Thursday, December 11, 2008

Does your brain hurt?

I read in today's Guardian that Samantha von Däniken , who has huge financial problems, has been evicted from her home courtesy of Halifax Building Society. Ms Däniken (yes, a relative of the well known loony) describes herself as a "psychic surgeon". Wow. Forget your five years at medical school and then many years of hospital attachments as a junior doctor. You too can hold a recognised and senior medical qualification merely by stating that you have one.

A whole glittering world of possibilities has opened up for me. Henceforth I shall practice as a psychic brain surgeon. Does your brain hurt? Bothered by traumas? Need a quick lobotomy? Come right in and relax in my virtual surgery. No appointment needed. There, does that feel better? Of course it does. My surgery is instant and devastatingly effective. And my fees are really quite reasonable, at only £10,000 per operation (extras for my psychic anaethestist and a couple of days in post-operative psychic nursing home, naturally). However, I am afraid I can accept only real cash in return for these essential services and (assuming you are the sort of person who believes that there are such things as psychic surgeons), I know you will be only too pleased to pay.

Next week I may retrain as a psychic lawyer. Ruislip court of petty sessions for the terminally gullible, here we come.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas in Cologne-on-Thames

I penned a short piece a few days ago about a trip to Cologne to visit the traditional Christmas markets. Imagine my surprise to find a smattering of stalls along the South Bank, near my office at Waterloo, under the banner of Cologne Christmas market. Need I have bothered to take the long train journey to the real thing? Sadly for those who may be flocking e'en now to partake of yuletide delights by the London Eye, my journey was indeed worth while. To see the Bratwurst (sausage in a bun to you) offered at £5 when I was charged but €2.5 in Cologne - well, need I say more?

Monday, December 08, 2008

When indicators mislead...

Baker Street station is one of the more unusual stations on the Underground, in that it has three platforms serving the northbound Metropolitan and one of them is separated by tracks from the other two. So passengers waiting for a train must rely on either announcements or the venerable electronic displays to determine which trains are going where and when they might depart. Not a problem if the information is accurate and timely. Trouble is, it is not. The announcers tend to focus on trains coming up from the city to platform 2. Should there be a train waiting at platform 4 (across the tracks) then passengers have to decide whether to commit to it or take one from platform 2 or platform 1. You may think that there would always be plenty of time to decide. Not so.

This is the usual scenario. The display shows that the first train is coming into platform 2 but there is a train at 4 (or maybe 1) or both. Without warning the train at 4 (or 1) gets a green and with barely a peep of the train warning system the doors shut and it moves off. Nobody wishing to climb the stairs over to 4 has a chance. And I have known the train on 1 to close the doors so fast that it was impossible to get on even though I was but a few paces away.

So you have to play a commuting version of Russian Roulette, going for what seems like the best chance. Typically platform 2 will be crowded and the trains arriving are often full already. So to see that the indicator says that the first train out is on platform 2, and to cross over to 4 and take a seat in an almost empty train that then pulls out whilst the hordes on the other platform can only watch in envy - well, there are some people who enjoy this sort of thing. I have to tell you, gentle reader, that I am amongst their number.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tube English - 5 Customer Accident

There was a problem at West Ham this morning, due to what the announcer described as a "Customer Accident". Leaving aside the interesting question as to how they knew the person involved was a customer (they might have been an interloper, an imposter or merely a fare-dodger), it is the word "accident" that jars. What sort of accident was it? Like the time I was on holiday with my parents in Israel, and an elderly woman on our coach voided her bowels, and my mother said to cover her (and our) confusion that she had had an accident? Or had the customer (I still loathe the use of this word in this context) caught his tie in a ticket machine and been remorselessly sucked into the little slot, his body stretching and flattening like a reckless astronaut straying too close to the edge of a black hole? Or had she merely broken a nail and been loudly bemoaning her fate?

During the second world war they used to speak of "incidents" when anything really nasty happened. In the same way, the use of "accident" makes you wonder what they are trying to conceal. Since they do actually tell you when there is a body on the track, this option can be ruled out. But that does mean that what we must surely call the Ghastly Happenings at West Ham were worse? (Cue a crack of lightning, a howling wind and a high pitched scream, cut off in a highly sinister way). I would be tempted to despatch a private investigator, clad in trenchcoat and false moustache, if only there were one in my employ.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Christmas in Cologne

To Cologne via Eurostar and Thalys/ICE for a couple of days of high class pottering amidst the Christmas markets. The trains were on time and as always provided an almost effortless way to travel. Alas, I can make no observations on commuting because we did not need to use the Cologne underground system. The only problem on the trip was the rowdy and stupid behaviour of some Man City fans gathered outside a pub, making all the other English tourists shrink away in disgust. Why do they think anyone cares which team they support? Why do they have to chant their tuneless dirges?
Today I glanced through an Evening Standard from last week and saw a letter from someone unable to detrain at Kings Cross because of overcrowding. I was also caught by this on Tuesday night, unable to board a train at Euston Square because trains were not stopping there either. And yet plenty of trains were running. Perhaps if they stopped at Kings Cross they might have taken away some of the people causing the overcrowding, then there would cease to be a problem. Just a thought.