Thursday, December 13, 2007

Love on the Met line

It's funny how people shed all their inhibitions when on a train. Travelling home late the other night with my wife, we were both startled when a young man who boarded our train at Harrow yelled out of the window at the top of his voice "See you". Actually, in this age of texting, he might have been shouting "CU".

We looked up. His puffy face was adorned (surely not the right word - Ed) with studs and rings through various protruding features. Having drawn our attention, he began a loud conversation on his mobile. The topic was that of a date that he had just had. He described his partner as being five foot tall, cute and "he would definitely like to see her naked". We learned that they had differing tastes in music but he hoped to overcome this and that he was feeling "horny". So a successful romantic encounter then, and we certainly enjoyed hearing all about it.

So if you are a male in the Harrow area, and fancy a crack at a short but willing female who doesn't like Aerosmith, why not try your luck.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Put a sock in it

Older readers may recall my account of the lengthy rebuilding of my home station, Ruislip Manor. I commented on the huge number of CCTV cameras (roughly two per passenger on quiet days) and the plethora of loudspeakers that festoon every lamp post. It has taken the staff a little while to learn about this new technology but now they have clearly mastered the art of using a microphone and some mornings you can barely hear yourself think for announcements.

Amongst the gems offered to us this morning were:
London Transport does not like people smoking
You should stand behind the yellow lines at all times for your safety
We are being watched on cameras for our own security.
Passengers wishing to travel on the Piccadilly line should take the first train to Rayners Lane (with the masterful timing of true genius, they make this announcement at 8:30, exactly when a Piccadilly train arrives, and on time)

and of course, that old standby "A good service is operating on all lines". Yes, they trotted this one out today. I knew when I came out on the platform that a good service was not operating because there were at least twice as many people waiting for the Metropolitan line as usual. And so it proved. We were heavily overcrowded until Harrow (when most people left to take a "fast" train). Sadly (for them), it was held up at Wembley Park and those of us who stuck to the stopping train were rewarded by the view of their faces as we trundled past.

Anyway the point is not to have a jolly good laugh at the expense of my fellow passengers but to suggest that being bombarded with loudspeaker announcements that largely state the bleedin' obvious, but which do not not actually bother to tell us when the next train is due, is a poor way to start the day. Why do they do it? Can't they just watch us on their high-tech surveillance and keep the mouth shut?

Friday, October 19, 2007

The lure of travel

Just back from a very nice holiday, cruising from Venice to Istanbul. And how, you will wish to know, do commuters in these far-flung places manage compare to us?

Well actually I have only the haziest idea. In Venice you get around by boat or by foot, so no stupid delays caused by "signal failure" or the tube's current favourite "person under a train", but presumably they get various water-related problems. Throughout the small towns dotted down the Adriatic coast, and in the Greek islands, you can walk, cycle or take a donkey. Cue "extensive delays due to certain animal products on the path". And in Istanbul the ferocious traffic jams and the permanently full (despite being amazingly frequent) trams, coupled with the non-stop ferries across the Bosphorus, suggest something that even we Londoners might flinch away from.

Cruising has got to be the most pleasant way to travel. Someone else is doing the driving. The accommodation is comfortable, the food splendid and the views keep changing. There are no unexpected delays, in fact the only delays we had were on the flights both outbound and returning.

Anyway, back to the world of real commuting. I picked up a copy of a "newspaper" called London Lite this evening. Apparently we are all trembling with excitement at the prospect of a rugby match tomorrow. Not me mate. Getting home without being held up for 10 minutes at Harrow because of a defective train down the line, that's the real turn-on.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Deconstructing Tube Ads - 2: Nokia

There's a poster in the tube showing a phone, or something. And a slogan at the bottom that reads "Be more Nokia".

I have a Nokia phone, as it happens. I am happy with it. I require nothing else from the company. I have not the slightest intention of being "more Nokia". Assuming that what they really mean is "Buy more Nokia", then this ad will reduce the probability of my so doing.

We are people (even those of who have to commute using the tube). We are not brands. We do not aspire to be brands.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tube English 2

When trains are running late, and platforms are crowded (as they were today thanks to the stupid walk-out by drivers on the Circle and District lines), station announcers like to tell us to "Use all available doors". If I was an elementary particle or photon, capable of simultaneously passing through multiple locations (or in some versions of quantum mechanics, theoretically capable of being anywhere in the universe until the collapse of the probability wave function brought about by interaction with another particle or photon), then yes I could indeed aspire to using all available doors. But I am composed of billions upon billions of elementary particles, the probability that I occupy just one position in space-time is overwhelmingly huge and consequently I can use only one door at a time. And so can everyone else. So being told to do something impossible does make the announcers appear to inhabit some parallel universe of their own.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The mind of an Adman

Regular readers will know my dislike of advertising. It is unavoidable when travelling on the Underground, in the form of posters at the stations and placards on the inside of the trains. And any insight into the mindset of those who create this stuff is helpful, in making it easier to resist the endless lies.

So here is an extract from an interview in The Guardian a few days ago with Chamath Palilhapitiya, the VP of product marketing and operations of Facebook.

“We honestly believe if we make advertising more compelling and more socially relevant, we can have significantly less but it being more valuable…the thing is not to have as many ads as possible but to make them as essential and necessary as possible. And then it is not viewed as advertising but as content” (source:

Whoops, what a giveaway. Leaving aside the wonderful idea that there are things that the VP dishonestly believes, he has laid bare the essence of what admen believe – that their products are essential, that we actually need them, that they are as, if not more, relevant than the actual content of the website (TV programme, newspaper…) that we have chosen to read or watch or listen to.

So let me, as VP for plain speaking of Ramblings, make clear – adverts are not essential. They are basically lies. They distort reality. They purport to provide information, but by only giving us information that the admen wishes us to have, and by suppressing anything that the admen consider may be detrimental to their products, in reality they bamboozle and confuse us. And the idea that adverts will come to be considered on the same level of content is really frightening. It means that Facebook users will be unable to distinguish genuine friends and contacts from people trying to sell them something. There will be no distinction between people doing things because of a mutual interest, and people who care only about the money they can make out of you. Ultimately no distinction between truth and lies.

Do I protest too much? Remember the decades in which tobacco manufacturers assured us that smoking was good for us? And those in which we were told about how alcoholic drinks were good for us? The cosmetics firms that cruelly use animals for testing? The cosmetics firms that today sell water and vegetable oils mixed into “creams” to “reduce the signs of ageing”? The airlines who claim to fly to certain cities when in reality they fly to airports many miles from those cities? The ads that claim “Everyone’s talking about…” a brand new product that nobody has ever heard of before? And so on, endlessly, on and on.

No, I protest too little.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Deconstructing tube ads - 1: Coke

I'm bemused* by a poster at Baker Street, on the southbound Bakerloo. It shows a variety of cartoonish images with a sort of 1960s pop music theme. On one side the silhouette of a male, the other a female. They are surrounded by some cliches of musicians (saxophonist bending double, someone swinging a microphone), images of LPs (Long Playing records: Ed) and cassettes, including a "Dansette" type record player (I had one in 1964), a cassette with the word "Love" handwritten on its label, lots of stars and explosions and clutter, and the odd coke bottle. And surrounding the whole charming scene, two sets of audio leads, one male one female, about to be joined together. I don't know how much more suggestive an ad can be. But trying to understand its underlying message is really tough.

You see, all the clobber depicted is old. It was ok stuff when I was young. It has no meaning at all today except as an exercise in nostalgia. So are Coca-Cola trying to reach my generation in order to market their ghastly oversweet rubbish? Hardly. Consider again the meaning of the two about-to-copulate sound leads. Presumably the subliminal message is "Drink this crap and you'll score". But that would aim this ad at young, and fairly dumb, people, who would hardly relate to the rest of the images.

Anyway, I've stared at this ad for a number of days, whilst waiting for a train; as the Bakerloo is such a good service I have never had more than a minute or so. My studies are by no means complete. I think there may be a quite different layer of meaning waiting to be unearthed. Though whether it is "Your parents drank coke so why don't you?" or "Coke, it tastes as bad as the noises depicted", I am not sure.

* This should now read "I was bemused" because the ad is no longer there, having been pasted over by something so ludicrous I may have to comment on it in a new posting

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tube English 1

I suffer from an unusual medical condition. I listen to the announcements on the underground, and I consider what they say, and what they are trying to say. Take this one, heard regularly when a train reaches its destination.

"This train terminates here. Please take all your personal belongings with you"

All of my belongings are personal. So are yours. Everything is a belonging of someone or something. So why emphasise the word personal? Are they saying that you should leave behind the belongings of someone else that you happen to have brought with you? Or should you ignore the property of your employer (a laptop computer, say) that you are taking home? Nope, I think they would prefer that all belongings are removed from the train.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A stick in the door

I was told off by a tube driver earlier this week. But I don't care. I was on a London-bound train coming into Harrow-on-the-Hill (What a stupid name, it's at the foot of the hill) and as we pulled in a "fast" train was at the adjacent platform. Lots of people left my train to cross over since they would save about 2 minutes on their journey thereby, but I being comfortable stayed put. Then our driver announced the train was terminating there. So I joined the migration only to have the doors of the other train shut in my face.
But, and here's the crux, since I am still walking with the aid of my aged mother's stick, I was able to whip it out and prevent the doors from closing, whilst waving at the driver with the other hand. After a few grudging seconds he opened the doors and let me, and any other slower moving passengers, aboard.
'Twas then that he announced that passengers should not obstruct the doors as it caused delays. Well, sod him. What about me being stranded on the platform thanks to his cavalier attitude? Why was there no co-operation between the drivers? Why the hell don't the platform staff ensure that if a train is taken out of service, passengers forced to alight are given some consideration?
Actually I feel even angrier about this now than I did at the time, and if that driver comes withing range of my stick, I may just let it fall where it will do the most good, if you get my drift

Monday, August 13, 2007

Just to get you up to date

Not too much to report since my last bulletin, which to my shame I see was a month ago. Recovery from the twin problems of a damaged foot and blood clots in the lungs has continued, the latter faster. Little signs of improvement manifest themselves all the time. I am back at work and hope to be full time next week, the district nurses, who have done a wonderful job dressing the wounds since my discharge from hospital, have refused to come again because I am too fit, and the warfarin tablets seem to be getting the blood levels back to normal.

The final hurdle is for my big toe to heal. This is still in a state that I will not describe online and when bandaged, is too big to fit comfortably into a shoe. Men wearing sandals and socks are supposed to be fashion rejects, but let me tell you, some of us have no choice. Lucky it's summertime. I would not care to stroll through the wet or slush covered streets of beautiful Ruislip wearing my trusty old Clarks.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Returning to reality (whatever that is)

I'm finally back to work on a sort of occasional, restricted hours basis. I dare not travel in the rush hours because it is essential that I have a seat, and avoid all risks of anyone standing on or kicking my injured foot, on the 50 minute journey 'twixt beautiful Ruislip and Waterloo. And the effort of getting to work, as well as being there, is very tiring. So I'm doing a few hours, every three days or so, and working as much as possible at home the rest of the time.

It is quite pleasant to travel down mid morning in trains barely half full. Coming home they seem to be crowded no matter what time I choose to depart. But actually the idea of the "rush hour" is very out of date. Huge numbers travel at all times, apart from very early and very late. I can recall when the evening trains would be full of suited men with briefcases rushing home to their dinners in the suburbs (Thank you Mr Betjeman, we'll let you know: Ed). There are a few left, of course, but the travelling public is now representative of the general public, and in world that increasingly works all hours and all days, the transport system is going to do the same.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Lines from a sofa - 2

I've been out of hospital for a week now and all being well will not need to go back (unlike the previous two occasions within the last month). I'm not even confined to the sofa anymore. Both foot and lungs are healing and mobility, in a limited way, has returned. Arm-chairs, dining chairs, even garden chairs, there is no restriction on the form of seating that is now available.

The commuting experience remains the short and tedious journey 'twixt home and Hillingdon Hospital. On Saturday I was called in by letter for a blood test, only to discover once there that the clinic is shut at weekends. Terrific stuff, very good for the blood pressure. The NHS equivalent of being told that all train services are running normally only to find, a few stops down the line, that your destination is unreachable by the normal route and a huge detour beckons. It's just like being on the Piccadilly again.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lines from a hospital bed - 4

Back in hospital again, this time with blood clots in the lungs. This is an unfortunate consequence of my prolonged resting at home while my left foot healed. I have (or had) all the classic symptoms - breathlessness, dry coughing, pain in the chest, tiredness and dizzy spells. These are all cleared bar continuing pain in my left lung and an occasional cough that is driving me mad, because it hurts, I can't catch my breath and I end up gasping, unable to speak and fighting for breath. But I am coughing a lot less than a few days ago, hurrah.

I came back in a week ago and hope to be out soon. No idea when I can resume doing a decent bit of commuting though. Not only is my foot still too weak to bear my weight, the 40 odd steps at Ruislip Manor station are the equivalent of a steep hill in my current shallow-breathing state. I cannot see myself making it. Nor indeed am I fit to fight my way through the streams of people moving 'twixt Met and Bakerloo in that vortex of despair that is the stupidly narrow steps connecting those lines. God knows what cretin designed stairs wide enough for just one person in each direction. Wouldn't it be nice if the bosses of LU had to travel by wheelchair or with crutches every so often so they could understand how awful much of the Tube architecture really is.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lines from a sofa - 1

I'm out of hospital (hurrah) and likely to need at least two weeks at home while my damaged foot recovers. Thanks to modern technology I can connect to my desktop pc at the office and work almost as if I was sitting there. So a spell of working, but not commuting, beckons. It's a strange feeling. I finish my breakfast, take six steps into the living room and start reading the office emails. All my life there has been some element of commuting and for much of it, regular journeys of an hour each way have been the norm.

Just for old times sake I checked out the Tube website to see if services were running normally. They are. But if there had been extensive delays due to hailstorms at Chalfont, or something, I should have permitted myself one short smile of appreciation.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lines from a hospital bed - 3

I'm in a four bay ward and when the bloke opposite went home yesterday morning, I thought this would help toward a quiet weekend for the rest of us, given that hospitals don't do routine admissions then. I was wrong. Later that day the bed was given to a brash young man who has been a source of noise and distraction ever since. He is seriously ill with an unexpected recurrence of long-standing pancreas problems but has the air of a newly rich popstar holding court. Last night he had extensive treatment, had several machines plugged in him, hourly monitoring and visits from about a dozen assorted doctors, nurses and specialists. He greeted them familiarly, "allo, ow are you doing alright", instructed them where to insert drips and take blood, had his personal mineral water put in the nurses' fridge, told them which painkillers he wanted and made them explain every reading.

This morning the crisis seems to have passed and he only took up about 80% of the time of the main nurse on duty. Mind you, she has 4 others to look after. Actually, this is not so bad as it may appear because the rest of us need little direct care. But unlike any other patient, he spent all the time not employed in ordering nurses on his mobile. These are not discreet and quick, essential calls. He bellows into the phone in a voice that cuts into Wishbone Ash (a 1970s rock combo. Ed) playing loud on my Walkman headphones. I would mind less if the hospital had not put large red notices at the entrance to the ward forbidding mobile use within.

As I write it has gone a bit quieter (exhaustion of the vocal cords?) but it won't last. His family will be visiting later.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Lines from a hospital bed - 2

Being a patient is hard work, but by God it's harder when you have to be your own doctor as well. If you don't like medical details then look away now. (wish I could. Ed)

I've been flat out with a damaged left foot. Naturally my body has reacted to the lack of physical activity, and the drugs, by shutting down certain, shall we say, functions. This has been fixed with the help of some little green pills. But, perhaps as a side-effect, a couple of days ago I had been feeling nauseous and nobody had taken any interest. I lost appetite and ate very little, returning 3 meals almost untasted. Today I stopped drinking, a real no-no, because I couldn't face anything going down my throat. Eventually I felt like vomiting, though there was nothing to bring up.There was a nurse with me at the time. He gave me an injection, designed I think, to prevent feeling sick. This made me feel so unwell - literally sick and tired - that I was almost unable to talk to my visitors a little later.

The solution lay in my own hands. I stopped taking painkillers (not that heroic because there was very little pain, but they do love doling them out). The idea was to reduce any opiates in the system because I react badly to them. Remembering something similar during a hospital stay some years ago, I induced a little retching session. Nothing came up but I began to feel better. After a repeat I was ready to think about drinking other than plain water. The next day the difference was amazing. I actually wanted my breakfast. I ate normally that day and now, a day later, can confirm that my treatment was right and the knee-jerk reponse of the nurse was wrong.

So, Dr. Commuter's advice is to listen to what your body tells you.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Lines from a hospital bed - 1

My health has taken a turn for the worse and I write these lines lying flat on my back in hospital, typing one awkward letter at a time on a clamshell keyboard that doubles as a TV remote. Yes, thanks to modern technology, I can email and blog whilst nurses come and go, and 4 hours pass waiting for a fresh dressing for my damaged foot. This is certainly different to composing these finely chiselled words from the "comfort" of a tube train. Woozy from the side effects of pain killers I have unsettling dreams; physical movements are limited to finding a comfortable position and the odd visit to the toilet.

Don't worry, this is not turning into Haverings of a Hillingdon Invalid, but for the time being, bulletins of a medical nature must inevitably dominate these proceedings

Friday, May 04, 2007

Mastertronic artwork

This is a blatant plug. I'm selling the original Mastertronic artwork lovingly displayed on my website. These were paintings used to create the cassette inlays and disk covers for games that sold in their millions during the 1980s. Why not own something original?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Warming up

Global warming or not, it was certainly hot over the weekend and continues so to be today. The external thermometer in my car reached 30c on Sunday afternoon. And here we are in the middle of April. The Acer in my garden is just about to put out its leaves here is what it will look like in a few weeks ; it must be one very confused tree right now with summer-like temperatures prevailing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An alarming moment

I’ve wondered from time to time, as one does when travelling on the Underground, what actually happens when you pull the emergency alarm. Today I found out. I was sitting in the middle of a London-bound train at Harrow on the Hill when I noticed a young woman, who had just boarded, moving in some agitation close to where I was sitting. The doors had closed and we were moving. She spun around once or twice then pulled down the lever. The train stopped almost at once, with most of the carriages still by the platform.
Someone asked “What’s the emergency?” and the woman said “My bag!” Evidently she had left it behind. Not really an emergency but maybe justified. Anyway, the doors were tight shut, there was no evidence of either the driver coming to investigate or any station staff doing anything so there we sat for a moment while she continued to dart about, knowing that her bag was on the platform somewhere just out of reach.
After a moment the driver made an announcement over the loudspeaker that the emergency alarm had gone off, and a bloke on the platform came up waving a handbag. Much relief from the owner, but the doors were still closed. He tried to cram it through the little window just where I was sitting. It was far too big. I suggested he speak to the driver. I don’t think he heard, or understood, so we continued to sit there for a while, until after several minutes the driver made his way into the carriage, turned off the alarm that was pointlessly bleeping all the time and opened the doors so that handbag and wearer could be reunited.
I’m glad it was not a real emergency. To be stuck in the carriage, with no way out and no way of communicating with the driver, would not be pleasant. I have always liked sitting at the very front of a train and now I have a cast-iron reason for so doing.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Sunday in April

To the Albert Hall, for a concert featuring not only one of my company’s artists but an orchestral group of which my wife has just become the administrator. We drove down from beautiful Ruislip, encountered heavy traffic in Kensington (road works), very heavy traffic coming back around Hanger Lane (cause unknown but exacerbated by a broken down van in the middle of the A40, pointless sets of traffic lights at many streets where they could easily be turned off and near impossible parking around the Hall itself  - we managed to find one space near the back of Imperial College.  All this on what should have been a quiet Sunday. Admittedly the gorgeous spring weather must have attracted many into London, but it is sad that travelling into this city so often is such hard (and expensive) work.

Ah well, Easter approaches. One thing that we will not be doing is driving into London. At least the countryside is close to us here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The escalator saga concluded

My last piece was about the long delays to repairing the down escalator at Waterloo. Well, what do you know? It’s working again. Has the bitter sarcasm and searing invective voiced in this blog done the trick? I think I can claim some of the credit anyway. Once they realised they were being watched and reported upon, the game was up. So, another case closed and filed away under “V” for victories.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


The down escalator at the Shell centre entrance to Waterloo tube station has been out of action since September. Until the beginning of March, we were informed that it would be fixed by mid-February. Now a notice merely says that it will be fixed and implies a sense of urgency. Ha bloody ha. 7 months to fix an escalator? From the country that thinks it can host the Olympic games and use the London Underground system to shift a significant number of the spectators and participants? I can’t wait for the “unexpected delays” and “we are awaiting spare parts” notices that will festoon the Jubilee Line during those fraught days in 2012.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tesco's promise

Although I commute by train, I am also a car driver and have some sympathy for those whose cars failed recently thanks to contamination of petrol supplies. In this morning’s paper Tesco have taken out a full-page ad to apologise (although as they were the retailer, it would be more fitting if the oil refinery / wholesalers had done so).My eye was drawn to a curious wording in the body of the ad (there is plenty of time for this sort of thing on my morning journey into Central London). “We’d like to promise to pay for the repairs”. At first glance a great admission of corporate culpability and a refreshing willingness to make amends. Now let us deconstruct the meaning of those few words, those oh-so carefully chosen words. Remember always that a raft of PR people and a flotilla of corporate lawyers have sifted and vetted every nuance and shade of interpretation of this simple statement. They could have said “We will pay for the repairs”. But they did not. They could have said “We promise to pay for the repairs”. Not in any way so strong or even legally binding, but something pretty difficult to wriggle out of. Obviously too strong for m’learned friends to sanction. Perhaps they envisaged a flood (that’s the third marine reference I’ve snuck in so far, hope you are keeping count at home) of claims that would envelop their clients in a tidal wave (that’s four) of litigation, with weepy-eyed drivers breaking down in court and howling “but you promised…”.
So what we got was the weasel words “We’d like to promise…”. Yes. I’m sure they would like to. Hell, even I would like to be able to make such a promise. But this is a mere statement of a state of mind. It is not binding in any sense. It is not a promise. Should Tesco turn down any claims, they are not even reneging on a promise because they have not actually made a promise. I can easily picture their lawyers, feet up on a gleaming desk, fees clocking up at £500 an hour, explaining this to some hapless motorist who thought he was onto a good thing. I’m not really attacking Tesco. I suspect that they do really mean to keep their apparent promise. It just bothers me that they felt unable to say so.By the way, just to show how carefully one should read this sort of thing, the BBC web site failed to get it right. According to them  the wording is “we’d like to pay for the repairs”.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

From the pulpit

“Thought for the day”, the obligatory religious slot on Radio 4’s Today programme informed us all of the onset of Lent. We are advised to give up something to mark our observance. Fair enough. I shall give up listening to Thought for the day.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Keeping informed

It was quite a difficult morning on the Metropolitan today. The trains were delayed by a signal failure at Finchley Road and also by a tree on the track (some said on a train) at Chorley Wood. The platform at Ruislip Manor was busier than usual when I arrived and there was a wait for the first southbound Met. This was pretty full when it arrived and very full by the time it reached Harrow. Trains from Uxbridge come in on the “slow” down platform 5 and the fast trains from Watford and Amersham come in alongside on 6. There was a train on 6 as we pulled in, but unusually they announced that it was going no further and that our train had been promoted to be a “fast” (you save a few minutes by not stopping at the next three stations). Given that there were plenty of people on that train, and that ours was already full, this did not go down too well but, as I had a seat, I could afford to be a bit smug about it.
We crawled down the track and reached Baker Street twenty minutes late. Nothing too strange about this but what was remarkable was the number of announcements made to keep us informed. Not only by our very friendly driver, but also at every station stop. The electronic platform displays were absolutely useless, of course, telling us nothing at all but the announcers did explain that there was a problem and that there was another train just behind, which must have been reassuring to those standing on the wet platforms, because normally there is no information at all about following trains at Harrow and stations to the north and west of it.
When things like this happen, frustrating as the delays are, I still think about what would happen on the Piccadilly which was until recently my route to work. Answer – very few announcements and knee-jerk cancellation of trains on the Uxbridge branch so as to give priority to Heathrow trains.  With that in mind, the odd glitch on the Met, when it is handled like it was today, is easily forgiven

Thursday, February 08, 2007

2 inches

Exactly as forecast, 2 inches of snow fell over London this morning. London Underground performed magnificently. Not a train was cancelled, or even delayed. Compared to the dismal failure of two years ago, this was a welcome improvement.
The Metropolitan did have a faulty train stuck at Wembley Park and a points failure at Harrow. These made me half an hour late. The Bakerloo was closed between Marylebone and Piccadilly Circus (power failure some said, faulty communications equipment according to others), forcing me and thousands of others to crowd onto the Jubilee, which was itself suspended north of Wembley Park. There were serious delays on the Northern and who knows what else.
But the snow, you ask, did the snow play any part in the transport equivalent of England’s useless football display against Spain last night? No, a thousand times no. So that’s all right then.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Water shortage

The glorious day of steam have returned. Consider this reason, posted by London Underground today on their website, for closing Bounds Green station – “no water supply”.  Now this cannot be anything to do with staff because plenty of stations operate with no staff at all at certain hours, my home station at Ruislip Manor being one of them. And by the same token it cannot be to do with fire safety because, if this were a concern, then there would not be any unmanned stations at all. So I assume that it is because the trains need to take on water there.

I picture Bounds Green as a little halt, near the village of the same name, with a quaint Victorian brick waiting room, toilets in a little wooden shed, faded posters advertising long-lost railway companies like LNER or the Somerset & Dorset and a trolley with a few battered old luggage cases propped up against a wall where a machine dispenses chocolate bars for a penny.  Birds twitter in the nearby fields. Cattle crop the grass by the sidings. There is a distant whistle. A man wearing coal-dusty overalls and green-peaked cap consults his fob watch and ambles out toward the water tower. He looks up. He scratches his head. He jogs back to the platform, lifts the phone, winds the handle and in a rustic accent informs someone “higher up” that there is no water. The response is immediate. The station is closed and as the train approaches the attendant waves a green flag, gestures to the tower and the train continues on its way.

Later in the morning the message vanished from the web site so it seems either they found some water to put in the tower or maybe they cancelled the steam trains and ran one of these beastly new-fangled electric johnnies instead.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A little light snowfall

Less than an inch of snow fell in Southern England last night. It was forecast a few days in advance. The winds this morning are light. The weather is calm with sunshine and varied cloud. Naturally there is total chaos on the underground. You don’t believe me? Well, you should. Here is the proof. BBC London Tube news – this was the position at 9:30 am today. Just about every line on the system has problems. Amazingly none are attributed to the snow or the to weather. Our trusty old friend signal failure, bolstered by the odd faulty train, is the prime suspect in this case. So, let’s examine this one. Normally there are one or two lines with problems. Today the jackpot. What has changed? Apart from the snow, I can’t think of anything. I put to you, m’lud, that the evidence, albeit circumstantial, is overwhelming and devastating. Whether the snow makes the signals fail or perhaps it’s the cold hands of the bloke who pulls the string to make the lights change, well, I’m not able to say

Monday, January 22, 2007

A wind up

Winds gusting at nearly 100mph battered England a few days ago. The whole country was affected; predictably traffic chaos ensued. Fortunately, unlike in the “hurricane” of 1987, there was no widespread felling of trees and far less building damage. Down in sunny Ruislip, two panels from my neighbour’s fence fell into my garden and that was about it.

London Underground put on their usual good show. I did not go to work until early afternoon, following a hospital appointment. The LU web site suggested the trains were ok so I left home. No sooner was I standing on the platform at Ruislip Manor than they announced the suspension of the Metropolitan Line due to obstructions on the track. They suggested we use alternative routes. As the alternative, the Piccadilly, was not apparently operating either and is any case just as vulnerable to trees falling, I called it a day and went back home. And discovered that, yes, there were now problems on the Piccadilly as well. In fact several lines were out of action until the following morning, and a number of people in my office at Waterloo had very long and difficult journeys home that night.

High winds are going to be a fact of life as global warming takes off. The Met Office provides good forecasts of impending storms. Why oh why, he asks without in the least expecting an answer, does it always take our transport providers by surprise?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The fashionable way to go

“If I should fall under a bus” is often quoted as an illustration of the unpredictability of the future and our frail mortality. Given the number of buses clogging up the streets of London these days it is more than a cliché. But of course death by bus is pretty unusual compared to the carnage wrought by other vehicles on the road. So why not choose some other form of transport?

My journey to work is way safer than it used to be. Prior to moving to Waterloo, I faced the twice-daily ordeal of crossing the A4 at one of its busiest stretches, where drivers ignoring red lights and no right turn signals were a very real danger. Now I have one easy road to cross, York Road that leads from the big roundabout at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge down past County Hall towards Westminster Bridge. Today the traffic was moving fast and it was not so easy to judge the right moment to cross. Just when a tempting gap appeared, I noticed a truck in a familiar green and gold livery looming up fast. This was the moment of truth. Should I stay put and let it pass or dash over? If I got the timing wrong, well, going under a Harrods van is surely a classier way to go than being crunched by a double-decker.

In the event I chickened out and waited for a longer gap. But if this blog mysteriously ceases to exist, maybe I will have been flattened under the wheels of an delivery lorry for a rather upmarket and expensive store. This does have a certain cachet, almost enough, one feels, to compensate for the inability ever to shop there again.*

*Editors note: it is not thought that AnthonyG actually does shop at Harrods very often, if it all.