Monday, February 28, 2005

Pether Returns!

I don't know if you are familiar with the Monty Python episode entitled "The Cycling Tour". Unlike all their other shows, this was one continuous story featuring Mr. Pether. Whilst on a cycling tour of the West Country he falls off his bike several times, meets a man who markets self-ejecting tomatos, has curious encounters with Chinese diplomats in the British Consulate in Smolensk and ends up facing a firing squad in a Russian prison. Throughout his travails, Pether, (played by Michael Palin in his finest nerdy, round-glasses and bobble hat mode) is always cheerful and positive no matter how much surface impaction his crunchie bar may suffer.

This morning I was amused to find the only ticket-operated gate leading into Ruislip Station blocked by a gentleman frantically pulling at an obstruction. It was his bicycle. He could not push it past the gates. He could not pull it back. The alarm was ringing but none of the station staff could be bothered to attend. People used the emergency gate to reach the platform while Pether huffed and puffed, and pulled and pushed.

My amusement did not last very long. There were no Piccadilly trains ("signal failure at Arnos Grove" got its regular airing) so I came to work the long way round via Baker Street and was half an hour late. I wonder how Mr Pether got on.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Imagining the past

One hundred years ago the Metropolitan railway began running through to Uxbridge. Commuting into London from the hitherto isolated villages of Ruislip, Pinner and Eastcote began. It is hard to imagine what my predecessors might have experienced. Waiting for a through connection on a dark evening at Rayners Lane, one has to wish away the surrounding houses and the lights, envisage ploughed fields stretching away on either side of the railway and hear the clank of the locomotives working in the goods yards at the side of the station. There must have been piles of coal used by householders and the railway alike, perhaps freight wagons standing idle overnight, railway workers holding lanterns checking the track or doing maintenance. The 1930s Art Deco station vanishes, replaced by a simple square brick booking office perched alone on the bridge over the railway. All the buildings on the skyline vanish - perhaps a couple of cottages in the distance with smoke rising from the chimneys and lights glowing behind the curtains. And the sounds - no cars, very few people - imagine horses whinnying as they were led back to their stables, dogs barking across the fields, birds roosting in the trees and hedges. This must have been a very dark world after sunset. The station lights (Gas lamps?) would have provided the traveller with some comfort and would have made the surrounding fields seem even darker and remote. Rural Middlesex was reaching the end of its long life, the fields were being sold to builders, the plots marked out, the great wave of incomers were on their way. Fifty years later my parents were to join them.

I would dearly love to wander through that green and quiet landscape of the near past. Traces remain, including the parks and open land that runs along much of the railway today, making it possible to imagine the rest. But those days when the railway was the lifeline, and the horse and cart (and the bicycle) the only alternatives, ah, those days we shall see no more. At least not until the oil runs out.

Monday, February 14, 2005

You couldn't make it up

Extract from the BBC London website today with London Underground news:

Northern line
The Northern Line has delays occurring in both directions.
This will affect journeys from 07:13 on 14/02/05 until further notice.
This is due to a lack of available trains.

Message Received: 14/2/2005 7:13:02 AM

Hammersmith & City line
The Hammersmith & City Line has delays occurring in both directions.
This will affect journeys from 11:26 on 14/02/05 until further notice.
This is due to non-availability of staff.

Message Received: 14/2/2005 11:26:39 AM

So one line is out because it has staff but no trains and the other because it has trains but no staff. Brilliant. I can imagine all the Northern line drivers hanging around in the despatcher's office, drinking tea and dunking custard creams while they check out the racing pages in the papers.
"Bad business on the 'ammersmith, Jim. No staff to drive the trains."
"Shocking Alf, simply shocking. And 'ere we are with no trains. Pass us another biscuit"
"So what shall we do this afternoon Jim? Fancy going down Hammersmith Palais? Oh no, we can't, there aren't any trains running due to shortage of staff. Never mind, we can stay here and watch tele"

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Sinister forces

I wonder why on so many occasions when there is an important announcement over the station loudspeakers, it is precisely at that moment that a train pulls in, making so much noise that no-one can hear a thing?

I blame the transport controllers from the planet Tharg, who are conducting a century long experiment into just how much irritation sentient beings can take before going beserk.

Or something.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A nice little earner

Scene:
a tube train chuntering along in the outer suburbs.
Characters:
A commuter, minding his own business (played by your humble servant)
An idiot (played by an idiot)

So there I am reading the paper and I become aware that the idiot sitting three seats along is shouting numbers into the air. I glance around and note that he is using a mobile. He repeats the numbers and I realise this is his credit card. He goes on to announce his security code, expiry date, and his name and address.

So now I am able, should I wish, to get on my mobile and (once he leaves the carriage) put a really big crimp in his day.

Lucky for him I am basically honest. But I can't speak for the other passengers. I wonder if he has a nasty surprise in store...