Thursday, December 31, 2009

The end of the decade

There is no real reason to mark the end of the "noughties". Key events in our lives are better marked by generations, periods of 25 - 35 years. And it may be that the period from the end of the oil price crisis of 1973 through to now marks one of those defining eras. It was the era that saw a huge explosion in the wealth of sportsmen, entertainers, businessmen (by "men" of course I include women). The era of gigantic building projects typified by the Burj Tower in Dubai (and for Londoners Canary Wharf and the "Gherkin"). The era in which all the world's culture was made available to a large percentage of the worlds population through the Internet and relatively cheap personal computing. The era of cheap air travel, global television, global branding. The era in which the nation-state rivalries typified by the NATO/Warsaw Pact stand-off gave way to the loose alliance of democracies and populist states versus terrorist states and organisations. The era in which for the first time science could tell a convincing story about the origin and nature of the Universe on both the largest and the smallest scale. And above all the era in which the human race grasped for the first time that the resources of the Earth are finite and that our industrial activities can damage the biosphere - but sadly not the era in which the human race agreed to do very much about the destruction of its heritage.

It may be that our children will look back on this time as some sort of Golden Age of stability and good living. If some of the dire forecasts about climate change turn out to be true and we see the Mediterranean basin becoming an outpost of the Sahara, huge numbers of people homeless through rising sea levels and major changes in world agriculture, then they may conclude that we were the luckiest generation of all time.
[yeah, that's right, go out on a high note. Gloomy sod :Ed]

Monday, December 28, 2009

Memories of a snowstorm

Quite an amusing programme on tele the other night (it was on More4 so you probably missed it) - an hour about the snowstorm of February 2009. Billed as the story of what happened when the whole country came to a halt, it caused the wife and myself some bemusement. We couldn't even remember the blizzard for a while, and I actually had to reread my entry on this blog as an aide-memoire [I love it when he talks French: Ed] then we dimly recalled having one day when heavy snow brought London to a standstill. Yes, one day. February 2nd. After that we got back to normal.

Ten minutes into the programme and we had moved on from people trapped in their cars and doctors walking 50 miles to work, and had reached sledging tragedies. Twenty minutes later and the worst they could come up with now was a couple of girls getting wet in an icy stream for a few minutes. At that point we switched over. You see, we don't really do bad weather in the UK. Flooding is becoming a real problem, granted, but not snow. Our hair does not stand on end when they screen footage of Kings Cross tube station being closed - after all, Bob Crow and his merry men manage that feat more often.

We will probably continue to have a couple of days every year when snow falls sufficiently heavily and quickly to paralyse the traffic and the trains. And within a day or so it will have melted or been pushed away and it will not be a problem any more. No idea how anyone can justify devoting an hour of TV to it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Xmas closedown

Another year staggers towards its end and all over London offices are closing for the Christmas holidays. After several freezing days, with ice and frozen snow still on the ground in beautiful Ruislip, it looks as though some slightly warmer weather is on the way to ensure that once again the bookies have a profitable time of it. Although the definition of a "white Christmas" in the UK is, I gather, if a single snowflake falls on the Air Ministry roof. Now how you would tell if one flake falls is beyond me, unless they have a couple of men permanently posted up there with binoculars and flasks of hot tea, like the ARP lookouts during the War. You can imagine them bunkered down near the air conditioning outlets to keep warm, huddled in their greatcoats and balaclavas, trying to write down observations with stiff unyielding fingers in their RAF-issue notebooks with biros that are frozen and rip the paper, constantly scanning the skies for that one elusive white fragment that means so much to those who have once more succumbed to the desire to make futile bets.

"There's one now Sir, coming down from the east"
"No, Thompson, its a piece of paper - check the markings man"
"Sorry sir. But what's that there, by that cloud?"
"My God, could it be...Thompson, can you see it on the binos? Is it?...I think it is. London's certainly going to take a pasting tonight. Get on to Wingco and pass the alert. Those poor civilians down there - it's going to be traffic madness when that flake hits the ground. I'll call Eurostar and stop all trains until February just to be on the safe side"
"It is just the one snowflake sir"
"Thompson, never relax your guard. The cunning devils just want to lull us into a false sense of security. There'll be more on the way. God knows if we can deal with them all. We'll just do our duty Thompson, no-one can do more. "
A harmonica plays softly in the background as the two men gaze up sternly, resolutely, fearing the worst, knowing that the nation is relying on them to see it through.
Fade to black
Credits
Fin.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The tube did run

I wrote yesterday about the little bit of snow and whether the tube would run today. Despite a little more of the white stuff overnight, it did. Must have been the right sort of snow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A chill eastern wind

A sudden blast of cold air blew in across London from the east and hit the office building in which I work this lunchtime and at once the air was full of whirling sleet and snow. Then it seemed to calm down but tonight in beautiful Ruislip it has been snowing for several hours and we have about half an inch of icy snow that compacts to a hard lump if you squeeze it. I watched somone trying to drive up the moderately little hill on which we live and he just went sideways into the kerb as his wheels spun without friction.

So it's winter once again. It was forecast, the gritters are out and the big question is - Will the tube run tomorrow? Or must I take an enforced day off (insincere sob). It is that time of year when things in my line of work go very quiet so it won't be much of a disaster if I struggle down to the Manor and find the station shut.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

That muted feeling

Halloween last weekend, an event I have deplored in previous utterances on this site, but this year almost invisible. Ghastly rubbish in the supermarkets (what does happen to all those oversized pumpkins?) but nothing to be seen on the streets. Of course, being out that night helped. As it happens we were in Sevenoaks for a concert and wandering through the attractive but distinctly quiet town centre I noticed a jeweller had placed a few 'orrible 'airy spiders here and there amongst the rings and the watches. Can't say that this seemed much of an inducement to spend money there.

And tonight is bonfire night. There used to be plenty of fireworks going off for several nights before November 5 came around - again I am surprised by the paucity of it this year. Perhaps everyone is saving up for the weekend. Or maybe people are having second thoughts about celebrating the downfall of a man who tried to blow up Parliament. One more expenses scandal and it will be the Speaker being burned in effigy whilst the deluded (because the plot was doomed to fail even if the powder had gone off as planned, and the resulting war against the English Catholics would have caused the needless deaths of thousands of innocent people) Mr Fawkes becomes a sort of whistle-blowing martyr of the people.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Falling leaves

Don't be misled by the title of this piece. Usually at this time the Met comes to a halt with the age-old excuse of "leaves on the line". Autumn is in full swing and the leaves were falling freely in beautiful Ruislip all weekend but no delays appear to have interfered with this morning's service. My normal train is now making a regular stop at Neasden to let a driver off, which it never used to do, but otherwise came in and arrived on time.

So does this mean that the programme of cutting back trees overhanging the lines, and perhaps use of the special train that cleans up the track, has fixed this problem? Good news, if confirmed. Let's have as much greenery as possible but not on the railway please.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Electrical Detectives


Travelling on the tube forces a daily acquaintance with adverts. You can't help but read them, especially when displayed on huge posters on platform walls that you are standing by. One such today appears to be promoting a book, probably a thriller, and has the huge headline "Bosch is back".

Leaving aside the strange concept that the advertiser thinks I may be concerned that this particular fictional character has, in some literary sense, been away, my mind inevitably linked this no doubt worthy hero with the much better known German manufacturer of high grade domestic electrical goods. And, just as inevitably, I began musing on possible follow ups to this gripping series, all of them featuring a tough loner who is not afraid to bend the rules, who lives on the edge and who is motivated by a desire for justice that overrides the corrupt politicians and policemen...well, you get the picture. So stand by for Inspector Electrolux of the Liechtenstein police and Nevada's downbeat private eye Bendix Hoover (he doesn't give a dam) whilst France's super-cool detective makes his entrance in the Casebook of Hercule Frigidaire. Cheeky cub reporter Ken Wood, Italian sex bomb Candy Zanussi and supercilious, duelling-scarred villain Count Indesit Ariston de Dietrich may also feature.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Parallel worlds

No problem on the Bakerloo this morning. I came down the steps at Baker Street, saw one leave and the next arrived within two minutes, with another indicated a couple of minutes behind. Arrived promptly at Waterloo. As I left the station, although a normal pattern was shown on the electronic arrivals board, they were announcing "Severe delays on the Bakerloo" and had handwritten the same message on the noticeboard at the top of the escalators.

I briefly considered advising a station attendant and rejected this idea as being futile and certain to cause frustration. After all, I am only a passenger customer and will be treated as though as I know nothing. Bitter experience you see. So I kept schtum and left.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A visitor from Oz

The wicked witch of the Met writes
On last night's, crowded as usual, Bakerloo train up to Baker Street, I became aware that a woman standing near me was having problems working out where she was. Her accent betrayed her as American. A gentlemen nearby offered to help and showed her where to change for her intended destination of Harrow. They got chatting and as neither bothered to keep their voices down, everyone around them could listen in. "And where are you from?" he asked, perhaps identifying her unusual mid-west twang. "Kansas city" was the answer.

I had to bite hard on the pen I was using to fill in my regular "Codewords" puzzle book that keeps me welcome company on these journeys. For without this essential oral distraction I would surely have announced for all to hear "You're not in Kansas anymore Dorothy".

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A game of chance

It’s an odd feeling to be going resolutely against the tide. This morning I took my usual train to Baker Street but as I descended the stairs toward the Bakerloo line I was aware of far more people than normal coming up the other way. As I reached the bottom an announcement informed me that there were “severe delays on the Bakerloo line due to signal failure”. (It’s always signal failure, unless you get the very rare but always intriguing “passenger action”).
My escape route in this particular case is to take the Jubilee which runs conveniently parallel to the Bakerloo all the way to my destination of Waterloo. So I continued on to the Bakerloo platform from where there is easy access to the Jubilee avoiding the worst of the crowds. There was a train at the platform with a few determined passengers sitting still whilst others continued to detrain. The platform announcer told us that we could board if we wished but we might be in for a long wait. It always pays to keep an eye on the signals and, as I reached the end of the platform where there is a short tunnel to the Jubilee, I saw the light turn green. I boarded the train at once. The announcer also noticed it and opined that though the train might shortly depart, it would be slow and we would be taking a gamble.
I took the gamble (staking possible holdups against the certainty of a jam-packed Jubbly) and stayed put. We left almost at once with the train nearly empty. There was no delay at all and we proceeded at normal speed to Waterloo, the train staying blissfully devoid of crush because everyone was undoubtedly packing into the trains just ahead of us. As I left the station they were still repeating the mantra of “severe delays”. Well, not for this particular commuter there weren’t.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Danubian interlude

No posts for a few weeks. The first two weeks in September were spent cruising up the Danube from the delta in Romania to Linz in Austria. I have written before about the joys of this means of transport and will not repeat myself. But forget the "blue" Danube - it's a sludgy brownish-grey most of the time (which is not to say the trip was in any way disappointing - it was wonderful).

I am always captivated by the trams of Europe. Bucharest, Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna have wonderful examples. The services are (or at least appear to be) frequent and of course there are few hold ups. Unlike the underground with its clumsy block signalling systems, the trams can make full use of the track, and when necessary, use all the available space (as the platform staff like to say) in the turning circles at the end of each line.

Here's a nice shot from Budapest to whet your appetites.

Meanwhile I learn that the long awaited new train stock for the Metropolitan will be introduced next year. Designed for "easy access" (even though most of the stations are not), there will be fewer seats and lots more standing room. Oh joy. LU does not really understand what it is like to do long distance commuting. My emergency planning embraces some sort of portable seat, like a shooting stick but not with the sharp pointy end, so that there will be a degree of comfort on those when the trains are crowded. With a bit of luck the current round of spending cuts will delay these new trains for a few years, then I can retire and all this heartache will cease.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Great North Road

To Nottingham, for a family wedding party. Although the direct route is up the M1, we took the A1 going north, so as to detour to a distinctly strange National Trust site at Lytham New Bield, and then back again because I had a little business to transact in Biggleswade.

I love the A1. For much of the way it is as fast as the motorway, and the odd slowdowns and traffic queues at the few major junctions on the way are forgiven by the views and the wayside distractions of the little towns and the old coaching inns by the side of the road. There are fewer Little Chefs than there used to be (no great loss) but the Fox Inn and the Sibson Inn and our favourite, the Ram Jam Inn, continue to lure in the weary traveller who can easily imagine himself taking refreshment in a room that Dick Turpin might have put his muddy boots up in.

The Ram Jam, lurking on a deceptively empty stretch of road near Oakham, used to put up signs on the approach - "1 mile to the Ram Jam Inn" and when you had gone past - "You have just missed the Ram Jam Inn". Like the Little Chefs, the signs are fewer in number though this seems to increase the pleasure of actually spotting the Inn after the long miles up from London. One day we really ought to stop there.

If that was not enough, the Inn is in Rutland, a county so small it has "Welcome to Rutland" written on both sides of the sign*. Like Middlesex, the planners tried to kill it but it refuses to die. It is another element in the romance of the Great North Road.

*Just my little joke, Rutlanders, no need to start slagging me off on Facebook.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The great heatwave of '09

Temperatures in London hit 30c yesterday. Nothing special about that, except that this followed several weeks of dull and cool weather, and today we are back to wind. rain and cloud. So it seems that yesterday will be fondly remembered as the great heatwave of 2009, and children yet unborn will marvel when their grandparents tell them how we endured the awful conditions and the sleepless nights [I think you mean 'night': Ed].

Naturally I chose this night of all nights to be in the sweltering Royal Albert Hall for a Prom.

But I have to hand it to LU - the timetable for the Piccadilly back to beautiful Ruislip said there would be a train leaving South Kensington at 22:21 and there was. And had it not been for the young man with the leaky earphones listening to the inevitable high-pitched thud of "dance" noise [he means music: Ed] all would have been well.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sneezes and security

After the tube bombings in 2005, we all became suspicious of packages and bags on the tube. For a while. After the first wave of swine flu earlier this year we all eyed with hostility anyone coughing or sneezing. This is wearing off. The atmosphere on the tube seems to be closer to those innocent days of yesteryear. We naturally want to be able to trust our fellow passengers and, though the threats remain, that level of trust always finds a way of rising back up.

It is of course hard to know just what the real threats may be. All risks are a matter of probability, but most people don't understand the nature of probability (which is why so many play the National Lottery). Based on experience, the likelihood of being caught in a terrorist attack is amazingly low, way lower than the chances of being in a car crash or a street fight. But whilst we are still warned about unattended packages, nobody warns us to be careful on the road when leaving the Tube.

As for flu, some people are getting it all the time and swine flu is not the only nasty strain we might encounter. I don't know if I should worry about it or not. The nurse at my local GP tells me they are not particularly bothered about it. I don't know anyone who has had it, or who knows someone who has it. Even if you get it, it is not clear what the probability of it turning into a life-threatening condition may be. So on the whole, best to ignore it for the moment. What with a vital decider coming up in the Ashes series, we have more important things to strain the old adrenaline glands.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

That summer slowdown

The schools have broken up and the tubes are less crowded. There's been the odd delay and signal failure (but the most recent, earlier this week, affected me not a jot thanks to my quick reflexes in going for a train signalled as leaving in 10 minutes but which snuck out of Baker Street the moment I got on). In general the trains have been running well. The weather is pleasant, cloudier and wetter than one might like but preferable to the heatwaves we have been threatened with.

So not a lot to report really. I keep my eyes open for irritating and/or unintendedly stupid adverts and my ears open for amusing announcements but these have got scarce.

Stick with it folks. Who knows what may be around the corner?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Hurry while seats last


This ad is currently running on the tube, for Cathay Pacific airlines. I love it. Here is some bloke, obviously an actor, trying to look as though first class service comes naturally. But the cruncher is this - there is nobody else in the cabin. Which prompts two obvious questions:
1: Where are the rest of the first class cabin crew? Playing cards with the captain or having a quiet snack in the galley or what?
2: If this airline can only manage to attract one paying customer at a time to its first class service then it will not be in business much longer. Book now. The next flight may well be the last.

Friday, June 26, 2009

So farewell then the spear-carrier of pop

On my way to the station this morning I passed two schoolgirls in animated conversation. One said to the other "My mum told me Michael Jackson was dead. I was, like, Mum, I didn't even know he was still alive"

The first 6 minutes of the BBC Radio 4 news at 8:00 was devoted to this story. Apparently he was known as the "King" of pop. Well, I never voted for him.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Guessing Game




Here's a nice puzzle from the kind folks at London Underground. Where do you think the trains are going? You will search in vain for SBP and QUP on the tube map.
Answer:
SBP is Stonebridge Park and QUP is Queens Park and some idiot has configured the indicators to show the internal LU station codes instead of their proper names. I wonder how many baffled tourists were hanging about on the Bakerloo platform tonight.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Beating the strike

The RMT union began a 48 hour strike on Tuesday evening, cleverly coinciding with the England vs Andorra game at Wembley the following night.

scene: RMT HQ, a month ago. Bob Crow takes a phone call.
Crow "Yeah"Caller "Boss, there's a big match coming up. Lots of the lads want to watch it. They don't want to be driving trains when they could be in the pub watching Rooney falling over"Crow "I think we could swing a day"Caller "Even better if we can have the next morning off, there'll be a few thick heads..."Crow "Leave it to me. Time we had a few days off anyway."
(Thinks) "Now what stupid pretext can we use to manufacture a dispute this time..."


Well, sod them. I managed to get to an important meeting in central London by driving to a nearby station and catching a Chiltern Railways train to Marylebone. Oh, and a 40 minute walk as the buses were jammed, taxis all taken and the roads at a standstill.

I must say that the train was very comfortable (very full in the morning, naturally but I came home early and had a seat), is smooth and fast and even offers a toilet. And the journey was even faster than scheduled coming home because the public-spirited railway decided not to stop at Wembley Stadium, thus removing the last easy way for people to get there. But it is not a practical way to make my regular journey to Waterloo so let us hope that the tube dispute is settled soon.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Kings Cross

Had to go up to Camden Town this evening and came home on the Northern Line to Kings Cross and then on the Met. Jeepers. The state of Kings Cross is staggering. That intersection requires two escalators, steps up and down and a narrow crowded corridor and the full length of the platform to get to where I needed to be. The raw, crumbling concrete, exposed power lines and beams and the general decrepit state of the place are a shock. I'm sure my fellow commuters are fully inured but this is the first time I have done this particular journey and I am seeing it as through the eyes of a visitor. Who the hell designed this station?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gordon and the Gurkhas

I don't normally comment on politics. I break with tradition today because I am so disgusted by the Government's attitude to the Gurkhas. We owe much to soldiers from all over the Commonwealth but especially to those who have been so loyal to the UK for so long. Nick Clegg got it right this morning on the radio - You used to claim to be guided by morals, Gordon. Let's see a bit of it. Do the right thing. And please don't mumble about "affordability" when your government is happy to waste billions on ID cards and other futile IT systems.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Of Signs and Stress - 2

They are putting new electronic display boards at Waterloo and, to my great pleasure, some of them are going up in the entrance hall. There is a bank of three at the South Bank entrance. Only one is switched on (for the Northern Line) but I have reasonable hopes that the other two, for Bakerloo and Jubilee, will soon follow. These boards show the next 4 departures and represent everything I have always asked London Underground to deliver - clear and useful information at the point of entrance. Having info on the platform is vital, of course, but how much better to know the situation before you trek down the escalators and stairs and the interminable winding little corridors. And seeing the pattern of arrivals is much more helpful than the usual blether about "good service" or "minor delays".

Speaking of which, with "good service" shown on the TFL website for the Metropolitan, I got to Baker Street the other night to find a 13 minute delay to the next Uxbridge. Normal service at the peak is one train every 4 -6 minutes. I enquired of a bloke wearing LU uniform and holding a radio (I suppose he was part of the station staff but given that all he was doing was staring up at the indicator board like everyone else, who knows). Anyway he opined that such a delay was perfectly alright, a good service was operating and it would be unreasonable to report that there were delays every time there were delays. Yup, I can see his point. Why spoil everyone's day by telling them there are problems when really, there are none. Trains are running somewhere, are they not? It's a bit like a hospital refusing to report on the mortality rate from operations on the grounds that everyone dies , sooner or later, or the weatherman telling you not to worry, it's bound to be a nice day some time within the next three months.

I must get myself out of the habit of asking LU staff about service intervals. Over the years it has become plain that most of them don't really know and don't really care.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Medieval England

To Ludlow for a few days in a different world. Black and white timbered buildings, winding narrow streets, castles, churches and great estates, lambs in the fields and daffodils lining every country road.

Just thought I'd share that image with any fellow commuters battling through the crowds tonight.

Alas, all holidays must end.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Of Signs and Stress

I bang on about indicator boards and the like but that is because it's important. Few things are more stressful on the Underground than waiting for trains when you don't know how long you have to wait. The modern indicators that display the next three or four arrivals set the standard for how information should be provided. So it is sad when they put up new boards that do nothing but state the bleedin' obvious. Consider the Bakerloo platforms at Waterloo. There are old style boards, rather hard to see at a distance, but they do at least show the next three trains. New boards are going up. They are bright and clear but display nothing except the time and stuff like "Northbound trains". What is the point? One assumes that they will actually be used to show train arrivals (given that the same data is already on the TFL website) so why do they not do so now?

And whilst on this subject what about my home station at Ruislip Manor? It was equipped with new boards a couple of years ago that are as useful to passengers as the non-working "emergency" help points. What a waste of our money.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Niggles - continued

You may have read yesterday's piece about the defective indicator board at Harrow on the Hill and perhaps thought "That's jolly interesting, I shall inspect the said item for myself on my very next visit". Well, you can't because the board is no more. Where it was is just a gap in the platform roof. So it is just as well that Ramblings took a quick photo and, with apologies for the inadequacies of my camera phone and having to take it at night, here is the shocking proof.

It was funny when I took it because at once there came an announcement saying "Will the person doing the flash photography stop, this is prohibited". I felt guilty until realising that as my phone does not have flash, the culprit was not me. Then coming down the platform I saw several bright flashes - this was the front lamp on a bike being wheeled along. It's these little incidents that are the very stuff of urban life, you know.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Niggles

Morning trains on the Met were late yesterday because of "blocking back" at Wembley Park (no real reason given, presumably the usual overrunning of engineering works). Last night at Baker Street the platform indicator boards were not working; the staff made the odd announcement but if you missed it you had to play pot luck with the north-bound trains. And this morning we had a defective train at Baker Street that made us rather slow on the final tunnel section into that station.

Nothing special about any one of these incidents. A little worrying about the way they cluster. The Met is really showing its age. For example, there is an indicator board at Harrow on the Hill that has been broken for months. A pathetic sign has been stuck on it telling people to read the destinations shown on the front of the incoming trains instead. They have modern LCD displays at the stations further south but at Harrow, one of the major nodes on the network, the boards go back at least 40 years (I guess) and when they fail they stay failed.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Departure Board bliss

I've moaned about it before so nice to be appreciative of London Underground for a change - all tube lines are now represented on the Departure Board page on the TFL website . You can see the arrivals in real time for any train on the system. For the last few years it was restricted to half the lines.

Of course you need an internet enabled device to read this info, so you can't see it when you are actually using the tube or at a station (unless you have a suitable handheld device). But we can perhaps dream of the day when this will be reality, and we won't need announcers to tell us about delays, we will be able to see what is actually running for ourselves and plan our journeys accordingly.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The vapidity of announcements

Late running on engineering works at Neasden brought both the Metropolitan and Jubilee lines to their knees this morning. With no trains southbound from Harrow, I resorted to my fall-back of the Piccadilly and got in 20 minutes late. So far, so routine but it struck me, as I heard one interminable announcement after another telling us that there was no service, that the real piece of information we would like to know was how long until normal service resumed.

I don't think this is an unreasonable request. Engineering takes place overnight. By the time I start my journey - 8:30 am - any delays will have been known about for at least three hours (in fact the first Metropolitan trains start around 5:00 am). So someone somewhere must have said to the line controllers "er sorry about the ballsup but my lads will have it all cleared up by...". Now if they tell me that it will all be sorted in about 15 minutes I will wait, rather than cram into a train that hundreds of other frustrated passengers will be similarly filling. And if the delay is going to be more than hour, then I cram in with the best of them. I'd just like to know that my cram was worth while.

Friday, February 27, 2009

English like wot it is wrote

The following email is a typical "phishing" scam but stands out from the crowd because, though it comprises a mere 4 sentences, it contains at least 12 errors of spelling, syntax and sheer bad writing. How many can you find?

---------------------------------------------------

Dear Customer,

Your access to Online Service has been revoked due to a mis-match of access code between your Security details. To enable you continue accessing your online account, it will only take you few minutes to re-activate your account. Click on the guide-link below and follow the directions to instant activation of your account and Security information
*Important*

NOTE: FAILURE CAN RESULT TO PERMANENT ACCOUNT SUSPENSION.
P. R. Crush
Security Advisor
Lloyds Tsb Bank © 2009.
----------------------------------------------------

I think the funniest part of all is the sinister "P.R. Crush". What a wonderful name for a heavy. I picture him as a 16 stone ex-bouncer, clad in dinner jacket and dark glasses, suggesting to potential customers that they should open an account otherwise something nasty, but unspecified, might accidently happen to them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The signals are failing, Captain*

Left work early to visit my sister-in-law in hospital. She is in Watford, I'm in Waterloo, visiting ends at 8pm so not much time to spare. Met has major signal failure (yet again) at Finchley Road, huge gaps, crowded trains, took the Jubbly to Wembley Park, Uxbridge train arrives full and many more try to crowd on, then because a window cracks we all have to get out, two more trains arrive, both so full nobody can get on, we get told the next is on platform 1 so mad scramble over the footbridge, train doesnt stop, mad scramble back to platform 2....

And all the time the moronic announcer tells us there are "minor" delays. God knows what these people eat but it's addling their brains. Several hundred people unable to board two separate trains is not minor delays. It is a near failure of service. And all this at Wembley, where the Met stables nearly all of its trains and where its drivers begin their shifts. Couldn't they find just one train from the depot to take up the strain? Nope. The only one that did come out did not stop. Just sailed on through to Harrow empty. After which the announcer told us that by special arrangement the next one, though not supposed to stop, would make a halt to let us on. Jeepers. You'd think they were paying us for the privilege of playing with their trains.

Let me spell it loud and clear. Trains should be run for the benefit of passengers, not the other way round.

Anyway my sister-in-law decided she did not want any visitors tonight, which by the time I got home was just as well and maybe I'll be able to visit her in a calmer frame of mind soon.

*in my Scottish voice (Is this a Star Trek reference? He's very good you know: Ed)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Time for tranquillity

My eyes are closed. I sit with my back warm against the padded seat There is almost no sound apart from a gentle background hum. A newspaper rustles, discreetly. Some distance away I hear a muffled cough. Around me I sense other people, still, withdrawn, wrapped in thoughts.

A hushed and expectant concert hall just before the arrival of a famous soloist? A sad gathering at a funeral waiting for the coffin? Clients at the door of a wealthy patron? Anxious patients in a dentist's waiting room?

No. Quieter and more resigned and without much hope, these are the passengers on a Metropolitan train this morning, stuck in a tunnel outside Baker Street and 40 minutes late.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Stirring it up

I never know who, if anyone, reads my occasional outpourings. I had always vaguely thought that historians from the twenty-seventh century, picking through the remnants of our civilisation, might unearth a dusty disk from the ruins of the Google building and would hear my scribbles brought to life by their robot translators. So imagine my surprise to receive comments on my post of yesterday (on the subject of a new internet domain) from the man whose words, quoted in yesterday's Guardian, sparked off my interest. If only I could get a similar response from the powers-that-be in London Underground...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tel it like it is

Had to laugh when I read in the IT section of today's Guardian that some people are getting excited about a new web domain, ".tel". Apparently the sole use will be a single web page showing the contact details of the person who owns the domain. Since most people do not have unique names, this immediately invalidates the whole point, and since there is no protection as to who can register names in the first place, it is merely an exercise in internet greed, encouraging both cyber-squatting and generating FUD* in people scared of somehow missing out.

But as always the joy is to be found in the quote of someone pushing this new domain. Like so many in IT, he clearly has no real idea what people actually do with it. Step forward and take a bow, one Andy Chantrill whose words of wisdom read thus:"Every minute, thousands of people are getting off planes, and what is the first thing that they do? Turn on the BlackBerry," he says. "Some of them will be thinking ahead to renting a car. For them, it's RentalCars.tel - the directory quickly connects them to an agent, saving time and hassle. Or maybe you're thinking of sending flowers? Florists.tel will let you quickly find your nearest florist."

Can't dispute his first line. Every minute people do indeed disembark from planes. And now we leave reality behind. Some may indeed resort to their Blackberry, or other mobile device. But the vast majority do not. They scramble for their luggage. They fight for trolleys. They queue up at Passport Control. They check their tickets and itineraries, and ensure that the foreign cash is still safe in their inside pockets.

But to Mr Chantrill the very next thing that our intrepid travellers do is to think about car rental. Ummm. Most travellers do not actually rent cars you know. If they did, the termini of airports would be crammed full of rental establishments. Instead there will be couple of sad booths, one empty, and one with a bored clerk smiling hopelessly at the passing crowds. But in any case, anyone with an ounce of sense rents a car before arrival. And if you have decided to take pot luck, then you do indeed go straight to a booth. Or you call a rental agency you have an account with. You don't stand about phoning some "agent" who may well be in a call centre the other side of the world and start making arrangements for a car that might be the other side of the airport with no way of getting there other than by courtesy coach that takes a hour to arrive.

No matter. Whilst waiting for that coach you can do the next thing that everyone does when they get off a plane. You order some flowers. Now what does Mr Chantrill suggest - you walk through the terminal and pick a nice bunch of daffs for your host? Nope. This is the insane world of the internet salesman remember. What you do is use your Blackberry to find the nearest florist. In an airport? If there is a florist on your way out you will surely see it. If not, what is Florists.tel going to do? The nearest florist to Heathrow, for example, is probably miles from the airport and, being in the back streets of Hayes, entirely in the wrong direction for the vast majority.

My final thought - I possess a rather unusual name and probably could have my own .tel domain. But if you know me you know how to contact me already. And if you don't, you can find my email on my website. So I shall not be getting a .tel domain name. No flowers, by request.

*FUD mlud? An ancient acronym denoting "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt",propaganda tactics favoured by some in the IT biz to disparage competitors

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The tide turns

My normal train came in on time this morning and arrived on time.
(er..is that all? Ed)
Yes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A new week pt 2 - Things get worse

Four days in a row now, that the Metropolitan has operated a poor service. Today's special - severe delays due to overrunning of engineering works, according to the notice in the station entrance. So whilst stood on the platform at Ruislip Manor what do I hear? The announcer tells us a good service is running on the Piccadilly. On the Met, about which me and many of my fellow commuters are keenly concerned, nothing. No word as to the next train, the length of the severe delays, not even a hint of apology. To this faithful steward, this custodian of customer care, the Met and its passengers no longer existed and were not worthy of even a breath of comment. What a total ****.

Amusingly enough (he's got an unusual sense of humour, you know: Ed) my usual train then arrived, a few minutes late, but was only going to Harrow. So this would mean getting out and taking a chance that something might be running further south. Neither the driver nor the announcer bothered to mention this. I decided to wait for the next Piccadilly, not fancying yet another day of hanging about at Wembley Park which seemed to be all that the Met could offer, and got in ok but once again late because that route is both longer and slower than the Met.

A new week

Monday morning...
...is when the train you normally catch is cancelled, though the one due before and the one due after are running normally
...is being told by the station announcer that a good service is running, even whilst the train that was cancelled was due to arrive
...is having to fight your way down the stupidly narrow stairs from Metropolitan to Bakerloo platforms at Baker Street because of the congestion caused by the train being full because the one that you wanted to get was cancelled even though you were assured that a good service was running
...is finding that the normally dependable Bakerloo is running with gaps, that the platform is crowded and that waiting for the next train is not really an option because by then the platform will have filled up.

At least I had the option to switch to the Jubilee, where the trains were coming in without gaps and I was actually able to get a seat at Baker Street. So at least some sort of happy ending. I was going to write a song in popular beat combo style on the subject of a general dislike of Mondays but I believe a musical ensemble operating in that idiom may have beaten me to it.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Met screws up

Yesterday signal failures on the Met at Baker Street made me 20 minutes late. Today, another bout of signal failures first on the Met then (after I had been detrained at Wembley Park) the Jubilee. Result, 30 minutes late. Naturally whilst sitting in a Jubbly grinding between Wembley and Finchley Road, the rejuvenated Met began running again.
When LU screw up, they do it in style. But it's alright. Their announcers insisted that there were only "minor delays". Well sod them, I'm putting in my second refund claim for the week.

Oh and the "adverse weather" was also cited as a reason for delays. Wow. Earlier in the week we had a few inches. Today, a miserable centimetre or so (I hope you enjoy the instant transition from imperial to metric) [I find this confusing: Ed] which turned at once to a brown slush on the streets. We are not impressed.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A few cold inches

Yes, the snow is back and though the tube website shows that some trains are running, I don't trust that the system will remain running if there is further snow today so will stay at home. Here is the view from blizzard-struck Ruislip.

And driving would be no fun either

Friday, January 23, 2009

A turn-up for the book

I arrived for my homeward journey at Waterloo and just missed a northbound Bakerloo. The next one arrived about 15 minutes later, following close behind a "not in service". By that time the platform was pretty full, there had been 4 or 5 trains southbound and we had been told by the announcer that there were minor delays on the Piccadilly. Nothing was said about the Bakerloo. Naturally the train was full and I was lucky to get one of the last seats going.

Well, this line has been pretty reliable over the past couple of years so the odd blip can be tolerated. But as we pulled into Baker Street (and by this time we were as jam packed as a very well filled jar of jam)our driver offered an heartfelt and humble apology, explaining that a defective train had caused the delay and on behalf of London Underground he was really quite sorry about it.

Makes a change. LU always sound so damn pleased when they start sounding off about "extensive delays" and "take alternative routes" that to find one of their minions taking some sort of personal responsibility for a problem is somewhat gratifying, and occasioned a fair bit of eye-brow raising and quirky smiles from my fellow passengers. Mind you, the smiles were wiped out as the very large crowd waiting on the platform began pushing on, but your correspondent had detrained by this point and was off in search of fresh adventures on the Metropolitan.

Where's the poll

The first opinion poll on this blog was wildly popular. I've tried to put up another but the web page displays the question and underneath that an error message and no list of answers for you to vote on. So what's going on Google? You are playing hard and a loose with a dangerously powerful constituency (he lied).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A network orange

Travelling in to London this morning on an unusually crowded Bakerloo train, my eye was drawn to a young man standing near me. (I don’t like the sound of this: Ed). He was wearing a drab blue-black jacket and similar jeans and dull brown-grey shoes. But what made me look was the vivid orange laces on the shoes the only splash of colour in his outfit. (Oh I see: Ed) Like a mourner wearing a bright red tie at the funeral, they demanded attention.

Maybe he is a supporter of the Dutch football team. Perhaps he works for a well known telecoms business or is a keen follower of an Irish Protestant sect. Or, like our mourner, there is a desire to make a statement of non-conformity, or to assert self-identity.

It doesn’t matter a jot, really. But when you are stuck in a mob waiting only for the train to arrive at Oxford Circus where most people will get out, this is the sort of subject on which you ponder.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Computers - don'tcha just hate them?

It was meant to be a routine swap of a faulty tape drive in our main server at work. But when the new unit was put in, the server failed to boot up correctly. We took the new unit out and played around with the jumpers and then on boot up got a blue screen of death with an error indicating a failure of the boot disk. Great. Four hours later, after much swapping of disks and bits and pieces, running the repair program from the original installation CDs fixed the problem and I left the office a lot later than usual.

Anyway, got straight on a Bakerloo at Waterloo and my Uxbridge bound Met came within two minutes at Baker Street so I least I returned to beautiful Ruislip without the extra hassle of a bad journey. A pint of beer in JJ Moons (Twickenham ale, rather thin bodied and almost sour rather than bitter so I won't be trying that one again), a very large fish and chips (Mrs. Commuter being out at a concert) and some sense of normality was restored.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A spot of melancholy

January continues its unpleasant way with heavy rain and dull overcast skies in central London. But at least it has warmed up a bit, my pond has thawed and with luck some of our goldfish will have survived a week under the ice. They will have been in almost total darkness, eating nothing, oblivious of the world outside. Lucky them, eh? Tonight London Underground’s web site informs me that there are no Metropolitan trains running between Aldgate and Wembley Park so I must take another route home.
[update 3 hours later]
Yep, I took the Piccadilly home. The week-in, week-out problems on this line were what drove me to start this blog in the first place. Tonight was the first time in over two years that I have dared to venture back. And true to form, the first train was Heathrow, the second Heathrow, the third Northfields and then, after an unexplained gap of several minutes, during which time the electronic indicator at Acton Town (where I changed, having got on the first Heathrow in central London) could do no better than pointlessly display "westbound Piccadilly train" - I mean, duh, we knew that, that's why we were waiting on the platform, - a train to Rayners Lane.(This is a very long sentence and not all your readers will keep up with the tortured syntax: Ed) And therefore a further delay, but fortunately not too long, for a Met. As we waited the station announcer cheerily told people on the other platform that their next train had just left Uxbridge, some 15 minutes away.

So that's the first customer charter claim for 2009 well under way.
And I'm pleased to say that at least two of the goldfish have made it - I ventured into out the pitch black garden tonight, shone a torch into the depths of the pond and found two of them lazing around on the bottom midst the rotting leaves.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

2009 Year of Change

What a ghastly start to a New Year. Bloodshed in Gaza, job losses and cut backs, freezing weather, cuts to gas supplies courtesy of the Russians…and a wave of coughs colds and flu that made this commuter’s break more like a rest cure than a holiday.
Tube fares are up as well, by 8.5%. Can’t complain too much because this is the first increase for several years. But it adds to the general gloom. At least the trains were not too crowded this morning because when you are coughing and spluttering like me, the fewer people around the better.
I discovered the “gadgets” feature that Google offer to help spice up blogs – hence the wholly spurious poll at the top right. Both stations are pretty damn dull, right? Watch out for more utterly pointless polls and other time-wasting enhancements in the future (you could hardly watch out for them in the past but somehow the phrase “in the future” rounds it off nicely and I am fond of a well-crafted sentence).