Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A blizzard remembered

A year ago I was writing about the big freeze. It had been uncommonly cold since the end of November. On 18th of December a blizzard shut the UK's airports. A couple of days later the ice was still thick on the platforms at Neasden where I was forced to detrain. Ah, but that was a year ago. Today we bask in temperatures close to double figures (Celsius). It promises to be a sunny warm Christmas.  Manufacturers of thermal underwear are gloomily contemplating the long drop from their top floor windows. Drivers of ice-cream vans are whistling while they polish up the giant plastic cones with which they are adorned (the vans, the vans, ok?). Thomas Cook closes high street branches because, let's face it, why go abroad for winter sunshine when you can swelter in beautiful Ruislip without the risk of earthquake/ferry disaster/tsunami/wildfires/collapse of local economy/violent overthrow of dictator/insert your choice of calamity here, there's been plenty to choose from in 2011.

They've brought in a new timetable for the Metropolitan Line. As far as I can tell this now means having clusters of Uxbridges and then Watfords, with fast Cheshams in between. The changes have produced much debate on the District Dave site but this commuter has yet to see much difference. There are rumours that the introduction of the new "S" stock trains has slowed. This could mean that the dear old "A" stock continues to provide much of the service well into 2012. In which year I will mark a full 50 years of travelling on them, because, dear reader, I started regular train travel in September 1962 as a bare-kneed, cap-wearing schoolboy shuttling between Preston Road and Northwood Hills. There cannot be many forms of transport that have provided a half-century of continuous service. Or indeed people who have used them over that period. Maybe I shall receive some sort of long-service award [I expect something can be arranged: Ed]

Friday, December 02, 2011

Nothing up my nose, officer

Wonderful quote in this morning's Guardian. As I don't commute on Fridays any more (or most days, come to that) I feel I have the time to share it with you. The story is that some 11% of British banknotes have traces of cocaine and a drugs expert from the Kent Police, PC Adrian Parsons explained how the fuzz go to work when they think they've found a white-powder merchant in a crowded pub.

"You can spot people in the queue who when they get to me its 'game on' that they will provide a positive sample," said Parsons. "They are louder than normal people. They are non-stop talkers. They are arrogant and feel invincible. They are happy to ridicule bystanders who are not part of their group, particularly police officers. They are jaw-clenching, sweaty, with clammy skin. They are extremely paranoid, especially if you try to look up their nose, and have eyes the size of saucers. These are the symptoms we teach police officers to look for."
It was lucky I was not drinking tea as I read that deathless line about looking up people's noses. It would have spattered all over the paper. Anyway, the scene is a crowded pub in Kent and a loud, talkative. sweaty jaw-clencher is at the bar whilst a gent with a raincoat and notebook crouches at his knees. The lines just write themselves.

Jaw-clencher: "Eight pints of triple X love and have a double vodka yourself. And pass me that napkin, I'm drenched here"
Plainclothesman: "Sorry sir would you mind just flaring your nostrils a little"
Jaw-clencher "What the hell are you doing? And wearing that stupid coat in here, you look like a nonce, you pathetic little worm"
Plainclothesman "Please don't ridicule me sir, I'm only doing my duty. It's bad enough you staring at me with those huge saucer-like eyes."
Jaw-clencher "You're out to get me! All of you. You're all out to get me!!"
Plainclothesman whispers into microphone sewed into lapel "I think I've got one, Super."
Jaw-clencher "Do your worst, copper, you'll never pin one on me, Captain Superbo, the toughest man in the galaxy"
Plainclothesman "That'll do nicely sunshine, you're nicked"

with grateful thanks to Michael Frayn in whose satirical footsteps I am not worthy to follow


Monday, November 21, 2011

Bus Arrivals Boards

I don't know how long this info has been available but I noticed today that you can now see bus arrival times in the same way as for trains. On the LU web site you can select a location to bring up a street map then click on a bus stop symbol on the map and up pops a list of the buses due to call there with estimated times of arrival. I don't travel much by bus but for those who do this information is a real boon. I wonder if there is a smart-phone app for it? Bus travellers have it worse in some ways because they have nobody to ask if the buses don't run. At least we have the pleasure of clicking on a big green "Help" button and hearing a recorded announcement that there is nobody available to answer the call.

I exaggerate, of course [No! Really?: Ed]. In the main there is plenty of information about the state of the Tube and I think the service level has been pretty good in recent months. I don't bother about the Help buttons because I can see on the phone how the trains are running. It is not easy to convey how amazing this facility still is to me. I once stood for an hour at a bus stop, ignorant that they had cancelled the services for a while.  I have spent God knows how many hours wondering where my Piccadilly service had got to - in the bad old days when I had to go that way into London. The buses may be stuck in traffic and the trains held up by signal failures but at least you can get to know about it and knowledge is power.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A matter of timing

There has been some interest, in the local online paper in Ruislip, the Ruislip Online forum and on District Dave, about changes to the Metropolitan Line timetable due to commence in December. They want to move from the current 10 trains per hour at peak times and 6 off peak, to a steady 8 tph all day. The reasoning behind this is not at all clear. The system has always run more trains at peak because, well, peak means peak, dunnit? That's when more passengers travel. Having more trains off peak that will be simply be emptier than at present, whilst forcing more people to stand for longer thanks to the fewer seats in the new S stock trains as well as a reduced service, seems fairly illogical, Captain.

Having to wait a minute or so longer for a train to arrive is neither here or there. The problem is that they fill up so quickly and any delay, or longer gap in the normal service, makes it unpleasant to travel the relatively long distance to central London. However if, as may also be planned, there will be more fast trains from Harrow then changing there may make more sense than at present, where you never quite know if the so-called fast train will actually overtake the slow train you left and whether you will get a seat on it.


These are considerations lost to passengers on all the other lines (perhaps with the exception of the District/Piccadilly junction at Acton Town) and I think they are therefore not important to the people planning the Met schedules. Shame really. When you have to pay zone 6 fares, you might at least be sure of a seat. Just think, once upon a time the Met proudly ran Pullman coaches out to Amersham, Aylesbury and on into the wilds of outer Buckinghamshire. Of course, in those days it was a proper railway service, not a business with "customers".



Friday, October 21, 2011

A Withdrawal of Service

The title of today's post may mislead you into thinking this another groan of despair about gaps in the tube schedules. It is not. It is a warning that things may be changing around here. [he is referring to this blog: Ed]. My working routine has changed significantly since the summer and I now go into my office at Waterloo no more than 2 times a week. And what do I do the rest of the time you may well ask? Well, ask away, for you ask in vain. This blog is about commuting and not about my private life, albeit that I may have made the occasional reference to non-work doings in the past.

So today's question for the panel is - does going into London twice a week constitute commuting, by which I mean real, old-fashioned,<start Yorkshire accent> when I were a lad we had to travel 26 hours a day and thank railway company for t'privilege <end accent>, sort of commuting? Because it doesn't really feel like commuting. Partly because I am no particular obligation to be at my office at a given time, partly because the knowledge that one is not travelling tomorrow makes it so much easier to face, and even enjoy, going in today. On the other hand I continue to be reliant under the good offices of London Underground to make it possible to leave beautiful Ruislip and venture, gasp, south of the river. The raison d'etre of this blog has therefore not really changed. But perhaps the emphasis may shift from the daily struggle with packed trains to a more eclectic, ephemeral, nay, evanescent, view of life in the subway. [I am waiting for "eldritch" to make its long overdue appearance: Ed]

Monday, October 03, 2011

Standing for it

As the unseasonable heatwave continues, in the south-east at any rate, it was sweltering down in the Tube this afternoon. A nicely air-conditioned "S" stock provided some relief up from Baker Street to Harrow but sadly no spare seats so it was stand all the way for me and many others. LU invited me by email to undertake a survey into the new trains the other day, and I duly went to their website and filled in a set of "satisfied" and "very unsatisfied" and the like on the usual multi-choice questions (Did I like the grab-bars? being something they obviously consider important), and when given the chance, hammered home the point that there are not enough seats on trains intended for relatively long journeys. But it is futile. The design of the S stock was fixed long ago, the trains are being made and we won't get any new ones for another 50 years. So why ask for opinions now?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A turn-up for the book*

My old dad liked to describe any unlikely event that actually occurred as a turn-up for the book. We've certainly had one of those this week as the temperatures in London have soared to the mid 20s and seem set fair through the weekend. It felt as hot in the sun today as it had a couple of weeks ago when we were in Spain. And to crown it all, I am not going in to the office until next week and so can enjoy this last burst of the summer of 2011 without having to face the undoubted pressure-cooker of the tube. Oh joy.

*[This title has been used once before. In Feb 2009. Just to show you I am on the case: Ed]

Monday, September 26, 2011

Slow southbound? - forget it, squire

I usually take the 8:30 into town from Ruislip Manor. This morning a Met came in at 8:29 as I was still going down the street to the station and given the 45 odd steps up to the platform, this was one train that I was always going to miss. Naturally there was then a gap, filled by two Piccadillys, and the next Met arrived at 8:41. Our station announcer said that, apart from minor delays on the Victoria, there was a good service on all other lines. Ah. We left and our driver informed us that we were terminating at Harrow. So something amiss surely, Inspector? And on arrival at Harrow the announcer there told us, barely holding back tears of overflowing joy, that anyone stupid enough to want to go to Preston Road or Northwick Park (my words, not his, I hasten to add) had another 6 minutes to wait because the only alternative was a fast train (which I took) that stopped, unusually, at Wembley Park to take on some grateful commuters who must have scrambled hastily over the bridge from the normal southbound platform.

Never mind, all this clearly amounts to what the Met regard as a good service and no doubt there will be bonuses all round and much clinking of cocoa-mugs in the train-operator's canteen tonight.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Still here

Been a month since my last post. Part of that was spent on a most pleasant, if excessively hot, holiday in Spain, travelling all the way by train. Top marks to the Barcelona-Madrid high speed train where the service and efficiency rivals anything I have experienced before. A so-so to the Joan Miro hotel train that provided us with overnight transit between Paris and Barcelona - not happy about being told by the restaurant car staff to go away when we were turning up for our prepaid breakfast, and the carriages always felt cramped, whether the beds were folded away or made up. Possibly one of the most unpalatable ham and cheese sandwiches in French gastronomic history was served on the TGV on our otherwise enjoyable homeward journey. And for giving us a real flavour of the size and appearance of the Spanish, and particularly Basque country, landscape, the Salamanca-San Sebastian line was superb.

Well, this blog is not meant to be a travelogue. So how about a little moan instead. Delays on the Met this morning, attributed to a faulty train earlier at Harrow. And just for once the Bakerloo was worse, even longer delays as we got stuck in the tunnels due to a faulty signal at Lambeth. Result, thirty precious minutes of my life down the drain, although it did give me a chance to hammer the chess programme on my new Android phone. The "undo" button came in handy as well, 'nuff said.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Summer recedes

I welcomed the warmer weather a couple of posts ago. That was merely the prelude to days of rain and coolness. There have been flash floods all round the country - we had plenty of downpour in beautiful Ruislip but fortunately it didn't hang around (though living on the side of hill definitely has its advantages). I had hoped that the trains would revert to the half-empty state of past summers but each morning they cancel one or two on the Met just before mine arrives so they are as crowded as ever. However the rain does not appear to have affected the service levels which have actually been pretty good in recent weeks.

I have to admit that as I move closer to standing down from my job and taking a back seat at work, the prospect of not having to get up each day in order to sit on a train for nearly an hour becomes brighter and brighter. One can endure commuting and learn to adapt to it but does one ever enjoy it? Reading books on paper or on screen, or listening to radio comedy can make the time pass but there is always the feeling that these activities would be so much more pleasurable if one was not being jolted back and forth, weaving one's body to avoid one's fellow travellers as they jostle past and not having the endless announcements running in the background. And behind that is the pressure of working fixed hours, the need to wake up regardless of how well one has slept, the need to leave the house no matter how grim the weather or how disrupted the trains.

So it does seem that these ramblings will become less fixated on the Tube and will either transmogrify [does putting this word in win a bet or something?: Ed] into a more general commentary on early 21st century living in London or will gently fade into the middle distance. Let us await developments.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Madness

Criminals rioting in London and other cities, financial markets tumbling. Are we as a species bonkers?

The riots followed a police shooting in North London. After a brief peaceful protest the looters and firebrands moved in and have burnt and destroyed shops and buildings in many boroughs. It has gone on for three nights. All day today, I could see smoke rising from a fire somewhere away to the north of my office in Waterloo, possibly the giant Sony distribution centre burnt to the ground in Enfield. Does a youth in a mask who smashes in a shop window to steal the electricals inside do it to make a political point? Or those who torched a bus or buildings with people inside? Are these the same kids who complain about the lack of opportunities and jobs in their neighbourhoods?

As for the markets, the far east goes down because the Dow Jones goes down and the FTSE follows the far east and then the US markets follow the trend. This has been going on for over a week. The rerating of US National debt from AAA to AA+ by Standard & Poors contributed to the "fear" (not my word, the Guardian newspaper). But the rerating followed the trend, it did not make it. If the people selling could not work out for themselves that the huge US debt made it less likely to meet its obligations (and I use my words very carefully here, the word "less" does not mean the same as "unlikely") and had to wait for a credit agency to do it for them, then they should not be investing. Using an agency to get a snapshot about corporate health is one thing, using it to make an essentially political judgement is another. Fear doesn't come into it. We are dealing with stupidity. The debt problems have been there for a long while. Either you think the major economies will continue or you don't. If you don't then why hold any investments?

This morning the FTSE fell 3% then it went up to close 2% higher on the day. Absolutely ridiculous. These sort of swings exhibit the same crowd mentality that makes kids think it cool to burn and loot - because everyone else is doing it.

So the answer to my question is, I am sorry to say, yes. There is a fundamental stupidity built into the human psyche. We are terrified of making independent decisions or acting rationally. We protest about poor opportunities by taking actions that will further reduce what opportunities there are. We value our economies according to the rules of a gaming-house. And here in the UK where maybe some careful investment might have improved conditions in the poorer London boroughs and helped strengthen our economy, we waste billions on the farce of the Olympic Games. I was against the bid to stage the Olympics and when I think what might have been done with the money I could almost weep with frustration.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

An Augustan summer

Temperatures soared at the weekend and we have some real summery weather at last. Glorious it may be outside but travelling on the tube has not improved. Although many of the regular commuters are missing, the trains are jammed with tourists and school groups. Coming home last night on the Bakerloo was bad enough, but at least it is a short journey. I hoped to catch a nice cold S stock at Baker Street but all that was on offer was the A stock, crowded and not air-conditioned. Standing seemed preferable to being crushed into a seat but it wasn't that great. Still, I managed to escape for a while to the Los Angeles of the 1940s, where men carry guns, dames are deadly and only a tough guy defies the cops. I was reading Raymond Chandler on my new smart phone. And it is amazing how many others are doing something similar, whether it be reading, playing games, web-browsing or email catch up. Social historians may care to note that it was in 2010/11 that the smart phone replaced the mp3 player, the radio and the laptop as the single comms/entertainment device that almost everyone is carrying. I used to marvel that I could carry my entire music and radio comedy collection in my pocket. Now it holds a library as well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The beginning of the end

This week I will have travelled to work for four days, my normal pattern since last summer when I cut down from full-time. Next week it could be three and by the end of August two (or maybe even one). For, having reached a respectable age, and with a new appointment in my firm who is steadily taking over the greater part of my work, I am able to move into a state of semi-retirement. What, you will be asking [I certainly am: Ed] of the future of this blog, founded as it is on the depiction of everything commuterial? (is that a word? [it is now: Ed]. My mission has been to describe the everyday journey so that historians from some future age, when robots do everything and humans loll about all day playing 4-D computer games, can marvel at the primitive and barbaric nature of our "civilisation". Now how can I hope to continue to grip the attention of these unknown scholars if I cease to be fully immersed in the cut-and-thrust of the daily challenge that is Tube travel today?

This needs thought. I'll get back to you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A crush on the Bakerloo

I am used to the Bakerloo running full (if not over-full) trains during the morning and evening peaks. But as with the Met, one might expect the trains at weekends, and especially on the fringes of the line, to be less congested. Not so. Last Saturday Mrs. Commuter and I took ourselves to be overwhelmed by Kevin Spacey's performance in Richard III at the Old Vic. Weekend engineering work forced us to take the Bakerloo starting from South Kenton. This little station, dominated by the high speed mainline services up to the Midlands, is but two stops from the terminus at Harrow & Wealdstone. No problems, we thought.

Wrong. The first train to arrive was so full we did not board. The second, about five minutes later, had a few seats available and was fairly full all the way in. Coming home we obtained seats at Waterloo and, although this was an early evening Saturday, nonetheless, just like in the normal working week the train filled at Charing Cross and remained almost oppressively full until Wembley. Ah, we thought, everyone is going to a concert. Wrong again, plenty stayed and were still there when we disembarked. Where on earth were they all going? On to Watford to celebrate closing-time in the Harlequin Centre? Was there some amazing street event in the dull terraced streets of Wealdstone that had passed us by? We may never know [or indeed care. Ed]

Monday, July 18, 2011

How thick can you get

My firm has its incoming email scanned by a specialist computer company and they make a very good job of identifying spam. We still need to check what they have blocked because now and then genuine mail gets blocked. And so it was that this afternoon I found in my junked email list the following remarkable mail. We only see the subject line and have to click to read the body but obviously my correspondent was wise to this and so stuffed the entire contents of their email into the subject. Therefore the header of this missive reads as follows:

Greetings to you dear beloved friend in the lord, I am Mrs Jean Jackson a widow to late mr Williams Jackson. I am 58years old ,from neitherland, a retired accountant. I am presently in the hospital with my laptop suffering from cancer of the larynx and th

It cuts off with that poignant half-definite article (or is it thence? or thus?) because there is a limit on the size of the subject. I was already reaching for my chequebook, my heart wrenched at the thought of a laptop suffering from cancer but now I will never know what other affliction has beset this innocent device. For there is nothing in the body of the message at all other than a plaintive Please get back to me.

I don't think I'll be bothering, Mrs Jackson, I think they have excellent facilities in the neitherland (or should that be the neverland) but do beware of ticking crocodiles and villainous one-handed pirates.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Branch Blues

The trouble with any tube line with branches is the tendency to a lack of balance. Tonight, on my homeward journey, I took an Amersham to Harrow, hoping as usual to catch up with a slower Uxbridge. No chance, not even a sign of one leaving as we came in, even though we had made very good time up the fast track from Wembley Park and we were supposed to be just behind one. Then in came not one, not two but three Watfords. The last was so delayed getting away that the driver made a point of announcing that his train was "finally departing". And still we waited for an Uxbridge.

Now I will admit that there are times that the Uxbridges are thick and fast leaving the other branches bereft. Which only opens up the obvious question - why? Why can't the service run roughly equal numbers? What is the point in scheduling, assuming they were scheduled, three trains to run up one track at five minute intervals while an announcer tells us, with obvious joy, (or at any rate a total absence of apology) that the next train on the other branch is 14 minutes away? Oh, and inevitably, tells us that a good service is running. And given that the Uxbridge frequency is a train every 6-7 minutes, as you can see from the screenshot from the TFL site, I fancy a hint of apology would be, shall we say, appropriate.

When I am king I will put passengers in charge of deciding whether the service is good or not. That should sort it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Postcript or Stuck in the Back of beyond

Earlier today I wrote lightly about a circular email sent by the Met's general manager, one Angela Back. It lauded the new trains coming into service this year. So how ironic that on arrival at Harrow tonight aboard a fast Amersham, and hoping to continue my journey to beautiful Ruislip merely by crossing the platform to a waiting Uxbridge, the plan failed fully and irrevocably because the said Uxbridge was a shiny new S stock and it was being taken out of service.

So I joined the large throng of people expelled from the stricken train, swelled by others leaving the Amersham and not long after another hopeful bunch as a semifast Watford slid in. The next Uxbridge arrived, we jammed in and set off on our merry way. Or so we thought. Soon after leaving West Harrow we stopped in the middle of no-mans-land 'twixt Harrow and Rayners Lane. And waited. and waited.

Eventually our driver told us he had obtained permission to pass a presumably stuck red signal, the train lurched forward, the brakes came on, he released them and we proceeded at the statutory 10mph to the next signal block and then all was well. And somehow my 55 minute journey had taken 80 minutes.

So on tonight's showing nul points to the S stock, nul points to the signalling system and a round of applause to the trusty old A stock that got us home.

Do keep up at the back (er, Back)

I received an email today from Angela Back, General Manager of the Metropolitan Line. And before you nod admiringly and chalk me up in your estimation, this was a round robin. The curious thing is not therefore that Ms. Back should communicate with people registered to receive emails from TFL but that her message begins thus:

I am writing to let you know that new trains are being introduced on the Metropolitan line for the first time in 50 years. The trains are fully equipped with air-conditioning, walk-through carriages, improved customer information and CCTV for safer journeys.

The first of the "S" stock trains began trials in the spring of 2010 and additional units have been introduced to service regularly since. Regular readers of this blog [here we go again: Ed] will know that I have written about them on a number of times, my first mention being here Alas, Ms Back is clearly not numbered amongst those who value these little jottings. But where has she been for the past year? Anyone who travels regularly on the Met will be fully aware of the new trains - they will have seen them even if they have not yet had a chance to travel on one. I suppose the email may be aimed at people who, though they do not travel regularly (or hardly ever, in fact) but who still wish to keep in touch with the old firm, in the same way that emigrants keep in touch with the folks back home. Well good for them but I do find it a bit dispiriting to be given "news" about something I and plenty of other commuters know all about.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

You don't need to read this unless you really have nothing much else to do

Monday morning and the Met had delays (due to an earlier stalled train, according to our driver) resulting in congestion on the southbound track into the City. I faced the always fascinating dilemma* - to cross the platform at Wembley Park and take a Jubbly - with a strong chance of having to stand all the way - or remain on my motionless Met and hope that the signals would clear. I stayed put, we moved off and I think we more or less kept pace with the little train to our right.
Tuesday morning and again there are delays. This time as we arrived at Wembley Park on the slow line, a fast train pulled in alongside. Usually they move off first but this one disgorged its load and a lot of obviously disgruntled commuters raced over the bridges to join us. Except that just as the first of them were hot-footing down the last steps, and with exquisite timing, our train shut its doors and moved off. As we were already pretty full, this was not as heartless as it may sound, but I bet there was some strong language in our wake. Today's reason for another wasted 15 minutes was a person under a train at Farringdon. That was our driver's version. Or, for readers of the TFL website, a person taken ill on a train at Farringdon.
I also had the odd experience, when I boarded the train in the first place, of sitting down with a group of people around me and instantly knowing that they were travelling together and were unfamiliar with the train. There were about half a dozen men and a woman. The men were all wearing jackets but not ties but one or two carried suitcases (not the luggage type, the type you fold up a suit into). They talked about insurance using the language of insiders and were obviously going to a conference or sales meeting, or maybe a company do, near Liverpool Street. I fancied that they had driven up from somewhere like Swindon and parked at Hillingdon (though taking the train to Paddington would make much more sense). The train terminated at Baker Street and no doubt I will never see them again.


*not everyone finds this quite as gripping. put more sex in if you want a wider readership: Ed]

Monday, June 27, 2011

The cold whisper of air-con

I wrote last week [he's getting very self-referential, I'm not sure the readers like this sort of thing: Ed] about the coming heatwave and how the new "S" stock trains on the Metropolitan would cope. This morning I planned to catch number 441, starting from Uxbridge at 8:16, as the first test (The estimable Metcontrol on District Dave having kindly published the timetable of S stock workings). The weather certainly obliged with a real hottie but alas as 441 hove into view at Ruislip Manor it was an A stock.
Time for plan B. The day proved as hot as had been forecast and the Bakerloo up from Waterloo at the end of a long day's deskwork was as sticky and uncomfortable as you may imagine. An S stock service was scheduled to leave Baker Street at 18:22 and I was there with minutes to spare. To my joy the S train was sitting at the platform, with all its doors tight shut. I pressed the button, the door flew open and I was hit with a blast of chilled air like walking into the frozen food section of a supermarket. Glorious. The system works. 30c outside and a perfectly comfortable atmosphere in (it wasn't really that cold but the contrast with the steamy heat of London made it feel well nippy).
We left several minutes late, as it happened, but I couldn't have cared less. Simply not being on the hot, crowded and sweaty A stock trains that came up from the city and were sent out ahead of us, hence the delay, made it all worthwhile.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The strike that wasn't continued

As a postscript to my last piece, the tribunal found in favour of the dismissed driver, LT have reinstated him and the strikes set for next week have been called off by the RMT. And just as well given that it is the second week of Wimbledon and, more important, the musical ensemble looked after by Mrs. Commuter need to be able to travel freely round town.

And in other news, whilst it has continued to rain almost every day recently, the weather does seem to be brightening up with some real hot stuff coming our way. For about two days. Monday is forecast to reach 27c - an interesting test for the new, air-conditioned, "S" stock trains that are steadily taking over on the Met. Then it gets cool and wet again. Not sure if this is all the summer we are going to have this year but on the record of the last four years, it could well be.

Services on the underground have been fairly good in the past couple of months. I haven't put in a Customer Charter refund claim for a while, A few years ago, when commuting regularly on the Piccadilly, I even kept a log of the claims because I was making so many. On the other hand, the drivers are becoming increasingly chatty. The moment the train stops they either tell you, or play a recorded announcement, on the lines of "This train is being held at a red signal and should be on the move shortly". Yes, we know that. We know that if a train stops unexpectedly then it is because the signals are red. Otherwise it would not stop. We also know that they expect to be on the move shortly. This is because when you are held at a signal it is because there is either a train in the next block or the points are switched the wrong way and if there is no major problem on the system then the track will soon clear. If there is a major problem we would hope that the driver had been informed by radio and would then inform us. So we really don't need the routine announcements at all.

Even more irritating was the driver on the Bakerloo the other morning who lectured us all about using all available doors to leave the train because there were people waiting to get on. She even tried this line at Regent's Park, one of the least-used stations on the system where if a single person actually enters the carriage one raises one's eyebrows to register surprise (or at least I do, or at least metaphorically, as I save my real eyebrow-raising moments for more gob-smacking events such as people switching off their music players when asked). The underlying subtext about this sort of announcement is "what a wonderful service we could run if only these wretched people did not insist on using our trains".

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The strike that wasn't

On Sunday night the RMT union called a strike in defense of a member whose employment with LT is currently subject to a tribunal hearing. Your correspondent was, as it happens, due to travel into town. Was his journey disrupted?

Not a bit. The TFL website advised passengers to travel as normal and a normal service was what we got, including the late-night service back to beautiful Ruislip. No donkey-jacketed strikers grouped round the braziers outside the stations. No chants of "What do we want? A huge pay rise and guaranteed jobs for life even if there are serious disciplinary proceedings and regardless of which way a tribunal finds". Not a single placard or discarded flyer. Bugger all.

I learn from the ever-valuable District Dave site that the union, having held a ballot some time ago, had to call action or lose the right so to do. It was presumably premature to have a real strike right now So they picked a time when it seems all their members were working normally anyway, and honour was satisfied.

I guess the next one, scheduled for the 27th, will be for real. Here's hoping that the two sides can sort it out before then.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Turn up the heating

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the warm, almost balmy, weather that accompanied the two 4-day Bank Holidays. And I was right to highlight the unusual nature of the airs because today, at the start of our last such weekend until the end of the summer, the mercury has plummetted, the grey clouds have invaded from the west once more and a damp and chilling miasma is rising from the dank fields to nourish dark thoughts of gloom in the very soul. [He's trying to get some sort of poetry award. Humour him: Ed]. Still, it's been better than yesterday when the Atlantic emptied itself over London, followed by a spectacular rainbow.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Not the End of the World

An insane "Christian", Harold Camping, predicted that God would begin destroying the world yesterday. In Ruislip, at any rate, the earthquakes were fairly mild, the great winds did little more than blow down a few rose petals, and the tsunami in our little pond merely disturbed a couple of pond-skaters.

How anybody can claim to believe in an eternal and omnipotent spirit of love and at the same time claim to believe that that spirit will destroy the glory of his creation is beyond my comprehension. But I wish I had a few of Mr Camping's moronic followers living nearby - I could have made a fortune buying up their property last week.

Some of these people are quoted as saying they managed their affairs so as to spend everything they had, based on the double delusion that the world would end and that they would be amongst those to be taken up. We have been here before - with the nutters who took to the woods in December 1999 believing that the millenium bug would end civilisation. I think God puts them on the earth to give the rest of us a good laugh. I mean - do you really think the world will end before the last matchday of the Premier League season?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

No strike

Seems like the RMT strike planned for next week is off. Good. The problems it would have caused to Londoners, including your correspondent, were considerable. But another strike is pending on the Jubilee Line and Mr. Crow and his pals seems happy to down tools, fire up the braziers and loiter about closed stations at the drop of a ticket. They invariably talk about the management-union relationship. The tube-passenger relationship means nothing. There is something fundamentally rotten with a system where public sector workers can treat their paying customers with such contempt. Yes, there are times when the union has a good case and needs to defend its members. But there has got to be a better way than the general strike in which both sides lose something and the passengers, who have no say in the matter, lose as well.

My solution? To reduce my dependance on the Tube. I'll be working less this year and if that results in not going into town at all, no problem. No problem at all. [er, what about the future of this blog? Ed]

Monday, May 02, 2011

The long bank holiday

The royal wedding bank holiday on Friday coupled with the normal one today has given us a two four-day holiday periods back-to-back. The weather has been perfect. Brilliant sunshine, plenty of breeze to keep the air fresh and the right hint of chill in the air to make a sharp contrast to the direct heat of the sun. Everything in our garden is bursting into life. There is so much natural food, larva and the like in our pond, that the fish have begun to disdain the food that I usually give them round about tea-time on warm days.

We are not used to such pleasant bank holidays. The one in May has always seemed to be the signal for icy blasts of cold rain and wind. Staying at home to read about traffic jams, floods and ruined holidays for others used to be our main source of pleasure at this time. Although I wonder where everyone has gone this year. Mrs. Commuter took the coach to Oxford yesterday and reported the M40 deserted. Perhaps people are simply staying at home and enjoying it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Dutch interlude

Back from a week in Amsterdam. The unexpected hot weather all over northern Europe took us by surprise and Mrs. Commuter and myself were somewhat too warmly dressed for comfort. No matter, we had a great room (at an superb rate) at the Hilton and the pleasure of the excellent tram system to get us about. However my picture is from The Hague where you don't even have to leave the main station to catch one.

The strangest travelling moment was on our return. As we waited at Amsterdam for the high speed Thalys train for Brussels, to make our Eurostar connection, we were somewhat disconcerted when they flagged it as 50 minutes late. This would still leave us enough time to make the connection but boded ill. One of our fellow passengers photographed the indicator, doubtless to help in his claim for compensation. However, dead on time, the train arrived and when we asked a train attendant about the delays she looked puzzled and said there was no problem. And there was no problem and the train arrived at Brussels Midi on time. Mind you, we had a further minor panic because that station is also called Brussels Zuid and we thought Zuid meant South (which it does) and that we had been taken on to Brussels Sud by mistake. But we were wrong. Zuid is the Flemish for Midi, or something. Anyway, it was the right station and the only weak link in the whole travelling chain was London Underground, who had the usual weekend cancellations going. But you have to expect that, sadly. Had we been heading eastbound from St. Pancras we would have had to take a detour but westbound they were at least running some Hammersmith & City trains and once at Baker Street all was back to normal.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nature corner

I promised an update on the amphibian breeding programme on my estate back in mid-February. The keen frog watchers amongst you will be glad to know that they showed up at last about four weeks ago, produced about 1/3 the normal amount of frogspawn and vanished almost at once. There are tadpoles now, still squirming around in what remains of the jelly but they will disperse into the pond soon and that will probably be the last I see of them.

In previous years there have been up to ten frogs splashing about at the height of the mating season - I think the maximum this year was four. Too early to tell if this is a consequence of climate change or some other factor but a little worrying.

Mediocrity returns

As usual, no sooner do I write that the Tube is doing ok, an opinion I let loose on the world only yesterday, than everything goes wrong. This evening I missed my northbound Bakerloo at Waterloo by a whisker - really, no exaggeration, my hand was in the door when it closed and rather than risk getting jammed, I pulled back. Never mind, I thought (ah, sweet rashness of youth), there's another one in a minute. See there it is in yellow and black on the departure board.

Several minutes later there was no train and the board no longer showed any times against the next four arrivals. Now I had carefully timed my exit from work to get to Baker Street at a time when two Uxbridges run in quick succession. When the Bakerloo finally arrived, it was likely I would miss them. Arriving at Baker Street, after a slow journey due to the overcrowding, it was clear that I had. The next was due out in 10 minutes.

A fast Chesham arrived and it might have overtaken the second Uxbridge (which my invaluable London Tube live app on the phone showed to be about five minutes ahead) but it was so very full I gave it up and took a Watford that was starting from platform 1 instead. No problem getting to Harrow where I joined plenty of others waiting for the Uxbridge (Why, oh why, can't we have a fast service now and then?), And we waited. After about 8 minutes I checked my app again and there was the Uxbridge, just leaving Preston Road, still 6 minutes away. The announcers were now mournfully telling us that there delays on the Bakerloo due to - wait for it - signal failure on the Queens Park to Harrow & Wealdstone section. I don't know why they don't scrap those signals and have a man with a red flag cycle down the track in front of each train. I'm sure it would be faster.

So I arrived home 82 minutes after leaving work, on a journey that should have taken no more than 55. Or 60. Still massively over the 15 minutes you need to claim a refund. And that, my friends, is what I will be doing as soon as I complete this post. Which is now.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A spot of spring

Spring-like, nay, summer-like, weather in London all week. The temperature up to 20c. The air warm, full of the freshness of the spring and the evocative scent of newly-cut grass and blossom. Oh, and barbecues. And it is only the second week in April. Amazing. The warm, long-sleeved shirts are back in the wardrobe and the T-shirts are being unearthed from the depths of the chest-of-drawers. But I can't find my straw hat and I need that for doing a spot of gardening under the blazing sun.

And the Tube has been pretty good lately too. Morning trains have been arriving on time. Clearly the teething troubles of the "S" stock trains are being surmounted. My regular journey on the Met has been pretty well untroubled and, especially when boarding an empty train starting from Baker Street rather than the sardine cans coming up from the City, fairly pleasant.

I have been adding some games to my brand new smartphone. I do this with a sort of professional interest, you understand. For a number of years I made my living in the computer games business. The little screen on the phone is reminiscent of the standard C64/Spectrum displays, and the games are in many ways based on those we used to publish for the 8-bit computers of the day. The touch screen makes the key difference - nothing from those days could be directly ported to a phone because they all relied on joystick or keyboard input. Although text-only adventures might work well. But would today's kids, texting obsessively, have the patience to play them?

I still love the London Tube app, showing the arrival boards from the TFL website. I had to collect Mrs. Commuter late at night yesterday and was able to track her progress from East Acton to Ruislip Gardens (yes, the Central line because once again the Met was closed for maintenance) and just as I arrived at the Gardens and my phone told me her train was at the platform, there she was! [Exclamation marks should be used only when necessary: Ed] Well, you might not be impressed, Ed, you cynical old sod, but I was.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The pleasures of technology

Got a new phone at the weekend. It has internet access, GPS, maps and so on. Those of you used to smartphones may yawn at this point. But it's my first [and he is rather excited: Ed] and this morning I trialled it on the Underground. And what a day to choose. Arriving at my home station of Ruislip Manor there was the usual System Status display on the screen and I noticed that the Metropolitan was partially suspended. Which bit? Ah, this is where we rely on an older-fashioned technology. Or at least, we ought to be able to. But the handwritten message board by the entrance was blank. And the station attendant standing at the barrier vouchsafed not a word. So, dismayed and clueless, I ascended to the platform to join a large throng of patently fed-up commuters.

No announcements were made. Never mind, I switched on my new phone, found the tube site and learned that a signal failure at Moorgate was the culprit. But were trains running normally to Baker Street? Alas, LU in their wisdom have disabled the vital Departure Boards screen on the mobile version of their website so I had no idea when the next London-bound train might arrive. A Piccadilly drew in and I took it, arriving at work 15 minutes later than planned.

This evening I searched the Android market and found a wonderful - and free - app that displays the departure board information. Nothing fancy, just instantly provides the information that you really need when confronted by messages about delays - the times of the next trains due in. If ever the internet needed to be justified, this is exactly the sort of app that does it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

District Dave

Sadly tonight, as I checked out the District Dave forum, I discovered that Dave had died today and many of the forum regulars were posting tributes.

I have mentioned this site more than once. It is a goldmine of information about the Tube, many of the contributors being drivers, station assistants, signalmen, line controllers and the like. The site will go on, of course, but without its presiding spirit. What a great contribution to the Web he made.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Access Your Brain



This ad caught my eye whilst travelling home tonight on the Metropolitan, a journey made slightly more fraught than usual thanks to a suspect package alert that closed the Bakerloo exactly at the time that I was seeking to travel on it. As it turned out, the journey was no problem, but what on earth is the ad about? What is the Clear Pill? At first sight a ludicrous and biological impossible claim - Accessing 100% of your Brain indeed. So I took a quick photo with my trusty but ageing Nokia phone (which is why the pic is a bit blurred when you blow it up big enough to read it) and had a closer look when I got home.

The disclaimers in the middle white panel makes interesting reading. The side effects may include paralysis, psychosis, amnesia, extreme sexual appetite, brain damage, irreversible coma, homicidal blackouts (well we all get those) and sudden death. Hmmm - a high price to pay for brain access. But disarmingly honest. It must be true, surely. I'd certainly like to be limitless. I think I might try a couple and see how far I can get before the homicidal blackouts cause me to do unspeakable things to anyone carrying a suspect package.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Earthquakes

Political upheavals in the Middle East, turning very nasty in Libya, and a devastating earthquake in New Zealand are the events dominating the news, although I was taken with the story that the Prime Minister’s new cat might belong to someone else, making him potentially a receiver of stolen goods. [stick with the main topic, why don’t you: Ed]. It all makes the stresses of the normal journey into work rather trivial, but never mind. Buoyed by an email confirming that the only people I know in New Zealand live a long way from the earthquake zone, I was unfazed to see one of the S stock new trains sitting for a long while at my home station Ruislip Manor whilst I made my way toward the London-bound platform. Yesterday one of them was just ahead of the train that I was on, and our driver made an interesting reference as we were waiting at Rayners Lane to “delays caused by that new train”. Today, as I gained the platform, the new train had left and my usual, soon-to-be-scrapped A stock train arrived, and once more we followed the future a little more slowly than our usual speed. The combination of the train ahead and it being half-term for most of the schools in the area made for a pleasantly half-empty carriage, spoilt only by the aroma of wet clothes and the odd choice of ringtones that some of my fellow passengers had installed on their mobile phones.

The grey and damp weather make for a strange view from my Waterloo office building. The Shard now dominates the eastern skyline, towering many floors over Guy’s Hospital. But the top ten floors of the central column are shrouded in mist and quite invisible so that the Shard seems to be poking its head up into a different world. Here’s a clumsy camera phone picture so you can see what I’m on about.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Quirk of the Schedules

Morning departures from Ruislip Manor on the Met are supposed to roughly every 6 minutes, a reasonable gap that nonetheless generates pretty full trains most mornings. I normally aim to catch the 8:30. Recently the 8:24 has been coming in around 8:27, a fraction too early for me to catch it without sprinting down the street and up the stairs at the station [you can't expect it at his time of life. Ed] . But the 8:30 has been coming in on time. This reduced gap has of course cut the number of people on my train with all the early birds crowding onto the earlier departure.
I doubt if this happy state of affairs will last. It is probably down to problems with the new S stock trains. The 8:27s in recent days have been S stock whilst my train is usually the old faithful A stock. Still I shall enjoy it, together with the wonderfully mild weather we have had for the past couple of weeks. The freeze of December is truly behind us and the winds are warm and moist, surely heralding an early spring. The snowdrops are flourishing and the crocuses and daffs are on their way. Oddly, no sign yet of the frogs who make an annual pilgrimage to the little pond in my garden to breed. I’ll keep you posted.

And nul points to the addon for Word that is supposed to make it seamless to publish to blogs. It has started to bleat that it cannot publish my posts but refuses to say why.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A taste of the high life

It was my 21st birthday today [Are you sure?: Ed] so Mrs. Commuter and I foreswore work for the day and drove down the M40 for a little light refreshment at a local restaurant. OK, it was Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, 2 Michelin stars, and it was a stonking great lunch and I am a little older than that, but as you can tell from my photo, not much more. [Hmmm - pictures can lie, can't they?: Ed]

So if you are hoping for a juicy blast of invective about today's delays on the Met, or whatever, then I am afraid you will be disappointed. Normal service will be resumed on Monday.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The new and the old

Our old friend "signal failure" made another unwelcome appearance tonight, at Moorgate for a change, causing severe delays on the Metropolitan. Or did it? The departure boards appeared to show a normal service and when I arrived at Baker Street around 6:25pm there was an Uxbridge train waiting for me and ready to leave. So far so good. And it was one of the new "S" Stock. But not so fast, Inspector. It was jammed almost full and the internal indicators said "Not in service".

Hmmm...if it was really out of service then why were so many of my fellow commuters aboard? I decided to go with the majority for once and ignore the message. And I was right for we did leave pretty shortly, with the driver assuring us that the indicators were wrong. I must admit that when he started his announcement I thought he was going to say that, as the boards were faulty, the whole train was going out of service. That would indeed have been loads of fun. Or not.

So I was not, in the end, delayed at all but the price of a fast journey home was having to stand all the way to Harrow. Plenty of people left at the intermediate stations but the train was so very full, and as I have commented on other occasions, these new trains have markedly fewer seats than the "A" stock that they are replacing, so standing room only it was.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a new signalling system as well as the new trains?

Friday, February 04, 2011

The joys of commuting

There was no hint of anything wrong when I started my homeward journey last night from Waterloo but on arrival at Baker Street I encountered a flood of fellow commuters making their way down from the Metropolitan platforms to the depths below and knew something was awry. It turned out to be a defective train and all services to Wembley Park were suspended. LU’s helpful advice was to take the Jubilee but the announcer then added, blithely and with a hint of great joy, that there were severe delays on that line.
Disdaining the doubtful pleasures of a grossly overcrowded Jubbly, I chose a different route and made my weary way back to Oxford Circus, thence to go Central-linewards to Ruislip Gardens, where I daintily alighted* after a trouble free and fully seated journey.
Normally a defective train is fixed within an hour but last night was a total bodge. Mrs. Commuter, travelling home after a concert, found herself in a queue of barely moving trains outside Harrow at 11:30pm. I collected her there and was almost unable to reach the back entrance of the station, so many were the vehicles parked there on identical errands.
This morning the web site reported no service between Harrow and Uxbridge due to signal failure but the departure boards showed train movements so I left anyway for the station. On arrival a Met came in and I raced through the booking hall and up 45 steps to catch it. The doors closed as I reached the top and I resigned myself to a long wait but then they opened just long enough for me to sprint across the platform and, gasping but mildly elated, take a welcoming seat. The signal problem was obviously fixed but now there was a new problem at Wembley Park so we moved slowly and another precious fifteen minutes of my life was wasted. Well, not entirely. I played Another Case of Milton Jones** on my obsolescent but still functioning mp3 player and the journey passed in pleasure


*with thanks to John Betjeman
** A BBC Radio 4 comedy and it’s about time he had a new series

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Of Time and Tramways

I  have previously written about the Brill Tramway, a route that the Metropolitan Railway inherited in 1890 and which it tried to incorporate into its commuter network, only for the newly formed London Underground to close it in 1935. A few photos of the line survive, and some of the rolling stock is on show at the excellent Buckingham Railway Centre. But until today I did not know there was a movie showing the aptly-described "quaint" railway in operation. View it here and marvel. It took 40 minutes (or longer) to travel about 7 miles from Brill to the junction at Quainton Road, where passengers could change for trains to London (or Verney Junction if they really wanted to end up in the middle of nowhere).  And there are still days when the Met runs slower than that [a bit unfair, surely?: Ed]

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

When to ignore

My morning train today was one of the shiny new "S" stock but our driver wasn't happy. Coming into Harrow he warned us that there was trouble ahead and advised everyone to take the fast train that was coming in alongside us. I thought about it and stayed put. I don't know why, other than that I had a comfortable window seat and didn't fancy the crowded, standing, alternative. And they would save little more than a couple of minutes anyway.

We left and the fast train remained. We went more or less normally down to Wembley Park, where it was rumoured there might have been a defective train, but all I noticed was that we overtook another train on the fast track, empty and forlornly waiting outside Preston Road. And at Wembley Park we continued normally. So anyone who had left my train at Harrow was still stuck way behind, going nowhere. Possibly the train we had passed was the defective one. Or maybe it had decided to join in the fun and become defective as well.

As if that wasn't enough raw excitement for one day, at Baker Street on the homeward leg they were dispensing with trains for Watford and telling passengers inclined to go in that general direction to take the first train to Harrow. And as if to compensate there were plenty of Uxbridges. Mine pulled in to Harrow and then onward, with quite a fair sized crowd on the Watford platforms left behind to wait. Ah me. Plenty of times I've stood awaiting an Uxbridge whilst the other lot sailed through. But the stumper is this - the explanation for the problem was a defective train at Farringdon. And it is mostly Uxbridges that come up from that neck of the woods. So where did all the Watfords go?  And was this defective train any relation of this morning's casualties?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Driver in the Dark

It was strange that our all-stations London bound Met came into Harrow this morning on platform 6 (the "fast" platform) and my fears were confirmed by the station announcer telling us that the train was terminating there. As we all sighed and tutted, though pleased that there was a train on platform 5 waiting for us, we were informed by the driver that he had not known until that moment that his own journey into town had ended. He told us, rather plaintively, that the "Line Controller had not told him".

The waiting train proved to be a false hope. Due to signal failure (the reason that the first train was terminated) we crawled down the track to Wembley and I was over 20 minutes later arriving at work. However I made one good decision. As we arrived at Wembley Park there was a Jubbly coming in. I opted to stay put and you may imagine my relief when, though it pulled out well ahead of us, we overtook it at Neasden and then another immediately ahead, signifying a problem on that line as well.

Oh well, at least the weather is back to seasonal normal and the amazing cold spell that froze the country throughout December is just a chilling memory [is this some sort of pun?: Ed]

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The year begins in familiar style

So, 2011, what may be in store for us? Travelling-wise, the mixture as before, I fear. This morning I thought I might get in to my office a little earlier and aimed to catch the 8:26 from Ruislip Manor. But no. A nicely printed poster at the station entrance explained that two trains had been removed temporarily from the timetable. And, yes, the 8:26 was one of them.

A train then arrived pretty soon after but terminated at platform 5, Harrow. With a sense of timing bordering on the exquisite, a fast train on platform 6 closed its doors and left the very second that ours opened. No matter, it's fun to mill about waiting for the next train with about 1000 others. And one did come in and we all packed on and heard the following announcement "There will be a short delay while we wait for a driver". Followed by "Apparently a driver is on his way". Which, fortunately, was indeed the case. But I savoured the unspoken assumption that in some way LU was doing all us a huge favour by providing a driver and that in future we should all watch our step or they might withdraw the privilege.