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.

More crisps, swinging and the NHS 

I’ve had a lovely day.

One of the days in London where everyone you sit down with are charming, interested in my battered suitcase of wares and keen to do business. The sort of day where new business arrives as promised and the sort of day where the constant threat of a soaking never happens (a big hello to everyone who has ever pointed out to me that I really should get a coat, umbrella etc).

Anyway, on the subject of cold weather gear, it has actually been rather chilly recently hasn’t it? I rarely wear a coat (spellcheck went for ‘goat’ here, just mentioning it as I don’t do that either but it made me chuckle). So, me, no coat though in my defence I do wear a scarf which is quite big so a sort of coat. I, apparently as a direct consequence, have had a cold for six weeks. That became man-flu and, the weekend before last, full-blown bedridden ‘flu. The legacy of this, as anyone who has spoken to me this year will testify, is a truly deliciously hacking cough. The sort of cough that makes people look for the seal in the room and, quite frankly, the harem were getting cross. Now, the NHS advises sagely that any cough that reaches it’s third week should be referred to a GP. Or perhaps I’m the referral? Anyway, I’ve been watching Breaking Bad (only on series two so no spoilers please) but I’ve seen where Walt’s cough took him. Yep, a small cough and within weeks he’s a drug dealer. I didn’t want that.

So, my friend Miss Ross is very clear in these situations. Get to the Doctor. Miss Ross is very strict.So, I try. The GP’s website informs me helpfully that the surgery’s six partners now have 6.2 million patients so, if you don’t mind awfully, would you all please refrain from being ill. Ignoring this I thought I’d try and ring them and get an appointment for a wonder drug to clear my chest. I ring and ring and ring…. so, ok, let’s try their online booking system. The sort of system you used to see after you’d last dialled up. Now I’ve long forgotten my password so having exhausted the usual combinations of loved ones names and special numbers, the system advised me I am some kind of eejit and directs me to the ‘forgot your password dimwit?’ button. At which point the system crashes, and does so every time.

Ok. I hadn’t been outdoors that day thought I’d walk to the surgery and book an appointment. I greeted by the lovely lady of reception with a scowl, though to be fair to her, that could have been wind. I asked to book an appointment and, looking up, she asked gleefully if it was life-threatening. Kinda missing the opportunity, I replied in the negative at which point she offered a slot in 21 days time. I suggested that I might be better by then, to which she replied that that would be good and could I remember to cancel my appointment.

I walked out, but undaunted, went to the pharmacy. The very lovely French pharmacist was very helpful (I’m going to be ill more often, im certain), observing the stage blood down my shirt, and suggested that I really ought to see my GP. I explained the predicament and she pointed me towards the walk-in centre (what if you’re not well enough to walk in?) but then noticed that it would be shut now so suggested A&E…

Now, I’m not going to get political on here (made that mistake on Facebook recently and quickly realised which of my acquaintances have views, which we will say, are a little to the right of mine). But Jeremy Hunt (how difficult that is to say, thank you Jim Naughtie), what a mess! How can someone with a bad cough end up being directed to A&E?  No wonder they’re collapsing with their workload.

Fortunately, the 1600 from Paddington is fairly lighted loaded this evening but the caped-Quiet-coach-crusader has issues to deal with. There’s excessive crisp eating for starters, though I think the man in A52 has popcorn which seems to come in an especially noisy packet. Popcorn eaters seem to have a special routine for extricating every last crumb from the deepest recesses whilst making some deep orgasmic noise. This is why cinemas have the volume up so high. Then we then have an old boy with those headphones on that make you look like a Cyberman, listening to some dreadful swing at a volume we’re all enjoying. The lady in A72 is on the phone. 

The man in A5 sounds like a barking Alsation.

I’m going to be busy. Though, yet again, the WiFi doesn’t particularly work and the power sockets are broken.

Happy Wednesday all!

Footnote; the man in front of me has returned from the buffet with a packet of Tyrell’s extra crunchy and smelly cheese crisps and a tin of Thatchers. At least he’ll be off at Swindon.

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…