Archive for the ‘Commuting’ Category

A Tale of Ice and Snow, and Heroic Getting-to-Work Against Huge Odds. But Mostly Ice

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

OK, I’m sorry…but I think I’ve reall been punished adequately for downplaying Basingstoke’s snow problems t’other day.

The bus got me to Southampton station this morning in plenty of time for the 6:30 – so far so normal, apart from the number 17 being on time, and the information displays showed the train being delayed by nine minutes. That quickly changed to six minutes – the train was obviously well on its way across the Forest, and making up time.

Six thirty nine came and went, but the train did neither, and we were soon informed that our train – and the one behind it – hadn’t left Bournemouth yet. There was a train halfway in between literally frozen to the rails, which was blocking the line in both directions. With the news that we were going to be on the platform for a while, several seasoned commuters swelled the profits of Upper Crust catering (bacon roll and coffee division) while we waited for further updates. Eventually a Weymouth-bound train staggered in to the station and threw its passengers off – it wasn’t even going to try going any further. After a suitable pause for head scratching and decision making, we were told that this train was going to head back to London, so we all scrummed down and scrambled across the footbridge to platform four.

The train pulled out of the station…and stopped. Then moved a few more inches…and stopped. Repeat ad nauseum, but the net effect was that half an hour after leaving the platform, we’d travelled less than a hundred yards. The driver gave up and nursed the train back to the platform. Apparently there ws so much ice on the electrified rail that the train couldn’t get enough power to move. By now, there was another train – another electric (a 444, to be exact) was on platform three, and we were advised to cross over to that one.

The new train did even less well – it hadn’t even moved before it lost power and all the lights – even the emergency ones – went out. A number of announcements by the guard kept us informed of the fact that there was still no news, but eventually he was able to tell us that our best bet was to go back to platform one and get on the CrossCountry train to Manchester, and change at Basingstoke. CrossCountry run diesel trains, which while being less environment friendly, don’t rely on power from the rail so they could actually run. On the CrossCountry train I sat next to someone who’d travelled down from Birmingham this morning, intending to go to a meeting in Bournemouth. The train had gone no further than Southampton, and he was heading back to Brum without even getting off the train.

Basingstoke had one further treat for us – we got off our train and crossed to platform three for the connecting service…only to get a platform alteration sending us back where we came from, moments before the train arrived.

I got to London just after eleven, three hours later than normal. This evening’s return trip was dead easy – I’m clenching my bowels at the thought of what tomorrow might hold…

Ice

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Well, I didn’t intentionally make light of Basingstoke’s problems yesterday – for those of you who don’t see British news, they had huge volumes of snow yesterday, so much that cars were abandoned on the ring road, people took hours to get home, and some people ended up spending the night at work, or in the bedding department of John Lewis (strange but true – see here).

Still and all, the amount of snow around the railway line in Basingstoke last night, was nowhere near enough to explain the disruption of the trains.

Tonight’s trains were still suffering from the cold, this time in the form of ice – but it was on the inside! The guard was kind enough to be very apologetic about the heating not working, but it was still flippin’ cold. Oh, and as promised last night, I wore my walking boots today, and was glad I did – there was a lake of melted snow blocking the back door to the office :-(

So much for global warming.

Let it Snow

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Tchoh, I dunno…first sign of a bit of the white stuff and everything grinds to a halt! This morning’s train was fifteen minutes late into London because of adverse weather conditions in the Guildford area” – and for those of you wondering, no, my train doesn’t go anywhere near Guildford, so I don’t understand it either.

Coming out of work this evening, the busses were even more crowded than normal – not helped by some ratty twonk having a row with the bus driver and stopping the rest of the queue getting on. And then halfway across Waterloo Bridge, there was another bit of unrest when two drunk ladies at the front of the bus started yelling at each other.

But the best was yet to come – normally by the time I get to Waterloo, my train is sitting on the platform, and I can go straight to it and get on – ensuring I get a seat, ahead of the crowds of tourists who are clogging up the concourse waiting for the platform to be announced. Tonight I wandered on to platform 14 with a handful of other clever cloggses…and no train! Not only that, but by the time the train was due to leave, it still hadn’t arrived.

Eventually…and already fifteen minutes late…the train wandered in, discharged its human cargo and let us on board. The delay, apparently, had been caused by appalling climactic conditions at Basingstoke” – which turned out to be some snow. Enough, maybe, to cover the ground – just.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. I’m going to wear my walking boots just in case.

Something Missing

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Standing in the bus queue outside Southampton station t’other night, we were joined by a young man – mid-twenties-ish – walking with crutches. He got on the same bus as me, and was joined in his seat by a talkative elderly gent who engaged him in conversation.

From their conversation we learned that the young man had attended university in Southampton, and had graduated last year: He had to move to Kent, because that was where his work was, but his girlfriend is still here in Southampton and that’s why he’s back for a few days.

At that point his phone rang.
“Hello, yes, I’m on the bus at the moment”

“I’m not sure where this one goes…It might go up alongside…oh you know, that parade of shops in, um, oh, that road”

“Or it might turn right and go along…that road that goes…oh, you know…”

“Where am I? Hang on…going along towards, oh you know, the road where the furniture shop is”

The phone call finished, the chatty old chap asked former student what he studied at Southampton Uni.

“Geography”

Oh how we chuckled.

Stuck

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Sorry about the blogging hiatus.

I’ve been stuck on a train. Yes, since I last blogged on Wednesday evening I have literally been stuck on the train.

Notwork Snail are doing a load of work which among other things is causing the partial closure of Southampton tunnel – which in turn is causing major delays on many trains. And so it was only this morning that I got off what should’ve been the train home on Friday.

All this work is aimed at making this section of track able to handle much larger freight trains, so that more and larger containers from Southampton Container Terminal can go by rail. So several bridges are having to be raised, and the tunnel floor lowered, as well as lots of bits of track bed strengthened.

The ironic thing is, the work will be finished just as the newly-refurbished Thames Gateway container terminal comes on stream, hugely reducing the throughput at Southampton.

Ah well.

Yellow Peril

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Those of you who drive regularly will probably have experienced average speed cameras by now. They’re big yellow cameras up a pole at the start and finish of motorway road works, and often partway through as well. They recognise your number plate and time how long it takes you to get through the temporary speed limit, and if you’ve done it in too short a time, you get a nice little fine in the post, and points on your licence. Apparently these devices are known as “Yellow Vultures”.

Coming home from the Far North1 this evening, I passed through three sets of road works, each guarded by yellow vultures – and being the only one awake in the car, I started to have one of my “when I rule the world” musings…

So, when I rule the world, you’ll be able to register a credit card with the authority that runs the yellow vultures: If you exceed the speed limit when there’s work going on, the fine automatically gets charged to your card…however, if you stick to the speed limit at a time when there isn’t actually any work being done, you get the cost of a day’s road tax refunded to your card. Given that it seems that road work only gets done for a couple of hours a day, five days a week and never within two weeks either side of a bank holiday, most drivers could get their whole road tax back over the course of a year.

Alternatively, of course, all that money going back into the taxpayers’ pockets, and therefore being unavailable to pay MP’s dodgy expenses2 might inspire someone in authority to see that the roadworkers actually get on and get the bloody roadworks finished. Either way, motorists win.

Amazingly, I seem to have had a flight of fancy which is less bizarre that the Prime Munster’s latest wheeze.

1 Hertfordshire
2 Or mine, come to that…

Train

Monday, September 28th, 2009

I’m on the train…and I’m blogging! I love National Express East Coast and their lovely free on-board wi-fi! As well as being able to blog, check your e-mail and tend your Farmville farm (note to self: Squash are due for harvest soon), you get a little moving-picture display of where the train is.

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(Pic is probably copyright National Express)

Last week I found myself in another part of the country, courtesy of First Great Western, a train company that honours all its passengers with seats and windows, all included in the price of your ticket! They also throw in a free adventure, in the form of throwing everyone off the train at Trowbridge – a country town in the middle of nowhere, then after twenty minutes on the platform, letting them back on again.

But anyway, I wanted to really tell you about the hotel I stayed in on that trip…it’s one I’ve never used before, as I normally don’t do an overnight when I visit that office. It was nice enough – free custard creams and chocolate in the room – but the restaurant seemed a bit pretentious and I’d spotted a reasonable-looking pub over the road, so I decided to venture out. And then I discovered that the South Wales Scary Bikers Convention had all met there, and invited their North Wales and England counterparts along for a rumble.

The pretentious restaurant wasn’t bad, really…

…and calm.

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I realised the other day that of the last six weekends, I’ve spent four Saturday nights in the caravan, one in a friend’s guest room and one in a slightly dodgy hotel. It’s all been fun, but it’ll be nice to be in familiar surroundings this Saturday night – especially as in a week’s time I’m off again, this time with Rob and Sarah for the 2009 Great Lake District Cachepedition.

I predict a couple of late nights packing between now and departure day: just the gadget list seems to get longer every year, and with at least one walk on the list that’s more major than any we’ve done in recent years, there’ll be more safety kit than usual too. I hope R and S won’t mind too much if I sleep in the car on the way up – at least I won’t be driving. I’ve already tested the MP3 player’s “extra loud” setting, in case Rob insists on playing “Les Mis” all the way up the M6.

Perhaps a couple of early nights during this week would help. I suppose I might manage it.

Back

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Well, I made it back…the taxi driver for the return trip seemed to be a bit more alert, so that was OK.

As I hinted in Sunday’s teaser, I need to get a more comfortable saddle for my bike, but other than that it’s proving pretty usable. I took it to New Wine with me – folded, it fits in the caravan a treat, and it proved pretty useful there. I even cycled it to a cache, although it might well have been quicker to walk! Since I got back, I’ve been using it to cycle between the office and Waterloo station.

Apart from the saddle issue, it’s OK – it folds and unfolds quickly and easily, and in the folded configuration fits easily onto the train without occupying a bike space. Oh, and it fits easily into the back of PF’s car as well :-) . I’ve bought some battery operated lights, because the dynamo lights that came with it weren’t too impressive, other than that it works pretty well as supplied.

Cycling in London is fine (so far!). There’s an impressive network of cycle lanes and waymarked cycle routes to get you around without mixing it with the worst of the traffic, and there’s more or less unlimited cycle parking at work. Once the legs get used to the pedalling, I’ll try for a few lunchtime caches by bike ;-)

Overall, a purchase I’m pretty happy with.

Round-Up

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Phew! It’s been a busy old time – as you’ll have noticed from the lack of anything approaching bloggage. So as a summary, in the last week PF and I have been to Jenny’s birthday bash at a pretty pub…

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…and we’ve had a meal out with Rob and Sarah, and celebrated PF’s birthday with a little light geocaching. And this weekend we’ve been to a bit of a do at PF’s sister’s house, where it was very sunny and I’d forgotten my hat…

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.

Coming in the near future, a review of riding to work on my bike – but in the meantime, here’s a clue: What do you call a dinosaur with an uncomfortable bike saddle?

Oooh!

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

We had some excitement on the train home the other night.

We arrived in Southampton a couple of minutes late, and the first thing we spotted was a policeman (and a proper one at that, not a plastic policeman), running along the platform. We all piled off the train, to be met by a couple of stolid SouthWest Trains employees preventing access to the footbridge “on police orders”.

Luckily you can leave Southampton station on the platform 4 side and use a different footbridge, which we all did – noticing on the way that
A) they weren’t letting anyone onto the station, and
B) there was a single lonely police car parked outside.

The platform one side car park was a bit livelier though – to the tune of –
– two police dog units (spaniels, so search dogs rather than arrest dogs)
– two armed response units
– six other police cars
– a police van.

As the longer walk round had made me just miss the bus, I had fifteen minutes to watch the action, although there wasn’t much going on – by then whatever it was, was over, and they were all packing up to go home.

Needless to say, the local paper has been silent on the issue, so we’ll probably never find out what was going on. Shame really.

Purchase

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

I bought a bike!

Bike

And a bike helmet…

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Am I not, as Jools Holland famously once said, a groovy fakir?

I’ve wanted a folding bike for a while – it’ll be good for commuting, and will extend my in-London geocaching range significantly :-) – not to mention being a handy gadget to keep in the caravan. I did some research and found the one pictured above on this website – followed by some more research after a chum of PF’s advised us to look at some more options. We did, and I still ended up ordering the one in the picture.

I’m hoping it arrives in time for New Wine :-)

I Shoulda Known Better…

Friday, July 17th, 2009

…than to get all smug about how easy it was to sort out my train ticket.

As I hinted here, I’d been having trouble with my Oyster card. An Oyster, for those of you not familiar with the machinations of the Nation’s Capital, is a pre-paid swipe card for travelling on busses and the underground. Mine had been unreliable for a while, and had reached the point that it would only work on the bus number 521 – only useful if I only wanted to bus halfway to the office and walk the rest.

So I went in to the local ticket office and explained the problem. Mungo took my card and swiped it through his problem-ticket scanner.
“That’s working OK”.

I explained again that it was an intermittent fault, at which he sighed, rolled his eyes and gave me a form to fill in. This involved things like my name and address and date of birth, but surprisingly nothing about what was wrong with my Oyster card: eventually it was complete and I rejoined the queue to hand the document back to Mungo: sadly he wasn’t available so I handed it to Mungo’s Mate.
“This card’s working OK”.

I explained all over again, and agreed that I’d have to pay the deposit on the new card – I only realised afterwards that I hadn’t got back the deposit on the card I’d handed in. There was a great deal of tutting and muttering, it seems like the process of transferring credit from the old card to the new is still done by abacus.

It was done in the end, so I suppose I shouldn’t grumble too much. Just got to see now if it works.

Waterloo Too

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

On Monday, I closed the story of my non-functioning train ticket with “If the Travel Centre at Southampton is ever open when I’m in Southampton, I’ll have a go at getting a replacement ticket out of them. I’ll let you know how I get on.”

Sadly for the cause of exciting narrative, what happened was I told the man what’d happened, he commented that “we get a lot of those”, and he gave me a new ticket. We’ll see how long this one lasts.

Coming soon (I hope) – the story of how I sort out my partially-functioning Oyster card. This one’s really odd – it still seems to work on the 521 bus, but not on any others. Hmm.

En Francais

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Regular readers will know that I like to have a quiet kip on the train home in the evening.

I’m not the only one – people who stay awake are a bit of a minority, and when I started this job, m’chum Brian – who’d just retired from a job commuting to the Nation’s Capital – told me “you’re not a proper train-riding commuter person until you’ve woken up one stop beyond where you wanted to get off.”

I’ve never yet achieved that, but the other night I thought I’d gone one better: I woke up as the train was pulling into a station, and all the passengers around me, sorting their bags ready to get off, were speaking French.

OK, it was only Winchester and they were exchange students, but it gave me a nasty moment.

Waterloo

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Remember back around Christmas I had a whinge about the new automated ticket barriers at Waterloo? I said at the time that it would be interesting to see how long it took before they started to go wrong.

Well, apart from initial teething troubles, they haven’t. What has happened is that people’s tickets have stopped working: the season tickets that people have at the moment weren’t designed for the constant wear and tear of being put through the barriers, so the magnetic strips are wearing away. The ticket no longer works the barriers so I have to queue for the gate that’s being manually operated and show my ticket to the attendant – and explain how my ticket doesn’t work any more.

I’m not the only, or first, person it’s happened to – it’s a regular topic of conversation on the 06:30, and apparently season ticket holders on the Reading/Windsor/Waterloo line were having problems some time before us. One user (at least) has been told that he has to replace his valid ticket within three days of it failing to work the barrier, or he’ll be done for fare-dodging – in spite of having an in-date ticket for which he’s paid. Worryingly, when he raised this on one of South West Trains’ regular online Q+A sessions, there was no attempt to say that this was wrong information: the response focussed on the new barriers being of benefit to all rail users – although it didn’t say how.

If the Travel Centre at Southampton is ever open when I’m in Southampton, I’ll have a go at getting a replacement ticket out of them. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Neat Freak

Monday, June 29th, 2009

As regular readers will know, I usually go out from work at lunchtime to buy my lunch (or sometimes to get it on the way in, if I want something that will survive a morning in the fridge).

Some of m’colleagues bring a packed lunch in from home, partly to save money and partly to have some control over what they’re eating. In Don’s case, he has loads of food allergies so he needs to know what’s in his lunch box – normally carrot sticks and rich tea biscuits.

Don now has an apprentice called Jimmy: Jimmy is obviously following in the Master’s foodsteps:

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Notice how his lunch isn’t just healthy, it’s obscenely neat as well. I don’t suppose I need to tell you that Jimmy used to be in the Army?

Gerhard

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

German politician Gerhard Schroeder is known, in some unkind circles in his home country as “The Audi”. Not because he’s sleek and speedy, but because he’s been married four times. If you have trouble with that joke, a peek at the Audi logo might help.

Viewers of motoring-related comedy show Top Gear might remember arch-clown Clarkson suggesting that the Audi has taken the place of BMW as the car of choice for people who get a kick out of acting like a**eholes. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know, but I certainly saw evidence in favour of the theory this evening.

On the bus home from the station – and in a bit of a rush because of getting to Hospital Radio – there was a loud blast of Audi hooter from behind: As the bus changed lane – to be in the right lane for the roundabout – Audi man had decided to accelerate to get past. Although at the speed he was doing he could’ve taken off and gone over, but that’s another story. Anyway, disgusted at finding himself and his fine German motor behind a Leyland bus, he let rip with his horn.

Not only, but also – at the next stop he pulled in behind us, ran to the front of the bus and started berating the driver. “You hit my car back there!!!”, in spite of a bus full of people all knowing that no collision had taken place. He continued to shout and swear, and point out non-existant damage on his car and on the bus, in the face of which the driver remained – at least all the time I was there – calm, professional and polite. In the end the Audi driver phoned the Police, at which point the bus driver apologised profusely and turned us all off the bus, saying he’d have to wait for the Police.

When I left, Audi man was on the phone to someone else, ranting about the “stupid (racist term) bus driver”. I got on a number four instead, which was very uneventful. The only consolation for being ten minutes late home is the thought that the Police now routinely breathalyse all drivers involved in accidents that they deal with – you have to hope that Audiboy is now in a cell and facing the prospect of waving goodbye to his licence.

Adventure

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

I had an adventure today…I went to London on the train! Not something I do every day, and…

Eh? What?

Oh yes…it is something I do every day. But at least, it being the weekend, I was able to travel first class for 2-50 each way, which meant comfortable seats, a tray table big enough to spread out on, peace and quiet, and a mains socket to charge the PDA so I could catch up on some work.

The purpose of today’s visit was to go to a committee meeting of a charity I support, to offer some advice on their new Health and Safety policy. They already had the bones of one in place so we were more or less there in an hour, and I was free to leave…

Needless to say, I scored a cache on the way back to Waterloo! I’ve tried for The South Bank Lion several times when work has brought me to this part of the Nation’s Capital…and today, Bingo!

And next to Waterloo I spotted this sign, which I’d never seen before…

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Boris

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

London mayor Boris Johnson has announced plans to let cyclists ignore red traffic lights.

Newsflash for the floppy-haired one: they already do. I know not all cyclists are the same, but the ones who are in the majority in London are the ones who think a red light means you have to shout “LOOK OUT!!!” before proceeding. If a pedestrian then dares to try to cross at the green man, the cyclist is entitled to shout a volley of abuse.

I think London cyclists must be BMW drivers at the weekend.

Not So Sob

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Stand down the alert team.

It’s not over yet, but I’m a bit more relaxed about the whole credit card/South West Trains shenanigans I reported yesterday. I also know a bit more about the slightly odd way that credit cards work.

Apparently processing a credit card payment happens in two stages. Firstly the trader says to the credit card company, “Mr Gottle wants to spend a hundred quid, is that OK?”. The credit card company say “Yes, he’s a trustworthy chap, we authorise that transaction”.

Stage two is that the trader says “OK, you’ve authorised the transaction, now give us the money”, and the credit card company dob up the dosh. Sometimes there’s a delay between stages one and two, although it’s normally short enough that it doesn’t notice.

What seems to have happened this time is:
South West Trains: “Hello, Mr Gottle wants to spend four and a half grand on getting to work for the next year. Is that authorised?”
Mungo’s Credit Cards: “Hmm, well that would take him just over his credit limit, but he’s a nice trustworthy chap, so yes, it’s authorised”.

The problem came when, ten minutes later, SWT should have said “OK, you’ve authorised the transaction, now give us the money”. What actually happened was:
South West Trains: “Hello, Mr Gottle wants to spend four and a half grand on getting to work for the next year. Is that authorised?”
Mungo’s Credit Cards: “Ooh blimey, with what’s already on that card, plus the authorised transaction that hasn’t gone through yet, that would take him miles over his credit limit. No, it isn’t authorised”.

…and that was when South West Trains phoned me up, told me the card had been declined and I paid on the Cats’ Protection card instead. Meanwhile, although South West Train haven’t taken anything from my Mungo’s card, Mungo can’t let me have any more credit because there’s an outstanding authorisation for a big amount…

According to Mungo’s nice telephone helpline lady Nicola, the authorisation will time-expire at close of business tomorrow. I hope so.