Tuesday, 25 September 2007
Monday, 24 September 2007
The first day after Friday's opening salvo, I board the train and am dismayed to learn, on consulting the in-train display, that today's train will leave apparently double back on itself. Careful study of the video, and map will illustrate how the apparently planned route appears to be inefficient.
View Larger Map
This is the first journey since my showdown on Friday, and as the 7.33 is once again a short formation, a degree of overcrowding is evident. Joan, joining at Selby, is again without a seat. The Train Manager apologizes for the delay and confusion on the service. Joan remarks pithilt that her feet are sore.
Sunday, 23 September 2007
Excerpt from Nickson to TransPennine Customer Services Department:
"I definitely DO NOT want a letter that tells me you are very sorry and that you are constantly striving to improve your services. I want you to DO something. Despite your Train Manager's disgraceful rudeness, the real problem is overcrowding on this service, and you have to avenues of ACTION that you can take, namely policy and number of coaches at peak/seasonal times."
Excerpt from reply to Nickson from TransPennine:
"We are currently experiencing high volumes of customer contact due to the
RECENT severe weather conditions. We will respond to your email as quickly
as we can, but please be aware that we may be unable to respond as quickly
as we would like to. Should your enquiry be in relation to customer service
disruptions, please check our website for information"
Weather summary for Hull Region from 17 to 23 September, from the BBC:
Monday 17 September 2007 to Sunday 23 September 2007
“Cooler and increasingly unsettled.”
Monday night will see the showers fading thanks to a transient ridge of high pressure. Under clear skies it will be a chilly night with a risk of patchy frost in the north. The clear skies bode well for Tuesday which is likely to be the driest and sunniest day this week.
The remainder of the week will be increasingly influenced by low pressure. A band of rain will sweep from north to south on Wednesday, however southern England is likely to stay dry until after dark.
This front will then clear from southern UK on Thursday to be followed by breezy conditions and mixture of sunny spells and showers.
Saturday, 22 September 2007
Warmish tea secured (£1.05), the Crosstowner and I held back from the press as the usual scrum resolved at the doors of the arriving 730 Turbobooster. There is a rhythm to the arrival of trains. As the train approaches, commuters close formation and creep towards the edge of the platform. When the train stops, people move forward, crowding round doors, giving every impression that as soon as the doors open they are going to pile on to the train, like storming the Bastille. Only when the train doors open does it occur to the crowd (by now a unified organism) that others have to get off, so they all reluctantly back off, leaving the smallest gap for alighters, and as soon as it is possible to board without actually pushing someone out of the way, the crowd push again, totally ignoring the logic that a doorway of certain physical dimensions, by definition, limits the number of humans that can pass through at any time. It is like watching the tide, except that the tide is non-sentient, whereas humans, supposedly are (sentient). By observation, I can report that the same people perform the same pointless experiment every day.
Feeling infinitely superior to the lumpen proletariat, the Crosstowner and I leisurely board the train as the scrum clears, and I secure the bike in the designated bicycle storage area, unpack my newspaper(Amy Winehouse still doing drugs, massive floods in Africa, Blue Peter cat called named Socks despite viewer's TV vote scandal, permafrost melting at unprecedented rates) and begin to plan next blog entry.
"Will the passenger who boarded the train with a bike get off NOW, the train is overcrowded, we cannot carry you", the PA speaker announces. This is an unexpected announcement. A more usual announcement is "Transpennine Express would like to apologize for the late running of this train, and the shortfall of coaches on this service. This is caused by vandalism/squirrels on the line/the sudden appearance of a religious deity outside Brechworth/devolution/post-modernism/ anything except anything that might possibly be TransPennine's responsibility". I realize that the annoucement is directed at me, and the trusty Crosstowner. I hesitate slightly and realize that everyone on the train who wants to get home is looking at me. It's all my fault. I alight the train, embarrassed as only an English person who has been "shown up" can be.
I am extremely angry, but wo'nt relate the whole conversation. All that is needed to be said is that a furious(but swearing free) argument with the Train Manager ensued until he pulled his train out of the station, forcing me to wait the next train (about 1 1/4 hours later). The only reason given is that the train was "overcrowded" and he made a decision based on Health and Safety. My argument - that by this definition the train is overcrowded every day - fell on deaf ears.
I have immediately swung into "campaign " mode. I have complained, case number 3459162, a number that I intend to become every bit as famous as the prison number of the illustrious former President of South Africa. I am going to photograph the train every day, count the passengers, and if necessary, start a Passengers Travel Group. E-mails will flow like rain-drops on the parched plains of Good Customer Service. It is bad enough that TP Express are still using The Great Floods of 07 as an excuse for poor service, worse that they mangle the English language with the whole "Station Stop" nonsense, worse still that the tea they sell is virtually undrinkable, but now, by picking on the CrossTowner (joint third in my affections with Liverpool, and narrowly behind the cats. Oh, yes, and Nel, of course), TP have really crossed the line.
I imagine that when they hear the story, the commuters will flock to the cause. I imagine sit-down protests, ticket strikes, mass mailings, demonstrations and people chaining themselves to the buffet thus preventing the sale of "snacks, light refreshments [undrinkable] tea. coffee, and soft drinks". I already have several campaign slogans - "Arise, commuters of the 7.33 Hull-Leeds Service, you have nothing to loose but your jobs", "We need more 700 Series Units on a daily basis", and "Bikes, not safety".
Watch this space....
Thursday, 20 September 2007
Also on the agenda is a trip to Antony Gormley's Angel Of The North, a massive steel sculpture on the outskirts of Tyneside. Gormley is my favourite artist, unashamedly democratic, and very straightforward - he wants to create work that echoes the massive civic architecture of ancient Egypt and he wants the public to visit it, go "wow", buy an ice-cream and go home talking about football. Gormley is'nt deep - his stuff just adds to the environment.
CCP's apartment is great - light, airy and well-proportioned, and is her own space. This is important because all the time we hung out with CCP in London, she was renting a room in the house of a mad-woman called Sue. For the first time we get to see all of Cristiana's personality via her own space. Like her personality her apartment is a riot of colours, information, ideas, fascinations as well as art and is complex without being complicated.
Friday, 14 September 2007
At Selby, the train stops for longer than usual, and the delay gets confirmed by an announcement that the train will now discontinue and coaches will replace it. It appears that the cable between Selby and Leeds (all thirty two miles of it) has been stolen, and the train cannot proceed. We are all to alight, mindful of the gap, and await coaches. A gaggle of about 100 passengers, obviously day -trippers, holiday makers and other occasional users, catch up with the Transpennine staff just as they are about to enter a room on the station platform labelled "Staff Only". I can hear Pete, the conductor, saying "No", "Nothing we can do", "I do'nt know" and "Passenger's Charter" in between trying to get his breath back. . It was a close race.
The remaining 60 or so, hardened veteran commuters all, pass the Transpennine's supplicants, and rapidly head for a place in the queue on the road outside the station. We are, mostly, undismayed, even though, to us, it is obvious that someone has blundered. 59 cellphones flash in the sunlight as employers are called, and for some, I can hear the explanation of traindelays is beginning to sound like an excuse. "No, no no, really, I'm standing at Selby station waiting for a coach - I took photos, I'll show you when I get in" I hear this phrase, and variations thereof, from phones to the left, right and behind me.
I am conspicuous in having no cellphone, the only person in the UK not to possess one of the infernal devices. A fellow train warrior, next in the queue, offers his telephone so I can call Icksy, and on completion a conversation ensues. David has travelled to Leeds daily for the past month. I know this because he usually sits opposite me. However, on a "normal" daily journey, we follow the rules of commuting assiduously, and completely ignore each other for an hour, starting at 7.33am. In cases of interrupted journey's the unwritten rules allow conversations, so, after establishing to our mutual satisfaction that the other is not gay, or unemployed, and agreeing that at least "Its not raining" we chat happily.
We also speculate on whether, as TransPennine allege, the "cable" has been stolen, or whether this is merely a story. "Cable theft" seems such a frequent delay-causing occurrence that Cable Barons must rival Drug-Lords and People Smugglers for pole position in the League Table of Bad People that our statistically obsessed Government undoubtedly publishes (semi-annually). Personally, I am undecided on how I view the cable theft. The Eurocentrist part of me can see how its a good example of how enterprising and innovative us Europeans can be. The resource was there, we exploited it in a new, innovative way. Mr Hobson would undoubtedly see a different perspective. When I eventually arrive in work, Icksy does'nt care. He just tells me that I've got to work an extra two hours to make up for the time TransPennine have lost me.
We decided to head out last weekend to find a new friend for Toulouse (and us). We've all been a little mopy since we lost Peaches, so we took a trip to the animal shelter. We did a quick tour at the kittens (because, well, you have to) but then went straight for the junior cats. We decided on a cat close to Toulouse's age since we knew the kitten's would have no problem finding a home, and Toulouse may bond better with someone in his peer group (snicker.... niave... cough...). Well it didn't take us long to find a pure bundle of energy that quickly was attached to me. Literally. He was nearly stuck to my face 'ala Alien'. Home he came, was dubbed Felix (Cooper and Sputnik being close contenders and unnoficial middle names), and has been terrorizing Toulouse ever since. We've had him neutered yesterday and even the vet said he was the friendliest and most energetic cat he has ever seen (and that's saying something considering the nature of the operation).
We'll give Toulouse a few more days before calling Grasshopper for Bonding tips. :)
Friday, 7 September 2007
Regular train reading is currently "The Eastern Origins OF Western Civilization" by John M. Hobson. Mr Hobson's work represents one extreme of an argument between Eurocentrists and people I can only describe as Probably Enthusiasts of the non-Eurocentric Equal Area Projections (PEEP). Mr Hobson is definitely a PEEP.
Eurocentrists believe that the current state of World Civilization, namely a Global Civilization dominated by "The West" is entirely along the lines of the natural order of things. The West is dominant, they explain, because of our values, resources, inventiveness, socio-economic and political systems, not to mention the heroic actions of a few select historical figures. What if it had all gone horribly wrong, they hint darkly, and one of the Eastern Powers had risen to World Pre-Eminence in the last thousand-odd years? Imagine a world dominated by one overpowering culture, power rested firmly in the hands of self-interested cat-obsessed family dynasties, where strangely robed High Priests' speak for the Gods. A world of luxury and power for the few, while the masses struggle to live, sending their young men to fight in wars they do'nt understand, their daily struggle enlivened only by the occasional seaside holiday, the dazzle of illustrious celebrity and the semi-legal drugs that the powers-that-be quietly sanction. A truly horrible vision.
The PEEPs present a different perspective. The West, they argue, is currently, temporarily, Numero Uno, only because of Western tendencies that lie in the direction of opportunistic theft (of ideas, resources and land), piratical trading methods, and biological warfare caused by the regrettably low standards of personal hygiene that are prevalent in the West. Indeed, the PEEPS allege, it wasn't really until they had conquered the World that Westerners felt relaxed enough to have a good daily bath. We would have all been better off, they argue, disappearing into Himalayan caves for a few years and studying Confucius. Besides which, Mr Hobson claims, the Chinese invented everything from steam engines to writing, at least 500 years before the Europeans, and only failed to achieve world domination because on the eve of colonising America in 1421, became fascinated with the contemplation of a particularly complex snowflake, went back to the cave and decided to think about it for a few hundred years. The World would have been infinitely better off, Mr Hobson seems to imply if we'd all been able to wear silken robes to work, even if it meant the extinction of the tiger 200 years before it looks as if it is just about to happen.
While insufficiently researched in the subject to assert any conclusions yet, I can report that while proximity to fellow commuters on the 7.33 Turbobooster does seem to support the notion that daily washing among Westerners is still not ingrained as a habit, equally, reports (from a Chinese friend) of the ring roads of Beijing sound more like a description of Dante's Hell than a Contemplative Paradise.
Later on, in work, I remind Icksy of my request to leave work 15 minutes earlier so that I can catch a train that will get me home 1 1/2 hours earlier than my usual time. My contracted quitting time is 5.30pm which is actually an hour earlier than I usually can leave, so by having a 15 minute lunch on Friday, I will have worked 4 1/4 hours more than my contracted weekly hours and I figure that I'm not stealing anything if I can get away. Icksy, by the book as usual, goes to "check if its ok"with the office", gets distracted on the way, forgets to check and comes back to me at 5.15 with a new piece of work that he wants to start now. I remind him of my request and he has "a think" about it, grants me permission to leave (its now 5.25pm) and I race across Leeds to the station to try and catch the 5.38, only to find it has been delayed by 15 minutes.
On the way back to Hull, the train is delayed by another half hour because, Transpennine Express tell us, vandals have stolen signalling equipment outside of Selby. This delay puts me back on the same schedule as if I had'nt "bothered" Icksy at all. Passengers take advantage of the delay to open the doors, thus releasing the smell of the malfunctioning toilet.
On the ride home from Hull Station I stop at a local market to get lots of beer for the evening. As I'm in the line-up for the tills, a man walks in, and in a similar tone to someone ordering a pizza, says "Can someone call the Police, there's two lads beating Seven Shades out of eachother outside". I glance up and sure enough, outside, there's blood everywhere. Curiously for Britain (cellphone ownership at 58 million and rising), no-one seems to have a phone, and I really do'nt, so I figure it is now SEP (Someone Else's Problem).
In the early days of our return to the UK, I intervened in one such incident, unsuccessfully because the fighters just totally ignored me. I was quite insulted, as the adrenalin was pumping and the least I expected was to become innocently embroiled in the dispute, perhaps end up in hospital and make the papers as a "have-a-go-hero" but alas, the boys just kept punching past me, as if I was not there, until I had to walk away. Later, I realized that street fighting isso common in Hull ( this is a correction from my earlier claim as a friend has reminded me that there's very little street fighting in Heswall) that interference would be a clear breach of the Prime Directive, so now I just do what everyone else does, and try not to let it make me late for appointments.
I walk outside, replace my bike seat, lights and front wheel, unlock the frame, the back wheel, and the front forks, trying not to get blood on me, and manoeuvre past the pugilists, now with a considerable weight in my pack as the titanium locks, cycling cape, books, phone directory, notepad, pencils, wet weather gear and tub of peanut butter have been joined by four bottles of "Old Speckled Hen". A policeman strolling towards the fight scene, who I think I saw attending a streetfight earlier on in the week, stops me and reminds me to turn my lights on.
Nel has made a nice tea, but something has happened today that has really upset me, so I dive outside for a walk with the cats to calm down, and ponder the situation. I'm really upset because in work, Andy kept repeatedly calling me "Scouse", and I'm fed up with it.
Thursday, 6 September 2007
Lydia, our niece has had her baby, and everyone is doing very well. I have to correct a statement I made some time ago - this does not make Margaret a great, great grandmother. She's just great.
Sunday, 2 September 2007
Nowadays, these historic routes are still busy with commuters between towns, holidaymakers heading for Manchester International, sightseers and a more recent phenomenon - retail village bargain hunters. The corridor served is about 30 miles wide and 120 miles long, with a total population, or potential passenger base, of about 7 - 10 million people. To give some sort of perspective to Canadians, this is a smaller landmass than the stretch of Nova Scotia from Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton, to Halifax with the sea shores in between as northern and southern boundaries. Of course, the population would have to be increased by a factor of about 20 and would have to be much more ethnically diverse, and the Sydney tar ponds (yes, I know they are not within the boundaries I have described but pretend they have been plonked into the middle of this area) would have to be re-classified as wildlife sanctuaries, but hopefully the picture painted can be imagined. This is a busy place.
Which is why, when Transpennine Express chose to reduce the number of coaches (by half) on the peak time 7.33am 730 class Turbobooster from Hull to Manchester Victoria, (calling at Brough, Selby, Leeds and Huddersfield), there are problems caused by the resultant overcrowding. And when TransPennine Express choose to do this frequently, human commuters begin to equip themselves, in advance, with strategies and worse-case-scenario plans anticipating the fact that their working day is about to commence with a journey that closely resembles the end-of-life experience of Dussumieria Acuta, or more commonly, the humble sardine.
Of late, my trusty Fuji Crosstowner has become the focus of approbation among some commuters who regularly join the train at Selby, even though my bike would lustily dispute it's responsibility for the overcrowding, a negative claim which would receive my full support. Commuters are a strange breed, creatures of custom. A common perception is that the annual migration of birds, or even wildebeest is mindless and unchanging, driven by instinct and environment, but the unswerving habits of commuters make these natural spectacles look like whims. At station platforms everywhere, regular commuters arrive at the same time, take their habitual place on the platform with millimetre accuracy and thus daily, when the 7.33 from Hull arrives, tend to get on the same coach, in the same order and sit in the same seats.
This pattern is exacerbated by the English mania for orderly queuing, which only means that Joan, working for Accounts Receivables in Thompson and Thompson, St Peter's Place, Leeds is fully expecting not to get her usual seat when for the fourth day in a row the train arrives sans two carriages. She is also, by now, fully expecting to see the Fuji Crosstowner comfortably nestled in its assigned storage space, a berth only achieved at the cost of folding up one of the three "multi-use" seats on the train. Additionally she has again just witnessed "her" seat occupied by Jim, who usually gets on the train two places in front of her.
Joan has been quietly fuming about these outrages for four days now and has a speech prepared. But she needs an opening to use the speech. This is provided by Dave and Trev, suited and booted salesmen who also regularly join carriage "C" at Selby. Dave and Trev are typically young male Yorkshire - blunt and assertive, with soccer fan arrogance - and have evidently agreed a plan of action in case the two carriage scenario repeats. When it does, Dave acts. He boards the train, walks straight to the multi-use seat, which I have folded up to accomodate the Fuji's rear wheel, and he attempts to fold it back down and sit on it. Then he starts to bounce up and down on the seat, trying to get it down all as far as it will go. The seat is prevented from folding fully down because it is resting on the back wheel of the Fuji, but Dave persists, looking round the carriage defiantly, and grinning at Trev.
The part of me that is English immediately wants to apologize, but the militant cyclist in me goes for stronger language, "Excuse me, can you watch the bike please". Dave looks at me, garbed in my cycling apparel, and says" This your bike, mate?". The subsequent conversation is riddled with language that totally contradicts the meaning of the exchange, but having now completed "Watching the English" by Kate Fox, I am more equipped to complete the dialogue. By saying "Yes, the back wheel is'nt designed to cope with that kind of stress", I actually mean "Stop being a frigging idiot and keep your 220lbs of brainless meat away from my property". In responding "I've paid for a seat, mate", Dave means "I'm one tough hombre and you better learn who's boss on this Turbobooster, you skinny tree hugger".
Bizarrely, this conversation is conducted across a carriage between tightly skirted bums of office girls and the brown shoes of, among others, Trev. The train is so crowded that Dave and I have to conduct our exchanges across the jiggling rumps of salesmen and young girls.
Everyone else in the carriage is pretending the conversation is not happening. Everyone apart from Joan. She squirms her way through the swaying crowd, and angrily, completely without punctuation, addresses no-one-in particular "Bikes taking up all this space, least they could is not to have seat themself[sic], dont think about no-one, its a bloody disgrace, should be disabled anyway, not that there's space for wheelchairs. They do'nt even pay for it." I am back to being English, and defensive, and only have the vaguest idea what Joan is, as they say locally, "on about". "I'm sorry, but the gentleman was trashing my bike" I feebly offer. . Joan counters "Did you pay for it?". "I paid for my ticket, yes,.." I begin. Joan interrupts "But you did'nt pay for mine, so I'll say what I bloody well want" she shouts. QED. The logic of Joan's argument is completely unanswerable, so I don't respond. I begin to try to think of a positive solution - perhaps we could let the Fuji have the seat one day, then on alternate days, I could maybe ride the sixty two miles to Leeds, possibly tailing the train.
My speculation is futile though. Joan's point, after three days of stewing in her own dissatisfaction, is apparently made, so she disappears back into the mass and Dave, satisfied that he's made his own point, stands up slowly, and leans triumphantly on the Crosstown's crossbar making the occasional barbed comment to Trev. I am left like Tennyson's "good damsel who sits apart" without a final retort. Instead, I continue my own breakfast feast, and am grateful that all of the potential 7 million customers of TransPennine Express choose not to let the train "take the strain" on the same day.