Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Interlude at Acton

The Piccadilly line train I was on this morning was terminated at Acton Town (to prevent congestion further down the line due to some unexplained problem at Green Park). This is not worthy of comment in itself but I mention it because it is the first time for a long time that this has happened. As we came into the platform there was a train on the adjacent platform and of course just as our doors opened, it moved away (you just can't beat the excellent communications on this railway, he lied).

Fortunately a Heathrow branch train came in fairly soon and we all managed to squeeze on. But I am so glad that my journey ends at Baron's Court. Having to stand on that crowded train all the way into central London, on such a nice day, must be no fun for the poor sods who regularly have to do it.

Simon Hoggart, writing in the Guardian on May 28th said "One of my favourite books - it's 21 years old now - was Notes From Overground, written by a civil servant under the name of Tiresias. It was a series of witty and percipient jottings about his daily commute from Oxford to Paddington, and the fact that the journey was much the same every day allowed him to note changes and make fresh observations". Hm, so I'm not the first in this field. Nor am I sufficiently strong-willed and energetic as to write this blog daily. But can Oxford to Paddington even be half as romantic as Ruislip to Baron's Court? No, I say, and so do the mass ranks of all those who agree with me. And I don't hide behind a silly Greek name either.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Colour Supplement

Time to illustrate part of my daily journey to work. (All pix are clickable thumbnails, if you wish to see the picture at a decent size).
Barons Court Platform view Our tour begins in Baron's Court station. I have spent many happy hours waiting for trains such as the one illustrated to arrive. Actually this train is heading on east into central London but you get the idea.

Barons Court Entrance and Booking Hall
We exit through the wonderful green tiled booking hall, built by typical Victorians who assumed that everyone was a midget and no more than about 50 people an hour would ever use the station. It only takes one newspaper seller (in the evenings they set up stall on the right), one tourist fumbling at the ticket machine and one irritated commuter with rucksack (a part I frequently play) and the entrance is blocked solid.

Fortunately it was not too crowded today so I was able to take the shot of the outside without being flattened by the hordes pounding in and out. And given the unbelievably narrow street outside that was just as well.
Barons Court Station from street

Note to any Health & Safety Officers - there is no pedestrian crossing in the street facing the station. People just have to fight across the traffic as best they can. One barely has time to admire the splendid frontage. The sign says "District Line" because when the station was built the Piccadilly had not been extended into the Hammersmith area.

Now for the daily life or death challenge - crossing the A4. I have referred many times in this blog to the perils of this road junction. Our view looks back across the junction where Gliddon Road meets the A4, with the station just beyond.
A4 junction

You will notice the car occupying the space reserved for cyclists. This is so routine that no-one bats an eyelid. There is no right turn from the A4 so drivers turn left and swing their cars about, using the bike space. Sometimes two or three attempt this manoeuvre at once, blocking the left turn for people who actually want to go down Gliddon Road. They hoot and make gestures, the drivers in their way (who can do nothing until the lights change) pretend not to notice, the traffic blocking back down the A4 swirls around angrily and everyone has a good time.
Looking down Edith Road

Gliddon Road becomes Edith Road and ends at the junction with Hammersmith Road. This view shows the contrast between the Victorian terraced houses and the modern office blocks that now line Hammersmith Road and dominate the entire area. The houses were built for families with servants - they have grand entrances, basements with separate entrances for tradesmen and deep gardens. They are all now converted into flats and though the houses remain rather imposing, the character of the road has deteriorated.

And so onward through the windswept canyon of Hammersmith Road towards my office.
Olympia looking east
The final landmark is Olympia,a structure that dominates the road and provides the many cafes and pubs round here with much of their business.
more later

Friday, May 13, 2005

Modern manners

Two straws in the wind illustrating today's society

I am crossing the A4 at Barons Court with several other pedestrians. A young boy on a bike cuts across the road, ignoring the red light and nearly collides with a man just ahead of me. The man makes a remark to the boy. The boy swears back at the man, impugning his sexuality. A woman supports the man. The boy rides off still shouting abuse. (Wed 11 May)

Bluewater Shopping Centre announces it will ban young men (or perhaps anyone) wearing baseball caps or hoods. (Thu 12 May)

These two seemingly unconnected matters do go together. People seem more aggressive to others, much quicker to get their retaliation in first, then I seem to recall from my younger days. We associate this behaviour with kids, particularly kids who ape American fashions and think that walking round in gear that 40 years ago would have been seen as nerdish is somehow cool and makes them hard-looking.

Blimey, you're thinking, Ol' Ruislip Commuter is turning into a reactionary old fogey. Any second now he'll be going on about things were better when Mussolini ran British Rail and boys fresh from the chimneys did 10 years National Service in the Australian Outback. But you would be wrong.

I hate uniforms of any kind and I hate antisocial group behaviour. Kids in gangs always play up and do things they would never dream of doing on their own. Wearing clothes associated with US street gangs gives no encouragement to the rest of us to be tolerant. If you want people to respect you then you have to respect them. Do I feel relaxed when kids (or men) race bicycles on the pavement, often disregarding people walking? Of course not. Do I feel relaxed in the prescence of groups of young men wearing clothes that show they belong to a gang? No, I doubt if you would either, especially in a confined and isolated situation such as a Tube carriage.

No solutions, just observations. Now that T Blair (our temporary Prime Minister) is on the case, let us see what transpires.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Rebuilding blues

My home station, Ruislip Manor, is being rebuilt (Cheers and calls of "not before time"). They have been working since January on the eastbound platform and it is supposed to be ready in June. I rather doubt it. Now LU have announced rebuilding of the westbound platform starting in July and lasting 6 months.

This is becoming depressing. I suspect the whole station will be out of action for a while during the summer, just when it gets too hot to be walking the streets to and from work. But a walk from Ruislip is going to be the norm (as it already is in the morning).

Meanwhile Mayor Ken presses on with his money-grabbing scheme to extend the Congestion Charge zone into Kensington. The edge of the zone will be the main road where my office is located. Doesn't bother me too much because I take the tube to work. What I would like to see is some real improvements on the tube, especially if loads more ex-drivers are going to be taking it in future on the lines and stations that I use. How about a few extra trains at peak time? How about publishing the timetable? How about proper display systems instead of the antique rubbish at Barons Court and Hammersmith (and non-existent at Ruislip Manor)? How about live updates via internet showing the trains actually running so that we can leave for a station with confidence about how long we may have to wait?

I wonder if a summer of discontent is brewing?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Seeing triple

Call me weird (voice off: "You're weird") but I find a pleasing symmetry when several trains line up in a pattern. This happens in particular at Rayners Lane from time to time when there is a Piccadilly train in the siding and one just leaving the westbound platform whilst one is coming in to the eastbound. Sometimes all three line up perfectly, with the rear carriage of the departing train parallel to the front of the other two. Now for me to observe this means I must be on the eastbound platform, so I must have caught a Met line and disembarked. This rules out 50% of journeys. There has to be a train in the siding - this rules perhaps 50% of the remaining possibilities. And then there must be a Piccadilly through train going west rather than another one waiting to turn round at Rayners Lane, plus one coming through (the one that I will catch). All of which makes the triple alignment rather rare and all the more enjoyable when it does happen.

Today there was an even rarer sight - three trains in echelon. There was one going west, one in the sidings and one coming east but they halted the eastbound to let the one in the sidings go first (because yet another Picc was queued up waiting to come in to the westbound platform and could not approach until the siding was clear). So for a second we had the front of the westbound train in line with the front of the train in the sidings, and the front of the eastbound train in line with the last carriage of the train in the sidings. 18 carriages stretching from the platforms to the distant bridge where Cannon Lane crosses the tracks.

Well, I enjoyed it anyway. I told you I was weird.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The morning after...

So, farewell then Michael Howard. Having confidently announced that he was leading the party to victory, we now find him making arrangements for a hasty exit. Suddenly he will be "too old" to lead the Tories at the next election. Rot. Age didn't stop Gladstone or Churchill. Everyone knew that he could not possibly win this election, he could only hope to bring the party back to a respectable position. Gaining 30 odd seats may perhaps have done this but it's a little early to tell.

Not much else to say really. The LibDems did a little better than the polls suggested but did not win enough seats to make a convincing breakthrough. Labour have a good working majority and maybe Gordon will be moving one door nearer to Whitehall a little sooner than he may have dared to hope, now that Tony has looked into the abyss and realised how close he came to falling in.

The trains have been okay since I came back from holiday. What on earth am I going to write about now? Ah well, I will think of something.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Election Day

Having just returned from a blissful 6 days in Rome, it is time to take stock.
Firstly, how does the Rome Metro compare to London Underground? It is way cheaper (standard fare anywhere is €1 and that gets you unlimited bus rides as well within a 75 minute time span). The system seems fairly dated, with just two lines covering only a small part of Rome, although there is a huge building program underway with two new tube lines. The trains are designed for short hauls - few seats, wide carriages to pack in people standing. Not comfortable for a typical London journey of 30 minutes plus. It is infested with thieves - I nearly had my camera stolen whilst I was paying attention to my money belt. And just like LT, it has its unavoidable delays. We aimed to go to the Spanish Steps one morning, taking Line B from our hotel and changing to Line A. There is only one junction between the two tube lines, at the main Terminus overground station (think Victoria meets Kings Cross), so it is very busy. And the platform leading to Line A was shut. A huge crowd built up, the exits became blocked, some incomprehensible announcements were made and of course no railway staff were anywhere in sight. We abandoned the train and took a taxi (at €5, a bargain).

But we took the train the next day and the day after without incident, so I shouldn't be too harsh. The trains came promptly enough and on the journey to the Vatican there was a bonus when we emerged from the tunnel to cross the Tiber by bridge, before dropping back into darkness.

One of the oddities is that the tickets are sold by newsagents or machine. There don't seem to be any ticket offices in the LU mould. Full marks for the multi-lingual machines and the sheer simplicity of the pricing system.

Second, how goes the campaign? Hard to tell, really. Commentators seem to think it's a dull election. Perhaps Prescott has been too subdued. The parties have so much in common that it is hard to support one of them unconditionally. Opinion in the Italian papers was that Blair would win fairly comfortably and there seems to be a mood of complacency and fatality, not the real excitement from 1997, 1992, 1979 and 1974, years in which a change of Government seemed likely but the polls were either too close to call or not believed.
And to tie the two themes together, the LibDem candidate for Ruislip-Northwood was there to greet me at Ruislip tube station this morning as I returned with my holiday memories fading to be overtaken by the reality of a back-to-work situation scenario.