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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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 **** ******** 

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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