my local station is on the Severn Beach branch from Bristol Temple Meads. A proper Branch line that runs through an urban setting, along the banks of the River Avon, through the industrial apocalypse of Avonmouth and terminating in the year 1954. We’re all rather excited as we have new trains. I say new, they’re actually 25 years old but having previously served the commuters of the Thames Valley, they are a little more luxurious than the trains that had previously served the commuters of Belper. Why, don’t tell anyone, but they even have declassified first class seats at each end.

The trouble with these new trains is three-fold; firstly they are too highly geared for the line so accelerate poorly and lose time consistently. Secondly, the driving controls and handling are different so most drivers are treating them with the utmost caution and losing even more time. Finally, the line is being used for driver instruction on the new trains and even I can’t remember caning the life out of my car on a driving lesson…

So, since the the introduction of the new trains, every single service bar one has run late. Apart from one.

Anyway, what a lovely warm summer we’ve been having, has everyone been making the best of it? It’s all lovely sat outside in your shorts but absolutely hell on earth in London wearing a suit and lugging a heavy briefcase around, especially if it’s involved any time on the Central line. Emerging from the depths of the Bakerloo at 7pm is always one of trepidation, the excitement of the train home tempered by the rolling incompetence of the dynamic duo of Network Rail and Great Western Railway. And tonight, that heart-sinking moment when you realise that not only is Paddington devoid of trains, the departure boards are blank. No trains, no apologies, no explanations. Just blank.


Now here’s the thing; GWR suddenly show a great ability to think on their feet and, as a train arrives, they advise anyone heading west of Reading to board this train and decide, possibly by writing destinations on bits of paper and pulling one out of a hat, that’s this one is going to Swansea. Being the geek I am, I’d already guessed that something similar might happen and manage to board and get a seat. Within minutes the train is full to the gunwales and the Police are on hand to prevent a group of angry cyclists overrunning the guards van.

So we head off, weaving through the myriad of derailments, signal failures and heavy snowfall that have been blamed for this evenings chaos and eventually we’re bowling along in speeds in excess of 10mph…  being the utter genius I am, I notice there is a train following us headed to Temple Meads and decide to enjoy a brief sojourn in the oasis that is Swindon. The Temple Meads train is late but should connect comfortably still for my branch line train…. so Network Rail decide to signal out onto the mainline one of those complicated looking bright yellow track machines in front of us and my connection time starts to diminish..

Eventually, after a last minute platform change, we weave our way out of leafy Swindon and I’m heading home. Until we reach Bristol and in a move designed purely for the tililation of the signaller, we are sent into the station by the most complicated route possible and arrive at the furthest point within the station from my connecting train..

Not to worry, because it’s a booked connection and the train hasn’t run on time for weeks… well, here’s the thing; as a good 20 or 30 people run up the steps to platform seven, the thing departs! On time!  Don’t worry there’s another in 45 minutes says the nice man to the stressed, sweaty and exhausted passengers. The only on-time departure in a whole month!

I am beyond livid. I take to Twitter to vent my anger (I stress, without swearing or genuine death threats) – I want everyone I know to know how incompetent GWR at  Bristol Temple Meads are. And here’s the second thing, the next morning, all of my tweets had been removed…. hmmm

I’m off this week so I’ve decided to take the children to London, by train. First thing I do when I get up is to check the running on the branch; it all appears to be ok so we risk relying on the connecting train and amble to the station in a nice relaxed manner. The nice screen shows the train being on time, online shows it as en route and, then, in the big tunnel, it just disappears! The screens flick to the next departure and for twelve long minutes the train is shown as ‘approaching’ ….  so with children in tow we have to run across Temple Meads, demolishing fellow passengers in a way any Somerset skittler would be truly proud and board our London train with literally seconds to spare..

Then we begin the hell that is coach B with an American family sat behind me with a plainly awful snotty child playing an ‘educational game’ with the volume up loud, a slightly odd and twitchy young man next to me (who didnt shower this morning and tried to evict someone from ‘his seat’ until it is pointed out he’s on the wrong train), the inevitable bunch of people making important calls to announce they’re on ‘the train’ and other assorted horrors…. but I won’t bore you with them today…

73 people are quiet, but 2 can’t manage it….

Isn’t it amazing? 73 people in the Quiet Carriage managed to stay blissfully peaceful (though one man did have a particularly crunchy packet of Kettle Chips for breakfast) yet these two, sat under the word ‘Quiet’, failed miserably to keep schtum.

I’m not entirely sure where they boarded but judging by their appearances, it’s a pretty safe bet it was Bath. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t last ten minutes on the tough streets of Chippenham with such resplendent facial furniture. So, let’s assume they are Bathstards. They sounded like it too, talking as if they had mouths full of marbles and laughing like a horse refusing the first fence at Aintree.

Anyway, despite my best death-stare, the tuts of fellow passengers and hatred that only a full Quiet Coach can generate, they decided to talk all the way to London. Sometime in a hushed tone, sometimes in that whisper that actually louder than a child crying, sometimes just plain braying. But always at that frequency that, no matter, what music I listened to, their haw-hawing and guffaws would penetrate the depths of my cranium. Past David Gedge, past Stuart Staples, past Nick Cave and even past Lemmy.

They deserve to be shamed. Such behaviour would never be tolerated on the 0830, guess this is one of the perils of travelling super-duper-monster-off-peak. There are rules to be followed.

I’m now going to spend the afternoon at The Oval watching the rain and pretending to be a Bangladeshi (which I’ll fail dismally at, but wouldn’t want anyone to think I was an Aussie.), so imagine I’ll be similarly grumpy on the return.

Trumpet Gob, the sequel

I don’t generally believe in actually naming and shaming on these pages, to be pictured for the whole ‘net to see (well, the  bit that reads my warblings) just because you’d eaten your crisps rather loudly or decided to feast on pasty perfumed with the body odour of a hod carrier on a hot August day is, even to me, a little harsh.

But this guy, whoever he is, deserves it. I rather hope someone knows him.

Indeed, I’ve now walked the half mile home from the rather lovely Indian restaurant I dined in and have had to shut the windows as I can still hear him. The lovely Trumpet Gob of Frome (see previous post) has nothing on Tannoy Gob of Whiteladies Road. The consumption of lager is a wonderful thing for the young male and frees oneself of any inhibition or self-awareness. This allows you to sit at a table with your three mates and converse at a level equivalent to someone celebrating their team scoring an injury time forty-yard volley into the top comer in the European Cup Final after being four down at half-time.

This man has just blighted the evening of everyone in the restaurant. We were sat three tables away and I could barely hear my friend sat opposite talk. In fact, I’m pretty certain people in neighbouring bars were moving on because of the noise and small children in the locality were coming downstairs as they couldn’t sleep. I’m sure the earthquake centre in San Bernadino was probably registering the odd quiver in BS8 and causing puzzlement. Aircraft at 35.000 feet above reported turbulence and Bristol Airport was shut for several hours. Surgery at the local hospitals was suspended due to the vibration caused. And so on.

So, if you know him, please ask him nicely to never, ever sit in coach A….

Canal Users Network Towpath Society 

Some people have absolutely no self awareness. I mean, absolutely none.

It’s a Saturday afternoon on the train, granted, it’s not the quiet coach but all us old boys are having a rather pleasing time talking nonsense. The train is full and there’s a gentle level of noise of happy people.

At this point, I must point out I’m a Dad. I have children. I consider my children to be lovely and well behaved. Ever since they were little they have been able to sit nicely and travel respecting fellow travellers.

So a family with two enter the coach. They have two small children, small children who should be entertained looking excitedly out of the window. There are lots of trains to look at, people to wave at, animals in fields, fluffy clouds on the sky. Why, I don’t even mind if the big blue diesel parked in the siding gets called Thomas (as opposed to ‘Royal Tank Regiment). What is absolutely, totally and utterly rubbish is their decision to entertain their children with a children’s TV programme on a phone. Paw Patrol apparently. On loud speak. Absolutely unaware that the other 67 fellow travellers are glaring at them. Even a blast of Vivaldis Four seasons doesn’t seem hint enough. We all love Paw Patrol and so does their vacant dribbling brat.

And so I’m off on one. Why on earth do people think it acceptable to share their noise? Why can’t people entertain their children without electronic devices? Why have these people chosen this coach?

However, in their window is a sign reserving their bay for the Canal Users Network Towpath Society.  Obviously the good members have arrived.

(And don’t even start me on the unnecessary on-train announcements)
Ps dedicated to Brian and his bad leg

76 seats full of annoyance…

Actually it’s 75 as I’m sat listening to some Sonic Youth (thanks to Brian for the ear-worm) and I’m clearly not annoying myself,  though in reality that happens surprisingly often.

So, I’ve had an absolutely fantastic 48 hours. Our new office is coming along nicely and the view has been fantastic in this lovely spring weather. Why, I even got to see an Asian Hornet at close quarters but that maybe not such a good thing? Can they kill?

After work drinks with Miss Ross by the canal but I missed the 2000 train and ended up on the 2015. Now, to the uninitiated, both go to Bristol but there’s a key difference; the 2000 goes to Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads. Once it has passed Didcot (recently voted Britain’s happiest Wimpey estate) and Swindon (rapidly returning to the fourth division), the train basically becomes a quasi-Pullman. Red carpets await the good people of Barth Spar as they arrive from their tough days at Harrods. Meanwhile, the 2015 goes to Wales.

Now, some of my best friends are Welsh and I really enjoy occasionally crossing the Dyke. But, the literal translation of ‘quiet coach’, as observed in previous posts, is ’cause as much noise as you can coach’. This evening I’ve opted for seat A73, the HST accommodation eq‭‭uivalent of the safe room. Apart from the toilets, it’s the only seat where one can be guaranteed privacy. Not only is it a single seat, it’s at the very front of the train so only the guard passes infrequently by. It being the Easter holiday there isn’t even the commuter-conga performing a u-turn as they reach the van. 

Anyway tonight, yes, a Wales bound service and school holidays… so we have a family of mother with small screechy children (what is possibly quiet about that?) eating hot (and smelly) spaghetti bologense whilst doing the whole here-comes-the-train-into-the-tunnel thing (really, not coach A behaviour). There’s the man across from me with not one, but two mobiles that he cannot manage to put on silent and, worse, he keeps answering the calls to tell people he can’t talk as he’s in the quiet coach. Even worse, he has the annoying clicky keyboard on both phones and busily texts the people he couldn’t talk to as he’s in the quiet coach.

Seat A67 has a man eating some stinky noodles.

Someone else has been to Burger King.

There are various talkers too.

Even the rear power car has given up the ghost so we’re running late.

But it’s been a good week. The Saints have just equalised against Palace and Death Valley ’69 screams in my ears.

I’m not as grumpy as I make out really.

You know the sort….

It’s a really, horrible wet day here. Half the morning was spent in the GP’s waiting room (apparently the GP is running only eight minutes late, which means I must have arrived very early), my work is backing up and I have a soaking left foot after I stood on one of those special paving slabs designed to disguise a giant puddle and send a jet of water up the leg of the next person unfortunate to lump their size eleven on it.

My train to London eventually becomes the 1300, which is something ordinarily I would look forward.to; light loading, guaranteed double seat, the chance to actually have a relaxing lunch and a nice mid-afternoon arrival in the office. The WiFi normally works too.Except I’m grumpy.

Maybe my brain is acutely trained but I just sense when someone is going to be a pain.

Platforms 13 and 15 at Temple Meads are the London platforms, accessed by the subway and the traveller is treated usually to the resplendent sight of two examples our finest 1970s technology, the High Speed Train sat, one at each platform. The one on the left, clearly marked the 1300 to Paddington, on the right the 1330 departure.

Today’s subject is what I could refer to  Clifton or Bath types, a Lady in her mid-50s and her son in his 20’s, hee-hawing too loudly at each other and walking so far abreast as to block the entire staircase. At the summit, oblivious, faced with a choice of two identical trains, they come to an abrupt halt. Flummoxed and unable to read the very clear signage, they decide that just standing and blocking the staircase is the way forward. Luckily, legendary Temple Meads staff member, Wayne, spots the blockage and explains that the train on the left departs at 1300, the one on the right, at 1330. To which Mother responds “But which one gets there first?’..  (though, based on the last couple of years on this line, it’s a potentially fair question).

Further confusion ensues when, confronted with a near-empty train, they are informed by the very helpful Guard that coaches C and D are the wrong way round. So, if you’re reservation says it’s in Coach C, you’ll actually find it in Coach D and vice versa. Well, he might as well as asked them to kindly explain the difference between nuclear fission and fusion before they can board whilst waving a light sabre. It’s all over for them. Having managed to reach the train, now they have to perform a small calculus to find their seat.

They do what to them is the obvious thing. They sit three seats in front of me in Coach A. And resume the hee-hawing.

I consider my options; music or do they both get issued a straight red? Well the decision is taken from me by a lovely lady who is down the coach quicker than a Brexiteer escaping a logical question. And off they go. I almost feel sorry for them. They now have to choose two seats out of the three hundred free on the train and I just know it will ruin their journey.

I’m back on the 0830 next time.

 

I woke up feeling right ornery….

..I guess that’s the joy of hotels.

I have to say that I rather like this one for it’s simplicity and the beds really are that bit more comfortable than other hotel chains so I really do sleep well.

The real gloom lands at breakfast and the, quite frankly, awful lady that always appears to be on duty. She has a single topic of conversation, the roadworks on the local A road and the only time I’ve ever seen her truly happy was the morning there’d been a big car crash. Oh goodness! How they managed to get the ambulance around the bollards! Goodness! The fire engine got delayed too!

This morning I arrived to hear her advising a couple on the best way to get to wherever they were heading avoiding the roadworks, why they should avoid the roadworks, how long they’ve been there and then, inevitably the big crash. I must point out that there are crashes most morning, why there was one on Tuesday which she joyously told me as I sat down for breakfast. Poor lady, I could see her abject disappointment when I told her I’d arrived on foot and would be departing on foot. Her in-built real-time Google Maps function returned to sleep mode and she reluctantly took my food order as if I was no longer of any interest.

The restaurant at the hotel is one of those templated instant character affairs that allow you to forget where you are for a moment as they all look so goddam awful. This one is run rigorously and the reluctant breakfast diners are herded to one of the ordered tables in the specially cordoned off breakfast space.  My friend is on duty this ever and clearly having a bad morning. The couple who arrive subsequent to me are given the choice of tables at which to sit, almost inevitably they decide on the one table that hasn’t been laid up (I say laid up, it’s missing a pair of knives, forks and napkins) and, for this, they get the death stare. And the sigh. The sigh is awesome. I haven’t heard this before. It’s the sound a 500 year old oak would make as it fell in a storm. The noise the asteroid made shortly before the dinosaurs were wiped out. The whoosh of a jet flying by at low level.

Impervious to her distaste, my fellow diners ask if my friend could get them some brown sauce, to which she turned on her heels and exclaimed to anyone listening  ‘what am I, some kind of take-out service?’ before slamming the manky bottle on their table. From there, their every request was met with a drain-emptying sigh and a barely-under-her-breath snipe at the unfortunate diners.‘What am I, your slave?’ Basil Fawlty is alive and well, I take great comfort in this.

If only they’d asked about the local traffic.

Needless to say, I will be back next week.