Jeopardising Journeys in January

I am not best pleased with Boris “The Mayor of London” Johnson. Recent BBC news declare “yet more misery” at the Northern Line being completely and utterly closed for up to 18 months. The explanation, a new signal system, has been given the dignity it deserves: “angry responses”. For this also happened on the Jubilee Line for the same reason, by the same company.

Upon arrival, I instantly hear, at bbc.co.uk, about Boris’ “New Routemaster” competition, where Aston Martin has put in a largely redundant design for a double decker bus:

Plus, nine year olds got 200 pounds as the prize for their design of “what a bus should look like”. I wish I had known about this competition. I’m short of money…

…Since all London Transport fares have increased, significantly, again, JUST as I come here. So by February, I’m reduced to scraping together the last of my New Zealand dollars just to buy a “full price, no discount for a Young Persons Railcard before 10am”, ridiculously expensive fare.

To get to the only job interview I’ve got this month.

To keep going in, to keep paying a ridiculously expensive fare, every week day.

For an internship.

Unpaid.

At the same time, like a double whammy, I am hit with nightmare journeys just as this little New Zealand lamb, lost in London, starts to venture out.

The cartoon in the Private Eye:

Private Eye: Train Fares Rise... "Replacement bus services aren't cheap, you know!"

… Expresses my sentiments exactly.

On New Year’s Eve, I was mistaken to initially delight in the ticket price being 50 pence cheaper at the station than online. In fact, it was a bad sign.

After being carried along with the herd of passengers, we find there are only 4 instead of the customary 8 carriages. On New Year’s Eve. This ordinarily 2 hour journey was immediately declared, before we started, to have 40 minutes added to it due to a mysterious ‘diversion’. I squatted on my suitcase in the corridor for about 10 minutes or so before succumbing to pins and needles. And when I attempted to balance a coffee and take my coat off, precariously leaning against the door handle, I was rescued from doom by a kindly fellow passenger. I had to take it off, because it was hot. If anyone insists there was air-conditioning on that train, I don’t believe them. The smell of the toilet we, the corridor people, had no choice but to stand by, was not very pleasant.

The ‘diversion’ consisted of us travelling a bit past Leicester station, and stopping. I watched below as sheep grazed the muddy grass by the fence slowly, painfully slowly. Their dopey eyes began to make me feel sleepy. My head dropped against the door window and I drifted in and out of sleepy consciousness. Eventually, after a full 20 minutes, the train then moved – back the way it had come.

When it had back-tracked, literally, it then stopped. For a bit. And then moved on in a forward direction. It picked up speed, and then came tantalizingly close to Nottingham Station.

And stopped.

For a full 25 minutes. I counted them. As the view outside got darker, and colder, and darker, and colder…

And I receive an expression of recognition from one Amy Sys. On her journey at New Years, there were no trains between Derby and Nottingham. The buses or coaches that were scheduled every hour didn’t leave at the right time, so it was guess work to catch one. This was the same on the return journey, a couple of days later, for her friends.

But, with a last remnant of blind London love, I decided to go with the thought that this was outside the capital. And, the capital is the epitome of Englishness, the exemplar of urban smoothness…the leader by example.

You’d be mistaken for having this impression when you see Boris on TV, out of context. (The c0ntext of living in London, otherwise known as reality.)

He enthuses, endlessly, about his plans to re-structure London Transport. He seems to think he is a pioneer, a Great New Iconic London-Designer, forging a way into a new future. In time for the Olympics, of course. But, forgive me if this a little naïve, but it seems a little insecure. He seems to think London isn’t good enough, and decides to knock the entire infrastructure down like a Lego house and hope that when he re-builds it again it will suddenly turn into a castle.

The nature of such a whim reminds me of a historical primary source from one of “Hitler’s Henchmen” saying that Hitler wanted to invade Europe so that the political map will take on an ornithological shape. Except, that’s not really something to joke about.

Just like terrorism. And that’s exactly what went through my head when, Saturday the 16th of Jan, teenage louts starting banging on the doors of the tube as soon as it ground to a halt in a tunnel somewhere between King’s Cross and Liverpool Street on the Central Line. And they snap at each other, all showing off, “oh, you know there’s a bomb, innit?

“Shh! Don’t say that!”

Yeah. It’s JUST not funny. It was the first time I had walked, walked and walked across London, all the way up the massive Hamley’s store only to find the café closed while the store was open, and all the way down and through the underground. The tube map at that time resembled a diagram of Russian Roulette, where you take a gamble on a route that you believe is feasible. I tube-hopped and found my way to Liverpool Street, where I had hoped for a train home. No such luck. Absolutely nothing, over half the platforms were eerily taped off, and the only sign of life was the boards proclaiming bus replacement services to Stansted Airport. As much I would have liked to book a flight to New Zealand’s hot beaches at that point, I just wanted to be in a bed.

So by the time I was forced to endure an indefinite time trapped in a tunnel, in an unfamiliar tube, for what seemed like an AGE, I was cold, hungry, and ready to drop with tiredness. It wasn’t nice, and I didn’t like the overwhelming feeling of helplessness, a perfectly rational mounting sense of intimidation coupled with the increasingly futile urge to cry.

Because any of the tube lines that existed were just failing to work properly.

Oh, Happy New Year. January 2010.

But, I am far too stoic to let that put me off.

Besides the necessity of it, I actually quite enjoyed my next few journeys. After bracing myself for the worst again, I again went to Nottingham (29-31 Jan), and both ways, it was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. And I went drinking in London, and then on to Greenwich, and then back to London (23-24 Jan), and it was all plain sailing. My friends and I had had a bit to drink, threw all caution to the wind, and we successfully got where I was supposed to be. For that, I thank the train and tube and taxi drivers immensely.

And, my February commuting on the DLR, the rail service without drivers, has taken some getting used to. I miss human contact, and when it rocks a little I feel a little sea sick…but other than that, I really can’t complain. There’s some wonderful views, and it is pleasantly efficient, and despite the impersonal feel at first, I think I’m starting to like it.

Driver-Less Rail, South Quay.

But, like a train without a driver, I’m running on optimism that does not coincide with reality.

Khally Saarman-Jones, in London, deserved a bit more than what she got when the snow fell.

On the first days back in January, it was impossibly, incredibly, treacherously snowy and icy. School kids squealed delightedly as they ran to the park with sleds, teachers got most of the week off, and police officers even took a couple of minutes out to play:

But, while most securely and highly paid professionals got most of the week off, her own call to work only got the reply “it would be good if you could make it in by 9:30”. Which was quite infeasible.

She had woken up, got ready for work, and turned on the T.V. to hear all trains between Enfield Town and Liverpool Street were suspended. She tried to check the internet but, despite her top graduate intelligence, found “about 5 different websites” to be no use.

She waited, with all the other people on the platform, for a scheduled train, but by the time it was supposed to arrive nothing has turned up. Then there is an announcement, after this wait, to say there is no confirmation “when the next train is going to be or if there is going to be one at all”.

Upon the unsympathetic response on the phone by her work, she “only bothered because I knew we were really short staffed and they needed me in”. So, she waited in the cold, hoping that a bus will turn up. By the time she does get on one, she gets texts from her friends telling her they’re going to back to bed, or they want to play in the park. Instead, Khally was on the bus for 45 minutes trying not to get too annoyed by other commuters enthusing about the prospect of snow days off.

Eventually, she got to Tottenham Hale, got the Victoria Line to Oxford Circus. She walks from there to Soho. To her work, as a runner in a post-production company, a temporary position, where they pay her minimum wage.

And, unfortunately, she simply had to work for many hours while everyone else had a snow day. And this stoic girl simply ends with the under-statement:

“It was not fun”.

Now, there are plenty of other factors at work there, for example, the snow.

But the principle remains. Commuters have constant trouble with transport.

It’s not like we’re asking much. We just want to be able to make a modest plan to get somewhere in London, from where we are somewhere in London, with absolutely no problems, in the time it states. Because on the very rare occasions when it happens, it feels like Lady Luck herself has carried us.

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6 thoughts on “Jeopardising Journeys in January

  1. Pingback: On Journalism. « A. Leek writes

  2. Sounds almost as bad as the train system in Auckland. I want to go back to China, where they have efficient, affordable, and reliable public transport.

    • I think I went on the train in Auckland once. It did stop randomly for a couple of minutes between stations.

      Except, London has, like, ten times the population, or something. And has the underground where you get trapped at the mercy of the whims of construction workers, train and tube drivers, and the other million people bashing into you everywhere.

      What is China’s secret?

      • hmm. China’s similar to London in terms of population, and probably has much greater population density. I was in Hong Kong and the train had a 10 second unscheduled stop. They announced there’d be a minor delay and apologised for any inconvenience. For 10 SECONDS! Is keeping passengers informed too much to ask?

        Also China is being built by millions of farmer workers working for a couple dollars an hour or less. And safety regulations are pretty ‘relaxed’, so they get stuff done quickly.

    • Ha! Couldn’t agree more.

      As for my style of writing… *blush* I only humbly pledge to keep writing for people with such good taste ;)

      I was just about to add to the post that there’s something seriously up when an MP can legitimately claim a second home allowance precisely because they expect the commute to be bad:

      <a href="“>

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