Thursday, May 29, 2008

Groundhog day

On Feb 7 this year I wrote about how problems on the Jubilee Line, coinciding with a football match at Wembley, caused chaos on the Underground. Last night there was a football match at Wembley - and lo - signal problems at Willesden Green once more took out the Jubilee Line and there was serious overcrowding at Baker Street.

I dunno. Is this some vast social experiment to see how bad the tube has to be before we all revolt? Presumably somebody working for LU reads the papers and knows when the next match is on? They didn't even try to lay on extra trains on the Metropolitan - when I was standing at Baker Street in the crowds, all the trains were coming up from the City and platforms 1 and 4 were empty. Trains could have shuttled between Wembley Park and those platforms with ease. And how about the occasional train deliberately not stopping at Wembley so as to make it easier for regular commuters - you know, those of us who actually keep the service afloat - to get home?

As I observed last time, the football fans were amazingly well behaved. No raucous chanting, no drinking, no belligerence, just a friendly good-humoured and tolerant approach to the jammed trains. If this is an experiment, the results seem promising.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

That Poe moment

Arriving this morning, as is my wont, at Waterloo underground station, my eye was drawn to a poster advertising what I presume is a “popular beat combo” or somesuch. In fact it was placed to be directly opposite the tunnel leading to the escalators so I had no choice but to observe it. Emblazoned across the top was the single word “Usher”, followed by “Here I stand” and then a picture of the performer in question.

Wrong, wrong wrong. If your name is Usher, and assuming you are not one of those morning-suited gentlemen who politely ask as you enter the church “Bride or groom”, then the correct name for your latest recording can only be “Here I (and indeed my House) Fall”. With the follow up being the snappily entitled “I buried my sister alive in the family vault and now I hear strange noises from below”.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Gallic Interlude

To France, Rousillon to be more precise, for a week of medieval villages, lush rolling countryside and the gastronomic pleasures of “salad of gizzards”, walnut wine and pistachio ice-cream. An additional attraction was that we went there by Eurostar and TGV, but sadly the latter is not all it is cracked up to be. Coming home, it took 6 hours to go from Bordeaux to Lille, a distance of some 450 miles. Allowing for about an hour of station stops, this still means an average speed of 90mph, a long way short of what the TGV is all about. Worse was that there was no food or drink offered in first class (the only way to travel, my dear), neither a decent lunch (which we would have got on Eurostar) or even on a trolley service for cash (though they did bring round a trolley on our journey southbound, from Paris to Brive). And nothing to buy at Bordeaux station either, so it was just as well we had stocked up at a motorway service station en route. The only refreshment available was in a buffet car that closely resembled one of British Rail’s finest during the glorious 1970s. Sweets, crisps and cheese on toast – Croque Monsieur if you will – were the principal offerings. Couple this with the overflowing toilets and the stuffy air and it made for a disquieting trip, though the seats were extremely comfortable.

The last time we took the TGV, a few years ago, there was a strike and we had a highly unpleasant journey. Engineering works this time around forced our detour to Brive on the outward journey. And they’re about to go on strike again starting tomorrow. Passengers booked on Eurostar have been warned to cancel if possible rather than risk being stranded the other side of the Channel. Another uncanny resemblance to 1970s Britain. I suppose one day we may have a hassle free journey that combines British and French railways. But do not ask me when that day will dawn.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Nasal Impertinence

A “gentleman” sitting opposite me this morning on a crowded London-bound train (thanks to signal failure, what a co-incidence, at the end of the May bank holiday) made a singularly revolting noise by sniffing. A few moments later he repeated the offence. A lady sitting close to him then plucked up the courage and pointed out that she was upset and disgusted by it. His response was the fairly typical “if you don’t like it why don’t you change carriages?”. Here, she let herself down through lack of preparation. Instead of pointing out that she had every right to sit wherever she chose, and was causing no offence to him, she rather lamely (no pun intended) said she had a bad leg. To which he muttered something about his own lower limb impediments and the matter dropped.

I looked up during the this exchange, noted that everyone else in the carriage was intently studying their newspapers (whilst earwigging at full stretch) and contemplated the simple lesson, dunned into us weekly through the popular BBC programme “The Apprentice” – Fail to plan and you plan to fail.

You cannot launch into a potential fusillade of contumely against a fellow passenger without a plan for the main contingencies of the insultee’s response. Forethought is essential. Had he said “Nobody else is complaining” she should have shot him down with “Nobody else has had the guts, so far”. To a plaintive “I can’t help it” she could have resorted to a matronly “Use a handkerchief young man”. Should he take a line from Mel Brooks and in a cod-German accent plead “My papers are in order, why are you persecuting me?” she must be hard and to the point “You are breaching the fundamental rules of etiquette, citizen”, with a veiled hint of Judge Dredd–type retribution to follow.

Of course it is easy to be wise after the event. I certainly am.

BTW, the title of this piece is based on a chapter in the book “The Six Days War” written by Randolph and Winston Churchill (jr) in 1967. Referring to Israeli patrol boat actions in the Mediterranean, it was titled “A Naval Impertinence”.