Crisps

I will discuss food on trains at a later point and in more detail.

This evening I have to discuss crisps and crisps alone.

I have one of my favourite seats, A4. A window seat with additional leg room for those with the improved body frame, like me. Seat  A8 is directly in front of me and has been occupied by picnic-man. In the reflection in the window I can see a couple of packs of sandwiches, still and sparkling water and a family bag of Sensations. Sweet chilli flavour too. (Picnic-man comes in many forms but his prawn sandwich choice would indicate a resident of Bath).

I digress, again. Now, don’t get me wrong, the sweet chilli Sensation is a fine snack, but a snack to be savoured away from fellow travellers. Firstly, they come in the world’s crinkliest and loudest packet. Just being in it’s vicinity creates a cacophony enough to wake a child from it’s deepest sleep. Then follows the opening ritual, follow by the rummage. Oh no, you can’t just eat the crisp on top, you have to have a little delve into the packet for maximum effect. Worse is to come, the crisp eater will make a strange inhalation driven snort as they ram the chosen piece of potato product into their expectant and cavernous gob.

But the worst is still to come. The crunch and chew. Now some people can do this skilfully quietly (I like to think I am one of these sorts) but picnic-man isn’t one of these. He’s a cruncher-extrordinaire. Sound waves reverberate the length of the train as he gets stuck into his masticulation. I grimace, realising that we have a whole family pack to go through yet which will take him until at least Swindon. The faint odour of sweet chilli starts to prevail…

Welcome to the 1930.

I’m sorry sir, you have terminal Penge.

It’s ten past nine and I’m in Penge. I shouldn’t be in Penge. I don’t even know where Penge is. Does Penge give you itchy skin?

It all started so well. Half seven and I was on the Embankment, a beautiful low-lit, frosty London vista and I’m feeling good. I have a short hop down to the shiny new office and a full day ahead of me. Something bothered me though, you know that moment when you sense a disturbance in the force? An eastbound service arrived at Tower Hill and just a few people alighted. That moment when you check your phone, just to make sure it’s not Sunday.

So, I was looking forward to coffee and breakfast before my train as I climbed the steps up the concourse at Charing Cross. No trains. Very few people. The departures board was flashing like a 70’s disco, people grooving as the words ‘cancelled’ and ‘delayed’ flashed around the station. Go to Victoria they said! A derailment at Lewisham, a freight train on it’s side. My heart sank.

Victoria is chaos.

Plenty of staff at Charing Cross. None at Victoria. Eventually a man in a hut tells me to get on the train at platform five. There isn’t a train at platform five. I opt for the one on platform four as it’s sort-of going in the right direction. Orpington. I don’t even know where that is but I’m assured it’s in the right area. I arrange to be picked up there. We reach Bromley South and terminate unexpectedly. I have no idea where I am. Wish I had my Baker Atlas. It’s rare for me to have absolutely no idea what’s going on or where to go.I want to cry.

I hate trains.

Sympathy for the keyboard.

The 1030 from Temple Meads is generally a lovely train. Lightly loaded, I’m usually able to get my favourite disabled seat (A5 should you be wondering) and this morning I’m able to spread out across both seats, pull on my slippers and relax on my way to London. What’s more, it’s a little too late for breakfast, so no smelling of bacon for me yet too early for lunch and the scourge of the West Cornwall pasty.

But hark! Chippenham man has boarded! These are another sort, the sort that live in a nice semi on one of the many sprawling estates spawned by the devil-developers of Wiltshire. But then, if any county deserves this it’s Wiltshire with its flat tediousness and generally disappointing towns. Anyway, having parked the sensible people mover in the station car park, Chippenham man (a little too old and grey to be carrying off the hair gel, if i may be so blunt) produces his laptop. I’d imagine that Chippenham is the sort of place where everyone has a Dell, and lo behold, a Dell!

We all know what comes next. Oh yes. One finger keyboard destruction. Not just a gentle caress of the keyboard but a full-on anihilation of every key….thump, thump, thump..  the Quiet Coach is now positively reverberating to the sound of his thump-typing. He must get through a new machine every week. Bash! Bash! Bash! The space bar sounds like it’s on the verge of submission and gives a particularly weary click as it’s walloped again and again..

Time for some music….. we’ve reached Reading and someone with an inability to silence their mobile has boarded. And they still have that clicky sound on their phone as they type (Why??)

And the bloody WiFi doesn’t work, again.

Happy Monday all.

Whatever happened to self-awarenes?

As journeys go, the trip from Liverpool Street to Oxford Circus on the Central Line doesn’t rank that highly on anyone’s list of great rail journey of the world. I always enjoy it though, the cosy deep-tunnel tube trains, barely able to contain my athletic frame, throw humanity into a cosy embrace. Cosy enough to observe life at close quarters yet just far enough apart for Londoners (and guests) to do what we do best and, that is, to ignore everyone totally even if they are but inches away.

So no-one looks at you. Fertile ground for people watching.

This afternoon was typical and made me wonder about our self-awareness or lack of it. The train was fairly full and most seats were taken, so as everyone pretended that the strip advertising above our heads (hair removal, hair replacement, hair colouring, hair transplanting…. or a new job? Maybe a holiday?) I was able to discreetly observe who was around. Two respectable City-type ladies sat across from me caught my eye. Not in a Donald Trump kind of way as I am, most obviously a gentleman. The lady to the right was chewing gum. In fact she wasn’t just chewing gum, she must have been chewing a pack of gum. Her mouth was so wide open that any dentist in our carriage, or even one on the platform of a passing station, could have conducted a full inspection of her molars without having to move. I didn’t really want to watch as it was gruesome, but there’s that whole looking at car crash thing isn’t there?

So, I did look away. To the lady sat beside her. She was chewing her nails (beside my chewing gum pet hate, this really grates. It even grates my children) and I mean chewing all of her nails. I’m sure at one point both hands were in her mouth, almost to the point she was restricting her breath and turning blue: I’ve never seen anything like it. At least she didn’t spit the little bits of nail across the carriage and for these small mercies we should be grateful.

Sadly Oxford Circus arrived all too soon.

Ps there was a phone user on the 1930 from Paddington in the quiet coach this evening. We could all hear his wife describe the delicious quinoa waiting for him when he got home.

Obviously he got off at Bath…

Bloody hipsters…

I thought I’d treat myself this week.

Last Monday was an absolute horror. Two trains consecutive trains cancelled from Bristol in the morning wasn’t the best start to the day, but I arrived in London in good cheer, despite the delay and inevitable carnage caused by the Tube strike. Being smart as I am (blimey, just sounded like Donald Trump there) I walked east from Paddington to beat the crowds for the bus to Liverpool Street.

Good plan! Boarded the bus and grabbed a seat, even sharing lunch with a good friend that I’d bumped into on the way up and, I confess, it was her brilliant idea to use this stop. So, off we headed, stopping outside Paddington station to fill our omnibus with happy, cheery travellers including a nice  but somewhat baffled man from Melbourne (his journey from Heathrow to the South Bank was only marginally shorter than his flight from Oz). He was very keen to watch some ‘EPL’ so I suggested Charlton Athletic vs Millwall would be a more authentic experience. Anyway, I digress.

So, by 1.30pm, 6 hours after stepping into the daylight at Bristol’s Trump Towers, I had reached Charing Cross. I had a conference call scheduled now, to referee a conversation between two massive egos and the lower deck of the 505 inches from some stranger’s posterior, just wasn’t the right place. I hopped off, and by now it was raining that special English winter rain, not quite rain but drizzle enough to soak you through. And me being a boy, had obviously come without a coat. Here I am, making the big deal in a dripping doorway shared with a very accommodating homeless man. Half an hour late, call finished and noticing that the 505 was still in the same place, resigned myself to a walk to the City. My friend thought similar and hopped off the bus (well, not literally, it’s difficult with a wheelie-case), off we headed to the big buildings. By this time, both nice leather shoes had developed quite substantial holes and I finally arrived at my office just in time for my 2.30 meeting, not only damp but with thoroughly soggy socks.

So this week, I am headed up the night before and staying in a nice hotel for a relaxed start.

The 1730 to Paddington starts in Weston-super-Mare but no-one in North Somerset has any intention of travelling in the unknown beyond Bristol. I have a nice quiet coach, how lovely! I have a forward facing seat, and it’s all shaping up for a grumble free journey. And then, two hipsters appear from the ginger cave, sit across from me and decide to have a full-on beard stroking conversation about all kinds of massively yeah-man important topics as they sit there letting their follicles run amok. I can’t deal with this, oh yeah-man. I’m not feeling confrontational. I do the weak thing. I give them a death stare and move seats.

Bloody hipsters.

The train’s on time though

Happy New Year from GWR…

Just brilliant.

So, I have to an early task to complete in Bristol before heading to London. I’m already expecting chaos due to the tube strike which I was convinced  would be postponed, so had spent a chunk of Sunday evening  rearranging meetings…

Instead of my usual 0830 departure, I would enjoy the benefits offered by the next departure, the 0900. The 0900 can be quite a nice train as it doesn’t stop at Didcot and, let’s be honest, no-one really wants to spend too much time in the company of people from Didcot do they? I was actually looking forward to the journey. I’m feeling calm. I’ll have time for one of those nice bacon sarnies from the buffet on platform 10. Good karma abounds.

Then this;

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It’s only the first bloody Monday of the year and already GWR have ripped into my life. I now have a massive rush to get to my first meeting, a meeting that can’t be delayed as the client has a flight to catch. Why should I have to continually build time into my diary for GWR farce time. Why can’t the service just run nicely???  It’s only the 9th of January and already they’re cancelling services. No apology. No nothing. No staff dealing with queries. Just Cancelled. They might as well put a hand giving the bird on the screen.

So, the annual delay tally (which I shall refer to as the ADT) is already at 30 minutes and   my calm is gone….

And this is before I’ve even met my fellow travellers.
Ps the 0930 was cancelled as well **** ******** 

An open letter to all rural drivers… (especially those in Somerset)

Dear fellow West Country drivers,

Please consider this an appendix to your Highway Code;

  • A reminder, the nice white circle with a black line across it means that the national speed limit applies. This is 60mph in every county, including Somerset. For clarity, it doesn’t reduce to 20mph if it’s dark.
  • A red circle with the number indicates a speed limit. Please, at least speed up to this.
  • The road between Glastonbury and Wells, amongst many, is an A road and for the most part the national speed limit above refers. There are no sections where the speed limit is 10mph
  • If you find driving in the dark a bit scary, stay at home.
  • The same applies with fog.
  • Fog lights can also be switched off.  And I don’t mean in August having been on for nine months.
  • Fog lights don’t need to be used if it’s ‘a little bit misty’
  • If the car approaching your rear you has spotted you clearly, you can switch your fog lights off as, it can be assumed, the driver behind would rather not be dazzled
  • The A road you are driving on is nice and wide. You don’t need to brake for cars coming the other way
  • Don’t also brake for random things, such as hedges. Hedges generally take most of a year to cross a road so you’re perfectly safe.
  • Just because it’s just about light enough for you to see where you are going, doesn’t mean other cars can see you. You’re not saving your batteries by keeping your lights off. (Unless your car runs on AA batteries)
  • Side lights are basically useless.
  • Whilst driving watching your lovely bright SatNav, which you have placed in the centre of your line of vision, remember this doesn’t show on-coming vehicles. For this, please use the windscreen.
  • Yes, very nice cushions on your rear parcel shelf. Something for you to admire in your mirror.
  • Don’t slow down to admire the view. You live here and you will see it tomorrow. And the day after.
  • Tractors! Avoid pulling out in front of cars moving at speed, especially when you have a huge trailer loaded with hay bales and one rear light.
  • Also Farmer Giles, have a little think about what all those bright lights are in your mirror  )assuming you have one) and wonder why they have been following you for ten miles. Turn down the Scandinavian death metal and consider your fellow drivers.

 

Yours,

One City Dweller.

 

 

The Quietest Quiet Carriage…

So, this evening it is apparent that we are a nation of layabouts. The Fourth of January, many days since Christmas and the quiet coach on 2000 Paddington-Bristol is empty. Absolutely empty. When did the Christmas holidays run four days into January? Though that may account for our AWOL member of staff.

That aside, the thing is running to time as well.

Now, the plug socket at my table isn’t functioning, that’s mildly annoying, but not as annoying as the disappointment of a satisfactory journey. No crisp eaters. No keyboard thumpers. No pasties. No deaf old couple whispering very loudly to each other. Not even a Swindon person with a tin of Strongbow.

So this gives me the ideal opportunity to reflect on the comfort provided by our wonderful Great Western Railway. Now we all really know that they’re still operated by the bastard First Group and they haven’t even really bothered to hide it inside my InterCity 125. It’s ok though as will soon have new 100mph trains to look forward to; and boy, won’t we reminisce about the IC125 then?

These were once a delight to travel in, indeed travel on a Cross Country IC125 and enjoy leg-room, a comfy seat and a view out of the window. I can only assume the designer of the interior of GW’s train spent the night on a floodlit gravestone and found it the most comfortable thing ever. Well, for me, I live in hope the one of the new franchises on the Lawn at Paddington is for a chiropractor as these seats are appalling. They make the finest Recaro of a 1980s XR3i feel like the most sumptuous bed ever. They should offer to lend their passengers an iron to help use the journey time productively because, with the wonderful ‘Wembley Stadium floodlight effect’ lighting these trains have, you ain’t gonna sleep…
Anyway, a clank of a tin of cider on a nearby table indicates our arrival at Swindon so I’d better post this before the WiFi disappears in deepest Wiltshire and I crack open my family bag of crisps…

 

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Normal service is resumed…

So that Christmas nonsense is all over and the usual weary faces drag themselves to Temple Meads for the journey to London. The loading is a little lighter than usual as not all the schools are back, so Coach A has a nice roomy feel to it and the seat next to me unusually quiet. It’s also the local Labour Party’s Bristol rail action day which involves lots of middle aged people looking frozen and handing out leaflets. This isn’t a strategy that really works when everyone is wearing gloves and when I try to engage one of the men in a conversation around the failure of rail privatisation, I immediately regret it when I realise that he has absolutely no idea why he’s stood on Redland platform in the freezing gloom. Jeremy’s charisma has spread to the grassroots.

All is good though. No-one is eating their breakfast, it feels a little too soon for anyone to start to beat the hell out of the keyboard and it doesn’t appear as if anyone suffering from ‘flu has decided to martyr themselves. No-one is wearing a hilarious Santa hat.

Then. A huge noise. I have absolutely no idea what it is. A cross between a very large steam locomotive blowing off steam and a whale yawning. And again. I turn round slowly and just know that the culprit will have bushy eyebrows and a feral, slightly manic look.

All humanity is here and I feel comforted that normal service has resumed.

Buses

Aren’t they great?

As I reached my bus home at Bridewell Street this afternoon, it went to move off. Now, I’m not one for running after anything and, laden with my new jumpers (and life, frankly doesn’t get much better than that) I decided that a gently pleading look towards the bus would do the trick. And it worked! And the driver smiled and said that he always had a quick look in his mirror before pulling off.

Well, I can only thank the nice driver with the long red hair on the number one this afternoon, let’s see how the trains are tomorrow…