Thursday, November 30, 2006


Arriving at my tube station yesterday, I was met with an old familiar announcement, about delays on the Piccadilly Line. There was, apparently, no service between Hammersmith and Uxbridge. Whether that meant they were turning them round at Hammersmith was not clear, because if they were then there was no service to Heathrow either and that is important to many travellers. And if they were running trains to Heathrow then presumably they were running them from Hammersmith to Acton Town, so what they really meant was either that there was no service on the Rayners Lane branch or that there were no services at all west of Hammersmith.
And while I was mulling this over a wave of calm and relaxation broke over me and my soul was refreshed, if not gladdened. For I was not travelling by the benighted Piccadilly but the dear old Metropolitan and was not in the least concerned by signal failures at Acton (The cause of the problem as it turned out) or any other defect. And lo! A Metropolitan duly arrived and my journey commenced.
I don’t take any sadistic pleasure in the travails of would-be Piccadilly users forced to take a longer route this morning. It is just that the announcement brought back so many memories, none of them enjoyable. Indeed, one of the main reasons for writing this blog was as an outlet for my frustrations and dissatisfaction with the daily commute. So, Piccadilly users, I feel your pain. I really do, honest.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Touch me, touch me*

London Underground is making a big fuss about the need correctly to ticket one’s journey if using an Oyster card. They want people to “touch in” and “touch out”, as they like to put it, on the machines that read the cards as you enter or leave a station. Trouble is, they don’t seem to understand their own system. They keep making a half-witted announcement that “If you don’t touch in and touch out, then will pay the maximum cash fare”. Wrong. If you fail to touch in but touch out then you will pay the max fare. And ditto if you touch in but do not touch out. But if you neither touch in nor touch out then London Underground has no record of your journey and you will pay the grand sum of nothing whatsoever. Unless you are caught by an inspector, and when was the last time you saw one of those?

*Older readers will surely recall Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich and Tich’s immortal hit. Or not.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Grains of sand

When you upend an hourglass and watch the grains of sand trickle out to form a little pyramid below, it is not possible to predict the progress of any individual grain. You know that the sand will fall in always the same amount of time but the rules of fluid mechanics, and possibly chaos, govern the paths taken by each grain.

I had some practical experience of this today. My Metropolitan to Baker Street was no more crowded than usual but we had a rather slow journey in, and a very large number of people converged on the hopelessly inadequate stairs linking down to the Jubilee and Bakerloo platforms. Just like the sand, we formed an inverted pyramid, each person jostling and inching forward as the people at the apex got into the top of the steps. You could not predict the order in which people moved. Once inside the huddle one had to keep on moving, because the pressure behind was gentle but remorseless. Also another train was close behind and nobody wanted to be on the platform when another hundred people joined in.

For some moments I barely moved, then it was possible to take a half step, and another, and suddenly there were just a few backs in front of me. Yet still people were pressing on both sides, some moving straight into any gap that allowed, others hanging back a little and so we continued in this chaotic fashion until I in turn reached the steps and at once surged forward into the relatively empty space ahead.

I guess that if you take a given number of people, say 80, they would always take the same amount of time to pass down the stairs. It is an odd feeling to be part of this process, subject to the same forces that make hourglasses work.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mutterings #2

You know that feeling when you arrive on a crowded platform, stand back and let everyone board the first train to arrive, wait for the next and then just as it pulls in, get flattened by a mob of latecomers who get what few seats are available? You do? I didn’t see you on the Bakerloo at Baker Street this morning.