Monday, August 28, 2006

Unspecified technical fault? Not likely!

It isn't always easy being a Happy Commuter, particularly when you leave work early just so you can get home in plenty of time to go to a Summer barbeque at your spouse's colleague's house, only to be delayed in the New Southgate area and end up getting home normal time anyway. One compensation, though, is that at least you know exactly what the problem is. Because if there's one thing you can say for the train drivers (or one more thing, bearing in mind my previous post) it's that they don't skimp on the detail when it comes to explaining the reasons for delays.

Just this week, I have been delayed on 3 seperate occasions (and by "delayed" I mean more then 10 minutes behind schedule - 5 minutes either way doesn't count) and on each occaion, the unhappy circumstances that have caused the problem have been explained in almost painstaking detail.

First of all, on Wednesday evening, coming home late after having a drink with my cousin, we progressed at a snail's pace from Finsbury Park to New Barnet, whereupon the driver informed us that an earlier train failure on the fast lines had caused all subsequent trains to be shunted on to the slow line whilst the authorities came and shifted the thing, and we would be picking up speed towards Stevenage as soon as we got through. Fine and dandy, I thought - I may be tired, hungry and a little bit drunk, but at least I'm not sat here in the dark, so to speak.

Next, on Thursday, came the incident to which I referred at the start of this post: the Summer barbeque at The Wife's colleague's place (for the record, we had a lovely time and they're very nice people, but it did get a little cold after the Sun went down, and the dastardly insects feasted upon us). Having left work an hour early, I got the five to six out of Kings Cross to get me home in plenty of time to straighten my tie, turn down my collar and generally smarten myself up from my usual state of scruffiness. We got past the Arsenal stadium okay, but then we slowed to a crawl after Finsbury Park. We all started getting twitchy, glancing around vaguely without meeting anyone else's eye, and then after a few minutes came the driver's announcement. The standard apology, of course, but then things got interesting: all services were delayed following "an incident at Oakleigh Park, involving the Metropolitan Police." Crikey. That beats "overhead line problems." All of a sudden, our grumbling ceased, as we all mentally pictured the scene: uniformed officers scampering around Oakleigh Park's platforms with a trenchcoat-clad, pipe-smoking dectective dictating notes to a frantically scribbling constable. Espionage, theft, fare-dodging: what could it be? It certainly took my mind off being late, and kept me entertained all the way home.

Friday morning, and having risen bright and early with only a slightly sore head and a few insect bites, I made my way to the station to catch my regular service. It trundled in ten minutes behind schedule, and only a minute before the next semi-fast service was due to arrive, Now in these situations I'm never quite sure what to do: get on the late one because after all it is supposed to be earliest, or wait for the next one on the assumption that if it's delayed already, it will be further held up to let other services past so that they don't get delayed in turn. I chose the former option, and of course it turned out to be the wrong one. Once again, though, we were at least treated to a detailed and apologetic explanation of the cause. In this instance, we were told that only one of the four turbo motors was working, and thus we couldn't accelerate properly, but would probably gather speed on the straight between Stevenage and London because there were no stops and we would "gain momentum". The idea of our train being subject to Newtonian laws of motion rather than moving, as it were, under its own steam, tickled us all greatly, and there was the rare sight of delayed commuters exchanging wry smiles and even making eye contact. Once again, we were all very forgiving and there was none of the grumbling you might expect in the circumstances. And all because the driver had taken the trouble to explain to us exactly what was going on, rather than trying to fob us off with the standard drivel about overhead line problems.

The moral of the story? Well, it's not really a moral, but it does go to show that even commuters love a bit of originality.

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