Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The last commute of the year

I've worked my last day in 2010. The morning journey was fine, once more in a new "S" stock train that this time came in promptly and was not too full. The Bakerloo was good, as it normally is, and my door to door time to Waterloo was under 55 minutes. Hard to do it in less.

So of course I assumed it would be a total Bovril this evening and when I looked at the TFL website around 4pm and saw that the Uxbridge branch was suspended entirely (person "ill" on a train at Ickenham) it seemed only right and proper. But miracles can happen. Around 5pm the trains began running again. I left for home soon after when the service appeared back to normal. Or was it? At Waterloo they also have an display of the website near the escalators and it showed "Partial suspension" for the Met. Odd - had the invalid had a sudden relapse? I reached the Bakerloo platform and they began to make a service announcement but naturally my train arrived at that moment and drowned out the loudspeaker. So it was not until I reached Baker Street that I discovered it was the Amersham end that was now Ovaltined good and proper. An Amersham train drew in but they said it was terminating at Rickmansworth. No sweat for yours truly, I took it to Harrow, hoping to overtake a slow Uxbridge, failed so to do, but caught the one that I knew was a few minutes behind us instead.

At Harrow they helpfully told the Amersham crowd to take the first train as far as they could and then make alternative arrangements. Not quite like the Heathrow staff telling would-be flyers that not only were their flights cancelled but those flights that were going out later this week were fully booked (which they have indeed been doing since the blizzard whitewashed the airport last Saturday), but it had a similar sort of ring. You can't make alternative arrangements to get to Amersham and area, unless by some form of divine intervention you find a taxi waiting for you at Ricky. We are talking countryside here, towns separated from one another by miles of open fields. Hitching a ride on a passing cow might be the only way.

The problem had cleared up by 8pm - the most sensible thing for the stranded passengers to do was to go to a friendly pub for a bit.

It's not been the Met's best year. It has been increasingly prone to signal failures and defective trains.  I shall say goodbye to 2010 without regret.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More on the "S" stock

For the first time I travelled from Ruislip Manor to Baker Street in one of the new "S" stock trains. It arrived after a thirteen minute gap (par for the course at the moment) so was full at Eastcote, and because of the reduced number of seats, there were lots more people standing than in the old trains. We hung around at West Harrow while the station supervisor was sought, according to the driver, to lend him assistance (I have no idea with what). We approached Harrow gingerly and Wembley Park at the pace of a snail on cough medicine (may cause drowsiness). So it was a lengthy sort of journey and I didn't find the seating that comfortable. These trains are great for short journeys, no doubt of it, but I very much hope they keep the "A" stock in service just a few years yet. Then I will retire from regular commuting into London and they can do what they want with the rolling stock.

Nice homeward journey though. Took a fast Watford from Baker Street and we flew up the line to Harrow, overtaking an Uxbridge on the slow line on which I completed my journey. Riding the Met at speed, especially hurtling past the Jubblies as they stop at all those tedious stations south of Wembley Park, is still one of the great experiences on the Tube. One can imagine oneself in a luxury Pullman racing up to Scotland or on the Golden Arrow to Dover, thence to ferry to Calais and a continental sojourn. You need a pretty good imagination though.  Especially when you arrive at Harrow and it is snowing again.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Detrained at Neasden

I had vaguely hoped things might be ok this morning on the Met, given that they had the weekend to sort out problems created by the blizzard on Saturday lunchtime. Naturally I was wrong. After a ten minute wait a train arrived at Ruislip Manor, moved somewhat slower than normal to Wembley Park and then creaked to a halt near Neasden. We were told there was a signal problem, then we bumped through the signal and the driver decided the train was defective and we all had to get out at Neasden and cram onto the Jubbly.

And here we all are, more than 700 people trying to reach the bridge that you can just see in the distance so we can cross the line to the Jubbly platform. This took more than ten minutes in itself.

I suppose we are fortunate to have the Jubbly as a back-up but, given that this was the third journey in less than a week where I have had 30 minutes added to my travelling time,  I wasn't feeling that charitable. Nor were one or two of my fellow passengers, who engaged the driver in a heated debate. You can see the people looking into the carriage on the right where the colloquy was in full swing. Oh, and what you can't see is that the platform is covered in snow and ice, just to add to our enjoyment.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The blizzard strikes...

Well, not a blizzard by Canadian standards but pretty impressive compared to what we are used to. I took a couple of photos at around 12:10pm this morning when there was a light dusting. Two hours later there was 6 -8 inches, the roads were almost at a standstill, Heathrow and Gatwick were shut and just venturing round my local streets to take a few more pictures meant putting on my boots. On the BBC and Sky news channels the weather was the only story.

You can see the photos in the new link on the right. These are stored on Picasa web albums, the first time I have used this particular medium and I am not sure if I have got it all right yet.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stopping and starting

No apparent problems this evening at Baker Street when at 7:00pm I boarded a northbound train. We moved off, slowed down and stopped, barely out of the station. We waited a minute, crawled forward very slowly for a few minutes then stopped. Repeated a further 10 times, all the way up to Harrow, this resulted in a delay of about half an hour to my journey home.

Cause - signal failure at Willesden Green. But this very excuse was used a couple of nights ago when there was another slow run, albeit not as bum-achingly slow as tonight's barrel of laughs.  And why did we continue to grind along having passed through the said problem area? And why, when I changed at Harrow for an Uxbridge, knowing there was one right behind, did it take a further five minutes to arrive? And did the out-of-service train that went into the siding at Harrow and was then run back down to the fast track to Wembley Park have anything to do with it?

I think we should be told.

A thundering good read

"That work of fiction known as the timetable".

Not my words. Those of the driver of our London-bound Metropolitan train this morning (I won't identify him any further). He was unhappy that the destination of the train according to his roster seemed to differ from the information available to him as we reached Harrow.

I'm sorry, I really can't help myself, and as it is nearly Xmas, I am going to indulge.

The Timetable.
[insert lush swirling romantic strings and a gravelly voice-over]
"Theirs was a passion that knew no bounds. They dared to be different. They defied convention and changed platforms to be on the trains that they loved. Read the book that every line controller is talking about. Gasp at the early morning departures from the depot. Marvel at the gaps in the Sunday services. Be shaken to your very core as you ponder the 8:38 from Amersham to Aldgate, not stopping at Preston Road. Yes, The Timetable, available from all good station buffets and also from that bloke who gives away free copies of the Evening Standard." [very fast and breathless voice over] "no resemblance is intended to any actual train movements. Your fares may go up (but never down) and your season ticket is at risk if you lose it".

Monday, December 13, 2010

The gap in the (good) service

I hoped to be in to work a little early today. But the train I aimed to catch at 8:24 did not appear. Nor did the one at 8:30 or the one at 8:36. Then they announced that a "good service was operating". Fed up with waiting on a cold platform, and unhappy about being lied to, I took the trouble to press the green information button on the Help point podule (or whatever they call it) and ask what they meant. The man in the nice warm booking office replied that that was what he was being told by the information system. I suggested that maybe his information was incorrect. Reluctantly he agreed.

A few minutes later he made the following announcement. "There is a good service operating on all lines. I know there is a gap in the service but there is a good service now". And yes a train did at length arrive, the one due at around 8:42 which came in at around that time.

So my friends. It doesn't matter what ghastly errors you may make, or however unpleasant the situation you think you are in. Just remember the magic mantra "It's all right now" and nothing can ever be held against you. You are blameless and free from sin. I wonder if this would work on a policeman - "Yes officer, I did nick the handbag then but I am not actually nicking it right now." Maybe not.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The big freeze goes on

The cold snap is going on and on, and it is now the coldest weather at this time of the year for 17 years, or 50 years, or maybe since just after the little Ice Age in the 17th century. The glaciers are not returning yet but one can easily imagine that a few miles north of Watford the cliffs of ice are once more astride the land. Certainly that could easily be the case given the failure of the national transport system which, surprise surprise, has massive cancellations,

Actually the Tube has performed reasonably well, though fewer signal failures would be helpful, bringing as they did problems to at least 5 lines this morning and giving me an uncomfortable 15 minutes in the cold waiting for a Met.

Today we have snow in central London, just a dusting, but enough to whiten the rooftops and lay down some wet slush on the half-cleared pavements. This is a sharp contrast to the rest of the country where the snow is many inches deep. There is also a dispiriting layer of grey cloud, reducing the view to dullness. [it's a bit miserable. The public don't want to read this sort of thing: Ed]

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A cold snap in November

In recent years it has been mild, if not warm, at this time of year. Not in 2010. We have had several freezing days in the sunny south and much of the country is blanketed in deep snow and reporting record low temperatures. In the past I have written of how unseasonable it has often seemed. This year there is no doubt that winter is on us, and the sharp contrast with autumn has been unusually distinct. Despite that there are still leaves clinging to the oak and horse-chestnut trees that are of a feature of Ruislip - maybe they are frozen in place.

There was another tube strike yesterday and once more I used up part of what remains of my annual leave in staying home. This morning the trains were crawling at less than walking speed over the bridge into Ruislip Manor station and the inevitable delays were attributed to signal failure here, my home station. They were working on the tracks at this spot over the weekend so one wonders if they put everything back correctly. Then we had further delays waiting at Wembley Park for fast trains to go on by. Oh well, at least I had the bonus of an almost empty Bakerloo waiting for me at Baker Street.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Winter approaches

Not a particularly fast journey into work today (but better than yesterday). At Harrow, instead of pulling alongside a fast train on platform 6, we encountered one of the new "S" stock trains instead. It was not in service so all the people who might otherwise have taken it crowded on to the slow train that I was on and we stayed crowded to Baker Street.

I don't mind them testing the new trains, of course, but why, oh why, must they take out much needed services at peak hours in order to do this?

In other news the first cold snap of the year is with us. The heating is on so high in my office that it feels like summer. The tube is warm enough. I dress up with a thick jacket, hat and scarf in order to brave the elements for just a few minutes to the station. [Not much of a point here, I feel: Ed] Yeah, well, you're not the one who takes the gamble, every time there is a risk of snow, that the trains will simply cease to run and one will be stranded in central London miles from home [No, lucky for me, eh?: Ed]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Season of Splutter

There was plenty of noise in my London-bound Metropolitan train this morning. Coughs, sneezes and one young man with a persistent sniff that suggested a fondness for certain nasally-ingested substances. Or maybe it was just a sniff. Either way I was glad to be sitting on the other side of the carriage.

In other news, the BBC website is carrying a story headlined "William 'happy' to be engaged". This refers to the forthcoming nuptials of a royal sprog and his bird. I spent some time wondering what would happen if he were not to be too chuffed about it. I mean, he has just got engaged, you expect him to be pleased. Similar stories that the BBC could carry include "Pope - moderately glad to be Catholic", "Berlusconi says he quite likes women" and "Henman: I wouldn't have minded winning Wimbledon (or anything else really)".

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Boris bike headache

My office overlooks the approach to Waterloo station and for the past couple of weeks they have been digging up the pavement to put down stands for the Barclays Bicycle scheme. Good news for commuters perhaps. Bad for us whose heads are ringing after hours of drilling. Why do compressed air devices have to be so bloody noisy?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Metropolitan madness

Stupid incident at Harrow last night. There was some signal trouble on the Uxbridge branch. About 100 passengers were waiting with me on the usual platform (3) for a train up from Baker Street. Unannounced and unnoticed a train crept in to platform 1, the fast southbound platform. Then there was a single announcement, on that platform (so not obviously aimed at us) that mentioned Uxbridge but before anyone could move the train left, reversing back across the southbound tracks to go to Uxbridge. It was empty because nobody knew about it and all the passengers waiting on that particular platform were going south. Great. We all stand there like lemons and an empty train is run.
I and another passenger bothered to climb the steps to the main entrance, there to remonstrate with a bloke by the gates with a radio. He expressed surprise at our story but seemed disinclined to be concerned, other than to promise to find out when the next Uxbridge was due. And to give him his due there was an announcement a few minutes later to reassure us that our train was imminent.
Moral? None. The platform signals at Harrow are a disgrace to the line. But even with modern ones, we would not have realised that our train was standing at the wrong platform because you are only told about trains coming in for the platform you are standing on, unless you wait in the ticket hall where there are no seats.
However the idea of a ghost-like train that leaves from a deserted platform bearing a few lost souls onto the line that leads to damnation (or shall we say Hillingdon) has a powerful resonance and I may work it into a popular short story. Editors and Radio 4 play producers, place your bids now.
[and I get 10%: Ed]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

That's enough for one week

Tonight's headline in the Evening Standard - "Commuter Misery in Tube Meltdown" (or something similar, I didn't bring a copy home) sums it up. Trains stuck in tunnels. Power failures. Signal failures. The Jubbly in particular has had major problems, causing instant overcrowding on other lines. The Met continues to have shortages of trains as they fix the newly discovered cracks in the shoe beam, whatever they are.

I'm calling it a day. I don't work on Fridays anymore (unless I really have to) and tomorrow I don't have to. So they can have their fill of passenger incidents, severe delays and persons ill on a train (yes, we had one of those today as well, bringing the Piccadilly to a halt 'twixt Acton and Rayners, ah such sweet memories of my commuting days between 1998 and 2006) and frankly my dear, I don't mind a bit.

Maybe all will be sorted out when I brave the system once more, on Monday.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Another typical Monday morning

I arrived in time to catch my normal train to Waterloo at 8:30. It failed to appear and the first arrival was at 8:42. We were held outside Wembley Park with what the driver first described as a faulty signal and then as a problem with the signals computer not recognising the train ahead of us (the first time this particular excuse has ever been heard on Ramblings). It did not help that there was a severe power failure on the Jubbly and they were actually detraining people in the tunnels between Finchley Road and Green Park, so of course our train was as packed as it could be when we finally left Wembley Park.

Arriving at Baker Street more than 20 minutes later than normal my mood was, shall we say, strangely heightened to discover that the down escalator to the Bakerloo was out of action.

The perfect start to the commuting week? Time will tell.


The evening journey could also have been poor but I lucked in. The Met had delays all day due withdrawal of trains for maintenance, according to a rather strange* printed announcement from the Head of Operations, and some of the intervals were daunting - if you have to wait 15 minutes for a train coming up from the City it will be full when it reaches Baker Street. But the first train out was for Uxbridge and started from Baker Street. Nevertheless by the time it left it was full and stayed full with people standing right up to Eastcote. I was fortunate that I boarded when there were still plenty of seats available.

*Why strange? One assumes that maintenance is normally planned and should not result in a shortage of trains. So this was unplanned, or the planning went wrong. But the notice just said the trains were withdrawn, leaving us to speculate whether anyone actually knows what they are doing or whether someone took the decision to pull half the fleet out of service on a whim, perhaps to try to spread a little joy this Monday.

[later still - I don't normally add addenda to posts but you're worth it]

My friends at District Dave's forums have the answer.

It is more than a minor problem - some sort of cracking that needs investigation and a work to rule in the depot that is slowing down normal working, hence trains out of service. It's going to be a fun-filled Autumn.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The future arrives

I was travelling north from Harrow on Friday around 4:15pm and imagine my surprise when one of the new S stock trains drew in. This was my first journey on the train that will replace the venerable A stock set, first introduced in 1959. I remember when they began replacing the brown, slam-door, T stock and from 1962 – 1968 I travelled regularly from Preston Road to school in Northwood Hills on the glamorous new "silver" trains.
The first impressions bear out what others have been saying. The trains feel wider and are noticeably smoother. You can walk from one end to the other. And although there is now room under some of the seats for luggage (a big improvement), the familiar overhead racks have gone (shame). And of course there are fewer seats. For most of this week my regular train has arrived almost full (because the earlier one has been cancelled). On the new stock this could mean no seats for people making a journey of 35 minutes to Baker Street and 50 minutes to the City.
The feature that makes me angry is the provision of wheelchair spaces. Nothing wrong with that in itself of course, but only a handful of stations have step-free access. Wheelchair users cannot use the Tube to make almost every common journey the rest of us take for granted. They cannot use Baker Street, the busiest station on the Met. Or Harrow. Or Euston Square. Or Rayners Lane. So either there should be a programme to put in lifts in all the stations, or the designer who removed seats for wheelchairs that will never ever use the trains should be named, shamed and vilified for grossly wasting our money on a stupid propaganda stunt.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The signals of doom

I wrote about signal failures at Baker Street only a couple of days ago. Tonight we had another one. I left work with the tube website mentioning "minor delays". I reached Baker Street about 15 minutes later and as I detrained they announced that all Mets were suspended so it's everyone pile onto the Jubbly, or in my case, to the second one that fortunately was hard on the heels of the first. At Finchley Road they announced that we should stay on board and change at Wembley Park but we were overtaken by a northbound Met before we arrived. Not to worry, there was another one waiting for us. Just for once the Uxbridge services were ok and it was the Watfordians (Watfordites? Watforders?) who had a bit of wait in store.

Now I'm not the brightest chap in the world but even I can deduce that there may be something fundamentally wrong with the signals at Baker Street. Not to mention the way that information is dispensed but then I've been moaning about that for a long time.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Marr speaks

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, BBC journalist and broadcaster Andrew Marr, has dismissed bloggers as "inadequate, pimpled and single", and citizen journalism as the "spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night".

Yes, I admit, all my pieces are spewed up late at night after I down half a bottle of whisky, scratch my pimples and consider my ghastly inadequate life. But I am not single. So there.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The useless boards

More than four years ago my home station, Ruislip Manor, was extensively rebuilt. New electronic displays appeared on the platform. I expressed the hope that at last we might be shown the times of the next few arriving trains, just like on so many other Tube stations (and even on some bus stops)
My hopes were in vain. In a post on this blog in April 2006 I lamented that the boards display nothing except the wholly incorrect geographic description of "northbound" or "southbound" trains. As the trains go east and west this is so stupid as to be bordering on the moronic.

And here we are, four and a half years later, and still that is all they display (and the odd "no smoking" warning to ensure that those on standing on the open, concrete, platforms are protected against incineration). There is a nice display in the platform foyer showing the LU website page with the system status. To show the departures from the station would be more useful but it is better than nothing). But on the station platforms? Chuck a few tea leaves in the air and read them – they'll be more useful than the expensive display system that you and I, my friend, have paid for out of ludicrously expensive fares.

I gather that there are some so called technical reasons why the boards won't work until we get the all-new, Metropolitan/Piccadilly integrated signalling system , scheduled for the twenty-fourth century, just after tea-time. Balderdash. The website shows arrivals and departures for every station. Why on earth cannot they hook the display boards up to their own internet servers?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Signal failures – the old old story

The Metropolitan Line has had a rough week. Let me give but two examples:
1) I was travelling home late on Thursday night. On arrival at Baker Street I noticed that there was no Uxbridge flagged on the departure boards but saw no reason to worry. And as a fast Amersham was about to leave I ran for it, in the hope that we would overtake an Uxbridge that might have left within the past couple of minutes. No such luck. We reached Harrow having overtaken nothing. The station announcer told us, with a certain grim pride, that the next Uxbridge was due in nineteen minutes. 

Trains to Watford came and went. Another Amersham came and went. A couple of trains arrived only to be taken out to service and turned round. And we sat on until at last our train came in, not in the usual way from the south but running as a shuttle from Uxbridge, and coming into platform 6, normally reserved for fast southbound trains. The driver was good enough to tell us that the delays were due to signal problems at Baker Street (yawn) and, get this one readers, trespassers near Pinner. Now we all know that Pinner is on the Watford branch. So how come that a problem on this part of the line screwed up the Uxbridge branch? 

2) Yesterday evening there was no problem reported around 5pm. But at 5:30, as I had a another quick check up on the web, once more we had severe delays and suspensions on the Met caused by – wait for it – signal failure at Baker Street. I had this strange feeling of déjà vu. Anyway, acting on a hunch I went home my normal way (rather than divert on the Piccadilly or Central, my emergency but much slower options), found the platforms at Baker Street thick with passengers but the first train in was for Uxbridge and it left within 5 minutes of my arrival. Wembley Park also had very large crowds waiting so the system had clearly been in turmoil for some time. But I was firmly ensconced in a corner seat and could view my struggling commuters with a distant but kindly disdain.

It always surprises me how civilised we are in these situations. If you have a seat, nobody ever under any circumstances will ask you to give it up for them. People on the platforms move in an orderly manner to board, albeit that a certain amount of shoving takes place with those trying to get out being obstructed by those standing near the doors who are trying their damndest to remain in place. But voices are not raised nor are fists brandished. People on crutches or visibly blind are given space. Having been a crutch-user myself a few years ago I can verify this from first-hand experience. All this is somehow typical of Britain but of course every nationality and culture on Earth may be found travelling into London on the tube. Must be something in the air that makes them conform.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

You know what I mean, like

Between Eastcote and Ruislip Manor on the Metropolitan Line is a short journey, perhaps 2 minutes. This evening I sat next to two young people on this final leg of my journey home. During this brief interlude the young man, who discoursed pretty much all of the time, uttered the word "like" no less than eleven times throughout his conversation. At no time did the word add any content to what he was saying. Perhaps he was unconscious of using it, perhaps he uses it deliberately to avoid saying "err", or "you know". Or maybe he lives in a world full of simile, a world where every person and experience must always be compared to something else through the ubiquitous "like".

You may wonder why I bothered to count the offending syllable.[You're right: Ed]. Well, I had just failed to complete the game of Battleships in a copy of the Evening Standard some kind fellow commuter had left by my seat and I had a bet with myself that he would reach 10 "likes" before I left the train. I lost.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Noise pollution

I don't like Akio Morita, the Sony top man who, if he did not invent the Walkman idea, certainly was responsible for bringing it to market. He sold this prototype for the mp3 player/mobile phone with earbud style headphones and the sod did not think to ensure that these things worked without creating noise for the rest of us.

This morning I got on my usual train and found a young man adjacent listening to a melange of high pitched percussion and drums. After a couple of stops he left. Another young man took his place and he too was blaring out some wretched mind-numbing 4-4 beat "music". So I did what I rarely do, nudged him and asked him to turn it down. And he did. And got off at the next station, so all my psyching myself up to do the unthinkable and actually speak to another commuter was in vain. But at least we had an undisturbed journey then on in and I continued reading my absorbing but very demanding 650 page study of the European political and strategic crisis years 1801-5.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Reflections on a strike

The tube unions were on strike yesterday. They oppose plans to reduce the number of staff in ticket offices.  I suspect they have a point but as usual their tactics hit their customers and alienate them. I had plenty of work that was suitable to do at home so home was where I stayed, checking the tube website departure boards from time to time in a form of schadenfreude. The next strike is due in a month and I will do the same (although some trains did run on the Met and Bakerloo so it may be feasible to get into work anyway).

Working from home is a strange feeling. With the broadband connection, email and document sharing works just like being in the office but there is no buzz or backchat, nobody offering to make tea and always a slightly guilty feeling that one is not at one’s proper desk. Never mind all that, I managed to do what I had set out to do, and redesigned the code behind a couple of reports in our accounts system as a bonus.Coming to work this morning as usual, there was a nice comedy of manners. A man was slumped in one of the front seats, head right over on his knees, snoring gently from time to time. He was not visible from the doors so people kept boarding, moving swiftly up to what seemed like an empty seat, then recoiling as they encountered the slumbering form. But nobody bothered to wake him or to sit beside him (he may have been drunk and reeking of alcohol; I didn’t get close enough to find out). I wonder how far he went or whether he was woken on arrival back at his departure point

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Summer fizzles out

August ended pleasantly, but cool. No heatwave. No thunderstorms. Days of grey cloud and the odd bright afternoon. Odd. I really thought that we would get a scorcher this year.  And the Met put up a feeble effort too. The LU website showed all clear as I left my office last night. I got to Baker Street and heard an announcement that due to a "passenger taken ill on  a train at Barbican" we were advised to use the Jubbly to go north west. So I did and it was very slow and then there was a wait at Wembley Park (boo) and the indicator board said the incoming train was for Uxbridge (cheers) but the train header said Watford (boo) then it waited while several drivers and a couple of signalmen held an impromptu conference (boo) then they announced it was going to Uxbridge (cheers) then we waited again for no apparent reason and at last we left. Result, the 16 mile journey home took 1:25. Oh, and of course there were only "minor " delays according to the line announcers.

Now we all know that "taken ill" means dead, and "on a train" probably means "under it" but why oh why do they have to cancel trains and take them out of service ( I saw several running empty southbound into the Neasden depot)?  Why can't they turn them all round at Baker Street with its 4 (count them, 4) available platforms?

So I'm putting in my customer refund claim (cheers) and we shall see if LU pay up (even more cheers) or not (sullen silence broken by angry mutterings).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A change of lifestyle

I have begun working a 4 day week. After 38 years doing the standard 5 day week, circumstances have made it feasible to take a small step toward a more flexible lifestyle. One of the contributing factors is the pressure of commuting. Two hours a day going back and forth by Tube is not fun. I'm tired of being at the mercy of stroppy unions, badly maintained signals and the sheer nastiness of some of my fellow passengers, like the young man who forced his way down the "up" steps at Baker Street earlier this week and swore violently when a woman walking up remonstrated.

Speaking of unions, there was another one day strike on the Met this week. Although some trains were cancelled, LU cunningly decided that whatever trains were on would constitute the normal schedule for the day, so they could claim that there was a good service even with 15 minute gaps (I know this is so, I checked it on the TFT website and looked carefully at the departure boards, then had it confirmed by the knowledgable insiders on the District Dave site.) I didn't bother with the Met and took the Piccadilly on both the inward and the homebound journeys. Just like old times, before my office moved from the obscure bit of Hammersmith to Waterloo.  Actually the Picc was on good form and each journey only (only!) took about 15 minutes longer than the Met route and I even managed to get a seat at the start of the homeward run (try doing that when the school holidays finish). It's a shame it is such a slow line.

Monday, July 26, 2010

At last the good news

To my considerable surprise, Metropolitan Line trains were running normally this morning and were stopping at Baker Street. "So what?" I hear you say "Is that not normally the case?". [That's certainly what I would have said: Ed]. Leaving aside that there are often problems on Mondays due to late completion of the weekend engineering works, for the past three weeks they have been rebuilding platform 3 at Baker Street and through trains to Aldgate have not stopped there. Most of the London-bound Met trains in the morning go to Aldgate, so this has caused a lot of disruption. The works were planned to finish last weekend but I naturally assumed that they would overrun as this is par for the course.

So not only did my usual Aldgate arrive on time and get to Baker Street on time, but platform 3 was open and it was the usual crush down the stupidly narrow stairs into the nether world of the deep tube. Except that as the school holidays have started, it wasn't much of a crush. And the ever-dependable Bakerloo obliged with a train within a minute. Result - arrival at work unflustered and not late.

I don't know what has happened to our summer though. It is 100% cloud cover this morning with dense black stuff piling up from the west and a curious misty look around the tall buildings visible from my office, notably Canary Wharf, the rapidly growing Shard and the soon-to-be-dwarfed Guys Hospital tower. London takes on a hazy, dream-like look in such weather with some building on the horizon appearing and disappearing as the clouds roll by. Still, it's better than the heatwave of a couple of weeks ago.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The fun continues

I document my regular travelling problems as a service to future historians and students of the raw details of 21st century commuting. So purely for the record, let me note that there were more delays last night coming home on the Met (the driver said something about a defective train at Wembley Park, but as I was listening to something far more interesting, viz an edition of the radio comedy show RadioActive on the trusty Creative Zen player, I missed most of the announcement). And this morning there was some sort of strike by ASLEF members which, coupled with the continuing disruption of southbound services into Baker Street made me about 15 minutes later getting to work. And again this evening I had the enjoyable experience of sitting on an absolutely packed train at Baker Street which waited for nearly 15 minutes despite the indicator boards showing it as ready to leave. Arriving at Wembley Park there was a little huddle of men in blue overalls outside the control centre - presumably drivers having a union meeting or maybe just taking in the warm evening air and having a good laugh at the sweltering, helpless passengers waiting for one of them to take the train on up the line. I took a picture on my phone but it is not really worth reproducing here unless there is some popular demand for it [what planet is he on? Ed]

Wouldnt it be nice if they were told, at the end of the week, that due to a defect there were minor delays in the tube wages system and they would be paid a couple of weeks late and they were not allowed to grumble because it was officially just "minor" delays.

There was a bit in one of the daily papers that all tube maintenance line closures are to be stopped during the period of the Olympics. Well. You see, the point is, it is not so much the closures, irritating though they may be that is the nub of the issue. It is the constant delays caused by signal failures, defective trains, things on the track, people "taken ill" (i.e. throwing themselves under) on a train and the like that will screw up the experience of sport-loving tourists in 2012. It won't affect the rest of us - we have enough sense to say well away from the whole benighted affair for which, let me remind you, I did not vote and neither did you because we were not allowed to express our views on it, even though we will be taxed to pay for the whole wretched circus.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jams and suspensions

Before leaving my office last night for my homeward journey from Waterloo I checked the TFL website. Delays on the Jubilee (which I don't normally use), Bakerloo ok. So off I set and imagine my surprise when I find three fire engines and an ambulance waiting outside the tube's South Bank entrance. No sign of any firemen or paramedics in the station though. Down the escalators we go and lo! the Bakerloo is suspended with the metal gates drawn across the entrance to the platforms and station staff standing by. A hand written board informs us that the service is suspended due to a defective train.

Guessing that the emergency services are there to help passengers out of the tunnels, and therefore that this will be a long job there is no point in waiting. There is an announcement that we should take the Northern and change for a Piccadillly and then back to the Bakerloo at Piccadilly circus. Sod that. I take my chance with the Jubbly, arrive on a heavily crowded platform, notice a train is due with another 2 minutes behind, let the first one go and manage to squeeze into the second. As full as it can be but at least it moves quickly. Baker Street is attained.

Naturally the first trains out are going to Watford. They are rebuilding platform 3 for the new S stock due next year (or maybe in 2016 depending on who you ask) and Uxbridge services are restricted. So I get to Harrow, wait for the Uxbridge that was suppposed to be right behind the Watfords but which arrives several minutes later and get home about 15 minutes later than planned. Pretty much par for the course these days. Oh, and whilst at Harrow they announce that the Northern is part suspended, but in the usual helpful way they don't bother to say which part, so leaving any would-be travellers on that line without any idea whether they should or should not change their route. So that is all three of the tube lines going through Waterloo screwed up. What are the chances of that happening?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Excuses, excuses

There were severe delays on the Metropolitan line last night. But why? At Baker Street they told us it was all down to something on the track (a train???) at Faringdon. At Wembley Park they didn't bother telling us anything at all. At Harrow, where they ran several trains to Watford before bothering to put on one for Uxbridge (my route) they began blathering about points failure at Wembley Park.

I don't buy any of it. The Met can turn trains round in a number of places. I remember this knee-jerk reaction of cutting services, rather than attempting to run some, from the dark days of the Piccadilly. Not good enough. You can run shuttles, say from Rayners Lane to Harrow, if you want to help Uxbridge-bound commuters on their way.

At least it was a nice summer evening. And I did appreciate the priority given by the station announcers at Harrow to Amersham-bound passengers (all two of them), compared to the couple of hundred or so waiting for an Uxbridge train. After all they had the awful problem of having to wait 5 minutes. I sat there for more than 15.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Continental sojourn

Back from a very pleasant holiday in Germany and Czech, travelling by rail all the way. Deutsche Bahn failed to impress, running one intercity train an hour late and so mixing up the wagon and seat layout on another that we had angry scenes with people occupying the seats we had reserved (and vice versa). But the first class service on Eurostar was a joy as always and we enjoyed the excellent metro system in Prague where the air-conditioned stations and trains were beautifully cold despite the heatwave that made it almost unbearable to be out in the sun during the afternoons.  And so home to the non air-conditioned trains on the tube but at least there was no delay in our final journey of the holiday, the Uxbridge bound Metropolitan from Kings Cross.

You may be wondering why there are no pictures of the ice-cream stalls in the section of this website devoted to that subject. We did not eat a lot of ice-cream on this trip, oddly enough. One of us drank a lot of beer and the other iced tea. The one day we did indulge was at the Movenpick Hotel in Prague where they certainly know how to charge. The most exotic ice-cream stalls were in Nuremburg, a city that, sadly, had the medieval heart ripped out during the war and has been rebuilt as a modern shopping centre. We did not linger.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

After the match

No penalty shoot-out after all. Just outclassed. Now we can join France and Italy and think about what might have been. I am disappointed but not surprised. Ah, the fragility of hope. And it will all start up again in four years time with more media-led rubbish about "This time we can win it".

A touch of heat

I was writing recently about how dull and gloomy June was. Not any more. This weekend the temperature has soared, so much so that an old thermometer, left on a table in our conservatory by a sun-facing window, broke; though as I was not there at the time I could not tell if it was one of those cartoon-type moments where the top bursts off and the mercury shoots into the air.

Today may be one of the hottest days this year with the shade temperature reaching 30c. How fitting then that most of us, this afternoon, will be huddled around a television with the curtains drawn, wondering if we can survive the penalty shoot-out with the Germans with some sort of dignity. Yes, the heat is on in more ways than one (well, two ways to be precise).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Things that go bump

I had a little moan about the Metropolitan Line yesterday and on my way home last night with the Bakerloo doing its usual excellent thing and my Uxbridge train waiting for me at Baker Street, I thought I might have been a bit harsh. But no. Arriving at Rayners Lane we were informed that there was a signal failure ahead that might delay us. The faulty signal was the one at the platform on Eastcote and a man in an orange safety jacket was peering at it anxiously. Our train driver was reassuring, explaining he was going to go past it anyway and we would feel a bump so anyone standing should sit down. We moved off, there was a jolt, not particularly heavy as we were doing barely walking speed, caused by  the train emergency brakes coming on as the safety system kicked in. Then there was a wait until the air pressure was restored and  we lurched down the track to Ruislip Manor in a curious stop-start form of motion.

It is a long time since I was last in a train that had to bump through a stuck signal. At times like this you realise how antiquated the Tube systems are. The driver knew it was safe to proceed, obviously the Line Controller had authorised it yet still he could not override the train's braking systems and we had to continue crawling until we left the section controlled by the failed signal.

And speaking of failure and things that crawl along, England's shaky World Cup bid reaches make or break time this afternoon. Will we be derailed or off down the fast track? More on this later...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Met creaks

Is it me or is the Metropolitan Line going through another awkward phase? A bit like a surly teenager who now and then brightens up and says something intelligible before lapsing into reticence. Many journeys are marred by some sort of niggly problem, be it signal failure (the old favourite), or too many trains on a stretch of track, or trains with problems or passenger related stuff like the dreaded "person taken ill" a.k.a. another one's snuffed it. Nothing terribly serious to report in the past few weeks, just this on-going set of faults that somehow, every day, add 5 or 10 minutes to a journey. Doesn't sound too much? Let's restate that as a 12 - 25% increase in journey times.  It all adds up but you can't ever make a Customer Charter refund claim because a delay has to be 15 minutes on a single journey to count.

I've written about this sort of thing before and then comes a period when the trains just run as they should and nobody is taken ill and one begins to get used to one's train coming in on time and arriving on time.  And of course this creates a kind of "golden age" in the mind to compare to when the usual problems recur.

Oh well, at least the summer is nearly here so the trains should become less crowded, and the heatwave that seemed to be threatening us has vanished into a dull grey and downright chilly late June murk. The English football team performed about as badly as we feared in the opening stages of the World Cup but what the hell, the French are worse, Italy could only draw with New Zealand and the Germans lost to Serbia and missed a penalty. I almost expected a man with a monocle, a duelling scar and a plumed hat to call in at the Serb Embassy the next day and hand in a final note demanding reparations.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A spot of gloom

Continuing with the meterological theme of my last posting, it is the first of June today. It should be bright and warm, with fluffy white cumulus chasing across the deep blue sky. It should lift the heart.

Actually it has been raining most of the day. A heavy grey cloud over London has reduced visibility to about a mile. From my window high over Waterloo I can barely see St. Pauls and the three Barbican towers are mere grey fingers against a shapeless background. Everyone on foot outside scuttles along under umbrellas.

Meanwhile BP are in deep dudu as the oil flows unstoppably out of a big hole in the Gulf of Texas, the Euro is struggling with a loss of confidence and England are finalising their squad for the "Is this our year?" - "No it isn't, you berk, not unless Brazil, Argentina, France, Italy, Germany and Spain all get knocked out first" World Cup.

I suppose the only happy thing to report is that this morning my "slow" London-bound train arrived at Harrow alongside a "fast". Most people left my train to fill the other. We left first. At Wembley Park I could see them behind us in the distance and assumed they would thunder past as we waited to follow them on the Met's single track. But no. We glided swiftly in (in recent weeks trains have stopped regularly just outside the station then crawled along) and pulled out almost at once. I sat in my snug corner seat and reflected on the unfairness of life.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

...and there goes the sun

After 4 warm days we are back to normal. Actually it is a beautiful spring day, with bright blue skies and just a few fluffy clouds, albeit some 10 degrees cooler than yesterday. But apparently we are in for a cooler than usual summer [source?: Ed], thus perpeptuating the sequence that begin with the dismal 2007. Is it a coincidence that this news matched yet another sharp decline in the world's stock markets? Could it be that the run of disappointing summers (in the UK at any rate) in the past four years is the cause of the financial turmoil which also began in 2007?

Some may blame sunspots, long held to do nasty things to agricultural cycles. Others might conjecture that magnetic anomalies are interfering with human rational and emotional systems. Or is just that duller weather makes us all depressed and jittery? I have long been a fan of Keynes' "animal spirits" theory of investment. Stand by for the pathbreaking combination of economics, meteorology and astronomy that I call "The General Theory Of Weather And Why Everything Goes Pear-shaped So Quickly". Available in all good bookshops the moment that it gets published (and subsequently distributed to all good bookshops).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Here comes the sun

Yes after a dismal winter and delayed spring, the temperature finally dragged itself into the upper 20s today. Indeed it was positively balmy to be driving through North West London, as I happened to be doing this afternoon.  And we only turned our central heating off a couple of days ago (and not for the first time this year, having been suckered by an earlier mild spell that failed to deliver).

A few years ago I was seriously worried about the prospect of a series of heatwaves in the summers to come, something for which us commuters are not well prepared. Well, that was then. Now it is rather pleasant, though what it may be like on the tube next week we shall find out in due course and you my faithful readers [shouldn't that be reader, arf-arf: Ed]  will be kept fully informed. They are supposed to be bringing new air-conditioned trains into service on the dear old Metropolitan this year - now would be an excellent time to give them a trial run.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bumping along

It's very odd. They close the Met most weekends to do maintenance. And the quality of the ride gets worse and worse. Between Wembley Park and Neasden, and through the tunnels toward Baker Street we are thrown back and forth, bounced up and down, ears are assailed by squeaks and rattles and the whole is punctuated with the occasional loud thud and jolt as though something has broken in the chassis.

For those of us struggling to listen to recorded radio programmes on the old Zen player, or attempting to fill in word puzzles, it's not pleasant. But will the new trains be better? we ask ourselves. Fewer seats but a more comfortable ride. It's a complex trade-off.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Waiting for the call

The coalition government is being formed even as I pen these words, and, given that this blog exclusively predicted the outcome of the election, surely a call to assume Ministerial office must be just hours away. My loyal readers must therefore forgive me for having neglected commuting-related matters recently. It is possible that I will be unable to reconcile my dearly held principles with whatever Messrs.Cameron & Clegg now subscribe to and that, once again, high office will pass me by. In which case normal service will be resumed. We shall see. [Some slight exaggerations above but I think we can get away with it: Ed]

Friday, April 30, 2010

Election update

A week in Cornwall has refreshed Mrs. Commuter and myself but left me perilously out of touch with the General Election. We failed to watch the second and third leaders' debate and the only story that seems to have been of much interest is 'Bigotgate', Gordon Brown's unguarded comments about an awkward encounter with a supporter that were conveniently recorded on a Sky News radio mike (that should have been unclipped before GB drove off) and instantly broadcast to the world.

David Cameron seems to have regained some momentum and is on course to head the largest party in the new Parliament but we won't know if he will have a majority until the day after - this at least makes it a highly exciting poll. The best part of this is that many voters will feel that their votes actually matter and that can only be good for democracy. Mine, alas, does not, living as I do in a fairly safe Tory seat.

The long-term question is whether the LibDems can sustain their apparent support and become a genuinely third player, and thereby break up the two party system that has worked, one way or another, since the early eighteenth century. Whig and Tory, Liberal and Conservative, Labour and Conservative - the stark either/or choice has been the essence of British politics for so long that we really no experience of anything else.  Actually that is not quite right, given the influence of the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales, as well as the welter of parties in Northern Ireland, but it is reasonably true for the UK parliament.

I think that a more fluid system will be profoundly good for democracy and in making Governments more responsible to Parliament, and Parliament in turn to the people. So let us hope that some sensible voting takes place next week, and a sense of what may be won has more influence than the smell of fear.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Notes from an ashen-faced commentator

A volcano erupted last week in Iceland and British airspace was closed from Thursday until yesterday. It is amazing how instantly disruptive this was. Thousands of people have been stranded and huge damage has been done to businesses, including the one I work for. Several members of my family are still stuck in various places and though the airlines are now free to fly, the schedules will be screwed up for some time to come as the planes and the crews are brought back to base.

The ash from the volcano - especially dangerous because it exploded its way through a glacier on top of the vent - was thought likely to damage aircraft engines. After a few days  the news was dominated by stories of desperate people fighting over hotel rooms, taking taxis hundreds of miles, running out of money and finding their visas invalid in foreign countries. The airlines were incurring huge losses and they put huge pressure on the authorities and the official line changed. Ash concentrations thought to be dangerous were downgraded and suddenly it was ok to fly, provided the volcano continued to die down.

We will no doubt continue to import food and flowers and other perishables from all over the world. Perhaps we will try to be just a little less dependant in future. There will be other volcanoes and they could erupt a lot longer and a lot bigger next time. I have long been disenchanted with air travel and this year Mrs. Commuter and I will be using train and car instead, and if this restricts us to the UK and Western Europe, no problem at all.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Clegg Effect

Together with about 9 million others, I watched the first-ever British live debate between the main party leaders contesting the forthcoming General Election. And what, you may ask, did I make of the instant success of hitherto little-known LibDem hopeful Nick Clegg? Not a lot actually. Yes he has boyish charm and enthusiasm, nicely contrasting with Gordon Brown's forced smile and David Cameron's look-I'm-really-just-like-you manner.  But almost anyone would have done well against those two. His line about the "two old parties" may come back to haunt him as those of us with some sense of history recall dear old Mr. Gladstone & his pals. What he really has going for him is that he is not laden by the baggage of either New Labour or the ghost of Mrs. Thatcher.

Voters have been drifting away from Labour for some time, but there does not seem to be a sense of real enthusiasm for the Tory altenative, certainly compared to the landmark election of 1997.  It is remarkable how few survive from those days. Of all Cameron's team I think only William Hague saw office before.  When Mrs. Thatcher toppled Callaghan's enfeebled government she had plenty of experienced men (and they were all men in those days) to call on. Now Labour can at least put forward a tried and tested, if not trusted, team [this alliteration is super: Ed]. But will electors fearful of recession and change cling to what they know? Is this the Safety First election to compare to 1931? There are signs that Labour are moving in that direction and I think this may be discomforting the Tories. But how does that help the LibDems? I suspect that the Clegg balloon will deflate as fast as it has gone up when people start thinking of whether things can really get better under a different administration.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hotmail’s Spam Bodyguard

Regular readers will know that I am fascinated by certain tube ads – those that so badly designed or convey a message in such clumsy fashion that one spends far longer wondering about the brains of the people who designed them than in absorbing the meaning of the content, if any. And today I present to you a specimen of singular interest.

On the face of it this is something about Microsoft's web-based email service, Hotmail. I have nothing against Hotmail. I use it myself from time to time. My interest is in what I can only describe as the ineffable naffness of this ad.

What on earth is a "new busy"? Busy is an adjective. You cannot have a new one. You can have a new, busy person (although that does not have very much meaning, unless by new you denote a synthetically produced human). In the 1930s the word busy was slang for a policeman in the UK and I am pretty sure that nobody in Microsoft's advertising department will know that. So what do they mean? Beats me. There is the outside chance that they think this is popular usage for Businessperson. If so it still produces a meaningless image. Businesspeople do not use Hotmail for business. It is a personal email product, not suitable for collaborative use of email, calendars and resource scheduling, archiving of mail to meet legal requirements and so forth. But let us move on.

What is a spam bodyguard? Why would it be personal? Spam is impersonal mail sent by people you do not know or wish to do business with. If you know them then their emails are not spam, though their receipt may be irritating. So there is no such thing as a personal spam bodyguard. Only an impersonal one, based on identifying emails that are being spammed indiscriminately can do the job. Otherwise you start with the idea that everything you receive must be ok unless you flag it as spam, and this is a model which has been shown not to work.

What in any case is a bodyguard in this context? Viruses, worms and web exploits, all part of the general class of computer software known as "malware", can cause real damage and require a degree of protection for unwary computer users. But spam? Clogs up the mailbox and wastes bandwidth to be sure. But does it do real damage? No. So the image of a bodyguard is without foundation. Possibly this particular bodyguard also protects against malware. But the ad doesn't bother to tell us.

And now we turn to the image itself, the attention-grabbing part of this strange publication. A rusty, corrugated-iron fence nearly meets a crumbling concrete pavement. Poking its face and paws into the gap is a sad looking animal, probably a dog, though wolf, gerbil on steroids and baboon-hound from the Planet Tharg all come to mind [not sure what a baboon-hound is, but I don't know very much about Sci-Fi so let it pass: Ed]. This creature is about to cut its forehead quite badly on the sharp part of the fence and will no doubt go whining back to its owner, or Thargian overlord, as the case may be. But it is associated with the idea of being a bodyguard? Would you entrust your safety to this animal? Not me, Mr. Gates, not me.

So there it is. I don't know what they are advertising or why I should care. I do not wish to be called a "new busy". I don't need, or even believe in the existence of, a "personal spam bodyguard". And nor do you. But if you would like a copy of my new book "Rogue Baboon-Hounds from Tharg destroy the Galaxy", please do get in touch. And Ed – only dorks call SF "Sci-Fi".

Friday, April 09, 2010

Defining our principles

People are asking where Ramblings stands on the great issues of the day, now that the General Election is under way. 

Let us be firm, but not autocratic, decisive yet flexible. Action must undoubtedly be taken but let it not be too hasty, or too protracted. 

We must preserve the best from the past but never be afraid to modernise. We must go boldly into the bright future, always aware of our glorious heritage. Youth has much to offer but we shall not lightly cast outside the experience of the old. 

The hand of government must be gentle, yet powerful but tempered with mercy and always mindful of public opinion, though we disdain popular prejudices. Public spending must be protected but waste will be eradicated. We believe in the finest national health, education, pensions and social policies and will always set taxes at the lowest possible level. 

The spirit of enterprise must be free and unfettered from red tape, but we will resolutely defy the unacceptable faces of capitalism. Part of Europe but proud of our non-European bits as well. In favour of devolution so long as it does not give anyone more power than we wish them to have.

I think this covers all necessary bases [must we have Americanisms? Ed], er, puts fieldsmen into all the right places only allowing quick singles.

A press conference to launch these themes will be held just as soon any journalist expresses any kind of interest.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cash and politicians

Funny how history repeats itself. In the mid 1990s the Conservative Party had been in power for over 15 years. It was running out of the drive to govern that characterises parties in their opposition years and in the early years of government. It was beset by scandals in which the disdain of certain ministers and members of parliament for normal standards of morality was clear. The prevailing attitude exuded by some was that "We are the natural party of government and we can do what we like. We are the law". When Labour won its landslide victory in 1997 there was a sense of a radical change in the political atmosphere. A party obsessed with money and the casual destruction of the common property of the country (e.g. the railways) was out. The incomers were unsullied and uncorrupted. 

Or so we thought.

Now, with the expenses scandal (that covers all parties), with the astonishing perfidy of Tony Blair in taking this country to war in order to get rich personally on the US lecture circuit and through dubious political contacts (for no other explanation of the facts seems to fit) and with the news this week that some ex-ministers are hawking their favours to any lobbyist with a few thousand pounds to spare, we are close to stepping back 13 years. Then, the word "sleaze" was shorthand for the corruption of the Tories. Now it seems that the "new" Labour party is falling headlong into the same trap. And it really is the same trap. Cash for questions then, cash for lobbying now. Exposure by investigate journalists. Suspension of the offenders from their parties. The questions left hanging in the air over everyone else.

Britain is not a corrupt country. I have been driving for more than 40 years and have never once been stopped by the police in circumstances where a bribe would let me go freely on my way, Actually I have only ever been stopped twice, once when they were stopping everyone who looked young to ask if they were driving their own car, once when an alert officer spotted that my MG sports car lacked a road tax disc (I was racing up the M4 at all of 60mph with the roof down and it had blown off the windscreen). But I digress. 

We are lucky to have a fundamentally sound civil service and a free press. Our politicians sell themselves for amounts that would be considered pathetically small in some countries. Yet corruption is still corruption and they will pay for it at the next election. All we can say with certainty is that if Cameron's lot get in for a period of more than 10 years then we can expect another round of scandals around the year 2022. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dept. of Snappy Replies

Arriving at Waterloo station this morning, I was at the ticket barrier when I overheard the man next to me inquire of a station attendant "What is the quickest way to High Barnet?"

Suppressing the urge to say "Helicopter" I moved away.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pre-election musings

Five years ago this blog blazed a trail in investigative reporting, bringing the British General Election campaign into sharp relief on your computer screen, mercilessly exposing the hype and the spin, cutting away the layers of waffle to reach the juicy meaty content of the underlying issues. [do waffles have meaty content? Researcher!: Ed] It all started here. Now it is about to start up all over again. Last time the timing of the election was in doubt until it was announced. This year, we know the last date that the election may legally be held and therefore the race is on. This blog pledges that it will, once more, be the eyes and ears of the people in the quest for truth. [mmm, pretty good stuff: Ed]

From the commuting viewpoint all is quiet. There are no election posters in the streets, nor are vans driving around with loudspeakers on the roof announcing "Vote for crackle crackle". No handbills have been delivered. Nobody has phoned me or Mrs. Commuter to ask our opinions. Well, what the hell, the spring weather is here, the trains are running on time, why spoil it all with a bit of politics?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ill on a train, again

Tonight there are "severe delays" on the Met and Circle and District and Hammersmith, due to a person "taken ill on a train" at Great Portland Street. I've written about this phenomenon of tube train operations before and am still confused. If someone is ill, surely you get them off the train as soon as possible. There are first aid facilities and trained staff at each station. Why should the, undoubtedly regrettable, illness of a passenger create severe delays? Minor delays perhaps. But this smacks more of a knee-jerk reaction by the Line Controllers. What? - someone has lightly bruised their upper arm on a seat support?! – help, panic, cancel all trains, close the barriers, update the website, and where did I put that headless chicken mask?

update: I wrote the forgoing just before leaving for home. When I reached Baker Street the announcement had changed. Now it was "a fatality" that had caused the problem. Well this makes the delays totally understandable, of course. And now we know that "ill" means "dead" in Tubespeak.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blogger for Word reborn

Once upon a time I raved about an add-on for Word, called Blogger for Word. It linked a Word document directly to Blogger. Then Google withdrew it and a dark cloud enveloped my heart [poetic rubbish: Ed]. But that is all in the past for I have discovered that in Office 2007 you can link directly to Blogger (and other blogging sites). And this posting is written in Word 2007 and has been posted automatically.
Isn't technology wonderful?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Why a poll?

You may be wondering what the poll on the top right is all about. Nothing, really. A couple of years ago I tried to put up a poll and it failed to appear no matter what options were tried. Today I had another go and lo! it has appeared. You don't need to take any notice of it. [don't suppose they would anyway: Ed]
Update: the poll has been removed. It was, by my standards anyway, an outstanding success and proof that the interactive nature of the internet is changing social relations beyond recognition. Three votes were recorded. I account for two of them.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Three in a row

Jubbly was screwed this morning and a huge number of people were waiting at Wembley Park when the Met I was on arrived. That in itself is unusual (er, the crowd on the platform, not the trivial fact of my arrival which is something I do every working day) but it is not what I want to write about today. For earlier, waiting (as is my wont) at Ruislip Manor for the self-same Met, I watched three Piccadillys go eastwards between 8:30 and 8:35. Now one is normal. Two in a row can happen (and indeed was in the regular timetable until a few years ago). But three?

In earlier times 'twould have been seen as an evil omen, young sir, and a warning of great consequence to them as would take notice in these dark days (or perhaps those dark days as we have slipped into a past tense). It would presage the death of kings and the onset of plague. Today, I guess it presages no service on the Jubilee and the pound falling like a stone against the US dollar. Such indeed are the times in which we live. [so what?: Ed]

Saturday, February 27, 2010

May I just check your Oystercard, Mr. Bond?

An advert in the train has the strapline "What is the date of birth of the person sitting on your right? You have three stops". The logos at the top read MI6 and SIS. I say logos but since these are the initials of the British Secret Service, one can hardly think that they form part of a brand recognition programme. They look like something knocked up by Moneypenny in Wordstar 3.0 during her lunchbreak.

Anyway this is a recruitment ad and they want people in search of an interesting career to apply. All so different from the cosy world of the past where promising young men would be approached by their tutors at University and given the chance of a lifetime to explore their latent homosexuality and then spy on behalf of the Russians.
 [added a few days later]
Here at last is the ad, hastily snapped on the Bakerloo just before everyone crowded in at Piccadilly Circus tonight.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Toyota's spin

Regular readers of this blog [you what?: Ed] will know that I heartily dislike advertising in all forms. I had a lot of fun a while back when Tesco, wishing to apologise for a problem with petrol at some of their filling stations, ran an ad that began "We would like to promise...". Now Toyota, widely pilloried for a fault that makes some cars accelerate unexpectedly, has run full page ads in which they explain how they will put things right. Trouble is, the PR merchants have got in and as usual screwed the whole thing up. They cannot possibly let their company admit to a fault that needs fixing. The ads refer throughout to an "upgrade", and how Toyota have trained hundreds of technicians to perform the "upgrade" and how they are now "upgrading" 6000 cars a day.

Scene: A plumber calls at a house
Plumber: Morning madam, you phoned for help?
Lady of the house: "Oh, yes, I've got a leak in a pipe"
Plumber: "Ah well, I'm sure I can upgrade that for you. I'm specially trained to perform these upgrades you know. When I've finished you will be able to enjoy a whole upgraded non-leaking pipe situation which will take your domestic plumbing arrangements to a new level"
LOTH: "Yeah whatever"

And so on. This morning I once again had a bad journey on the Met due to signal failure near Finchley Road. No doubt the system will be upgraded for my return journey. Or maybe they will just fix the fault.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Met hassles

The Met is running below par at the moment, whilst they rebuild platforms at Baker Street in readiness for the new trains. Platform 1 has been extended and is not yet operational, and they have cut the Uxbridge service. The through trains from the city are running as usual but they are always crowded. I always go for a train that starts at Baker Street whenever possible, knowing that this guarantees a comfortable seat. Without this fallback I am currently forced to take the first available train and change at Harrow.

Last night was fairly typical. First two trains out were Watfords. Got one starting at platform 4 (so nice seat) then waited 10 minutes at Harrow. Not much fun really. And Harrow still has the ancient indicator boards that merely tell you the destination of the next train. At the three next London-bound stations the indicators are the modern type informing you of the next three or four trains with arrival times. I am amazed and baffled that Harrow, one of the most important stations on the Met, is stuck so defiantly in the early twentieth century.

I learn from the invaluable District Dave forums that Platform 1 at Baker Street will reopen on 28 February (this information is not available to the general public). Let's hope they begin running a normal Uxbridge service again.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Moan, moan, moan

This morning, the first London-bound Met at my home station has Harrow as its destination. This means it is going out of service there, an indication of a problem either with the train or further down the track. But nobody announces anything at the station. The driver remains silent. I board it, hoping that I can simply change at Harrow and continue as normal. We reach Rayners Lane whee one can take the Piccadilly as an alternative (though it takes 15 minutes longer to reach central London). There is no announcement. We arrive at Harrow where they now tell us that the train is going on to Wembley Park but no further due to some problem in the city. They make it pretty clear that there may be no more southbound trains, and if there are, well it's nothing to do with them and why don't we just take the Jubilee from Wembley Park instead. Yeah, great, 500 people packing into an already full little train. I've stood at that platform in my time, waiting for a reasonably empty Jubbly. It is an exercise that puts iron into the soul.

I considered going back to Rayners for a Picc but of course there were no northbound trains either. The people with the best idea were the hundreds packing the Chiltern Line platform who eventually all crowded onto a service for Marylebone. Then they announced that a train to Baker Street was coming after all and I got it and got to work ok (just 15 minutes late so I might as well have taken the Picc anyway had I but known). Aye, there's the rub. They really don't like telling you what is going on, do they?

Now you might say, ah, this problem occurred too late for the info to get out. But I refute this thus - not only was the problem obviously known to the driver of my Harrow bound train, but on the way south I counted no less than 9 - NINE - empty Mets waiting motionless on the fast track or queued up at the siding into the Neasden depot. So the problem had been known and acted on for about half an hour at least before my train arrived.

I used to moan about the Piccadilly being simply awful at communications, apart from when they could inform us, with tears of joy streaming down their cheeks, that due to problems at Arnos Grove (20 bleeding miles away), there were no services on my branch for the forseeable future if ever. Please, Met, don't go down the same hellish path to perdition.

On a brighter note, on our crowded homeward train (services are reduced as they do some incomprehensible repair work at Baker Street), the driver welcomed us all to the Metropolitan LIne, said we would travelling at normal speed and then requested those occupying seats to give them to the more deserving. Some hopes. Not a soul stirred. Nor did I. I had squeezed into a seat that others had disdained, due to the bulk of the man on one side, and I simply couldn't face the idea of standing for the next thirty minutes. These, my friends, are the joys and agonies of commuting today. Thank you. My assistants will now pass amongst you with hats. Please give generously.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A cluster of unfortunate events

The Metropolitan line is having a bad patch. Several days of delays due to the usual reasons but it has suddenly worsened. Last night no service (person under a train at Finchley Road), this morning a problem at Uxbridge and, incredibly, my train then held at Wembley Park for 4 minutes because it was "early". I scanned the TFL website when I got to work and there are no trains between Wembley Park and Aldgate because of emergency engineering work at Baker Street. Odd this, because the Circle is also down with emergency work at Barbican.

The service is really odd anyway because they are doing something to the platforms at Baker Street to prepare for the new trains and I no longer recognise any of the train numbers during the morning. This morning they have put up a new barrier extending beyond the edge of platform 1 - not sure if they are actually lengthening the platform or if it is just a safety precaution.

Next week through trains will not stop at Baker Street. Trouble is most of the trains in the morning are through trains. So more buggering about will ensue. At least there is always the option of changing to a Jubbly at Finchley Road, if only they were not so crowded.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ice sculptures

Another freezing night and once again our little pond has a solid white top. But this time it looks different, as if a series of waves had frozen at different times. I have never seen an effect like it, at least not on this scale. But on a trip to California, flying high over Greenland, I took a picture that shows ice formations that look surprisingly similar to the close-up of my pond shown below

Saturday, January 30, 2010

End of the "A" stock

New trains are coming to the Metropolitan Line. As a schoolboy I remember when the "A" stock - the "silver trains" were introduced in the 1960s, replacing old fashioned, brown, slam-door, compartmentalised carriages (known, I think, as "T" stock) on one hand, and the more conventional red ("C") stock similar to the trains on the Hammersmith & City today. The Met trains have lasted a long time, assisted by major refurbishments, and their successors have yet to be unveiled to the general public. You can catch the odd glimpse at the Neasden depot and no doubt they will be tested over the tracks in coming months. I am looking forward to the air-conditioning and worried sick about the reduced number of seats. LU promise more trains to compensate but we all know that if there is any problem, they cancel trains and force everybody to crowd into those that do run. To have to stand for nearly 40 minutes on an overcrowded train, air-conditioned or not, is a dismal way to commute.

Musing this way made me do a bit of surfing and on the excellent London Transport Museum site I found this photo showing the two types of train I described above. I gather that "T" stock went to Watford and the train is for Aylesbury but the carriages look pretty similar. Amazing to think that the doors were opened by the passengers and there was nothing to stop you opening them inside the tunnels.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A little bit of luck

I missed my normal Metropolitan train in to work this morning and caught the one 5 minutes behind. Arriving at Finchley Road we were told that, due to signal failure, no trains were proceeding to Baker Street and the Met was suspended. No real problem, we all crossed the platform and filled up the incoming Jubilee and carried on our merry way. At Baker Street I crossed to the Bakerloo line to continue my usual journey.

During the morning I kept an eye on the online status reports and live departure boards. It looks as though the trains just ahead of mine were stuck in the tunnel for some time. So had I been on time this morning, I would not have been (nice use of subjunctive - Ed). In fact had I run up the steps to catch the train I missed, then I would have been hopping mad (when I got my breath back which these days takes a fair while).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sound and Fury

I have great respect for the Bakerloo line. I've been using it regularly for more than three years and it is highly reliable. But why oh why (only two "oh whys?" you can do better than that - Ed) must they make continual announcements over the train's PA? This evening at Piccadilly Circus the announcements were continual from our entry to the station to our departure. Change here for the Piccadilly Line. Take all your possessions with you. Move down inside the train. Do not obstruct the doors. Use all available doors. This train is ready to depart, mind the closing doors. Do not obstruct the doors. Stand clear of the closing doors.

These are all recordings, not the driver speaking to us, and I get the impression sometimes that they try to play as many as they can, like a demented DJ who has taken too much of the substances. Perhaps there is a sort of competition amongst the staff to see who can play the lot in one go.

The relief when we actually pull away and the PA goes silent is almost tangible. Even though the noise of the train in the tunnel is itself disturbingly high but at least it is a background sound.

And the fury? Yes, that's me, fingers pressed to ears, fed up with the incessant hectoring.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I thought it a bit odd when the fast Watford train I took from Baker Street this evening (I was intending to change at Harrow on the Hill for an Uxbridge back to beautiful Ruislip), slowed to a crawl near Northwick Park and then juddered and stuttered like an arthritic snail with a drink problem until we simply stopped, just outside Harrow. And waited. And waited. Our driver made a few announcements but he spoke so indistinctly and the PA was turned so low he was barely audible. We gathered there was a signal problem. To my chagrin (he's back on the French again, must be eating too much garlic - Ed), several Uxbridge trains came up on the slow line and passed us on by.

Several times the driver opened the door to his cabin and we could see the edge of the platform, just fifty odd metres away. He donned a red jacket and went down on the track. Then he came back and announced something else. At one point he said something about a "headcount" and proceeded to walk through the length of the train, returning about 10 minutes later. I attempted to cheer up my fellow passengers by suggesting they were going to give us all free tea and biscuits and needed to know the numbers. This idea was greeted with the disdainful half-smiles of experienced commuters who knew better.

About 45 minutes after we first stopped we suddenly started and proceeded to the station where those of us waiting to change trains were pleased to see an Uxbridge waiting. Naturally it closed its doors and left before we could cross the platform. The next one that came in stopped at Harrow and we had to wait another five minutes until we could continue the journey. Nobody at Harrow bothered to announce anything of interest by way of explanation.

So this concludes a difficult two weeks on the Metropolitan Line in which I think there has been some sort of problem every day. The poor weather was the main reason, of course, but a string of signal failures and faulty trains and who knows what have hardly helped. There is a new timetable as well. Apparently there should be a train about every five minutes during the morning and evening peaks. Let me turn aside and utter a mocking, hollow laugh.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dear oh dear, there's a snowflake on the track

The snow returned overnight. We woke to find a thin but steady downfall, an inch or so having newly fallen on top of the remains of the ice from last week, and a dense, dispiritingly grey cloud cover. The roads in beautiful Ruislip were ungritted and skid marks on the road (I live at the bottom of a little hill and on a junction much loved by traffic-light avoiders) showed that someone had been careless. The roads in Ruislip Manor were gridlocked around the traffic lights, caused by a tailback to Ruislip - presumably an accident at the lights there. And the Met, pretty reliable last week, let us all down with a long, unexplained delay and grossly overcrowded trains. My train arrived after a chilly ten minutes on the platform and was full by Eastcote, the next stop. Not a word from the station announcer at any time about the service, but sadly we have come to expect this basic level of contempt.

At Wembley Park we came in, as usual, on the slow track. One or two fast trains had come down from Harrow and another came in alongside us. The station announcer asked, over the loudspeaker, for our driver to hold the train because the passeng... customers (yes friends he actually used the dreaded P word but managed to choke it off before breaching the Tube's rigid rule that they never ever admit to actually being responsible for moving people) were crossing over from the, presumably now terminated, fast train (they had to use a bridge over the tracks) (these sentences are too long - Ed) Our driver retorted, over the train's PA system, that he wasn't waiting around for anyone. The station announcer came back with a message that there was room in the rear carriages. Our driver said that he didn't think so but if the customers were willing to try, he would graciously wait another few seconds for them to scramble up the snowy platform and have a look. Quite soon after this we left - I don't know if any hapless passengers were left angrily shaking their fists on the platform as the doors closed in their faces but I like to think so because it would nicely complete the scene.

Oh, and the Piccadilly was closed between Rayners Lane and Acton Town [start sarcastic voice] Oh my, what a shock, how unexpected [end sarcasm]

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A short period of cold

So, just a few days ago, I foolishly wrote that we can always expect a day or two of cold weather in the UK and why make a fuss. Last weekend was cool but pleasant and the wife and I enjoyed a couple of days in the Cotswolds. Coming home everything changed and it has been day after freezing, snow-filled day, since with no immediate end in view. We have had the usual run of school closures, motorists forced to sleep in their cars and stupid estimates about the "cost" to the country. Even in beautiful Ruislip there was a healthy dollop of snow on Monday and a good 4 inches yesterday, with a really sharp frost last night and the lowest temperature in the morning, at -6c, that my garden thermometer has recorded.

The tube has performed reasonably well. Delays and cancellations on the exposed outer lines but some sort of service has been maintained throughout. The cold seems to have done something to the communications though. This morning, arriving at Harrow on a city-bound Metropolitan, our driver apologised that he was no longer running a fast Aldgate but a slow to Baker Street. He also complained that, as usual, nobody had actually told him that his train's schedule had altered, and he had deduced where he was going by looking at the station indicator boards. Simultaneously the station announcer informed us that we were on a fast Aldgate. We did indeed run down the slow track but, and here's the kicker, we pulled into Baker Street on the through platform and miraculously turned into an Aldgate after all. (Not that I care because I change at Baker Street anyway).

The biggest problem where I live is the icy streets. Although the roads have been gritted and are in good shape, pavements away from the shopping areas are covered in a layer of hard ice with snow or slush on top. Very treacherous to walk over (as I discovered whilst making my way to Pinner station, having dropped my car off for a minor repair) and I congratulate those of my fellow commuters who sported heavy boots this morning.

This weekend I will have to buy some de-icer. I can't remember the last time I bought any - I had the vague idea that there were spare bottles in the house and the garage but of course when I actually needed the stuff there was just a half bottle left and that has nearly gone. Presumably panic buyers will have cleared the shelves so it may have to be a black market job from a spiv with a bulging overcoat who has bottles and scrapers stashed away inside.