Saturday, January 30, 2010

What Happened Next....

It was all pretty good:
  • The flight took off about an hour late, partly I think due to de-icing the wings.
  • We were only in the air for 95 minutes, so landed just half an hour late. Mind you, we did land so heavily that some passengers squeaked and, because the plane was going to bed, we taxied to such a far flung area of Luton airport that we couldn't even see the terminal!
  • The immigration desks were fully staffed and
  • Best of all, our luggage was already on the carousel by the time we got to it.
Sleep beckons.....

First Out - Last Back

Last Saturday we caught a reasonably early flight from Luton airport.

So far as I can tell, the plane then then did a couple of return trips from Salzburg to other UK airports, before making a final trip back to Luton at the end of the day.

Tonight, we are on that final leg back to Luton, before the plane goes to sleep for the night.

These arrangements meant that (a) we were able to make our own arrangements to travel to Salzburg this morning, thus having the day free to look around the city and (b) there was always going to be the possibility of our flight being late, due to the compounding effect of 'issues' throughout the day.

Having had a good day, after having checked in we were told that our flight could be up to two hours late. The good news is that all involved appear to have made up some time and our cases are now loading and a departure about 45 minutes behind schedule looks likely. Not bad.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Life without a smoking ban

Despite my continuing to babble on, I have not been in the Uk this week.

I have been fortunate enough to have been enjoying a skiing holiday in Austria.

I have always liked Austria. I probably always shall. That's that!

One thing that I have noticed is that people in Austria can still smoke in bars and restaurants. In the UK, smoking in such places is banned.

In Austria you can smell smoke on your clothes after an evening out. In the UK, you can't. The smell is horrid and I had forgotten about it.

Having said that, I am firmly against rules, regulations and the interference of the state in our daily lives. I therefore remain against the smoking ban in the UK and applaud the approach of the Austrian people towards the avoidance of the nanny state.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back to my roots

Crikey - I have actually been back Along the Central Line.

An emergency appointment at the dentist saw me heading back towards Northolt. So it was one stop Eastbound from South Ruislip, an un-enjoyable* 30 minutes in Northolt and then 30 minutes into the West End from Along the Central Line.

I waited no longer than 30 seconds for either train, the journey times were quick and each train was quiet. If only I could always travel to work at lunchtime!

The only problem with quiet trains is that they can't last for ever. If trains are consistently quiet, due to less people traveling, then eventually the operator will cut services. One should think before wishing too much for quiet trains - regularly quiet = uneconomic.

* I don't like going to the dentist, but do try to go regularly. Upon explaining the problem, my dentist looked in my mouth and said "Oh, that's not too bad. I can fix that". In and out in 10 minutes. Fortunately, not back to my roots. Result!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Yoof of Today

A girl was waiting outside Beaconsfield station. I guess she was about 14. She looked as though she was waiting for a friend.

Sure enough, after a couple of minutes her friend turned up - from over the footbridge on the platform side of the barriers.

It quickly became apparent the the waiting girl had neither the intellect, nor the ability, to purchase a ticket unaided. She did not appear to have what are described as 'learning difficulties'. Quite simply she was what I would call 'scatty'.

Anyhow, through the railings her friend patiently described the process of buying a ticket and the girl eventually flourished her train ticket in the air proudly saying "How do I get in?".

There are two ticket barriers to the platform. Having spent 20 seconds trying to ram her ticket into the 'way out' barrier (the one with the big RED light), she eventually gained access through the 'way in' barrier (yes, you guessed it, the one with the big green light on it).

Most Chiltern Railways stations have automatic Ticket Vending Machines. They are generally pretty straight forward to use. They are also good because if you buy tickets online, all of the TVMs will print out your tickets, provided you designated the appropriate station as your collection point.

Following some robberies, a small number of Chiltern's un-staffed stations have had their ticket machines removed. This is a significant inconvenience for some passengers. It is thought that the thieves may be currently enjoying a stay away from home at Her Majesty's Pleasure.

It would be nice if the railway company could reinstate the machines, but that is as likely as it starting to snow Smarties.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sign of the times

Walking between Marylebone and Baker Street stations are two blocks of small shops.

Out of ten shops on one of the blocks, three have recently closed.

It may well be a particularly greedy landlord. In a way, I hope that is the case. Otherwise a 30% closure rate in the space of a month would seem to confirm that the retail sector is currently suffering a nightmare.

Unless that is you are one of the large supermarket chains.

Obviously, we want to live in a world where we are forced to shop at one of the large supermarkets. Naturally, life would be better without local independent shops and speciality retailers.

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Travel Information Call Centre number for London

About a month ago Transport for London launched a new number for their Travel Information Call Centre. It is 0843 222 1234 which is reassuringly similar to the old number (020 7222 1234).

Just be aware that this number may not be included in your 'free local call' quota if you have such a thing in your landline or mobile package. If you were previously calling from within London (or from just outside), then the old '020 ' would have been included in most quotas.

The old number is still working.

Thanks to London Reconnections for the tip (and see for more detail).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How deep can we go?

Over the last few days I've done quite a bit of driving around the bottom half of Buckinghamshire.

The state of the roads is quite shocking. There are potholes everywhere, some of which are quite big. Big as in some are wide, big as in some are deep and big as in some are wide and deep.

The potholes are on busy roads and on quiet roads. They are in the towns and in the countryside.

The potholes will have been caused by the recent long cold weather. Combined with the modern cheap and cheerful way of patching up roads, their really is an epidemic of them.

Last week the Bucks Free Press quoted the Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council as saying that the authority would not be borrowing money to fix the road network stating "Borrow £10million and look for another £1million cut in frontline services".

I totally understand where the Council is coming from, but it doesn't help to fix the roads. If we have another cold snap, some roads will be virtually impassable at anything more than 20 mph.

On a separate but related matter, I was chatting with a fellow commuter last week. I know what he does and where he works, which is in the public sector. Most people would probably want what he does to continue, and to a high standard.

In the upcoming financial year, his department / team / function is facing having its £2.5 million budget cut by over 80%. That means job losses, site closures and significant challenges in the future.

These two examples of public finance problems are what I have heard of in the last few days. Many people simply have no idea of the scale of the economic problem that this country faces.

We are all going to have to face up to a challenging future for public finances. Please do not underestimate the scale of the problem.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Watch out if you are heading to North West London on the Underground this weekend

If you are in or are heading towards North West London this weekend, the chances are any underground journey will be disrupted.

The Metropolitan, Jubilee, Bakerloo and Piccadilly Lines are amongst those with part suspensions.

Visit the tfl website for more information (this link should always show the current position for planned weekend engineering works).

Mustn't Drive

An hour's drive to get here. A lovely meal in good company. A couple of bottles of wine, some Port and fun conversation.

Bodies spread all over the house - I am on the sofa. Fire in stove nearly out. Room warm.

Early start, lots to do. Sleep is rushing upon me. Zzzzzzzz.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Luck lucky

On a couple of evenings this week, the Central Line has had 'issues'.

Somewhat unusually for me, I have made various return journeys on the Central Line on three different days, this week.

On every occasion, the line has behaved itself, so I really mustn't grumble!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More on seat management...

Off to a breakfast meeting in town, then out to the East End, then back to Soho.

Not quite as bad as Tuesday where I had seven hours of back-to-back meetings, plus traveling from Soho (the first), out to Canary Wharf (second & third) and back again for the rest. For the record, that would be the Bakerloo, Northern & Jubilee Lines.

I am currently sat on a Chiltern Railways train that runs non-stop from Princes Risborough to London Marylebone. It started at Warwick Parkway at 0540.

Everyone who got in the back carriage at the last stop got a seat. There are no empty seats.

That takes very good planning. Oh, and luck.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A minute saved

As of a few minutes ago, Oxford Circus station was closed due to a fire brigade investigation.

My Northbound Bakerloo Line train did not stop at the station, thereby saving about a minute off the journey time.

I caught my train at Marylebone with 45 seconds to spare.


Front or back?

I usually sit in the back carriage of this train. Usually the same seat. The perk of a moderately long commute - one can choose where to sit.

At the last station before London Marylebone, Gerrards Cross, few people who get on at the back get a seat.

Today, I need to make a quick get-away when I get to London. I have chosen to sit in the front carriage.

We have stopped at the last stop before Marylebone and there are still quite a few seats available.

They will be like cattle at the back.

The usual doctrine is that passengers heading for a terminus will tend to bunch towards the front of a train

Clearly the clever folk of Buckinghamshire are far to clever for that. Shhhh. Don't tell them, there may be a rush!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Not enough seats. Again.

Continuing on the theme of my micro-rant of Saturday evening...

I am currently sat in the rear carriage of a Marylebone bound Chiltern Railways service.

The train has one carriage less than usual. That fact is noted on the Chiltern Railways website, which is usually kept well updated.

The only trouble is, there have been people standing since I got on. At present there are eleven people standing in this back carriage. It will be much busier up front.

Every one of those people will have stood for more than 20 minutes on a peak time arrival into London.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Not Good Enough

This post is about money and what passengers should expect for it.

I had some upper middle-aged relatives stay with me earlier this week. They live up in the North East of England. Like most upper middle-aged people (I have to be careful, as they may read this), they have free bus passes which work on all local bus services across the UK.

They also have annual passes for the Tyne & Wear Metro. As upper middle-aged people they pay £12 a year each for those passes.

They were somewhat gobsmacked when I told them how much I pay each year to travel to and from work. When I renew my ticket this year, it will cost me over £3,600. That is a lot of money.

Two single journeys and one return journey, between London Marylebone and my local station, cost each of my relatives somewhat more than twice what they pay, each year, to travel on the Tyne & Wear Metro. They were somewhat surprised at the cost. The journeys were not in the morning peak and all were bought with Upper Middle-Aged Railcards.

While traveling out of London the other day, a work colleague mentioned that he is seriously considering driving in to London from Oxfordshire, simply because his train and car park tickets cost so much.

The trains are all diesel and each carriage has engines. It therefore follows that every additional carriage costs more money to run. However, as I have already pointed out, passengers pay good money to use the trains.

It has been noticeable over the last week or so that Chiltern have been running shorter trains than is normal. Generally just the odd carriage here and there. The problem is that their usual train lengths are based upon very accurate records and monitoring of passenger flows.

Specific examples were on a number of evening peak trains from London last week. I know that snow caused a few issues, but there does seem to be a drip, drip, of shorter trains.

This afternoon's 16.12 train from Birmingham Snow Hill to London Marylebone was a 2 coach train. It was pretty full at Princess Risborough (a very small number of middle 'glower loudly' seats were available). At High Wycombe about 50 people tried to board, hardly any will have got a seat and many didn't even try to get on. The train was to run none stop to London with a journey time of 30 minutes.

On a weekend it really should not be necessary to stand for half an hour on any train.

The Chairman of Chiltern Railways stated publicly, only yesterday, that the purpose of the the business was to make money. I have no problem with that - that should be the aim of all businesses. He also said that this was achieved by listening carefully to what passengers wanted.

Chiltern Railways regularly publish performance and Customer Satisfaction Results. They are generally excellent, though it is noticeable that the last figures show that only 46% of customers think that their journeys are good value for money.

So, there are two possibilities:
  1. The train company may be suffering from an abnormally high number of train failures, leading to shortened trains. If this is the case, Chiltern Railways should be open about this, tell their passengers, and advise what they are doing to fix the problem, or;
  2. The train company is deliberately shortening trains to save money. Obviously they wouldn't want to publicise such a policy and I hope it is not the case.
Regardless, Chiltern Railways need to look at their train lengths on certain services. My observation from the last couple of weeks is that some trains are simply too short.

I am generally pretty supportive of Chiltern Railways (they are after all one of the best run railway companies in the UK), but if the current situation continues then they will start to see a drop in their recorded customer satisfaction scores.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Preparing for the weather

Nowadays, there are lots of different sources of information for the weather forecast.

Generally I think the forecasts on BBC Television channels are pretty good.

During the current inclement weather I have come to base a lot of my actions on the Severe Weather Warning pages of the Met Office website.

They consist of four colours:
  • Green - Behave as normal
  • Yellow - Behave as normal, make sure I am wearing a coat
  • Orange - Whatever happens, it's quite likely I will notice the weather
  • Red - Eeek. Could be a problem. Don't go to the supermarket, because the locusts will have beaten me to it
I must stress that these are my own interpretations. You may need to adapt to a slightly different scenario. I can walk to my local train station and Chiltern Railways seem to be unable to contemplate me not getting to work, so I go.

Except for today, because I had a day of pre-booked leave, just because we are approaching the end of the holiday year. Use it or lose it!

Monday, January 11, 2010

What a smart move

After several Millennia in charge of the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show, Terry Wogan may well have been sat ready to choke on his cornflakes this morning as his successor to the slot started at 7.00 am.

Much has been written about each of Sir Terry and Mr Evans and, in particular, the suitability of the latter to take over the former's broadcasting slot.

It was therefore very clever that the first thing Chris did was to welcome veteran newsreader Moira Stuart back to the BBC, neatly deflecting attention away from him.

Ms Stuart is a national treasure and will be brilliant. Chris Evans seemed pretty good as well. No one should be surprised. He is a highly experienced middle aged broadcaster, used to having 6 million people tune in to his old tea time drive time show.

Good luck to the new team.

Chiltern Railways are running their normal militarily precise service this morning. The small amount of overnight snow seems to be causing a few slight problems for the Metropolitan Line, but other than that, the London Underground is currently running well.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

You are probably not that interested....

... but yesterday, I ended up in Manchester and Stockport.

It wasn't particularly planned and I certainly hadn't planned what I was going to do while I was there, not that I was up in the North West for that long.

Upon arrival at Manchester Piccadilly station just after 12.30, I did a terribly modern thing. I asked my mobile phone to tell me where the nearest galleries and museums were. It came up with one called 'Cube'. Having vaguely heard of it, and having checked its website to make sure it was open, I wandered along to Portland Street taking photographs as I went.

First of all I came across Canal Street. Now sometimes I can be a bit slow on the uptake but even though the street was deserted I didn't need a tourist guide to tell me that I had inadvertently discovered the throbbing Gay heart of Manchester, At least, that's what it looked like to me.

Halfway down Canal Street is Sackville Gardens in which there is a statue of Alan Turing who some acknowledge as the "father of modern computing". I nicked the quote from Wikipedia, so being a lazy blogger assume that that fact is 100% correct!

Anyhow, the whole area was almost deserted. I guess from the number of bars, clubs and restaurants that the area is usually humming - mind you it was 1.00pm so probably the opposite side of the clock to when the heaving throngs put in an appearance.

I then wandered along the the Cube gallery (top picture). The shop was open, but the gallery was closed. Anyhow the nice man in the shop gave me clear directions to the nearby Manchester Art Gallery, which I spent an hour walking around. Jolly good it was too.

Avoiding the trams, I then walked back to the station via Piccadilly Gardens and a rather imposing statue of Queen Victoria. The gardens didn't look like gardens - I just assumed it was a pedestrian plaza covered in snow.

I then took a 10 minute train ride to my original destination of Stockport.

I hadn't really known what to expect of Stockport, but once I found the centre, it was a surprisingly eclectic place with a reasonable shopping centre, roads and bridges at multiple levels and the fantastically imposing Plaza theatre. It was, I believe, originally a cinema - it certainly looks that way.

Unfortunately I didn't have time to visit the Hat Museum - how good an advert is that chimney!?

Unfortunately I never did locate an Aquarium. The original purpose of my visit up North had been to see some sharks - Sale Sharks were due to play Saracens yesterday. Unfortunately the match was called off mid-week. As I have mentioned, my lack of fore-sight meant that my train tickets were non-refundable, so I decided to go anyway.

I different way to fritter away a day!

Despite the weather seen across the UK over the last week, each train in each direction was bang on-time leaving every station. Well done Chiltern Railways and Cross Country Trains.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

North West Passage

It's dusk. The sun is sinking over the horizon and it really has been a nice crisp winter's day.

I am currently passaging Cheshire (I think), comfortably sat in a Cross Country Trains train, heading for Banbury.

Determined not to waste any more money, since I left home this morning, I have spent the princely sum of £0.99. A cup of tea had my name on it.

I never did find an aquarium. The first art gallery I went to was closed, despite its' website saying otherwise. No, not the weather. The second was good.

I'll see what my photographs are like later. Maybe an explanation for my insanity as well.

Refund? No Way!

To qualify for a refund on today's ticket, my train would have had to have left the station at which I joined it more than 60 minutes late.

So far the train has left on time from every station. To the second. Despite a bit of snow lying around, the train hasn't needed any of the extra time built into the timetable.

It is a beautiful day up here in the Potteries. Blue sky. Snow on the ground but a lot less than in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

So far, Chiltern Railways and Cross Country Trains have done well for me.

Only an hour to go - I wonder whether my destination has an aquarium?

Pointless Journey

I think that today will be a pointless day.

Today I am going on a journey. The only point of the journey is to use the train tickets for the journey on which I cannot get a refund. It is either that, or drop them in the shredder. That would be like dropping £10 notes down a drain. I am from Yorkshire. People from Yorkshire do not do that.

There is a nice clear sky. There are no Severe Weather Warnings in place.

We'll have to see how it goes... I might even tell you what I see along the way.

Oh, such excitement!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Snow Clearance

I mentioned earlier that no Chiltern Railways' London bound trains are stopping at West Ruislip today. This is to minimise the risk of a points failure at that station during the current bad weather.

I can verify that the line running past the London platform has not been used - there are currently piles of snow delicately balanced on the rails.

I can also verify that the platform, at which no trains are going to stop, has been cleared of snow and is looking immaculate.

West Ruislip in the Snow and Ice

West Ruislip is at the western end of the Central Line and is also served by Chiltern Railways.

The published plans for today, (Emergency Timetable due to weather, 7 January 2010) state that Chiltern Railways will not stop at the station (on the way to London ONLY) but that additional trains will stop at South Ruislip.

This will be a bit of a nuisance for a relatively small number of passengers. However further research makes it a sensible course of action.

The London bound platform at West Ruislip is built in the manner of a passing loop - only trains due to stop there actually use the line - all through trains whizz down the fast middle line.

By removing the need to use the points, a significant risk of mechanical failure is eradicated. Quite sensible really.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Splitting up is never easy

Every weekday morning there is a London bound Chiltern Railways train that arrives at High Wycombe just before 7.00am.

The back two carriages are empty - Usually what happens is that they separate into a new train, which follows the front four carriages after a gap of six minutes.

This morning the two parts of the train were split only with great difficulty and some delay.

The consequence is that we are now running 10 minutes late, it was standing room only from Beaconsfield and I yearn once again for the Yuletide solitude on the trains.

They might as well have joined the two trains back together. Actually, I've just remembered that they can't. The four Clubman coaches rapidly turn into the 0750 fast Birmingham service from Marylebone, so they wouldn't want two slow carriages stuck to the front.

I guarantee we'll be fighting off Birmingham bound passengers as we try to get off in London.

Ho hum.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Staying in the North

May 2003 saw me enjoy a five day break in Iceland, timed to be at the same time as the Annular eclipse of the moon that occurred in the early hours of 31st May.

Five days is enough to see most of the usual touristy things that one can do from Reykjavik. We did manage to get up onto a glacier, though that was the only ice we saw. We saw some stunning waterfalls and also had a most enjoyable day trip with "Mountaineers of Iceland" in their 'Super Jeeps.

Don't worry - they are most definitely not into animal cruelty. One particular lamb seemed to take a particular liking to our white vehicle while driving down a river. It would seem that it's mother wasn't as big as the one with four wheels that had suddenly made its day. The only way to get it out of danger from being mangled was to scoop it up and deposit it a couple of hundred metres away!

By the time we left our hotel in the early hours of 31st May 2003, the weather had taken a bit of a turn for the worse, so eclipse viewing from South West Iceland seemed improbable.

Fortunately our contingency plans included a chartered Fokker 50 aircraft which took off from Reykjavik Domestic City Airport at 2.45am. After a fantastic flight that involved flying round in circles 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle (and some champagne), we eventually landed back to a rain sodded airfield at 5.15 am.

Not the most environmentally friendly holiday ever, but still great fun!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Retrospective Number 4 - The Faroe Islands

August 2002 saw me on a brief walking holiday in the Faroe Islands, an autonomous province of Denmark and located in the North Atlantic roughly half-way between Norway and Iceland.

The tourist season is short - only about six weeks long. Partly because of the weather and partly because the population and infrastructure is such that it makes sense to concentrate on using school buses and student accommodation during the school summer holidays.

I refer to the first picture as my 'Floating Island' shot. It is a picture of the island of Fugloy, the eastern-most of the Faroe Islands. I never did get there.

This second picture is of the harbour at Gjogv, a small settlement in the north of the islands.

Edit: I have just remembered that I have previously shared another picture of Gjogv,

The most memorable thing about the Faroes, for me, is how remarkably photogenic the landscape is. If you are lucky enough to visit the islands in good weather, the landscapes are stunning and the walking not too challenging.

Traveling by road often includes using tunnels (an integral part of the limited transport infrastructure), a half-adventurous tourist will certainly make use of ferries and the flight in to Vagar Airport can best be described as interesting! The airport is built on the only piece of land in the Faroe Islands that is flat enough.

The final picture in this episode of my self-indulgent retrospective shows me stood on a cliff on the island of Vidoy with Fugloy & Svinoy behind.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Q & As

Q: Can I get the Central Line from Baker Street?
A: No. There are many possibilities, but the easiest ways to get to the Central Line from Baker Street are to catch either the Southbound Bakerloo Line to Oxford Circus or the Southbound Jubilee Line to Bond Street.

Q: Is the Central Line running on Sunday 3rd January 2010?
A: According to the tfl website, the Central Line is running a normal service this weekend.

Sourced from an analysis of the Google searches used to find this blog today.


Just got home from my New Year celebrations. A really pleasant dinner party with some (7) of my oldest friends.

Nicely rounded off this morning with bacon sandwiches and a drama with a fish (15) tank.

I started this blog four (4) years ago. It is not the most widely read blog in the world - a couple of days ago it clicked over the 20,000 page hits milestone. I am not going to brag about the number, because some of the blogs I read get that many hits in a week.

This is the 350th post I have made - 2009 saw me post twice as much as in any of the previous three years. I post what I want, when I want. Sometimes I struggle to write anything, other times I prattle on about anything.

Whoever you are and however you got here, may I wish you a very Happy New Year.