Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday fun

It was so unexpected, which probably helped. Whenever there have been problems on the rails recently, it's usually been down to inclement weather, and therefore quite predictable - the anticipation and dread has built up over several hours. On Friday, it was a total shock - I got to Kings Cross having enjoyed my regular Friday afternoon stroll across London, and made my way to the platform where my train was waiting, where I was rather suprised to find myself in the midst, and then rapidly falling behind, a horde of commuters running at full tilt down the platform. It transpired that there had been "overhead line problems" between Huntingdon and Peterborough, and as a result, no GNER trains to the North were going in or out of London. Which meant that all those poor sods who had to travel up North at the busiest time of the week had to get on the local trains and pick up a replacement bus service at, of all places, St Neots. What made it even better, from a dramatic perspective, was that the train we were all piling on to was comprised of only four coaches.

I strode purposefully towards the front of the train, never breaking into a run in spite of the energetic sprinting going on around me, because I don't ever run for trains, and certainly not in order to try to get on one before all the seats are taken. By the time I got to the doors, it was standing room only, and there was precious little of that. Being a small chap does have its advantages in these situations, and I managed to get on and in without pushing, just sort of inserting myself into gaps to small for normal sized people. There was a bit of a kerfuffle with a wheezing fellow who had his elbow in my back and seemed loath to remove it as I tried to turn around - he treated me to a somewhat disparaging glare. Without meaning to, I found myself moving deeper into the carriage as more and more people squeezed on, until I had one foot in first class and one in the vestibule. This, I'm sure, would have presented any ticket collectors who managed to get on the train with an interesting dilemma. It did actually cause me to wonder briefly whether you get charged for standing in first class or not. I wonder if it's written down anywhere. I'll find out and let you all know.

Second ticked by and became minutes. The appointed hour arrived and still people were trying to force themselves through the doors, beseeching people to move down, even though they really couldn't. There was someone sat on the floor of the aisle in the first class section and so it looked to people outside, and indeed further down the train, as if there was extra space when in fact there wasn't. The nonchalance of those people who are sitting down never ceases to impress me at times like this - they bury themselves in their books and papers, and seem to utterly block out the noise of the mob around them. All apart from one chap who looked up from his seat with an expression of mild irritation and asked me if I could possibly move so as not to block the sliding door dividing first class from the rest of the train. I honestly could not even move my feet, so wedged into position was I - in fact we were so crammed in that I wasn't even the only one blocking it - so I politely informed him that no, I could not possibly oblige.

What was nice to see was that everyone in the vestibule area, which really was so full that people were short of air, took it all in good humour. There was a guy with a can of lager, almost finished, who offered the last few sips around - no takers, unsurprisingly, and a couple of Yorkshire lasses who informed the guys around them that they really weren't trying to touch anyone's backsides but in the circumstances it was unavoidable.

The really good thing about it from my perspective was that the train was only ten minutes late getting to Hitchin, although I felt for those who had to brave the reaplacement bus service from St Neots. Dread to think what time they got home.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Winter Wonderland

Well wasn't that exciting? A couple of months too late, maybe, but exciting nevertheless. Perhaps we should put Christmas back by a couple of months (bearing in mind that Christ was probably born sometime in July anyway, at least according to a Blue Peter report on the subject that I saw when I was twelve), so that we might actually hava a chance of getting a white Christmas. Honestly though, I haven't seen it snow like that around here since, ooh, 1991. Back then, it was my fourteenth birthday, I was due to sit a biology exam, school was cancelled, I had a nice long birthday weekend - it ws defintely one of the happier episodes of my secondary school education. This time around, it was, incredibly, my thirtieth birthday (I'm actually finding it harder to come to terms with than I had expected). Although I got in to work on Thursday, unlike several of my London-based colleagues, because the transport system in the city itself seemed less able to cope than the suburban commuter routes, I worked at home on Friday. This was partly because I didn't want to get stuck in London on a Friday night before a weekend of celebrating, and partly because I had something I really wanted to get finished, and had been totally distracted on Thursday by a problem with the office printer.

I would have been okay if I had gone in, to be honest. The trains coped admirably, certainly much better than expected. I understand it got a bit messy further north (one of my colleagues, due in from Leeds at 10am, turned up at about four in the afternoon), but on my line there was a full service, albeit running with about ten minute dealys. It was heartening, actually, after seeming to be in the eye of the storm regarding most of the recent transport problems in London (not trying to elicit sympathy but look at the evidence - Kings Cross Fire, Blustery Thursday, Overhead Cable problems (Grrr!), etc).

So nothing of note happened this week, commuting-wise. Turning thirty has been traumatic enough in itself, so it's probably a good thing. I did take in a very good exhibition on housing development at the V&A on Wednesday, and visited the Tudor section at the National Portrait Gallery. I'm sure I'm not the only one that finds portaits eerie. I mean, why have they always got to look so miserable? Even photographic portraits are invariably either stern-faced or focusing on some point just above the camera, probably in the middle distance. What's wrong with just smiling and saying "cheese"?

Not really in this blog's regular sphere of interest, but I needed to gt it off my chest.