Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Longest Delay & Why I Love Being British

Last night, having had a pretty crap day in my still sweltering building, I decided to cheer myself up by nipping out of work a little early so that I could be back home in time to catch an early(ish) showing of Blades of Glory at the cinema. I didn't make it to the cinema.

My train was delayed by and hour and half. The longest delay I have ever experienced on a FGW train (only breaking the record by 5 minutes though!)

However I was not angry with FGW, no-one on the train was. Because as we passed through the rural, one-train-a-week station that is Pilning, someone decided to end their life by jumping in front of our train moving at 70 mph.

That annoys me. I feel deeply sorry for anyone who feels their life has come to a point where the only option is suicide. But having decided that sucide it is, Jumping in front of train is a pretty selfish way to go about it.

On the train there was a massive bang, lots of bouncing around and the sound of stones hitting the underside of the train. It felt as though we were derailing. I wonder if a train hitting someone can derail it.

The train then breaked relatively quickly, and the driver came out of his cab looking pretty shaken up. He walked down the train apologising, and explaining to everyone that someone had jumped in front of him and that we were likely to be here for a couple of hours

No-one complained though, instead, the usually silent commuters started chatting. In typical Dunkirk spirit; the usually silent British love to have a chatter and support each other during a crisis. We chatted about the incident at first, then joining in with other conversations further down the train. We answered "who wants to be a millionare questions" that one man was calling out from a game on his phone. At the end of the wait, a group of about five of us were joining forces to tackle the Times Crossword. It was quite good fun, and the hour and a bit we were there passed relatively quickly. I was slightly disappointed that, given this was not my regular train, these were not my regular fellow commuters. But I enjoyed their company for that hour. I can see how Stockholm Sydrome comes about.

Finally, having slagged them off time and time again I thought I should mention that I will be sending a letter to FGW customer relations praising the professionalism of their staff during the delay. The driver and the guard kept us informed, though it should be noted that they were wearing Arriva Trains Wales uniforms and were presumably covering the service as far as Bristol on behalf of FGW.

But it was new FGW staff who turned up to take over the running of the train, and a new train manager came down the carriage slowly, asking everyone if they had any questions, and apologising that the service would be (understandably) terminating at Bristol. He even had the excellent news to give me that a fast london service would be making additional stops at Keynsham and Oldfield Park. An excellent service from FGW, never thought I'd write that, especially after an hour and a half delay. Must be the Stockholm Syndrome.

Picture from the wikipedia entry for Pilning Station. Love the sarcasm in the Service entry.

P.S. Posts might not be that frequent for a while, my powerbook has gone in to be fixed. Might be gone 4 weeks they said. Sob.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Air Con & Ticket Barriers

These are things that have annoyed me today, (I've had a bad day):

1. The climate control in my building.

It’s shite, and controlled by morons.

It’s been scorching hot outside all week, the sun is heating up all rooms with south facing windows and all the bloody air-con does is circulate hot air. We got a thermometer today and measured the temperature in the office at 28°C. A bloody humid 28° at that. It’s unbearable, and it’s only April. Much more of this, and by the time June and July comes there is gonna be lots of seriously irritable people at work.

Well, I’ll be seriously irritable.

The problem of crap air-conditioning is compounded by the building services people, who in their infinite wisdom, have deemed that because it’s April, it’s still winter. As a result the radiators are still on. Can you believe it? Thankfully in our office we can turn them off individually, but others, in the corridor for example, have no such facility and are pumping out heat. It’s beyond a joke.

2. Stupid people and ticket barriers.

This happens to me nearly every day. But having sat in a sauna all day at work, you can imagine that today it riled me more than it does most days.

What is so difficult about putting your ticket in the machine?

And why can’t you have your ticket ready before you reach the gate. There are only 5 barriers at Cardiff, so at most there is are only 3 barriers letting people into the station. Tonight there were only two; in front of one, a fat man with a suitcase was trying to find the slot for the ticket to go in. In front of the other, a dumb blonde was fumbling around in her purse for a ticket she had bought only seconds earlier. Between them they stopped access to the trains for about a minute, while a queue of around twenty people formed.

This evenings nincompoops, can possibly be forgiven, in that the did not appear to be commuters, yet every day I see the same people who haven’t got their tickets ready when they get to the gates, or do not know that they have to take their ticket from the top of the machine for it to open. You’d have thought they’d have learnt by now.

But then again, by their very nature, stupid people don’t learn.

Picture taken from macspite on

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Blog Of The Week

#1 in a very occasional series.

Whilst doing a little reading and eating my sarnies, I came across this rather interesting view on why the Virginia Tech shootings happened, and how it can be stopped from happening again. Basically their view is this tragedy happened because Clinton's democratic administration allowed johnny-foreigners into America, and that the "liberal" authorities at Virginia tech wont allow every student to carry a gun with which to defend themselves.

Scary right? At first, yes. But if you delve a little deeper onto this blog you'll find further "insightful" analysis of the situation, like this.

And when I came across their problem page, I figured out that this is the finest satirical site on the internet. Private Eye and The Onion eat your heart out.

So there you have it; Shelly The Republican is my Blog of the Week.

P.S. If you're a religious person, it might be worth praying that it is satire, you know, just in case I'm wrong.

Bizzare Dress Sense

Just thought I'd share with you something I saw, as I was getting off the train this morning.

I followed out of the station, a man wearing a full-length Gothic-style leather jacket. He was also wearing tracksuit bottoms and trainers. Weird combo, right?

But what really blew me away was, upon crossing the road I overtook him and saw that he was also wearing a black shirt and red tie.

I'll just let that whole combo sink in for a second.

Shirt, tie, Gothic leathers, trackie bums and trainers.

I think he must have been some chav on his way to a job interview, and had been told by his probation officer to wear "all his best clothes".

Each to their own I suppose. Who am I to judge?

I didn't even brush my hair this morning.

Monday, April 16, 2007

They Don't Know What They're Doing

Today I have received a letter from FGW regarding their lack of compensation for a 30 minute delay I suffered, and their total incompetence in dealing with it, I previously summed it up here.

Firstly Sue Smith the team manager apologises;

I have now had the opportunity to review your case and agree we did make mistakes for which I apologise.

Well that’s something I suppose. Though there’s an automated voice at every station that apologises for delays, so actually apologies from FGW are pretty frequent, but rarely feel meant.

We did record the wrong journey and having checked our records these show that the delay to your connecting service at Bristol Temple Meads was due to a mechanical problem. [they had previously stated that it was due to driver illness] John is a relatively new member of staff and I will ensure that he has the necessary training to prevent this happening again.

Presumably this training is to look at a database of delays and read off what caused my delay. That’s pretty simple training, which makes me believe that he’d had no training at all. She continues;

He was however correct not to compensate for a delay under an hour. I appreciate that this contradicts Alison Forster’s [FGW Managing Director] letter. I have spoken to her office and I regret that an error was made in her reply. The 30 minute delay compensation period relates to previous Thames trains services and not to previous Wessex Trains. We adopted the policy that the companies had in place when we took on the areas they covered previously.

So my questions to my fellow commuters is thus: Is this true? Was Wessex trains compensation policy to pay out for delays of 30 minutes or of 1 hour? I don’t know, I was only commuting with Wessex trains for about two weeks before FGW took over. Also if you’re a former Thames Trains commuter do you get compensation for delays over 30 minutes? Sounds like many of you in the Maidenhead area are experiencing these kind of delays every day. Are you getting your money back? Or is this FGW trying to explain the cock-up with yet another lie? If you want a copy of my letter to post off with your complaint forms let me know.

Finally, Sue finishes with;

In view of the error, and the mistakes in our response, Alison has asked that we forward Rail Vouchers to the full cost of this journey leg as a goodwill gesture and these are included.

Except that this is another mistake. She actually sent me rail vouchers for the full return price. Twice the amount I was asking for. Idiots.

The basic gist of this is that no-one at FGW knows what’s going on, and someone has been telling lies. The Managing Director doesn’t know when compensation should be paid. The man in the office makes up the reason that trains are delayed. Basically it’s just a big farce, and it is clear to everyone with the exception of the DfT that FGW is not fit for purpose.

It's Nice To Go A Travellin'....

Frank Sinatra was absolutely right when he sang this, in one of his less well known hits. However, I'm not so sure he was completely right when he continued;

... but it's so much nicer to come home.

Hmmm. I can kind've see where he was coming from. It was comforting to come back to our flat last night, it was brilliant to get a good night's sleep on our mattress again, rather than the unbearably soft B&B mattresses of the last week. But I'm pretty sure when singing the line, Frank wasn't thinking about all the bad things about coming home; the bills on the door-mat, the rank, stinking milk in the fridge, you forgot to pour away when you left, and of course worst of all, having to be back at work on Monday morning. Still the train was on-time, and I'd slept well, so I was as cheery as could be expected.

The Holiday was great. Quite hectic, what with rushing up and down the country, but an excellent balance of beery nights with friends, catching up with family, and quality time with A up in the hills, where the weather was fantastic, as the BBC weather man told us it would be.

To summarise my holiday, Glastonbury is a nice place to visit for the day, the ruined abbey is quite spectacular, and the shopping is mighty strange. The place is a hippy/new age magnet and all the bookshops sold books relating to magic stones, healing hands and guardian angels. Not my cup of tea, but a very interesting experience.

The horse racing at Haydock was a brilliant day out, though I did get a bit burnt by the sun (and the bookies).

The Peak District was amazing, as always. This place is probably less than 2 hours drive for most people in England, it's no wonder it's the 2nd most visited national park in the world, behind mount fuji in Japan. You can even get their by public transport as the Sheffield-Manchester train goes right through it with lots of stopping points. And yet despite this, and the Easter holidays, we walked for hours without seeing anyone. Absolutely magic. We climbed Bamford Edge (pictured), walked the Pennine way as far as Kinder Scout, and walked to the very interesting village of Eyam.

Eyam is where in the 1660's the plague came and killed most of the population of the village, but the villagers stopped it's spread to neighbouring towns and villages by isolating themselves, sacrificing themselves for the good of others. A very moving tale, and the village has a really nice little museum and the church is also worth a visit. I recommend it if your visiting the Peak District and need something to do if it's raining, or if like us you're knackard after 3 days walking.

What else happened? Well Pompey beat United, Watford Thrashed Pompey, then Watford gave United a game, but we're eventually thrashed. Not unexpected, but a little unjust as we played better than the scoreline suggests. Oh well. The football season is pretty much over for us, but Luton are nearly down, so that's cheered me up.

So, with the football effectively finished, I turn my attention to Cricket. Thanks to Mr K for having spare tickets to the first test at Lords - I shall see you there. And this week we look forward to the first knock-out game of the largely dull, cricket world cup. England vs South Africa. Should be a good one.

Just a shame I'll be at work.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Last Day Of School Feeling

I'm trying really hard to motivate myself to do some work today.

Ok, you're right, I could start by not wasting my time writing this blog.

But it's so difficult because it's a bank holiday this weekend, and I have the whole of next week off too! Woo Hoo! I'm like a small child - too excited to sit still.

10 whole days off!

My first holiday in ages. And the first time off without the feeling of guilt that I should be writing my thesis for a year.... if not longer. I am a free man!

Am I gonna sit and relax, watching tv whilst racing through season after season on Football Manager. Am I 'eck! - have you seen the weather forecast?

No, tomorrow (after an extensive lie-in), A (the fiance) and I, are gonna head out into the countryside for a bit local exploration. We might go to Glastonbury, apparently it's not just a festival! I'll let you know if it's worth a visit.

Then on Saturday it's off to my old stamping groud of Manchester for an afternoon at Haydock Park races, and Dr M's stag night. I hope you've got a copy of the Racing Post on order, and your best drinking trousers dry cleaned and ready sir!

Then, after a visit to the family on Sunday and Monday, it's back up north for a few days walking in the Peak District with A. I'm so looking forward to some time away. I can't wait.

I'm in such a good mood that not even the weekend railway engineering works or another loss for Watford will bring me down.


P.S. If you're going to 'boro don't forget the we are outta your league chant. That was magic 7 years ago.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wear them with Pride?

Our friend over at I Hate First Great Western, has the eponymous badges ready. You can get yours by e-mailing your details to .

I'll probably start by wearing it all the time, but if FGW can run, I dunno, lets say, three consecutive days without delays to my journey, then I'll take it off 'till the next delay. Can't say fairer than that. Wont happen though.

To the majority of FGW front line staff, I'd like to say, this protest is not directed at you personally, but you can tell your managers how many people you see wearing them. And besides, it's better that I sit with my badge on, than give you an earful of bile-fuelled rant, right?

In a service update, last night's return service was 10 minutes late leaving Cardiff, due to

"the late incoming workings of a previous train."

Now that doesn't even make sense. And besides, the train had pulled into the platform, appeared to be ready to go 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time. What made me laugh though, was following the reason for being late, the train manager then optimistically announced that

"this lost time will be made up before we get to Bristol Temple Meads."

Guess what, he was wrong. He must be new, bless him.

Monday, April 02, 2007


44,769 words, 219 Pages, including 25 figures. The thesis is done.

It's even printed and bound.

Three days early. This is most unlike me.

Share my joy by giggling everytime Alan tries to get Dan's attention.

Back of the Net!

Fun With First Great Western

Given the almost daily torment of travelling with FGW, you might think I'd avoid them at all cost during my down time at the weekend.

You're generally right, but if you want to get from Bath to London to visit your fiance's brother, who's back in the country for a few days, then you don't have a lot of choice.

Due to planned weekend engineering works, the usual 1 hour 30 minute journey is now over two hours, and there is only a train every hour. This is supposedly "off-peak" travel, but lunchtime on a Sunday is very much "on-peak", and we were very lucky to get a seat. There were a great number of people standing (or sitting on the floor) all the way from Bath to London. I'd imagine First class was empty though, so anyone who's company was buying their ticket for them could have sat down no problem.

On the way home we arrived at Paddington ten minutes before our train home, but decided against rushing to buy drink and a bite to eat, and instead would jump on the train and guarantee ourselves some seats. We'll get something from the buffet car, we thought.

Wrong. Despite the scrolling electronic sign reading "A Buffet car serving snacks and hot and cold drinks is available on this service" on the concourse and the platform, the buffet car remained shut for the whole journey.

An announcement, was made by the train manager, but only as the train pulled out of the station. He then - obviously already stressed by a number of passengers asking the dame questions - got the raging arse with me when I asked him why it was shut, and more importantly why the signs had said it was open. He said that due to the new timetable (eh? what's that got to do with catering?) there was no catering past 21:00 at the weekends.

As to the signs saying there was catering? The train manager said, "We've asked for those notices not to be up, and instead a sign saying no catering on this train, but every time we ask, no-one listens to us."

I know how he feels. If FGW management wont even listen to it's front line staff, it's no wonder they don't listen to their customers.