Sunday, 14 August 2011

Train drain


I am on the Birmingham to Ely train. The joys, the joys! The train to Birmingham was twenty-five minutes late. I rush from platform to platform and miss my connection by half a minute. Kind employee tells me the next train in an hour's time will probably be on the same platform but he can't be sure. Fine, as it is now 3:30 I might as well eat something.

If anyone knows Birmingham New Street they will know it is the most hideous and inconvenient major city station in the country - and I have been to all of them. There is no architecture to look at, no major hall to watch the crowds swirl and disappear onto trains down long romantic platforms. You have to climb up and down stairs with all your luggage because there is no passing between platforms otherwise, nor are there convenient escalators nearby. Oh no, you don't want to spoil your passengers. I saw a youngish man go up and down the steps in a tearing hurry because he was rushing for a train but his luggage was too clumsy. As for the elderly, lame, inform - there is a lift somewhere. Probably.

So I am stuck there for an hour. You want something hot to eat? Forget it, unless you want a burger. I buy a burger. But you know what burgers are. You have your luggage and must work with one hand. Why? Because there is nowhere to sit. Nowhere in the whole station. I sneak my burger and cup of tea into another establishment - the very establishment at which I did not particularly enjoy a meal on the way to Windermere. But at least you can sit and the kids behind the counter are not going to chase you away. Then I buy a paper, bump into Rosie, one of my MA students, then sit in another bar and sip a cold lemon tea because they don't do hot ones.

Eventually I make my way down to the platform which, because it is too narrow, is naturally crowded. I get on what seems to be the right train - the girl in the aisle opposite checks with me that it is. She isn't certain. How would she be? Nor am I. I hope so. It is so.

Then the predictable happens. This train too is delayed and sits half an hour in a field. I am going to miss my Ely connection. That's two out of three connections missed and two hours added to a seven and a half hour journey. And there is precious little on Ely platform on a Sunday evening. I dream I have been there before. I have in fact been there before.

At least I have a plan. When I get to Ely I will riot and go on a looting spree. I shall text myself first to make sure I am there. Then once I, me, and myself have formed a proper gang, I will nick a train, take it home and flog it to some unsuspecting naive idiot who will fondly imagine it actually goes somewhere.

Travelling in this poor bloody country is - take this advice from me, Monsieur, Signor - not advisable.

I take my pulse. I find I am dead.



15 comments:

charles said...

I recall a book proposal from a couple of years ago ... Working title: The Middle of Nowhere. Alluding to the moment when you glance out of the train window and realise it has stopped, for what reason and for how long no one tells you, in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. The entire book to be made up of such moments, each described in several paragraphs of exquisite prose. I think it's a goer. Certainly more of a goer than any your trains today. My sympathies.

looby said...

And the worst is, no-one, apart from the passengers, gives a toss.

George S said...

Just like Adlestrop, really. Accent on strop. Count me in as a contributor, Charles.

This is the post-modern world, looby. We passengers shrug in an ironic post-modern way. Shrug rules. I suspect I was frothing a bit above.

charles said...

The worry here, of course, is that many of your fellow passengers may be tempted to vote for Mussolini, who promises to get the trains running on time. The other thing is travellers' different expectations (of efficiency, of facilities, of the friendliness or otherwise of officialdom) in so-called first-world and third-world countries. The UK, in terms of daily experience, wavers between the two. Second-world? Your experience today has the whiff of the relegation zone.

James Womack said...

Yeah, say what you want about the actions of consecutive recent governments, at least the trains didn't run on time.

Diane said...

Once on a Sunday evening train from Birmingham to Ely, I found myself -- and in my train -- approaching Bristol Temple Mead. Have you ever wanted to crawl under the table, curl up, and wail with pain?

dana said...

At least you have the option of a train.

George S said...

Dana, that is like one of those 'We were so poor...' stories. Why don't you have a train? Every home should have one.

George S said...

To be approaching Bristol Temple Meads is to be approaching annihilation, Diane. Mind you, curled up under a table and wailing with pain is my normal position.

George S said...

Well, I suppose I was travelling second class, Charles. I expect the first class carriage got there quicker.

George S said...

James - does that mean Mussolini is arriving late?

rosie breese said...

Yikes! As a local, I feel a little responsible for not having improved your Brum experience by pointing out the great things New Street has to offer. Err.. so let me think.. it has an exit.. that might well be it. Or - you can binge on Millie's cookies til you're too high on E-numbers to remember where you are. Also helps provide the energy needed for effective looting.

Gwilym Williams said...

George, your train service is not so bad. I went from Vienna to Venice and back on the train three times, and every time a nightmare. One time we even broke down in a tunnel and were stuck for 30 mins, it took 8 locomotives to make the trip. Another time we were forgotten for 2 hours in a siding. And another time, train security nearly ripped the sleeping compartment door off, broke the security chain anywhere - to check my passport. It seems they get illegal immigrants hiding under seats and things far worse - you'd never sleep if you knew.

OK, there might be faults on the UK trains. But they are far from being the bottom of the league.

ps - good start by Wolves. Or are Blackburn now even worse then I fear?

Gwilym Williams said...

I was at a museum looking at an exhibit about trains. They showed some 100-year old railway timetables. In those days it took 12 hours to get from Vienna to Venice. It still does. Official.

James Hamilton said...

A gentleman's speed, Gwilym!