Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Crush Hour

I made the mistake last night of leaving my new office at Farringdon at 5:30pm for the return to beautiful Ruislip. Exacerbated by extensive roadworks that funnel pedestrians into a narrow corridor of pavement, the crowds who knock off at that time formed a dense mass of marching commuters blocking the access streets to the station. I hoped that most of them would be using the national rail services but few went into the gleaming new station entrance that serves those lines; the rest piled into the old Victorian station and crammed down onto the tube platforms that were already full.

A reasonable service was running, or so it seemed and soon after a full-to-the-bilges Hammersmith left, a fast Watford arrived with just enough space for your correspondent to squeeze into. This train then had its terminus changed to Harrow - no sweat for me because I have to change there anyway but not so much fun for my Watford branch travelling companions. It almost goes without saying that as we arrived at Harrow, coming into the platform normally reserved for Uxbridge bound trains, there was a Watford train adjacent, and of course this train moved off exactly as the doors opened on my train.

Oddly enough, most of the debarking passengers stayed on the Uxbridge side, and when our train arrived a few minutes later there were loads of us waiting; the arriving train was also packed so it was standing room only the rest of the journey.  I gather there had been a problem in the morning with a defective train but I don't know whether this had a persisting knock-on effect. I had been mildly affected by that one as well - arriving at Harrow on my inbound journey I had hoped to pick up a fast Aldgate train. One arrived on cue. The announcer said it was an Aldgate, the train's external display said it was for Amersham [the opposite direction: Ed]  and, as everyone crossed the platform to board, the driver told us it was terminating there and we all got out and went back to the slow train.

I have not yet managed to switch effortlessly to an Aldgate at Harrow on this, my new regular commute but who knows, this happy event may well occur soon and when it does you, my loyal followers, will be the first to know.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Return of the Strap

Readers whose tastes run to what I believe is known in certain circles as "discipline" will be sadly disappointed if they continue with this article. For the strap to which I refer is a device to make it easier to retain one's footing on a moving train. In the olden days all the tubes had them, often rather sinister sprung jobs with shiny black spherical handles, somewhat like what I imagine a cosh to resemble. The phrase "straphangers" was invented to describe a line of commuters in a packed train, each clinging on for dear life to one of these and trying not to trap their fingers in the spring. I found an excellent picture showing the straps - and a comment from a reader saying he thought they were used as coshes during the second world war - on the Flickr pages of IanVisits.

Well, we have new version of the old strap and they are being installed to the "S" stock trains on the Met right now. I saw my first examples yesterday and courtesy of the District Dave site you can see a picture of them. The photo makes them rather sinister, like a line of dangling nooses into which travellers who have finally given up the bitter struggle to get in on time can end it all, but don't worry about that, they are not that big.

And now to my new journey from beautiful Ruislip to work. My office has moved to Farringdon and it is the Met line all the way. The only complexity is that, in the morning most trains in from the Uxbridge branch stop at Baker Street :  so - do I change at Harrow, with a good chance of having to stand all the way (clever link back to the strap hanging theme here) [nice one: Ed] or go onto Finchley Road, hop off and wait for the next Aldgate, or to Baker Street where if the train comes in on platform 1 one must either walk through to the Circle Line or go over the steps to platform 3?  And coming home - take the first train which, if a Circle, requires a change at Baker Street and a hair-raising race up the steps, through the main concourse and down again to catch a train that is starting from there (this happened yesterday and whilst I was lucky to get an Uxbridge just before it left, I saw a fellow commuter bound down the steps only to see the doors close in his face), or hang around waiting for a through train to Uxbridge (these run only in peak hours and most of my journeys are off-peak)?  There are other options and possibilities but 'twould be tedious in the extreme to describe them all, much as you probably want me to, so I shall desist. [Thanks: Ed]. Decisions, decisions.  And not helped by the tube internet information system which sometimes describes all southbound trains as Aldgate when they are not, or simply as "unknown".

Farringdon station itself is fascinating - one of the oldest stations on the line and indeed one of the oldest metro stations in the world, but with a huge new station building for the National Rail lines and massive construction going on around it for Crossrail.  Footbridges snake across the lines at odd angles. At the end of the tube platforms an unmarked tunnel leads to the National Rail platforms. The tube lines bend away so sharply at this end that, although fully in the open, incoming trains are invisible until the last second of their approach. Yesterday as I waited for my Met train, passengers just a few feet away (but separated by a barrier) were waiting for trains to Gatwick and Brighton.  Brighton for me means starting at Victoria, passing Battersea Power Station and calling in at Clapham Junction, the way that God intended. One of my earliest and favourite computer games was called "Southern Belle", written for the Spectrum , and it simulated driving a steam train along that route using the most basic of graphics but with such atmosphere that one could easily imagine it. A diesel from Farringdon? No. It won't do. Just look at this screenshot and marvel

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Italian stupidity

The court case in Italy where scientists who failed to give adequate warning of the earthquake in 2009 have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment up to 6 years - for manslaughter because victims might have left the area had they been warned in time - is so disquieting I have to add my voice to those condemning it. The scientists had been working on earthquake prediction -seismology. They presented the known risks in terms of probability. The knee-jerk reaction to blame them makes the Italian courts utterly moronic, Consider:

* Had the scientists issued warnings, and no earthquake had occurred, would they have been sued for damages? Presumably yes, since they got it wrong
* Had they issued warnings and people had stayed put anyway, would they still be guilty of manslaughter? Presumably yes for not rounding people up in the streets and moving them away, or for not issuing enough or scary enough warnings.
*The Pope claims to be the mouthpiece of God. Is anyone suing him (or indeed, God) for murder?
*There have been repeated earthquakes over many hundreds of years in the region affected. But always the people return and rebuild. Are they going to sue themselves for being so stupid? Or prosecute the builders?

Science is always about probability. Earthquakes are notoriously hard to predict. The question is whether scientists get it right more often than a random toss of the coin. If they do, listen to them. If not, don't, But whether you listen or not, they are not the ones causing the ground to shake and are not responsible for people choosing to live there.

The result of this court case is that no reputable science can be done in Italy. At a stroke the courts have put Italy back to 1620, the era of the Inquisition and the Church burning anyone who defied the doctrine of the universe. What happens when there are warning rumbles in the unstable ground around Vesuvius? Who is going to dare to say anything based on the evidence if they will face trial should they get it wrong?

Italy should be suspended from the Council of Europe and the EU until it clarifies whether it is a modern European state or a medieval theocracy that burns witches.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The pleasures of Pimlico

I have lived and worked in London pretty well all my life. I have used the tube to commute to most of my working destinations. So you might think I had travelled on every line, main or branch and graced most stations with my transient presence.  But you would, as must be obvious from the hackneyed, yet strangely attractive and compelling, way I have set up this line of reasoning, be wrongThere are many parts of the great underground complex that I have rarely used. Some never. And today I travelled a route that I think I have only ever done once before, down to Pimlico via the Victoria line, for a meeting.

The Viccy is clearly a high-frequency route with the trains shuttling in at intervals of a minute or so.  And just as well because what I had not expected was the huge volume of people switching between the Jubbly and the Viccy at Green Park, the essential interchange on my migration south from beautiful Ruislip. This was early afternoon, mind you. Not the peak hour for shops to close or office workers in the metropolis to leave their desks. Yet there were throngs pushing through the platform exits, jamming up the corridors, filing endlessly down the stairs and effortlessly filling the trains, no matter how quickly the latter arrived.

The journey home was pretty slick though. Arrived at Pimlico, straight on a train. Transferred at Green Park to the Jubilee and again straight on a train. A piece of nifty footwork secured a seat so I remained until Finchley Road, disembarked and lo! the first Met was going my way and coming in even as I took up my place on the platform. I did notice that on both southbound and northbound journeys the Jubblies and the Mets take no notice of each other. Arriving southbound off a Met, I crossed to the waiting Jubbly and the doors shut in my face. Going home, as I took my seat in the Met a Jubbly came into the platform hard on the heels of the one I had vacated. Did we wait for passengers to cross the platform? Hell no, we were off even as they were coming out. Now this doesn't matter much for Jubblistas because they get one train every 1 to 2 minutes but it is a much longer interval on the Met. I hardly ever travel by the Jubbly so I really couldn't care much but it must be galling for regulars.

[so what was your original journey to Pimlico all about then? Your readers will want to know: Ed]  Sadly I have no recollection. This must remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. Or I could make something up. I'll revisit this one the next time I am stuck for material and on a deadline. [Good idea. Although we don't actually have deadlines on blogs, do we?: Ed]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bye Bye Bakerloo

That's it. Finished. This evening I made my final commute on the Bakerloo up from Waterloo to Baker Street, thence to catch a shiny new S Stock Met to beautiful Ruislip. This weekend my office (actually the office of my client because I am officially a self-employed consultant, and let me say at once, in the wake of certain allegations about highly paid BBC personages and others, that I do not hide behind a service company and I pay full income tax on my meagre earnings [good to clear that one up: Ed]) moves to the up and coming, media friendly, go-getting and buzzing neighbourhood of Hatton Garden in London's fashionable Farringdon district. Well, we had to because they are finally going to knock down the Tower Building (aka Elizabeth House, facing the Shell Centre) in which we have been perched this last 6 years, high above Waterloo station, and put up some stupendously dull office blocks to replace the stupendously dull office block that we are vacating.

So goodbye to some of the slowest, jerkiest and most irritatingly unresponsive lifts in London and let us look forward to next week, when I visit the new office for the first time with just a simple flight of stairs into the basement (which, I hasten to add, does have windows) but alas no glorious views over to St. Paul's on one side and the sweep of the many railway lines leading south from Waterloo on the other.

It will be exceedingly pleasant to remain on the Met for my entire journey and, with luck, on the same train. Perhaps it will inspire the inner muse to reach heights of unrestrained verbiage as yet undreamed of by those who merely edit the creative thoughts of others. Naming no names, of course. But it rhymes with 'bed'. And starts with 'e'.

Monday, October 01, 2012

It's in there somewhere, Jimmy, I know it

No doubt about the most important news story of the day. Forget the destruction in Syria, the Labour conference or the Ryder Cup comeback. In my view, the BBC should have given this story massive front page coverage, with a Panorama documentary, a full scale Today interview and a chat-show season for the luckless Aberdonian at the very least.

I hope the BBC will excuse my replicating their picture.