Write on Trains, Make New Friends

It Worked Again – 10 March 2018
It so often happens, especially on busy trains. And this train, the Friday 1249 from Leeds to Carlisle that goes along the purportedly picturesque and spectacular Settle and Carlisle line, was certainly busy, people were standing for part of the journey especially from Shipley. It’s only a little train, two carriages long, but I think the authorities haven’t yet woken up to the fact that trains in the north of England increasingly struggle with capacity. But by getting on briskly I found a seat by the window, a young woman came and sat by me, and I started catching up on my diary, I decided to write in my book diary rather than my electronic diary as the train was so packed with people and bags that I’d have had trouble getting the iPad out of my bag.
‘May I ask what you are writing?’, asked the young woman. So I told her, and that started a conversation that lasted until I got off the train at Garsdale some hour and a half later. The young woman was, she told me, an apprentice digital journalist with the BBC, currently assigned to BBC Radio Cumbria in Carlisle, she’d been in Leeds all week on a work assignment. A digital journalist essentially makes videos, that then form part of news stories on the BBC’s web pages, and Facebook and Twitter pages. She was, I guess, about 22-years-old.
So we had this bizarre situation of a 72-year-old geezer with a cut on his forehead (no idea how that happened) and a 22-year-young woman with false eyelashes, a sweaty nose, and a dream of becoming a presenter on Blue Peter (for I asked her about her dreams, though not about her nose or eyelashes) showing each other pictures and videos on their technologies, for by this time I had scrabbled about and fished my iPad out of my bag. And discussing photo-processing and video-processing techniques, among other things. I wondered what the people in the seats in front of us, who must have been able to hear what we were saying, thought about this. Not much, I think, by what I could see of their body language.
We exchanged blog addresses, but the address she gave me doesn’t work. I should have tried it while we were talking. So I don’t know what her name is. Not that it matters, the hour and a half was most interesting and stimulating, for me at any rate, and as a result I have resolved to do more work with videos. Vids are the future, my travelling companion tells me, for almost everything that you see, moves.

Color Line Color Fantasy – The Kiel to Oslo Ferry

Best Keep to the Periphery – July 2016
On 7th July 2016 we travelled from Kiel to Oslo on the Color Line ship Color Fantasy.
Color Fantasy in the dock at Kiel.
The cabin on deck 10 was very nice, with a double bed, a big porthole window overlooking the sea, and a spacious bathroom with plenty of water cascading from the shower when you turned it on. The cabin was lovely and quiet. Clean and comfortable.
Outside on deck was spacious too, though nowhere to shelter if it is raining, and only a few lees to huddle in away from the wind.
But inside the ship, away from the cabin, was, eergh, horrendous! On the side of the ship it says ‘Color Line Cruises’, although it’s essentially a ferry. Is this what going on a cruise ship would be like? If so, maybe we’d be happy to pay the fee to keep away!
But the trip started well enough, we were on the aft deck watching the estuary pass as the ship moved away from Kiel.
Leaving Kiel.
Hapag Lloyd MS Europa and TUI Cruises Mein Schiff 1 at the cruise ship terminal in Kiel. The slogans written in a script typeface on the side of Mein Schiff say, translated into English: Hospitality – Wanderlust – Sea Whisper – Quiet – Midnight Sun – Sunrise. What a motley set of slogans. But presumably those who go on such cruises are impressed, if they read what’s written there at all.
A little further out we pass the entrance to the Kiel Canal. Container ship Adelina D registered in Douglas, based in Hamburg, (it says on the websites that follow these things) approaches the locks at the entrance.
And then . . . and then . . . we go down into the bowels of the ship, to the area that is called The Promenade, where the shops and restaurants are located . . .
All shipshape and shining. Carrier bags from the duty free shop.
Queue for the face painting.
All that glitters . . . The tapas bar to the left, perfume and cosmetics to the right, the shutters above are on the windows of cabins, so on booking you can opt to look down on all of this.
We ate a late lunch in the tapas bar. It was good: chicken wings, spare ribs, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, potatoes – best bit the potatoes – stuffed red peppers, mussels – not so good the mussels, no taste – a piece of fat cod – very good – salmon, prawns, a slice of tortilla on a very eggy base. Two slices of bread each. Aioli and/or pesto sauce thrown in for the price. You choose three items on a small plate or six items on a grosse. Man serving looked every bit the ferry sailor, with a heavily-tattooed arm. Spoke very good English.
Perfume & Cosmetics. Periodically the world goes purple, or orange, or green. At the moment purple.
Fantasy promenade. The pizzeria to the left.
Notes verbatim from my diary: The only place I have found on this ship where I can sit more-or-less quiet, the Donkey Pub [can be seen just beyond the pizzeria in the photo above]. But there’s a singer guitarist – binketty-bonk – Johnny Cash song, I’ll Walk the Line, done junior-guitarplonk style. S’just awful. As there’s nowhere else to sit I bought myself a beer, a large Hansa, €7.30. Gawd that guitarist is awful, a relief when he stops. And underlying it is a faint rumble of the floor from the engines of the ship. People wander back and forth with their tax-free shop purchases, wondering what to do next. Depressing. My beer won’t go down, tastes of disinfectant. The lights are putting wobbly chromatic aberrations on my page, to add to my sense of unreality. Gawp, now it’s gone all dark with swirling lights.
I try to write but note that I cannot in this awfulness, the guitarists stops, I try again, but all I write is the word, awfulness, followed by seven exclamation marks!!!!!!! (usually I don’t approve of multiple exclamation marks, this here ferry has undermined all my principles of decorum!!!!!!!)
Three grinning singers appear above you to chant out the forthcoming evening’s delights.
Fantasy elevators. Together with the wide carpeted stairs the glass pod speedy lifts make a great playground for children.
Sometimes we’re purple, sometimes we’re yellow, it depends on which colour lights they’re beaming down at us at that particular moment. While the hanging clown waves down at us, as well he might.
We thought the food and choice on offer was pretty good. If only there was somewhere quiet aside from our cabin to sit and think, other than being banished, like a family with children at an old British pub, to the cool blustery elements outside.
And here’s a tip. In fact two tips, if you travel on the Kiel to Oslo ferry, buy your Oslo Card from the reception desk on the boat, far more civilised than joining the queueing system at the central Tourist Information at Oslo railway station. We did that, having read on the Oslo Card website that you could buy them on Color Line ferries, and the friendly man at the desk gave us some friendly and sound advice. Instead of getting the shuttle bus from the quay to town, he said, talk the walkway and footpath through to Skillebekk – he pointed out the route on the freebie map – and get the number 13 tram, much less of a scrum than the shuttle bus, it’s not far to walk, which indeed it isn’t, and indeed it was.
I had expected that the option to buy an Oslo Card at the desk might have been announced on the ship, but it wasn’t, and the man at the desk had to scrabble in his drawer to find them. This is in marked contrast to Eurostar and ferries from the UK to mainland Europe, where, because the company makes a little commission on the sale of tickets, it promotes them, and this in addition puts over the message it is looking after its customers’ needs and comfort. Color Line too busy with glitzing my ‘cruise’, obviously.
The Oslo Fjord. Passing the Oslo-Lindøye ferry (I think).
Approaching Oslo.
Color Line call the Kiel–Oslo ferry a mini-cruise. The side of the ship says Color Line Cruises. Is that what it’s like on a cruise ship? Gawd!

London's Talking Buses

Faraway Places With Strange Sounding Names – January 2016
London’s buses talk to you, they say: 91 to . . . Crarch End. They do this shortly before arriving at every bus stop. The dots are to indicate a slight delay in the recorded voice.
London is far from being the first place to have buses and trams that announce the stops, the trams in Germany did this in the 1960s – maybe even before that though I wasn’t there then – and in those days it was the driver that did it, he would say through the address system: ‘Rheinstrasse-Neckarstrasse, für Hauptbahnhof bitte umsteigen’ (Rhein Street-Neckar Street, change here for the main railway station), and it would amuse me to see him do this, even when there was no one other than him on the tram.
But in London you relied upon the passengers’ local knowledge; London buses were not noted for being what you might call customer focused. But that’s all changed now, now the technology has moved on, the driver is not given the opportunity of letting you know that he’s not too sure where he is either, it’s all done by recorded voice. And this raises something of a problem, for London English has an accent all of its own, and to complicate things the way the people of London pronounce words changes over time. (See my Moo Sick pages.)
The voice on all the buses belong to the same lady, Emma Hignett, who obviously has to sound not too posh, but not too incomprehensible either, and they’ve mostly got this right, but some of the places come out sounding odd to the people of old London.
Crarch End (Crouch End) is one of them, and the other is on the number 19 bus which appears to be heading for ‘Badsea Bridge’ (Battersea Bridge). Martin Belam has some more – quite funny, and I agree with him, the pronunciation I would use for Cazenove Road and George Monoux is exactly the same as his (and as regards Monoux, see Monoux Extracts which insists upon the ‘monnux’ pronunciation).
The best route to travel on for intriguing pronunciations is route 55 from Leyton Green to Oxford Circus. This has:
Lea Bridge Rardnabaht (Lea Bridge Roundabout)
Hackney Baths (Baths is pronounced with a short north-English ‘a’, as in naff. In London we say baa-th.)
Queensbridge Road (Stress on the first syllable. In London we never put the stress on Queens, we said it all unstressed like three words. Queens Bridge Road.)
Bunhill Row (We used to say Bunill, not Bun Hill.)
Goswell Road (We say Goswul, not Gos Well)
Red Lion Square (One of the few instances where the voice and the display don’t match. The display says Red Lion Street.)
Route 55 is definitely the one to travel on.
See London iBus 1-50. Well, I spose someone will have done it sooner or later.
Any further references most welcome.

The Curse of the Window Blinds

Those Who Would Be Cocooned – November 2015
It happens all over Europe. The moment there’s a bit of sunshine, people on trains pull down the window blinds. And quite often even when there isn’t any sunshine. Close off the world they say, position me in my own blinkered bubble.
This Trenitalia Freccia Bianca is just pulling into Bologna Centrale, hence the turnover of passengers.
It’s worse in standard class than in first. In first the people tend to be more self-confident and sanguine.
Japanese tourists are especially bad for it. I don’t know why it is. Do Japanese not sleep well in their hotel beds and so take the opportunity for a kip the moment they get on a train? I can sympathise a bit as I too find it for the most part easier to nod off in a chair than I do lying down, but not on a train; not when there is an ever-changing world to see passing by the window. Strange, really, that a tourist would make a deliberate choice to see nothing. Though maybe not so strange, when one thinks about it.
And what are the people missing? All manner of things, for example on this train travelling at just under 300kph between Torino and Milano in Italy, the posts on the barriers flash by in an intriguingly psychedelic fashion. This photo was shot at 1/4000th of a second.
And African women! When on a train, a good tip is to avoid sitting near an African woman. She’ll pull down the window blinds and you won’t be able to see nuffing.
And children. Certain types of children. Some don’t bother, but others, typically those who have a hood on their jumper and want to pull that up too, who tend to stay with their juvenile uncertainty well into their twenties; and those children who have been encouraged by their scarlet-finger-nailed mother that they should get their own way, and who want to demonstrate that to all around – these too are inveterate blind-pullers.
One can have sympathy, perhaps a little, for someone who is working on their laptop, as bright sunlight can make the screen hard to read. This’ll be one reason why blind-pulling is more prevalent in standard class than second, for laptop use is more prevalent there too.
In the same way that little plastic blocks have been invented that prevent selfish people from pushing their seat right back on aeroplanes, so there could be something similar for window blinds. I think a pencil might do it on some trains.
Or better still, not to have any window blinds at all. After all you don’t get them on cars, so why on a train? And they don’t exist on most suburban trains, what’s so different about long-distance?
I suppose it’ll be that the first company to introduce an open-to-the-world train will get complaints from the hiders and hooded, and they won’t like that at all.

Just Another Train Ride

A Useful Blonde Girl – 12 December 2014
So far so good, there was somewhere to park my car (not always so easy at Oxenholme) and it was an eleven-car Pendolino (as opposed to nine which some of them are and they take the same number of people) and I have one of my regular seats, facing forward by the window in the low-roofed part of the carriage. It’s dark outside, so being by the window is not as significant as at other times of the day, but you can still see the stations and periodic Christmas lights on houses if you are by the window. It feels more airy. And there are no African women nearby who want to pull the blinds down. African women for some reason always want to pull down the blinds on trains and aeroplanes – another one of life’s un-researched mysteries.
As I am off to see a company about some possible work I am wearing a business suit, I have not worn one of them for at least eight years, and it still fits me perfectly, despite Hilary’s insistence that I am losing weight. Seems that I’m not.
But I’m pleased to be doing the train ride, I like train rides. Pleased to be on the business trip too, maybe that’s just nostalgia, or perhaps it’s a case of feeling a big chap, one with meaning in life. Little things please little minds, and little chaps. Whatever it is it feels good.
Glaswegian train manager: do take keer steeping on to the plaatfrms eedge. Difficult doing these phonetic transcriptions. At Lancaster get on and sit behind me a woman and her son of about ten speaking Polish or possibly Russian, both rather substantial in girth, the boy playing games on his mobile that make beeping noises, and eating and drinking things that smell sweet and sickly. At one point his machine starts playing boring head-banging music. I ask him to turn it down a bit, his mum tells him off angrily in Polish. Or Russian.
On the foursome opposite my little slot on this train arrive at Preston two women in their what? forties? From their mobile phone conversations with ‘love’ they’ve obviously been to a funeral, of someone very old. London accents. Prominent spare-tyre bellies. They look at old black-and-white photographs with a magnifying glass that has a torch on it. They have some ancient photograph albums, presumably picked up at the funeral. ‘It went well, it went very well, weren’t many people there, but as you say, at her age all her peers are gone.’ (I don’t think that ‘love’ had said anything like that on the phone.)
As the train passes Crewe, the less large, possibly a bit younger, and definitely more agile of the two women goes to buy teas from the onboard shop, and to accompany her cardboard cup of tea she tucks into a plastic carton of fruit. ‘Do you like mango?’, says fatter one with the walking stick. ‘Mmm’, nodding, ‘I love mango’. Definitely not northern then, despite the belly size. But the bigger one with stick doesn’t join in the fruit, she eats a biscuit.
I eat my dinner that evening in Pizza Express on Euston Road. Always one of my favourite restaurants, it is getting even better as it gets ever busier and they make less and less space between the tables so it is beginning to resemble one of those old-fashioned Parisian restaurants where everyone sits at a communal bench. As it was in Paris, everyone gets on with their own business and there’s no chance for snootiness. I sit between two Indian bankers and two young nurses from the hospital up the road (UCH), the bankers more interesting to earwig than the nurses.
Will I get any work out of this? Hard to say, a number of factors will sway the thing, but anyway I’ve got to do a quote, which will be quite complex as I’ve told the MD I’ll quote in modules.
On the train coming back on the evening of my day-long meeting the following day I need to sit in a table seat because I am writing on the laptop a preliminary report to show that I understood all that was explained to me, and a table seat, unlike my usual slot seat, has a mobile charger socket so I can write away with no power-loss worries. I find myself sitting opposite a young blonde woman who has a bottle of Coca Cola Zero (yuk) and who seems to have been to London to look at accoutrements for her forthcoming wedding. Oh dear, and she is going to spend much of the journey talking to her mum on the mobile. Might need to go and buy myself a beer when the onboard shop opens.
Going on about clothes. She’s looking at a magazine. ‘Like he used to wear a lot of Jack Wills and that and he went on to Barbour and country like and now he wears like a mixture of the two.’
‘I don’t know what to get you for Christmas but is there anything you particularly want? There is something you’ll be getting but you know about that. That necklace! Can I get you something similar to last year, something from Chanel?’
‘. . . it’s Adriana Pappel!' (well I did look it up when I got home, it’s a designer brand what else?)
The blonde girl goes to the buffet between Watford and Milton Keynes, and returns with a bottle of white wine (didn’t expect that) and a bag of crisps that smell like sick. Does not loudly crunch the crisps however. I am warming to this girl, wine drinking and not crunching crisps, she’s not as much of a lost cause as her conversation made me think. But anyway I’m too busy to talk to her, not least because I’m writing about her on my laptop in between formulating a summary of the day, and she gets off at Preston.
And yes, I did buy myself a beer to cheer me up between regales of clothes and perfumes, and that was one reason why I went for a wee in the onboard bog, took a photo, and began a Facebook conversation about toilets, and then wrote a blog piece: Virgin Trains – Brand is All, so overall the blonde girl did me no end of good.