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.

 

Schrödinger’s CAT

Funny where you end up isn’t it? Ever experienced one of those ‘WTF?’ moments where you end up in a very odd place and a strange time of the day? A frosty Carmarthen at the crack of dawn is one of those places, as is Edinburgh at 6am, especially when one realises that the train I’ve come to catch has been cancelled.

It’s a been at interesting weekend, the quiet coach has been an absolute oasis of calm amongst the drinking masses of Welsh rugby fans. And goodness, what drinking! The train arrived in Edinburgh awash with the carnage wreaked by hundreds of Oliver Reed wannabes yet no damage was caused if you ignore the high tide of Strongbow slopping around coach K. Sacks of empty cans and bottles line the corridors and the staff emerge, blinking, from behind their sandbags in the buffet car. The Transport Police meet the train and are mobbed by middle-aged orange ladies in dragon onesies wanting selfies.

Edinburgh is braced for the red onslaught but the only damage is empty barrels and the tide recedes after the match as the masses leave the City Centre for their more respectably priced Premier Inns. The hordes of French fans wander the streets looking a little puzzled as Dublin proves nothing like they expected it to be and the City won’t take their Euros.

By Monday morning what passes for normality starts to return; the lady on the platform with the sparkly shoes and pooch on the a long extendable lead, the commuter snoring soundly asleep under his bobble hat and the lady cramming as much yoghurt into her mouth as she can.

Anyway, I got up early to catch my train, expecting a rather sleek little CAT, and it didn’t show. Just simply cancelled. A no-show. So, I wondered, was it not there because I was? Would it have been there if I wasn’t? These are important questions which need answering….

Doris

This evening I find myself sat on Warminster railway station, being advised to stay behind a non-existent yellow line, in between a stream of announcements advising of delays to basically everything.

As a consequence of Storm Doris blowing some twigs onto the line somewhere in deepest Hampshire I have an hour to kill.

This is the kind of place where the man next to me on the bench is having a heated phone conversation in which he insists the judge was out to get him and has insisted on a different judge next time.

I decide I need fish and chips.

There is one chip shop (The Creme de la Cod, that’s witty. Well it was in 1993). It’s the sort of place that has clients like Ethel who has a bag of small chips every night with the comment ‘ooh young man, one night I’ll have your sausage with it’.

It’s the sort of place that was a one-horse town until someone stole it.

It’s the sort of place where one of the pubs runs a night club evening every evening and tonight the usual two clients are sat looking glum with their bottles of Bud. Still the lousy dance music bangs out and suspect somewhere in the depths is a DJ plying his lonesome trade.

It’s the sort of place that, despite feeling like a sleepy Marie Celeste, still has a Wetherspoons full to gunwales of happy people scoffing mixed grills.

I get back to the station at 2015. The nice lady on the tannoy advises me that opportunistic theives operate at this station and that snow-boarding is prohibited. I’m advised helpfully that the next fastest train is at 2001.

Eventually my train is arrives and I’m mightily glad that it’s running specially non-stop to Bristol. I like to think this is specially for me.

When in Frome, do as the Fromans do…

Blimey, just have to share this treat.

Now, I have absolutely no intention of getting into the murky world of restaurant reviews but this evening cannot go without comment. Anyone that knows me or has followed these esteemed pages will know of my fear of the countryside and in particular of country folk. All that tweed, red faces and wellies. Terrifying stuff. So, having survived my eldest daughter’s parents evening this week in deepest Dorset (interestingly, the children and parents were 100% white which I found a little uncomfortable, though I guess there isn’t a ‘red’ box under ethnicity on the census, though really there should be), I found myself with a couple of hours to kill in Frome.

Frome is an interesting place; it clearly has money and the restaurants there reflect it’s ‘Little London’ reputation, a heady mix of Range Rovers, faux-Glastonbury types, investment bankers turned potter and locals. Locals that still resent Wiltshire for it’s role in the Civil War. There are, however,  worse places to kill a couple of hours on a Saturday night (generally the neighbouring Wiltshire towns, for example) so the rather lovely young lady on my arm suggested an Italian restaurant by the name of Castellos, so I happily took her advice.

And what a fine choice it was. Excellent food, excellent service and a generally splendidly cosmopolitan atmosphere that just could not have existed in rural Somerset twenty years ago.

But.

You can’t always deal with the locals.

Let’s talk about Trumpet-gob.

Castellos is a high ceilinged and fairly cavernous place which really works when full, creating an excited hum of happy eaters. Except when you have Trumpet-gob in the house. Trumpet-gob (let’s call her ‘TG’) is the sort of person who’s voice could fill the grand canyon with her whispered conversation and tonight she’s dining with her partner and child. She’s also be-friended the family with a child at the next table and another young family sat at a table in a different restaurant in the adjoining county. Everyone is going to hear about TG’s life. I can honestly say that I have never heard anyone talk so loudly and laugh the most witches-cackle of a laugh. I would imagine intimate foreplay with Brian Blessed as the Bishop of Bath and Wells to be a more intimate experience. People are turning and staring at TG. Mouths are open in awe. Pasta is being shoved in ears to drown the noise. TG likes talking to small children in that awful coochy-coochy kind of way whilst giving the poor monster tinnitus for the rest of it’s life. The lawyers of Frome will be busy filing suits on Monday for industrial scale damages to their hearing. I  have never heard anyone talk so loudly.

She wouldn’t have lasted a minute in Coach A but tonight the caped-Quiet-coach-crusader is helpless (her partner is the size of a scrum).

Eventually she leaves. Was it just me I wondered? But no, the remaining diners all turn to each other and give knowing, relieved smiles to each other. And remove the pasta from their ears.

I head back to the City, and peace.