Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Trainfellow in a car

My fellow commuter VISAman gave me a call the other day. We have both been inconvenienced by the fact that our train line was washed away by an inconsiderate and unhelpful body of water. VISAman lives quite close and has like me, been without running water for about a week...

Anyway... VISAman and I shared the car to Reading. Very pleasant journey which was not punctuated by any of the usual utterings from a "Train Manager". In fact it did occur to me as we drove past such places as Swindon and Newbury that we ought to provide our own voice over to the journey - sadly we didn't get round to it.

However, the journey to work in a car raised a whole new set of questions about commuting and how you interact....

I think it's ok to have a conversation with the person in the car next to you - no rules about that. But how to do you relate to your fellow road users that you see every day or the chap who you see walking to work at about the same place everyday - or if you are late, he is a bit too far down the road...

I'd appreciate any thoughts you may have on this. A whole new set of etiquette.


Friday, 27 July 2007

Commuting by car

My dear blog readers,

Due to the flooding that has been the talk of Gloucestershire in recent days, I have been unable to use my normal 7.18 train. I have in fact been reduced to driving to the office although I have managed to blag a car parking space which has made all the difference to what would otherwise be an uneventful day...

I have very little excitement to bring you from a quick drive down the M4 - I could rant about the stupidity of drivers who sit 2 feet from someone else's bumper or about the panic braking (both those issues are related) but actually I'm pleased to tell you I found a photo on my phone...

This is of one of the fine gentlemen I gave a lift to at the height of the floods. Poor chap had to walk through a flood in his brand new brogues. He later commented that it seemed to have really helped break them in.

Picture also illustrates the crowded nature of our journey... That's it really.


Sunday, 22 July 2007

The Rule of Getting Found Out

I was talking to VISAman the other day and he has come up with some interesting thoughts on the increasing chances of getting found out, the closer you get to your destination.

This is born out of hearing people on the train (generally contractors or an inexperienced Exec) talking loudly about this customer or that customer who is a complete arse.
Alternatively they might be talking about a severe system problem which really no-one else should hear about for business protection reasons.

The idea is that, when you are travelling to work, the closer you get to your office (or customer's office) the more likely it is there will be someone within earshot who will either know you or know your customer or indeed, be your customer.

Moral of the story, keep your trap shut on the train and don't make business calls because you are probably damaging your business.

Also, it's so very annoying and it doesn't make you look big and important to talk loudly on a phone on the train.



Following the floods, it looks like my normal train route will be out of action for about 2 weeks. Therefore, I have decided to give some pictures from my journeys whilst I think of something else to say:

One does come across some interesting sights on the train. These pics are to illustrate the broad church that is the collection of people who take the same train as me.

Yes, that's right. Blue hair cut in a silly pattern.

The 20-7-7 Floods

We've all been affected in one way or another by the amazing weather of the last few days. Some of it has excited me and some of it left me feeling desperately sad for the people who have had to leave their homes.

I left the office just after 4pm on Friday having had a look at the travel websites and detesting the idea of spending a night in Reading without really having to...

Phase 1
I got to the station and found it was not as packed as I feared and managed to get a train to Oxford. Got chatting to a couple of very nice chaps who were also trying to figure out how to get home. We agreed to stick together in a typically British way and get through the time of adversity - all very 2nd World War.

On arrival at Oxford it became clear that there would be no onward travel.

There was an amusing comment made by one of my new friends who said of one of the slightly unhelpful and bemused Network Rail staff: "He was useless - probably a bit thick. He's about 60 years old and he's still an "Assistant Despatcher".. I laughed out loud.

Phase 2
We were joined at Oxford by a decent fellow called Tony. He was going in the same direction so we pooled our resources and went to find a cab - not at the station either because there was an enormous queue there. We wandered into the centre of Oxford and stopped a black cab and told him to get us to Kingham... After some negotiation, it seems that the terms of our agreement with him were:

1) We give him all the money up front.
2) If he comes across a flood on the way there, he'll kick us out in the middle of nowhere. (His words: "If flood, I drop".

So of we went. It took a while but we got within a 1/4 of a mile of Kingham - we walked the rest and that included one of my new friends getting his brand new expensive brogues wet which apparantly helped soften them up.

Phase 3
We picked up my 4x4 at Kingham and this is where the fun really started. Getting out of Kingham was really very difficult because, having got through the flood at the station we were turned back by the villagers who quite understandably did not want:
a) lots of abandonded, flooded cars left in their village
b) did not want the wash of the vehicles going into their homes.

So we made our way round somehow or other. It turned out that 2 of the chaps I had picked up were RAF people who typically devised a system for assessing the floods in front of us on a case by case basis. There was a scale of 1 -5 Severity and we'd make a decision based on the assessment.

Severity 1 - bit of a puddle really. Nothing much to worry about. Have a quick look at it if necessary but carry on. Distance of flood - 20 feet.
Severity 2 - Maybe an abaonded car in the water. Some cars turning back, some making it through. Might be a current of water. Put the vehicle into 4x4 mode and go slowly through the water taking care to keep the revs high in case something unexpected happens - sudden dip in the road etc. Distance of flood up to 75 feet.
Severity 3 - No cars passing. 4x4s and lorries only. Water looks to be up to 3 feet deep and the distance of the flood is significant. Strong current going across the road. Some vehicles abandoned. Vehicle in 4x4 mode, high revs, slow approach so as to minimise wash and prevent water from coming over the bonnet and never let the vehicle stop moving.
Severity 4 - Tractors only. Stranded cars only just visible in the water. Turn back.
Severity 5 - Boats only. This is where you see cars being washed away by the current and there are rescue boats out and helicopters overhead.

Using this assessment tool was actually very useful and we negotiated many floods - Sadly, when we got to Moreton in Marsh where we were going to let Tony pick up his car, we discovered that the entire station car park was under water along with his BMW Z4. To be fair, if it hadn't been for Tony and his navigating and local knowledge, we might not have made it home that night.

Moreton in Marsh was a Severity 5.

There was, in all the significant floods we went through, only 1 moment when I was really worried.. We were in a Severity 3 flood and just passing an abandoned vehicle when I let the revs dip a bit so I had less speed. This also turned out to be the deepest part of the water. I think we might have been quite close to losing power. Anyway, I hoofed it out by giving it all the power I could and we made it. Brakes didn't feel so clever though - Had to dry them out a bit.

Met up with Wing Commander Chris's wife at Northleach. He and Squadron Leader Jon completed their journey via that route. I'm not kidding - these chaps were excellent and very good company. And best of all they gave me a very nice salute as I drove away.


Saturday, 14 July 2007

New person on the train

I mentioned a few weeks ago about a chap I spoke to at the station. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of trains and stations. He has something to do with railways. (David, I know you read this page sometimes - you are henceforth know as TrainMan.)

Here is his picture that I sneaked the other day: (Sorry about the quality but undercover photography really is quite difficult.

Anyway, TrainMan has shared with me some truly bizarre (and really quite geaky facts). I have shared some of them below for your delight and delectation:

1) There is a branch line south of Oxford.... This is (apparantly) the Cowley Works line built in 1972. (Honestly this is what TrainMan told me).

2) The signs at Kingham and Charlbury stations used to be painted different colours - it apparantly used to be black on white rather than white on black as illustrated below:

This level of observation is a little beyond me.

3) At Oxford station, there is apparantly a building just behind platform 2 which has a special window in it. If, on a cold winter's night you are waiting for your train, you can press your little face up to the window and you will be able to see the status boards of all the trains on that bit of line. The excitement is almost unbearable.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Newspaper Etiquette

Conversations with some of my fellow passengers and general observance of others has brought me to document the rules of newspaper reading on the train.

So here goes:
1) If you do not have a newspaper, do not read the person opposite's. They have spent good money on it they want to have a nice new unread virginal newspaper. Not one that's been drawled over by you.
2) If you catch somone reading your newspaper, catch their eye and make them back off. (All unspoken obviously).
3) If the person opposite puts down their newspaper and they look as if they have finished with it, wait at least 20 mins and up to 30 depending on the individual concerned. During this period carry out thorough surveillance of the owner to see if they may be amenable to an approach for the paper.
Once this phase is complete, use the following expression: "Sorry, excuse me. May I read your newspaper?" The response will almost always be "Yes, no problem". To this you must respond "Thanks very much indeed".
Following this, revert to utter silence as you read their paper even though you are slightly annoyed that they have completed the crossword incorrectly.
4) If you have bought a multi-section newspaper, you are at risk of being approached by an undesirable group of travellers (and I mean you to read as much into that as you possibly can) who will approach you and ask to read one of the unread sections of the paper before you have had a chance even to breath.
This is unacceptable and such people should be dragged into the vestibule by their filthy matted locks and beaten with the newspaper until they are unconcious.
My thanks to "GuardianMan" who related the story from which I drew part 4. You know who you are.

A number of things

I have a number of things I am itching to talk about on this here blog... However, this week has been stupid busy so I have not had a chance to fully document my thoughts. I promise I will get round to it shortly.

Items on their way:

1. Newspaper etiquette
2. The odd couple
3. The Kingham Time Machine
4. Etiquette of emotion
5. Professional betrayal
6. The Train Expert.
7. Early Sleeping man

There will be more...

Monday, 9 July 2007

I shall return to work tomorrow after a bout of sickness that left me feeling suprised! I never get ill and so having 4.5 days off ill is completely unheard of. I shall spare you the other details.

Wish me well in finding new inspiration on the train tomorrow.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Trainfellow becomes Bedfellow

I've been off work for 3 and a half days with a really quite nasty virus. As a result, my usual torrent of observations has been without it's inspiration.

Some have described my illness as man-flu. This is unfair. Can't be bothered to go through the symptoms...

I hope to be back up to speed soon.

Oh but while I remember, I saw Tea Man on Monday. (Remember him - Ginger and Lemon tea - he's the one who disapproves of milk in Earl Gray). He has a colleague to sit with now. This man is probably one of the most miserable dour looking people I have ever seen - and the 7.18 has a fair range of candidates for this award. I wonder if he might be Scottish he looks so miserable.

I hate to think what he'd be like in a meeting... "Er, Jim could you do this for me?"
"Go stuff yourself, I'm miserable"
"Er Jim, that's not very helpful is it?"
"Is this the face of someone who cares?"

etc etc.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Train spotting....

I found this genius vid on You tube. Short, simple and for me, laugh out loud funny. Filmed in Gloucester by the sound of the accents...


Today I are mostly off sick

Got up at the usual time this morning and attempted to go to work. However, this attempt was cut short by arriving at the station to the sound of the fella "Leon" who works there (very nice chap actually) telling us the train would be 1/2 an hour late. Gave up and went home and crawled back in to bed with my man flu for company.

So today I am going to draw upon something I thought about last week.

The "train manager" came on the pa system and actually used it with a certain amount of skill - something that is lacking among many of his "management" colleagues. You could hear every word he said without it either:

a) Making your ears bleed
b) Shattering the windows and making children and adults alike cry.
c) The system just cutting out because the chap has held the mic so close to his face it's more of a throat mic and the thing gives up because it is inundated with saliva.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the "train manager" henceforth know as "the interesting train manager" came on the intercom thing and said the following:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks for travelling with 1st Great Western. (Blah blah blah). Now, I'd like to have a chat with you about some of the short platforms the train will be calling at".

Maybe it's just me but I love the idea of the train manager going from person to person having a nice interesting chat about the lengths of platforms and which carriages to use to alight from the train.. All very pastoral and pleasent. Needless to say he never showed up but I appreciated the effort he made to speak properly and to make his ordinary announcement a bit more interesting.

I've heard from VISAman that there is a chap on a later train who waxes lyrical about the various sights to be seen from the train - the dreamy spires of Oxford, the winding lanes of the Cotswolds, the reminder of Hell inspired by Satan... - that is Didcot....

Another website below for all you train geeks out there - this looks like a great day out:

Monday, 2 July 2007

The Monastic Order of Commuters

It struck me this morning as I made my way to work (with a nasty cold that I shared with the rest of the carriage, and indeed took my time to spread through the train as I made my way to the buffet) that the silence on the train is deafening. Only the squeak of the carriages and the unintelligible babble of the "train manager" punctuates the silence.

Where else would you get a few hundred people gathered together in one place and there to be absolute silence? A monastary perhaps. And this isn't the only similarity.

1) Monks get up early in the morning. So do commuters.
2) Monks often spend a lot of time in silence... See above.
3) Monastries encourage the rhythms and routines of life. So does Network Rail - using a timetable.
4) Monastaries serve basic and often tasteless food. So do 1st Great Western Trains
5) Monks spend a lot of time reflecting on God and in prayer. Commuters plead with God that the train will be on time.

This list could go on for a long time... But I think it would be fun if the station manager handed out monks habits for all commuters and the PA system on the train played back track by Enigma or some such gregorian chanting.

While I was looking for photos of monks and trains, I came across the truly wonderful website: http://www.transport-of-delight.com/ Never have I seen so much web space dedicated to something so truly innocent and quite possibly dull.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Bluetooth woman

I made some notes the other day on some of the people around me on the way home. The woman I mention below was the most "exciting":

I sat down opposite a rather large lady who was wearing a bluetooth headset - she wasn't driving the train and in fact her hands were anything other than full - she was doing nothing but she stil had this headset on. No one rang her. My suggestion, stop looking like a wannabe with no friends... Loose the headset girl.

I've seen many people around in the same situation as above who have their hands manifestly free but who are wearing a headset... Why? Because they think they're in the SAS.

In this woman's defence, I should say she had the most incredible set of finger nails - decorated in the digital equivalent of the Sistine chapel.

I'm not alone.

Went out for a brief pint with one of my new neighbours. Very nice chap and his girlfriend who is a Doctor in London.

We chatted and it turns out she gets the train / tube in to work everyday and has done so for about a year. She sees the same people on the train every day. She has never spoken to or smiled in recognition of any of the people she shares a train with.

British commuter etqiuette is going strong. It's not just me you know... I'm not being paranoid. You're just not allowed to speak on the train.