Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mutterings #1

You know how people are always stereotyping today’s youth. Let me add my two penn’orth* to the debate.

Last night I was leaving Ruislip Manor station. As I touched my ticket on the exit gate, a young man went out of the emergency gate (the station is unmanned at night). There was a loud bleep but he took no notice. Presumably he had no ticket.
I now draw the jury’s attention to the fact that he was wearing a hood. Exhibit three in this catalogue of shame is that he went directly into a fast-food chicken’n’ribs outlet where he greeted another similar person.

So I tut-tutted (quietly) and moved on. If young people wish to wear clumsy and ugly clothing, ruin their digestions and long-term health, and break the law, then I guess it is their lookout.

*Two penn’orth m’lud? An ancient expression, derived from “two pennies worth”, meaning not a lot. Actually two pennies were worth something,  <begin northern accent> When I were a lad (strike up brass band and sepia-coloured jerky film footage) you could buy 8 chews for two pennies. More nourishment there than in a bargain bucket of dubious chicken-based grease sticks any day.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A diversion at Finchley Road

I’ve commented before on the lack of communications in the tube network. There was an excellent example today.  I was on a London-bound Metropolitan train approaching Finchley Road. The driver announced a problem with the brakes and that we were to be turned out.  The train was pretty full. He told us that the station staff knew of our arrival.

Just as we pulled in, a Jubilee train on the adjacent platform, almost empty, pulled out.  Perhaps 700 people emerged from the Met train, of which at least 40% stood and waited for the next Jubilee. So why did the waiting Jubilee not wait just a few seconds longer and remove 300 people from a severely overcrowded platform? Had nobody told the driver? Or did he think “to hell with it” and go as soon as he could?

The trains are frequent enough during peak hours and the congestion cleared fairly quickly. So I’m not making a fuss about it, just adding the incident to my ever-growing casebook.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Creaking at the seams

After the bomb attacks on the Tube in July last year, I had to use the Central Line for several weeks, and to alight at Shepherds Bush station in order to get to work. The down escalator failed almost exactly at that time and for weeks a forlorn notice in front it said that it was temporarily out of action and work to fix it would soon begin. In fact it was not fixed until November.

Now I am using the Shell Centre exit at Waterloo station and exactly the same thing has happened. The down escalator is roped off, we are told that it will be fixed real soon but there is no sign of anything happening.

I suppose you could call this continuity. Bits of the tube system break and they patch them up and then other bits break. No matter where you are on the network, you are never more than a couple of stops from a defective lift, a jammed escalator or a signal failure. People comment on the calm and uncomplaining nature of the English. But complaining in these cases is a waste of time. Station staff are sympathetic but powerless. The people who control the budgets and the repair crews are somewhere else; they do not inhabit the same plane as us commuting mortals, our voices may ascend to their lofty heights wherein they dwell but all we get back is the sound of laughter, very faint and far away (I think this enchanting image originates with the fantasy writer Lord Dunsany or one of his ilk).

At least the Bakerloo line, which I have now settled on as the best way to get from Baker Street to Waterloo, seems pretty reliable, running trains every two to three minutes. Although it is often overcrowded and amazingly hot (I’m not looking forward to the next heatwave), the journeys in the central area are short enough to be tolerable. The Met has no live in-car information at all, the Piccadilly displays only the destination of the train but at each station on the Bakerloo there is an announcement about where you are and where the train is going. Very civilised. As long as one is not deaf.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Points failure at Baker Street

Just two weeks since I began regular commuting on the Metropolitan/Bakerloo to get from Ruislip Manor to Waterloo and I’ve encountered the first real problem.  Arriving at Baker Street last night I was struck by the number of people pouring down from the Met platforms towards the Jubilee/Bakerloo platforms. So dense indeed was the flow that I was unable to make any progress in climbing the stairs and had to wait until several hundred had passed. Gathering from this that something was wrong, I found two northbound Mets, both jammed full, and announcements of a points failure. After a fruitless wait in case they fixed it, and already knowing that my main alternative route, the Piccadilly was up the spout with “severe delays”, I had to resort to the emergency route, the Central Line and a long wait for a bus from South Ruislip.

This was an irritating experience because had it happened a little earlier I would have diverted onto the Central Line first and not wasted half an hour. And had it happened a little later, I would have been on a Met moving away from the stuck points and would not have been delayed at all.  Communications within the tube network remain awful. Some fifteen minutes after the Met came to a halt, the announcer at Oxford Circus (where I was transferring to the Central) did not know that anything was amiss.

So, 11 days of travelling, a couple of minor glitches, just one headache so far. Seems reasonably promising.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Metroland revisited

It’s funny but now I am travelling on the Metropolitan, a lot of the frustrations I experienced during my eight years taking the Piccadilly from beautiful Ruislip to Hammersmith have dissolved into a mist and floated off into the autumnal twilight (getting poetic again, must have been drinking: Ed.) The Met has the comfortable feeling of an old jumper. It may be out-of-fashion, grubby and unravelling, but it fits. I am a veteran of this line. I rode it from Preston Road to Northwood Hills for 7 years as a schoolboy, then commuted to work in the City throughout the 1970s, and much of the 80s. And my memory goes back further, as a child with my mother visiting friends in Pinner in the mid 1950s. I recall the brown, slam-door carriages, with the overhead baskets for luggage and the heavy leather straps for opening the windows. The maps displayed inside the carriage went up to Aylesbury. We never went so far – had we done so we would have experienced the pleasure of being steam-hauled north of Rickmansworth, for the electrification of the line had gone no farther since 1925.

But my imagination was always captured by the remoteness, the almost legendary quality of those distant stations along the way – Great Missenden, Wendover, Stoke Mandeville, and fabled Aylesbury itself. It might have been a continent away to me, for whom the 5 short stops up to Pinner was an adventure in itself. Even today, when we drive up the A41 and reach these places in well under an hour, they seem to be in some foreign land where Londoners must carry passports and phrase-books, and frequently consult the map. To think that one could take a tube train from central London and alight in Aylesbury, a market town surrounded by empty fields in the heart of Buckinghamshire.

From 1890 to 1936 (and between 1943 and 48) the Met went even further, out towards Quainton Road  (now a superb heritage centre) and Verney Junction, with a strange branch line to Brill. You can find photos and histories on the web. God knows who commuted from there – I suspect nobody did, all the traffic was local and to those people coming down from the villages on the Oxfordshire border to shop in Aylesbury, the thought of going on down to London must have been as strange to them as their travel arrangements now seem to me.

John Betjeman’s wonderful documentary Metroland captures some of this lost glory and is heartily recommended.  Images from this film blend in my mind with the reality of today as I pass the site of the Wembley Tower, the estates of Preston Road, Northwick Park and Harrow, and the junction with the Grand Central railway. It was this “new route” from Neasden through Ruislip and Denham that ended the ambitions of the Met’s directors to run a train service from the midlands right through London and onto the Channel Tunnel.

Somehow the Piccadilly, chugging slowly on its meandering route to Ealing and Acton, has none of this magic. It is just a way to get to work.