Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bridge over troubled waters, or something

Whilst my station, Ruislip Manor, is being rebuilt, I have to travel onward to Ruislip at night. Then comes the big decision - to catch a train travelling back or to walk? This presents some interesting problems in timing. Let me first explain that there is only one exit at Ruislip. Passengers coming out of London must cross the tracks using the wonderful Victorian bridge - pic thanks to Chris Cobley - and thus emerge on the eastbound platform.

The westbound tracks curve sharply and trains are invisible, and unheard, until just a few seconds before they pull in. It takes exactly as long for the train to stop and open its doors as it does to walk briskly over the bridge. Here then is our first dilemma. If you alight some way from the bridge it is possible for an eastbound train to come and go before you can reach it. This is solved by alighting exactly by the bridge, from the middle carriage of the train. So far so good. But if there is a crowd going up the stairs, one can still be held back and miss a train. Most people leave the station rather than travel back, so it seems legitimate to use a certain energy in getting to the front of the mob and then legging it briskly. Indeed if one is to maximise the chances of getting an eastbound train this strategy is vital. I have had the doors close in my face before now. Yet it seems somewhat indelicate to beat off the old ladies and barge past the women with pushchairs when there is nothing actually in view - people can understand it if they see that you are running for a train but otherwise you stand revealed as an insensitive boor.

Why bother? Why not just stroll over the bridge, go with the flow, get into the groove and chill out (er, is this the right slang?). Because, my dear Watson, as I have demonstrated, it is perfectly possible that a train will come and go before one can get to the eastbound platform, and that is most frustrating. When this happens one must ask oneself, do I feel lucky? Shall I wait here for who knows how long (because London Underground make no information whatsoever available to passengers at this station) or start walking. Should I stay or should I go? (Hmm, sounds like a potentially catchy pop song). The trains do sometimes come through at the rate of one every three minutes. Or there can be a ten to fifteen minute gap. You just don't know. You can try counting the trains between Rayners Lane and Ruislip and estimate if the frequency appears normal but it doesn't mean anything. I know, I've tried. You cannot estimate with any accuracy the probability of the next train arriving soon merely by knowing how many trains have recently preceded it.

The last three nights I have barely had time to cross the bridge before my train has arrived, which is really nice (the lack of delay, not the rush down the steps). There's another four months of rebuilding to go. How many more heart-stopping moments?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Spammers - morons with email

I really don't understand the mentality of spammers. Why do they make their obnoxious messages so easy to detect? For example -
They send messages that have a subject line beginning RE: - now I know perfectly well what ongoing email correspondence I have so this marks them out as spam.
They misspell words like viagra in the hope, I assume, of fooling antispam software but the misspellings themselves signal the message as spam.
They put names in the subject line but other people's names - "check this out Raymond" so I know at once that this is spam.
I delete any message with FYI in the subject.
I delete any message selling meds - or should that be medz?
I delete any message that has apparently come from me (spammers fake much of the content of their message but why make it so blatent? I mean, burglars don't knock on your door and pretend to be you, do they? They might pretend to be someone else but to pretend to be the person they are talking to is so stupid it goes below zero on the moronicity scale and falls off the edge of the paper).

In short, they send out messages that betray themselves as rubbish even before I have bothered to read them, which of course I rarely do. What I do instead is to collect the silly names that the spammers give themselves though, and hope one day to write a book in which every character is named from a spam email. Who can be indifferent to people named Shemika Blankenship, Cletus Massey, Gaylord Grisham or Maredad Blanchard? And when they meet Chuck Camp, Wiley Ondrusek and Addie R. Bledsoe, I think a Booker prize is just a formality.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Rural Interlude

I was perhaps the only commuter in Britain to be blackberrying whilst waiting for a train last night. Seems a bit incongruous, doesn't it? Waiting for a train, yes, a normal state of affairs. But combined with a spot of fruit gathering? Strange but true. Ruislip station has a nice clump of bushes at the unfashionable end. And 'twas there, in the evening sunlight, that I dallied whilst waiting for a train to take me the trivial, but-not-worth-walking-it-due-to-the-heat, distance back to Ruislip Manor (the westbound platform remaining closed for rebuilding). Forewarned about the bushes I carried a suitable plastic bag and was able to fill same with a goodly number of extremely ripe, plump berries.

How long before some ghastly bureaucrat cottons on and starts agonising about the health and safety implications of thorny bushes growing on the platform? Well it's unlikely any of them read this blog so maybe the bushes will survive till the end of the season. After that I don't really care because when the building work at Ruislip Manor is complete then I won't need to go to Ruislip station. OTOH, it might be rather nice to make an annual detour one stop up the line to gather in nature's bounty. It satisfies the primitive instincts. I don't think I would have made a good hunter but I can gather with the best of them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Three crap days

The Piccadilly restarted normal operations last Thursday. That day there was a problem in the evening that they didn't tell anyone about, and Rayners Lane trains were running only from Acton Town. I guessed this when a Northfields train arrived at Barons Court (I have previously written about this being an automatic sign that something is wrong on the Piccadilly) so took it to Acton. Fortunately my train came in soon after. I drove to work on Friday (Bliss, with very light traffic). Then on Monday they had "signal problems" in the morning (delaying me 25 minutes) and yesterday they had problems "at Arnos Grove" that made me 30 minutes late coming home, the usual story of all trains being diverted to Heathrow and nobody, neither at Barons Court, Hammersmith, Acton Town or whoever makes the general announcements knowing a thing. Indeed, when I arrived at Barons Court at 6:25 there was usual "good services" notice but the station attendant at Hammersmith told me the problems had begun at around 4pm so there was plenty of time for the word to spread. The same attendant opined that the train I wanted would be arriving in under 10 minutes. Given that the indicator board was blank I wonder how he knew? In the end it was about 25 minutes, and 4 Heathrow trains, later. So it was jammed full.

If this was a private sector business heads would be rolling. It is not the fact that trains are delayed but the kneejerk responses of
a) tell passengers as little as possible and
b) cancel or reroute as many trains as possible
that drive me wild.

An open letter to Mr K Livingstone, apparently "Mayor" of London

Dear Ken
I know you care only about buses but the trains are the vital ingredient in preventing total gridlock in London. Why are they so crap? When do we get 21st century communication and information systems that tell us, the people who pay for the system, what trains are actually running?
Sincerely, a bloke who didn't vote for you last time precisely because you only care about buses

Monday, August 08, 2005

A Magnificent Return to Form

Only a couple of days ago I wrote "Now I can return to my core activity of moaning about the Piccadilly. Stand by for the first such bulletin." and blow me if the gallant lads and lasses of the Underground didn't respond superbly. Signal failure caused me a 25 minute delay this morning, only the second day I've travelled on the Piccadilly since it reopened to full services after the bombs. And good to see that the usual confusion about the cause of the delays was working at full strength. As we came to a halt at Park Royal our driver thought there was a problem between Hammersmith and Barons Court. Not long after, with nothing else to do as we waited at North Ealing, he thought the fault was at Acton Town. Later on he revised his story - it became a fault at Turnham Green and we would be running down the District Line tracks. Then he opined that we would be terminated at Acton Town (That sounds rather more sinister than it should) but that a train should be waiting for us to take us on. What of course happened was that we got out at Acton, waited, another Piccadilly came in and terminated and then we all got on a third train that proceeded at normal speed down the Piccadilly tracks.

Actually all credit to the driver who did at least keep us informed with whatever line he was being fed from the Controller. The problem is that, when things go wrong, nobody really knows what is happening. "Signal failure" is always trotted out as the excuse - this seems to be used to deflect away any criticism of the people running the trains. They might as well call it "Act of God" and then they won't have to take any blame at all. Why can't they bypass a dodgy signal and just drive slowly through it? I dunno.

Anyway at least we won the second test. The finish on Sunday, with Australia needing to score 107 and two wickets left, was the most exciting and nail-biting cricket I have ever seen. And to win the game with just 2 runs needed for the Aussies to tie, when they had picked up so many easy byes and both Flintoff and Harmison was sending them hurtling down - it was an exquisite moment of disbelief. Something to give one a little comfort whilst sitting in an immobile train wondering when it might start moving again.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Piccadilly resumes

Piccadilly line trains began running normally again this morning for the first time since the attacks on July 7th. This means I can go back to my usual journey to work, and can say goodbye to my emergency alternative route, using the Central Line. It was a reasonable service, apart from three irritating things. The morning timetable says that trains run every 4-11 minutes. At the height of the rush hour you would expect the frequency to be closer to the 4 than to the 11. But every day the gap between trains is about 8 -9 minutes. And coming home there is an irritating tendency for the journey between Shepherds Bush and White City to be a series of stop-starts at each of the signals en route. My final whinge is about the down escalator at Shepherds Bush, immobile for the past four weeks. A printed notice says it is a temporary delay. I wonder what "temporary" means? Perhaps all available maintenance staff are still working on clearing up the bomb damage but I suspect that the guys who do the escalators are outside contractors who would not be otherwise engaged.

Anyway, here's hoping that I don't have to revert to the Central for a decent interval. Now I can return to my core activity of moaning about the Piccadilly. Stand by for the first such bulletin.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The holiday is over

Back in town after a blissful 11 nights afloat - cruising to the Baltic, since you ask. Apart from a dinner-losing couple of nights on the North Sea, a totally wonderful experience. One of the best features was that our boat moored virtually in the city centres in Helsinki, Tallin, Copenhagen and Oslo. So no opportunity to compare and contrast public transport systems with our own dear London Underground. Oddly enough the most impressive system, at least in terms of frequency of service, seemed to be the tram network in St. Petersburg. There was always one in view. Rather swisher equipment in the other cities, not surprisingly.

The first day out was 21 July, the day that the second wave of bombs so nearly hit London. We had access to BBC World service TV so we knew what was going on and the relief that no-one was hurt, other than the poor Brazilian guy, was intense. To be sailing in glorious sunshine over the Baltic sea whilst London was convulsed yet again in fear was almost as unreal as a dream.

I'm not really with it yet so this is just a "holding move" sort of posting.