Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ice sculptures

Another freezing night and once again our little pond has a solid white top. But this time it looks different, as if a series of waves had frozen at different times. I have never seen an effect like it, at least not on this scale. But on a trip to California, flying high over Greenland, I took a picture that shows ice formations that look surprisingly similar to the close-up of my pond shown below

Saturday, January 30, 2010

End of the "A" stock

New trains are coming to the Metropolitan Line. As a schoolboy I remember when the "A" stock - the "silver trains" were introduced in the 1960s, replacing old fashioned, brown, slam-door, compartmentalised carriages (known, I think, as "T" stock) on one hand, and the more conventional red ("C") stock similar to the trains on the Hammersmith & City today. The Met trains have lasted a long time, assisted by major refurbishments, and their successors have yet to be unveiled to the general public. You can catch the odd glimpse at the Neasden depot and no doubt they will be tested over the tracks in coming months. I am looking forward to the air-conditioning and worried sick about the reduced number of seats. LU promise more trains to compensate but we all know that if there is any problem, they cancel trains and force everybody to crowd into those that do run. To have to stand for nearly 40 minutes on an overcrowded train, air-conditioned or not, is a dismal way to commute.

Musing this way made me do a bit of surfing and on the excellent London Transport Museum site I found this photo showing the two types of train I described above. I gather that "T" stock went to Watford and the train is for Aylesbury but the carriages look pretty similar. Amazing to think that the doors were opened by the passengers and there was nothing to stop you opening them inside the tunnels.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A little bit of luck

I missed my normal Metropolitan train in to work this morning and caught the one 5 minutes behind. Arriving at Finchley Road we were told that, due to signal failure, no trains were proceeding to Baker Street and the Met was suspended. No real problem, we all crossed the platform and filled up the incoming Jubilee and carried on our merry way. At Baker Street I crossed to the Bakerloo line to continue my usual journey.

During the morning I kept an eye on the online status reports and live departure boards. It looks as though the trains just ahead of mine were stuck in the tunnel for some time. So had I been on time this morning, I would not have been (nice use of subjunctive - Ed). In fact had I run up the steps to catch the train I missed, then I would have been hopping mad (when I got my breath back which these days takes a fair while).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sound and Fury

I have great respect for the Bakerloo line. I've been using it regularly for more than three years and it is highly reliable. But why oh why (only two "oh whys?" you can do better than that - Ed) must they make continual announcements over the train's PA? This evening at Piccadilly Circus the announcements were continual from our entry to the station to our departure. Change here for the Piccadilly Line. Take all your possessions with you. Move down inside the train. Do not obstruct the doors. Use all available doors. This train is ready to depart, mind the closing doors. Do not obstruct the doors. Stand clear of the closing doors.

These are all recordings, not the driver speaking to us, and I get the impression sometimes that they try to play as many as they can, like a demented DJ who has taken too much of the substances. Perhaps there is a sort of competition amongst the staff to see who can play the lot in one go.

The relief when we actually pull away and the PA goes silent is almost tangible. Even though the noise of the train in the tunnel is itself disturbingly high but at least it is a background sound.

And the fury? Yes, that's me, fingers pressed to ears, fed up with the incessant hectoring.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I thought it a bit odd when the fast Watford train I took from Baker Street this evening (I was intending to change at Harrow on the Hill for an Uxbridge back to beautiful Ruislip), slowed to a crawl near Northwick Park and then juddered and stuttered like an arthritic snail with a drink problem until we simply stopped, just outside Harrow. And waited. And waited. Our driver made a few announcements but he spoke so indistinctly and the PA was turned so low he was barely audible. We gathered there was a signal problem. To my chagrin (he's back on the French again, must be eating too much garlic - Ed), several Uxbridge trains came up on the slow line and passed us on by.

Several times the driver opened the door to his cabin and we could see the edge of the platform, just fifty odd metres away. He donned a red jacket and went down on the track. Then he came back and announced something else. At one point he said something about a "headcount" and proceeded to walk through the length of the train, returning about 10 minutes later. I attempted to cheer up my fellow passengers by suggesting they were going to give us all free tea and biscuits and needed to know the numbers. This idea was greeted with the disdainful half-smiles of experienced commuters who knew better.

About 45 minutes after we first stopped we suddenly started and proceeded to the station where those of us waiting to change trains were pleased to see an Uxbridge waiting. Naturally it closed its doors and left before we could cross the platform. The next one that came in stopped at Harrow and we had to wait another five minutes until we could continue the journey. Nobody at Harrow bothered to announce anything of interest by way of explanation.

So this concludes a difficult two weeks on the Metropolitan Line in which I think there has been some sort of problem every day. The poor weather was the main reason, of course, but a string of signal failures and faulty trains and who knows what have hardly helped. There is a new timetable as well. Apparently there should be a train about every five minutes during the morning and evening peaks. Let me turn aside and utter a mocking, hollow laugh.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dear oh dear, there's a snowflake on the track

The snow returned overnight. We woke to find a thin but steady downfall, an inch or so having newly fallen on top of the remains of the ice from last week, and a dense, dispiritingly grey cloud cover. The roads in beautiful Ruislip were ungritted and skid marks on the road (I live at the bottom of a little hill and on a junction much loved by traffic-light avoiders) showed that someone had been careless. The roads in Ruislip Manor were gridlocked around the traffic lights, caused by a tailback to Ruislip - presumably an accident at the lights there. And the Met, pretty reliable last week, let us all down with a long, unexplained delay and grossly overcrowded trains. My train arrived after a chilly ten minutes on the platform and was full by Eastcote, the next stop. Not a word from the station announcer at any time about the service, but sadly we have come to expect this basic level of contempt.

At Wembley Park we came in, as usual, on the slow track. One or two fast trains had come down from Harrow and another came in alongside us. The station announcer asked, over the loudspeaker, for our driver to hold the train because the passeng... customers (yes friends he actually used the dreaded P word but managed to choke it off before breaching the Tube's rigid rule that they never ever admit to actually being responsible for moving people) were crossing over from the, presumably now terminated, fast train (they had to use a bridge over the tracks) (these sentences are too long - Ed) Our driver retorted, over the train's PA system, that he wasn't waiting around for anyone. The station announcer came back with a message that there was room in the rear carriages. Our driver said that he didn't think so but if the customers were willing to try, he would graciously wait another few seconds for them to scramble up the snowy platform and have a look. Quite soon after this we left - I don't know if any hapless passengers were left angrily shaking their fists on the platform as the doors closed in their faces but I like to think so because it would nicely complete the scene.

Oh, and the Piccadilly was closed between Rayners Lane and Acton Town [start sarcastic voice] Oh my, what a shock, how unexpected [end sarcasm]

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A short period of cold

So, just a few days ago, I foolishly wrote that we can always expect a day or two of cold weather in the UK and why make a fuss. Last weekend was cool but pleasant and the wife and I enjoyed a couple of days in the Cotswolds. Coming home everything changed and it has been day after freezing, snow-filled day, since with no immediate end in view. We have had the usual run of school closures, motorists forced to sleep in their cars and stupid estimates about the "cost" to the country. Even in beautiful Ruislip there was a healthy dollop of snow on Monday and a good 4 inches yesterday, with a really sharp frost last night and the lowest temperature in the morning, at -6c, that my garden thermometer has recorded.

The tube has performed reasonably well. Delays and cancellations on the exposed outer lines but some sort of service has been maintained throughout. The cold seems to have done something to the communications though. This morning, arriving at Harrow on a city-bound Metropolitan, our driver apologised that he was no longer running a fast Aldgate but a slow to Baker Street. He also complained that, as usual, nobody had actually told him that his train's schedule had altered, and he had deduced where he was going by looking at the station indicator boards. Simultaneously the station announcer informed us that we were on a fast Aldgate. We did indeed run down the slow track but, and here's the kicker, we pulled into Baker Street on the through platform and miraculously turned into an Aldgate after all. (Not that I care because I change at Baker Street anyway).

The biggest problem where I live is the icy streets. Although the roads have been gritted and are in good shape, pavements away from the shopping areas are covered in a layer of hard ice with snow or slush on top. Very treacherous to walk over (as I discovered whilst making my way to Pinner station, having dropped my car off for a minor repair) and I congratulate those of my fellow commuters who sported heavy boots this morning.

This weekend I will have to buy some de-icer. I can't remember the last time I bought any - I had the vague idea that there were spare bottles in the house and the garage but of course when I actually needed the stuff there was just a half bottle left and that has nearly gone. Presumably panic buyers will have cleared the shelves so it may have to be a black market job from a spiv with a bulging overcoat who has bottles and scrapers stashed away inside.