Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Trains - a hate, hate affair......
It was all so simple then. When I was a boy (in the '50's) I remember going to the platform waiting room of our local station. Roaring fires, rotund Station Masters and the smell of sooty filaments on an icy ill wind. Occasionally, you would see a man traipsing down the track with a big hammer in his hand. Now and again he would stop, take aim and whelly the track with hammer. If it went 'twang' - the track was OK. If it went 'twoing' - then it had to be replaced ... simple.

Enough of the rose coloured filter job ......... The thing is, 45 years ago, the trains occasionally ran late, broke down and never turned up. That was before we were told our railway service was 'World Class'. That was before all the stations became boarded up festering no-go gulags. That was before I knew 'leaves on the line' was code for 'we own rubbish rolling stock and run it on ancient tracks'. That was before we had the 'wrong kind of snow', too much heat, too dry, too wet, not enough drivers, too many drivers and bolshy customers. That was before we started paying zillions to CEO's that couldn't run a Hornby Dublo train set in their attic.

The final straw ......... MY final straw was the 06.18 am to Glasgow a couple of years ago. I get on at Wigan, no heat. There is no sodding heating on the train and it's the middle of November! And then - the lighting goes. We are all sitting there stone cold freezing and in the dark. And then - we pull in at Preston and wait..... and wait and wait and bloody wait. The driver has finished his shift and the relief hasn't turned up. Jesus H ..... they are getting another driver from Liverpool and that will take about an hour.

Meanwhile, I'm starving. It will take my mind off everything if I can get a butty or something .... I amble to the Buffet car. The first clue that all is not well at the counter is 'the man' furiously doling out free coke cans and cups of tea. For that is all they had, no BLTs', no muffins, no corner-curling ham sammies ..... not even a biccy to dunk.

I rant, but what is the point? he has probably heard of all the orifices in his body that can house a coke can. Who knows, some 'end of their tether' punter may have already forced some home - hence accounting for his surprised expression and strange walking style. I slope back to my seat....

We're underway again AT LAST! - next stop, God knows, but who cares ... we're rolling! We watch as at the next station, a man helps an elderly relative onto the train. He is struggling through the gloom, trying to shove disobedient luggage into ill-considered spaces. He had better hurry up or the train will start to ...... Geez, they've shut the doors "Hey mate, you had better get going".

Imagine the scene, one freezing, hungry man watching one frantically panicking man as he tugs at the not budging an inch door handle. Fortunately a ticket bod, nice and smart in his nice green blazer ambles into view. Fortunately, although the handles are all locked shut, the train is not yet moving. Gosh, I thought that IS fortunate.
"Can you open the door so I can get off" says Mr Panicky. Mr Green-Blazer looks at him with all his ticket inspectoring self assuredness. Unfortunately he couldn't help. Unfortunately he couldn't override the locking system. Unfortunately he would have to issue a ticket to the man - up to the next station and back again. Unfortunately that would cost him about £20 quid. Unfortunately the man had "Just parked on the kerb because it would only take a couple of minutes to deliver the relative to the train and get back again". Unfortunately, he might have been issued with a ticket by the time he gets back.

Mr Panicky became Mr Resigned and finally Mr Peckish. I direct him towards the Buffet ....... "I wonder which orifice he is going to shove his free can of cola" I muttered.

Onwards and upwards towards the Celtic northlands. Just past Carlisle and that's it. All stop. Apparently, there was 'the wrong sort of fully laden locomotive' on a spur line adjacent to ours. I watch as this leviathan colossus slowly sags into the banking. All the rolling stock, full to the brim with stone has burst every single wooden sleeper. The middle of each sleeper is pointing skyward, the track has collapsed and the wheels are on there way to Australia. We wait and wait.

The meeting I was supposed to get to has long gone. Due time into Glasgow Central is 11.10am. we crawl in at 4.15pm. Just time to sprint to the Glasgow offices and grovel like Gerry Grovel from Creepsville on a particularly grovelling mission. I can't stay long though, I have to catch my train........

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