Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Dutch interlude

Back from a week in Amsterdam. The unexpected hot weather all over northern Europe took us by surprise and Mrs. Commuter and myself were somewhat too warmly dressed for comfort. No matter, we had a great room (at an superb rate) at the Hilton and the pleasure of the excellent tram system to get us about. However my picture is from The Hague where you don't even have to leave the main station to catch one.

The strangest travelling moment was on our return. As we waited at Amsterdam for the high speed Thalys train for Brussels, to make our Eurostar connection, we were somewhat disconcerted when they flagged it as 50 minutes late. This would still leave us enough time to make the connection but boded ill. One of our fellow passengers photographed the indicator, doubtless to help in his claim for compensation. However, dead on time, the train arrived and when we asked a train attendant about the delays she looked puzzled and said there was no problem. And there was no problem and the train arrived at Brussels Midi on time. Mind you, we had a further minor panic because that station is also called Brussels Zuid and we thought Zuid meant South (which it does) and that we had been taken on to Brussels Sud by mistake. But we were wrong. Zuid is the Flemish for Midi, or something. Anyway, it was the right station and the only weak link in the whole travelling chain was London Underground, who had the usual weekend cancellations going. But you have to expect that, sadly. Had we been heading eastbound from St. Pancras we would have had to take a detour but westbound they were at least running some Hammersmith & City trains and once at Baker Street all was back to normal.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nature corner

I promised an update on the amphibian breeding programme on my estate back in mid-February. The keen frog watchers amongst you will be glad to know that they showed up at last about four weeks ago, produced about 1/3 the normal amount of frogspawn and vanished almost at once. There are tadpoles now, still squirming around in what remains of the jelly but they will disperse into the pond soon and that will probably be the last I see of them.

In previous years there have been up to ten frogs splashing about at the height of the mating season - I think the maximum this year was four. Too early to tell if this is a consequence of climate change or some other factor but a little worrying.

Mediocrity returns

As usual, no sooner do I write that the Tube is doing ok, an opinion I let loose on the world only yesterday, than everything goes wrong. This evening I missed my northbound Bakerloo at Waterloo by a whisker - really, no exaggeration, my hand was in the door when it closed and rather than risk getting jammed, I pulled back. Never mind, I thought (ah, sweet rashness of youth), there's another one in a minute. See there it is in yellow and black on the departure board.

Several minutes later there was no train and the board no longer showed any times against the next four arrivals. Now I had carefully timed my exit from work to get to Baker Street at a time when two Uxbridges run in quick succession. When the Bakerloo finally arrived, it was likely I would miss them. Arriving at Baker Street, after a slow journey due to the overcrowding, it was clear that I had. The next was due out in 10 minutes.

A fast Chesham arrived and it might have overtaken the second Uxbridge (which my invaluable London Tube live app on the phone showed to be about five minutes ahead) but it was so very full I gave it up and took a Watford that was starting from platform 1 instead. No problem getting to Harrow where I joined plenty of others waiting for the Uxbridge (Why, oh why, can't we have a fast service now and then?), And we waited. After about 8 minutes I checked my app again and there was the Uxbridge, just leaving Preston Road, still 6 minutes away. The announcers were now mournfully telling us that there delays on the Bakerloo due to - wait for it - signal failure on the Queens Park to Harrow & Wealdstone section. I don't know why they don't scrap those signals and have a man with a red flag cycle down the track in front of each train. I'm sure it would be faster.

So I arrived home 82 minutes after leaving work, on a journey that should have taken no more than 55. Or 60. Still massively over the 15 minutes you need to claim a refund. And that, my friends, is what I will be doing as soon as I complete this post. Which is now.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A spot of spring

Spring-like, nay, summer-like, weather in London all week. The temperature up to 20c. The air warm, full of the freshness of the spring and the evocative scent of newly-cut grass and blossom. Oh, and barbecues. And it is only the second week in April. Amazing. The warm, long-sleeved shirts are back in the wardrobe and the T-shirts are being unearthed from the depths of the chest-of-drawers. But I can't find my straw hat and I need that for doing a spot of gardening under the blazing sun.

And the Tube has been pretty good lately too. Morning trains have been arriving on time. Clearly the teething troubles of the "S" stock trains are being surmounted. My regular journey on the Met has been pretty well untroubled and, especially when boarding an empty train starting from Baker Street rather than the sardine cans coming up from the City, fairly pleasant.

I have been adding some games to my brand new smartphone. I do this with a sort of professional interest, you understand. For a number of years I made my living in the computer games business. The little screen on the phone is reminiscent of the standard C64/Spectrum displays, and the games are in many ways based on those we used to publish for the 8-bit computers of the day. The touch screen makes the key difference - nothing from those days could be directly ported to a phone because they all relied on joystick or keyboard input. Although text-only adventures might work well. But would today's kids, texting obsessively, have the patience to play them?

I still love the London Tube app, showing the arrival boards from the TFL website. I had to collect Mrs. Commuter late at night yesterday and was able to track her progress from East Acton to Ruislip Gardens (yes, the Central line because once again the Met was closed for maintenance) and just as I arrived at the Gardens and my phone told me her train was at the platform, there she was! [Exclamation marks should be used only when necessary: Ed] Well, you might not be impressed, Ed, you cynical old sod, but I was.