such patriotic verse, William Blake masturbated over this country
for cash centuries ago, with his Jerusalem propaganda. If he surveyed
it today by train he'd only come to the conclusion that it's an
game was in Manchester at 4pm. I made it to Euston before 11, plenty
of time for a two-and-a-half-hour job. Then the 'Essential Engineering
Works' euphemism flashed in front of me eyes from the departure
boards: Virgin's flash new Pendolinos and their majority older,
shitter rolling stock would not be leaving Euston 'til 2:30. That's
that option fucked. Down Euston Road, checking St Pancras to try
and get on the recently-introduced alternative Midland Mainline
service: no information on those whatsoever - perhaps its service
would also be affected by those legendarily bad northwest line works.
So I crossed this sick district of road, underground and building
works into King's Cross tube, aiming for a Golders Green tube so
I could get the National Express. No chance, the ticket area is
completely congested. Then my queuing for a zone 4 is unrewarded
as the machine seems unmoved by my ticket request. Fuck that.
to St Pancras, perversely more intent on making it now despite these
indicators. Hitting on the idea of getting any old Mainline service
and changing, I got my ticket and was told to change at Sheffield.
A bit far up I thought for my junction station, but nevertheless
I should get there in good time so got on in good spirits. Some
hope, because although the GNER service to Leeds typically does
the journey in a little over two hours this line takes FOUR to get
to Steel City. Umm, I'll be missing the pre-match pints then, I
texted my mates. It was then that I remembered a recent Roy Hattersley
column stating that trains to Sheffield are on average slower than
they were 50 years ago. Four hours felt like fourteen by the time
it had staggered past Leicester, Derby, Chesterfield and the like
and spluttered into its terminal station.
how long it can take to cross to Manchester, 30-40 minutes? Nah,
an hour and ten. This just gets better. "C u at HT" was
the gist of the next text.
just what kind of ridiculously irrational market survey tells Central
Trains to put on just two cars for this service? Needless to say
the seats were full and so were the aisles by the time us Sheffield
alighters were on (and it was late). The journey through the Peak
District may well have been a picturesque one, but it was camera
obscura from my standing-up point in the aisle stuffed full of travellers.
Into Piccadilly, down round and out. The place looks impressive
these days, certainly better than the services it provides.
departure paled into significance when compared with the return.
After a drab game, I went for my pint and then got driven back to
Piccadilly for 7, plenty of time I thought for a respectable return
home, especially now the main northwest line would be open. My optimism
was out of place. No usual Mainline London services (and no information
about why not), and I didn't fancy giving Branson 50 quid. This
didn't augur well, but like a fool I dismissed possibilities of
staying with mates, relatives or hotel chains and set off for the
Sheffield connection. Two cars again, but joining those scrambling
for any bit of floor I was grateful it wasn't as packed. Small mercies
(it got there a bit quicker too). Reduced aspirations. Certainly,
complaints were scarce. What we should be doing is petitioning the
operator's head office and demanding more rolling stock. Our famous
stoic reserve shits in our face again. There for just after 8, I'd
be soon bound for home.
not, no more London trains, and the corollary absence of information
as to why. Crisis time in my cranium, the Nottingham connection
convinced me (it's further south innit?). The 45 minutes' wait was
filled skinning up and smoking a joint; diverting thoughts away
from this dire situation and into the random, hiding from the reality,
relishing the uncanny. Sheffield is a big ghost station full of
space so I had no problems tugging away. The Notts train pulled
up, I landed next to a burly but remedial East Mids lad, who was
well able to prey on my paranoia. Every now and then he'd direct
comment to a seat further down, gesticulating about his baggage.
Turned out he was sat apart from sister or girlfriend, probably
the former, and wanted to offload his latest high street purchases.
Once she came over to relieve his burden he still seemed at unease,
clenching his fists and huffing and puffing away.
hour on the train I thought would be rewarded with a London service.
No, Nottingham would be my nemesis. At 9:30pm there were TWO trains
left, one for Birmingham one for Leicester. Plenty of trains coming
in from St Pancras but all stopping there. I followed a few hardy
commuters round to Station St to check the replacement coach services
out. Runs to Burton, Brum and so on. here I had my first bit of
active help. One luminous-jacketed assistant sprinted up to the
ticket office to find out the score. "You've got no chance,"
was his reply on return, as all the while a middle-aged guy avec
can of lager was talking to the driver, a young white couple were
alighting with pub booze and a black guy was not getting all the
information he needed from the driver. And what the frig was I going
to do now?
the main entrance were legions of lost souls looking to get to London,
Derby, Birmingham, Ulan Batur. Some were spunking cash on cabs.
I found out a bit more from the guy at the desk, going to Brum by
any means would be useless as by the time we arrived there would
be no London service left: My wife found out that the situation
was the same via Leicester. This was a region-wide collapse of basic
services you see. It's only one day, I bet they're thinking, just
work on it all. Though 'they' implies something rather less amorphous
than the diverse scores of operators plying their for-profit trade
on the network's railways. Anyway, the National Express place was
down the road, he also said, just before the Broadmarsh Shopping
Centre. Other options appeared to me as I walked - £20 a room
in the Bentinck or Gresham hotels; why not sack it, go for a few
drinks, rue the day, pay more? No, I would be getting home tonight,
even more determined despite reality farting in my face. At the
bus station the news was, if not brilliant, better. I could get
the 11:30 Airport Service to Luton, arriving at 1:30. Then maybe
a cab, I dunno. Once again, my wife did the job of the trainpeople
by finding out that I could get a train from Luton to the relative
shangri-la of Kentish Town at 2:18. That would do. Anything would
do, like so many other commuters I'd become grateful for the far-more-costly
Option F, moaning only to myself in the face of this abject lack
of 'top-down' advice.
So more time to kill now. Nottingham's inner ring-roads were filled
with souped-up cars speeding round for the pleasure of scores of
onlookers dotted round the pavements. Parked cars elsewhere were
blaring out the latest chemical beats. The boy racers had the tacit
approval of the filth it seemed. The spectacle was not unique to
this East Midlands city, and neither were the uniforms of Reebok,
Le Coq, Nike and Adidas trackies, hoods and caps. And that was just
the women. As I wandered further away from the ring-roads the cars'
revving reverbed around my brain. I went back past the station and
found a take-away; terrible shop but spanking spicy shish on nan.
Ate that inside - nothing else to do, nowhere else to go, see? Back
into the station main entrance - here I had a glimpse of the plethora
of 'Engineering works' notices. It was dire. Some were settling
down on the benches for the night. I returned to the bus depot,
choosing to ignore the CCTV warnings to install more internal circuitry
through skinning up. The chances of anyone actually monitoring the
screens this late on Sunday were minimal. Lost in the art of building,
one driver walked straight past me; didn't seem too bothered. Thought
better of smoking it there, moving round away from the neon glare
to the relative isolation of a bench nearer the correct bay. All
the while the souped-up, full-throttle sports cars throbbed in me
"It's just as bad in Mansfield," the driver said, referring
to the boy racers. "I used to prat about in cars, but not like
that," his assistant replied, further admonishing da yoof.
Small mercy #3 out of shit situation #27 presented itself in the
form of an empty coach, but why couldn't the printed timetable be
honest about the extra stops? Twenty quid and two hours for an easy
jaunt down the M1. Hello Luton, its bus stop desolate at 1:30, affording
opportunity for the last 'essential engineering works' of my own.
last coping mechanism was smoked on a freezing platform as I waited
for the Kentish Town 2:18. And waited. And waited. In a marketplace
of undercapacity trains, unregulated services and ill-thought out
mass engineering days (no need to leave some bits of the network
open), I wanted to praise Thameslink for its early-hours service.
But the 2:18 never came, me and the other numbskull had to wait
for the 2:48. The platform shop had its tea, chocolate and fresh
croissants tantalisingly on view, but the station assistant wouldn't
help us out. It's not in his description, it would be more than
his job's worth, et cuntin' cetera. Into Kentish at, what, 3:30
or so. A new trend, the trustworthy cabbie wants his money straight
away. Yeah, course u do boss.
at 7pm, London for 4am. Nine hours of numbing travel in between.
This is England. If you like it, just don't travel at the weekend.
Britons have been moaning about the state of railways since Thatcher
- the blunt fact is that those same gripers do not expect to get
them any better. They know Jarvis, Midland Mainline and any of the
other players have no public concerns at all, but they have the
'Safety is Paramount' alleviator. So what if Railtrack reformed
to become a not-for-profit firm. Any good come out of it? Can you
ever imagine England implementing a north-south high-speed line
like that in France? No, what would happen would be more like the
Connex experience. Come in and effect only cosmetic change: the
stations are clean but the service is shit.
course the horrors of cold platforms, cramped trains and costly
food could have been averted if I'd avoided my big Friday night
and thus might have contemplated my travel options with more assiduous
mental rigour. As it was I turned up on Sunday still out of sorts
and brainlessly viewed the lack of options open to me. I should
have admitted defeat at 11am. Further narcosis was frequently the
only way of dealing with my own and the network's shambles; retreat
into self or, if you work for the rail op, from the platform, away
from the commuter. Take flight from your ignorance. Improve the
situation only piecemeal. Neither of us has been trained to deal
with such a sad state of affairs. My selfish carelessness and consumerist
desire - got to get the game, after all I paid top-dollar for that
ticket - seemed in tune with how the rail operators work.
a car and further pollute our already-septic isle for to rely on
'public' transport is folly.