Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Revealed! The shocking truth

They are still building my home station, Ruislip Manor. Well, not so much building as endlessly messing around outside it. The platforms have been reconstructed since work began in January 2005 but the land on both sides has become a permanent tip, festooned with Portakabins, diggers, great mounds of earth, and metal fences to keep us out. Check it out here Today I observed with some bemusement some of the builders moving benches from the spot on the ground where they had been parked for several days to a spot a little nearer to the one of the Portakabins. Funny, I thought. Either those benches are destined for a station platform or they should go back to whence they came, presumably Acme Bench Supplies Inc. Why, I pondered, are the builders moving them and not for the first time?

The answer struck like a thunderbolt (oh yeah? Ed). All this guff about rebuilding the station is just a blind. Those cabins are not temporary and the earth mounds are not just spoil-heaps. They are here to stay. The builders are moving in. No wonder they want the benches. They are going to sculpt the earth into a giant rock-garden and of an evening they will sit, each with his yellow hard hat, on the benches arranged neatly outside their new homes. The building job will never end. By day they will drive up and down in the mechanical diggers, scooping up earth here and depositing it there. By night they can retreat to their wooden cabins, light up the gas lamps and cook up something tasty on the old paraffin stove. And if they are bored then there’s bound to be something on the closed circuit TV system – there must be more than 20 cameras deployed around the station. Yes, I exaggerate not one jot. Everywhere you look there is a camera looking back. Actually none of them are wired in yet. The builders might get round to it one day, when they’ve quite finished rearranging the benches.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Baby it's cold inside

Another week of grey, extremely cold weather.  But apart from the odd flurry of snow (and rather pathetic little snow particles at that), it has been an exceptionally dry period. This combination is unusual for southern England. Cold winters normally mean frosts, snow, lots of rain. We have had a fiercely unpleasant east wind for day after day but almost no precipitation at all. A drought in this part of the country seems likely for the summer (why no national pipeline for water?)

And what, you may ask, does this have to do with the daily journey to work so vividly brought to life in these chronicles? Quite a lot, actually. The long wait this morning for a train (no indicator boards at any of the stations on the Uxbridge branch line means the extra frustration of not knowing how long the wait will be), enhanced by a biting cold wind forcing a gaggle of commuters to huddle together at the top of the stairs at Ruislip Manor. Since the rebuilding removed the main shelter halfway down the platform there is nowhere else to go.

And there was not much relief on the train. Normally they are warm, sometimes searingly so. But the moment the doors open and a blast of freezing air enters, the carriages become almost as cold as the platforms.  Fortunately today we were not held for several minutes at Ealing Common, as often happens when there is congestion around Acton Town, because then the doors would have been open for an achingly long time.

Can the spring be far away?

Monday, February 20, 2006

In search of the lost theme

You know that Monday morning feeling when you think you really ought to update your blog but somehow you just can’t be bothered? It’s such an effort to find a new theme to galvanise and excite your critical, yet intellectually sympathetic, readership but does one really want to dredge through the detritus of past despatches (nice alliteration with the D’s there) just to satisfy the burning lust to write something?

Actually “burning lust” is a bit strong. The vaguely tepid wish – that’s a more accurate and somehow nicer way of putting it.  God knows how many blogs there are on the planet now but whatever the number, it is way way too many.   I don’t see why I should rack my brains to knock out another punchy and strangely topical piece when it is fighting for the merest nod of recognition amidst a sea of contenders.  I could go on about the two days last week when the Piccadilly failed to run a decent service whilst boasting to the world about how there were no delays.

Or you might like an account of the fight that broke out in my carriage on Friday night between a group of youths who wanted to push their bicycles up and down the compartment and another group who objected. There was ritual abuse of the sort I thought was only heard on TV soaps “I’ll hit you” “you’ll do what?” “you heard” “you’ll do what?” and yes, from a girl “leave it!” (if only she had added the essential coda “he’s not worth it”).  I had my mobile out ready to dial 999. Fortunately the bikers left at South Harrow and the others stayed on, justifying themselves in terms reminiscent of the classic Derek and Clive sketch “This bloke come up to me”  (‘ee said hello so I kicked him right in the balls. Well, I was only defending my **** self).

Oh well. I got home okay and here am writing about it. Be seeing you

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Plethora of Benches

There’s always something new going on at my home station of Ruislip Manor. They have been rebuilding it for over a year and there is no sign of the work coming to an end. Today I noticed a little cluster of benches parked on one of the huge mounds of earth thrown up by the excavations beside the eastbound platform. They had cardboard wrappers that were half torn off and two of the builders were inspecting them closely. One might conjecture that, stumbling over what may have looked like a giant Valentine’s day present left overnight, they could not resist the impulse to rip off the packaging and caress the smooth wooden sides and gleaming iron frames of the seats.

We have plenty of benches already. A few more won’t hurt but as I have previously written, it is the lack of cover that is the stumbling block.  When it rains all the benches are exposed and the only real shelter is at the ticket-office end of each platform. So why not send the benches back, guys, and put in a proper shelter at the eastern end?

Perhaps sponsorship is the name of the game. A tastefully framed sign mounted on the seat-back of the bench might say “You are parking your bum here courtesy of Pedro’s Pizza.” Pedro (just opposite the station entrance) doesn’t get much business – whenever I pass by the shop is empty and makes a sad contrast to Pizza Hut just two doors along. Question is, can our Iberian friend afford any advertising? I expect the big conglomerates in the Manor – Budgens and the more upmarket restaurants – will grab their chance. Or perhaps they will let the commuters put on messages, like the many benches you find in Kenwood marked “in memory of so and so who loved this view”. What might I put? How about “Here sat Anthony on many a boring morning wondering where his train was?” A bit mournful, perhaps. I’ll think of something better the next time I’m standing on the platform wondering where my train is.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Noise

I had not realised, until I acquired my mp3 player*, how noisy the trains on the Underground are. The wheels squeal and scrape over the main points, the engines roar, especially in the tunnels, and the “helpful” announcements about minding the gaps drown out everything else.  Last night I was listening to Caravan’s  If I could do it all over again, I’d do it all over you whilst the Central Line did its best to drown it out. Why the Central you ask? “Severe delays on the Piccadilly” due a security alert at 11:43. Yes you heard me right. Seven hours later, and the line was still screwed up. Actually by the time I got to Shepherd’s Bush at about 6:30pm they had downgraded it to “minor delays” but that was no good to me. I had even taken the trouble to phone LU enquiries at around 6:00pm and they said the delays were indeed severe. Which is why I set out for the ‘Bush rather than go to my normal Barons Court.

Anyway, this particular album has a special place in my heart. I fell in love with Caravan at first hearing (on a BBC TV programme in 1969) and bought If I could as soon as it was released. I first heard it in the music room at the Cambridge Union in 1970, having no decent stereo record player of my own at the time. Now it is in high quality mp3 format and I can play it whenever I like. How’s that for progress? Well, if the trains were a bit quieter it would be nice for a start. This album has many extremely quiet passages (as well as the stonking riffs at full volume) and I could barely make them out.

*Yes, the Creative Zen Sleek I have been going on about. Not such a good battery life as I had expected but otherwise brilliant.    

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Big Brother station

More exciting developments at Ruislip Manor station to report today. There are 19 lamp-posts on each platform, spaced out at about 8 metre intervals, and each has been adorned with what looks like a loudspeaker.  There are cameras on no less than 7 posts on each side. This is surveillance and control with a vengeance.  Forget the Big Brother House. When they have finished rebuilding the ticket office, let’s all crowd in there and watch the commuters of our choice in their natural habitat.