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.

Trains, planes and automobiles. And a taxi.

I have to admit it but, on reflection, it was a pretty silly idea and if anyone had realised my plan, they would have undoubtedly tried to talk me out of it.

I was to spend the top of the day at a funeral in the West Country and by the evening the plan was to end up in Edinburgh, checked in to a nice hotel and with a nice bottle on the go. The obvious plan would be to catch the evening flight to avoid any rush and guarantee my arrival in Scotland. However, my natural inclination is always to make my life just that little more complicated than it needs to be; with a little research I realised that the mid-afternoon flight from Bristol is due to arrive at Edinburgh at 1700, so, with a sharp exit and a short taxi ride, I should be able to have a ride on a train I’d been seeking out for a while and, should, if everything lined up nicely, depart the local station to Edinburgh Airport, South Gayle, at 1718. A quick check of Google maps showed a ten minute car journey so that was it. Another silly plan duly hatched.

Fast forward to then day and I attend the funeral and reception, it is of course unbearably sad. I realise that my escape and adventure is actually very well timed, I’m starting to look forward to it. Especially the train, which I shall refer to a ‘number six’. So my friend (who very kindly agreed to accompany me and provide the vehicle for the day’s travel) and I depart in plenty of time for the short hop to the airport. Indeed, we’ve left in such good time that we feel we have time to casually pull into the local farm shop for a cup of tea and browse around their displays of exquisitely over-priced wares. Though the cup of tea was fairly priced, I hasten to add.

And it is, I must point out at this point, a Friday during the summer holidays. On the M5. In Somerset.

Now, I haven’t owned a car for a couple of years (of which I will write separately) so had quite forgotten, indeed totally erased from my memory, the wondrous joy that is the M5 in Somerset on a Friday in the summer. We set the sat-nav which happily told us that I’d arrive at the airport with nearly two hours to spare and I happily planned a nice glass of red in the bar before wandering casually to board.

Then we joined the M5.

Or rather we joined the slip road that joined the M5.

Our post-farm shop self congratulatory smugness evaporated at the sight of a Blackpool illuminations scale of lighting, a beautiful harmony of glowing brake lights. It’s ok, we thought, in a way that I can use to convince myself that this situation really isn’t as bad as it looks… I mean, look! I’m sure that car over there just moved! Sat-nav’ expected time of arrival started to creep toward gate closing time…. we edged onto to motorway and accelerated in a way that a slug spotting a tasty piece of lettuce would, elbowing our way into late two and slipping into second gear. And so we moved for the next mile.

By the time we’d flown past Bridgwater at thirty miles per hour, I decided to go the back road across the levels and swung the car off the motorway and into 1956. Inevitably a tractor with a pile of bales at forty five degrees slowed our progress (I’m actually convinced these things lay in wait for anyone looking remotely in a hurry and not-from-round-these-parts) though, as looked westward to the motorway, we were still moving faster. Meanwhile, our arrival time moves past check-in time and (regular readers will have previously imbibed tales of my love of West Country roads) there is the full range of people pulling out in front of me and accelerating to twenty five miles per hour, more tractors, white van man driving so slowly he couldn’t-possibly-take-that-next-job, swaying sales reps of conference calls and (my favourite) Bert and Ada spending the afternoon ‘motoring’.

Eventually the airport comes into view, check-in has in theory closed and my trip is ruined. Undaunted, I dump the car (thank you my friend for the lift) and sprint (in the same way a walrus sprints) through the airport to departures, knocking people lying on the floor in my wake. I think I even got a ‘strike’ as I skittled a whole family with one flail of elbows and knees. I held my boarding pass to the scanner and the gate opened! I barged my way through security and fairly lolloped through duty free and to the gate. The lady on the gate, eyeing the big sweaty hyperventilating middle-aged in front of her, made a wisecrack about cutting it fine. A swift right-hook dealt with her and I jumped on the plane as the stewardess pulled the door to.

And relax. Well, at least for an hour as I absolutely had to be on that 1718 from South Gyle.

By the time we landed in Scotland, I’d regained my breath and was ready to leg it through arrivals to the taxi rank. Here I went through the bizarre ritual of having to order the taxi, having first registered with the company, and then wait for the chosen car (of dozens waiting) to come and pick me up. It’s now 1703.

‘So you want to go to South Gyle station?’ Says the driver, who we’ll call Hamish.

“Yes please”

“Why?”

“Because I’d like to catch a train”

“You can catch one from here” Hamish helpfully informs me, pointing at Edinburgh Park station.

“I want to catch the one from South Gyle. At 1718”

“I don’t think we’ll make that. Edinburgh has the worst traffic in the world you know”. (I think we know that Somerset actually holds this accolade)

I say nothing. I don’t want to engage Hamish but he persists.

“Where are you going on the train?”

“Glenrothes”

“Well I could just drive you straight there!”

‘No. I want to be on the 1718 train”

“We’re going to miss it”. Of course we are as it’s now 1712 and Hamish is driving at forty five miles an hour on the motorway.

So I ask if it’d be easier to drive to Inverkeithing?

“But that’s in FIFE” Hamish responds as if I’d asked him to take me to the nearest leper colony.

“Then we’ll stick with South Gyle”. 1715.

At 1717 we pull up. Hamish parks conveniently two hundred yards from the station so I tell him to keep the change from the tenner as thanks for his help. It was a £9.90 fare and I still felt I was being over-generous.

I’m too late to get a ticket so rush to the platform and to watch the train arrive, bang on time. I was stressed, sweaty and out of breath but, most importantly and despite everyone’s best efforts, it was 1718 and I was at South Gyle station. I would finally travel behind ‘number six’.

The train came into view. The culmination of several hours frenzied travelling and stress. But I’d made it, now I could travel behind the elusive ‘number six’. I dug my camera out of my bag, waiting to record the moment. I was actually now rather excited.

The train got closer.

It it rolled.

It was ‘number seven’.

So I didn’t board.

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.

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

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.