The really special seat

This is a really, really special seat.

Super Hitachi and Great Western Railway have worked really hard to cater for all people and the agoraphobics will delighted with this wonderful seat. For a deliocious first class fare in excess of £200 (£359 if you want flexibility and a Travelcard), you too can enjoy none of the scenery of the Great Western Railway.

As you leave Bristol Temple Meads, you won’t get a glimpse of Brunel’s wonderful train shed, nor, if you crane your neck will you get a glimpse of the Clifton Suspension Bridge or the wonder of a hot air balloon drifting across the city.

You will be oblivious to the River Avon meandering to your left or the mist over the water meadows around Saltford. The dreamy spires of Bath Spa will be shielded from you and a wall of plastic will separate you from the Vale of the White Horse.

There will be the good fortune, however, of not glimpsing Swindon.

Didcot’s brutal industrial beauty won’t be seen, neither will the splendid sight of a copper-topped engine steaming gently in the railway centre. You will be oblivious to the River Thames and the early activity morning of it’s inhabitants. Later, you will also miss the opportunity to spy Brunel’s bridge over the river at Maidenhead (or to flick the bird at our strong and stable leader).

On the approaches to London you can only imagine the aeroplanes around Heathrow and the excitement of a glimpse of the Wembley Arch is something you’ll forego.

The tube joins us at Acton, not that you’d know and the bustling railway yards are for the enjoyment of everyone else on the train, but not you.

Finally, the nice guard announces it’s time for you to gather up your belongings and dive in the depths of the big smoke. You awake from your comfort blanket of plastic, reassured that you have avoided the world in it’s entirety for the last hundred minutes. Only the huge dent to your bank balance will remind you of this.

Please enjoy your journey.

Ps padding on your seat is extra.

It starts with ‘W’….

So, it’s a dark cold Friday evening and I am onboard the 1930 departure to Weston-super-Mare.

The preceding service has been cancelled and my train is two coaches shorter than it should have been, plus it’s a Friday, so this one is going to be pretty full. And it is, unpleasantly so. Inevitably there is a strong whiff of hot food and someone, obviously, is eating a stinking pasty in my vicinity. Someone else is playing a game on their phone with the volume on full (if ever there was a crime worthy of the death penalty, then it is this) and then there another watching something hilarious on their laptop which immediately rules out Mrs Brown’s Boys.

It’s crowded, smelly and uncomfortable. The only upside is, as far as I can see, that the crisp munching Darth Vader that sat opposite me this morning is absent.

The man next to me (TMNTM) is one of those special treats that decides to flop into his seat with his backpack still on, then fidget uncontrollably with the frankly impossible task of trying to get comfortable. This clearly isn’t going to happen ever on a Great Western train as, for them, they mistook the word ergonomic for economic thus deciding that padding on seats was an unnecessary expense. The only opportunity they have so far missed has been the creation of First Group Chiropractors who would, without doubt, do a roaring trade at every major station.

As ever, I digress.

So, TMNTM, unable to sit properly, adopts a seated position like a praying mantis and decides to eat his dinner, which is buried deep in one of several large carrier bags at his feet. I’m convinced he must be getting off at Reading but no, worse is to come; he pulls not one but two mobile phones from his pocket; setting one up to watch a film and the other, oh gawd, is for FaceTiming his (I assume) girlfriend. This is awkward as she appears to be in bed and I feel like I’m intruding in the early stages of foreplay for their weekend ahead.

Now FaceTime will get a deserved rant of its own at some point but who on earth thinks that absolutely anyone would want to be privy to a couple’s pre-rutting positioning? Why does anyone think it’s acceptable to share such intimate conversation with half a dozen enforced neighbours?  And what did his girlfriend think of the sound emanating from the man playing a game on his phone?

In between the several FaceTime calls, he switches to his other phone to watch his TV programme and, inevitably, the sound is set too high so I’m forced to put my headphones in just to drown the tinny sounds emerging from his brain ( reason number two for the death penalty).

Finally, our train entered the twilight zone of Wiltshire, the place where 2G is a fantasy and TMNTM cedes defeat with technology and decides he is going to have a sleep instead. So, he tries to lean back but has anyone ever managed to sleep lying on their back with a backpack still on? Undaunted, he pulls the little table down and puts his head on his folded arms, fidgeting left to right and walloping me with his backpack approximately every ninety seconds.

It is fair to say I am looking forward to the train’s arrival in Bristol greatly as, I cannot understate this, TMNTM is pissing me off massively, He’s in the top three of all time worst fellow passengers ever ( I still think the lady picking her feet retains top position followed by Wolverhampton death metal lady) and I’m positively willing him evil.

I’m delighted to see we’ve arrived at Bath. Ten minutes to go. TMNTM cranes his neck to look out of the window. Puzzled, he turns to me and asks ‘what time does this train get to Worcester Shrub Hill?’

I open the champagne.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.