Monday, April 02, 2007

The best laid plans

Well, I said I needed a holiday. I'm just back from a week in Dublin. And what a fine city it is. We spent most of our time wandering the streets on foot, so I didn't really get the chance to study the city's transport provisions in detail (they have trams!). We did take a day trip to Howth on the coast though, and this enabled us to travel on the marvelously-monikered Dart, the mainline rail system. The other line's called Commuter, which doesn't seem quite to do justice to the Irish literary tradition, but I can forgive them that lapse on the basis on the sheer wonder of having a train called a Dart - it doesn't even go particularly fast!

So, first day back and, coincidentally, the first day of the month (not technically true - it was the 2nd - but weekends don’t count because no one commutes). After the traditional end of holiday feast on Sunday night, I had gone to bed early with the intention of getting up with the early-morning songbirds, and for once this actually came to pass. I left the house slap bang on quarter past seven and headed for the station, taking time as I went to note the first flush of Spring bringing new life to the flora and fauna of the beautiful market town where I live. I had in the back of my mind a faint but persistent hope that I might make the half past seven train, but knowing that I had to renew my season ticket and that there is always a huge queue at the ticket office at the start of the month, my head told my heart that it was a forlorn hope. Imagine my surprise, then, to arrive at the station and find that there were only a few people waiting to be served by the ticket staff, of whom, remarkably, there were three - a full compliment - on duty (unprecedented for rush hour). The clock said twenty-five past and I thought to myself “By golly,” – I was in a particularly Billy Bunter frame of mind, possibly brought on by the Spring – “I miught just make this.”

Now, you’ve probably guessed that I wouldn’t be telling you a story like this if something hadn’t gone awry, and sure enough, when I got to the front of the queue at half past (2 minutes to spare) the gentleman serving me informed me glumly that his ticket machine was afflicted by “mechanical difficulties”, and therefore the ticketing process would be slow. Resigning myself to my fate - after all I had never truly believed I could make the train - I relaxed into the normal rhythm of the Monday morning journey, barely flinching when the train pulled in just as I was collecting my receipt. Now I don’t like to run for trains, so I just went and bought myself a newspaper, fully expecting the train to be gone by the time I looked again, To my consternation, when I looked again it had not moved, and in fact I could see that the doors were still open. Just as I was about to launch myself into a humiliating run, the whistle blew, the doors slid shut, and the train moved off. If only, I thought to myself, I hadn't stopped to buy the newspaper. It was a lament I would have cause to repeat sevreal times before I reached the office.

In keeping with the theme of making the wrong decisions, I plumped for the earlier, but slower, train, partly because I knew I would get a seat, and having bought the paper I thought it would be nice to read it in comfort. Now on these stopping trains I can either get off at Finsbury Park and catch the Tube, or go all the way to Kings Cross and catch a bus. This day, I opted for the Underground. I hopped off at Finsbury to board the Victoria Line, only to find when I reached the bottom of the stairwell there was a lady just pulling a barrier across the entrance to the Victoria Line platform. Turning around and swimming determinedly against a tide of humanity flowing down the srairs, I reached the top and bumped into my colleague NM, who had been not one but two trains behind me and yet still arrived only a few minutes later. Appraised of the situation, we had a split-second decision to make - wait for the Piccadilly Line (now facing serious overcrowding) or take a train into Kings Cross and get a bus on the same route I could have been on earlier if I'd only stayed on the original train. Out of nowhere, NM pulled out a third, ingenious, option - get a different train to Old Street and get the Northern Line to Bank, where we could pick up a connection to Tottenham Court Road, right next to the office. It sounded too good to be true. But I opted to cast caution to the wind and follow him on this crazy scheme. To my surprise, it worked perfectly.

Until we got to Bank.

At Bank, we reached the Central Line platform - just four stops away from our destination. There was a train on the platform with its doors invitingly open. We moved towards it eagerly, but suddenly an evil-sounding voice boomed over the tannoy, like the wrath of a particularly malevolent deity, and told us that there was a power failure further down the line (at White City, for goodness' sake!), no trains were moving and, that, basically, we could all give up on getting to work. Ha!

We wearily ascended to street level to get a cab the rest of the way, eventually reaching the office at twenty past nine - more than two hours door to door. And I'd even got up early.

The moral of the story? Don't try to outsmart the transport system. Short cuts invariably end up being very long cuts.


At 1:35 PM GMT+1 , Blogger Rish said...

I think you will find the moral of the story is something along the lines of "don't bother going back to work after a holiday" - it only causes pain, humiliation and heartache (and that is just while you get to the office!)...


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