21 December 2007

Maybe it's because I'm not a Londoner

My trip to London for a Christmas bash was carefully planned. Hull Trains are reliable and clean, and their trains a refreshingly minty colour, and their direct routes through from Paragon and Kings Cross have never let me down.

On this occasion, once more they didn't let me down. But I still couldn't catch either of their trains I had booked.

A car journey from my home to the railway station takes approximately 15 minutes, depending on the regulation factors like weather, time of day etc. So, the Natural Blonde agreed to drive me from the village (we haven't had localised services to the vast terrain of small towns and villages east of Hull since Dr Beeching decided in 1964 that they were no longer necessary) to the station.

We set off on a 15 minute journey with half an hour to spare.

We got stuck behind a succession of 25mph transporters carrying those mobile offices, which take up two lanes by just enough of a margin to prevent you from overtaking.

I missed the train.

There's nothing more frustrating than trying to get somewhere and being late through no fault of your own.

We then tried, with the help of a growing speed limit and the Natural Blonde's accelerator, to pre-empt the train's next stop at Brough, a smart and small town west of the city where the trains always stop. The train goes there at a car's pace because of the shortness of the time involved, so we had a fighting chance of making it to Brough before it arrived.

We indeed got to Brough before the train (the track is visible most of the way from the A-road) and if we got one set of green traffic lights as we travelled, I'd have reached the platform on time.

They were red.

They stayed red.

When they changed, the person in the MR2 in front of us stalled his car.

There's nothing more frustrating than trying to get somewhere and being late through no fault of your own.

I missed the train.

It was a fraction of a mile in the distance when I got to the platform. I half-expected to see some woman waving a white handkerchief of farewell at it.

The next stop was Selby, a good distance away and therefore the train could open its traps and pick up its pace. My last chance of catching it had gone.

So, I had a cheap £50 return ticket in my bag, one half of which was now entirely useless. It was not transferable to any other Hull-London service, even with the same company, and the next Hull Trains service was three hours away, so that was a non-starter for another reason.

All I could do was buy a new, single ticket for the impending local service, with a change at Doncaster (Doncaster gets a lot of stick as a town, but the rail system in this country would be utterly lost without Doncaster's station) which would get me into King's Cross via an East Coast train about half an hour later than planned, and £74 lighter - yes, somehow a single ticket for this service was £25 or so more expensive than the return ticket I already possessed. I hate train companies, the greedy sods.

I thanked the Natural Blonde for her efforts and waved her goodbye as she drove away. The train arrived at Brough, I boarded, got to Doncaster, switched to the East Coast service and spent the journey sitting cross-legged on the floor of one of those small foyer-like areas between carriages, as every single seat in standard class had been pre-booked (this, of course, doesn't stop some people sitting down in such seats and then look incredulous when someone has the nerve to ask them to shift). I arrived at Kings Cross and put it down to a one-off experience.

Underground to Great Portland Street, met Callum, the pal I was staying with, ate well at a smart Italian restaurant (including raspberries and cream as a dessert - yum), then off to the Christmas do on Tottenham Court Road. Had a great night. Some of it is mentioned below. Underground to North Acton, where Callum collected me. Kipped on his floor.

My return train - the one on the £50 ticket - was at 9.48am. At 9am on the dot I was dropped off at Willesden Junction tube and Callum and I wished each other good Christmas cheer.

The tube train arrived within three or four minutes and I scoured the map to see where I needed to change for Kings Cross.

The options seemed to be the Circle or Hammersmith & City line at Paddington, or the same again at Baker Street. Or I could hold on until Oxford Circus and catch the Victoria line, which was a mild southbound detour but familiar to me.

I wish I had done the latter.

I got off at Paddington and was ten minutes and five stops from King's Cross with 25 minutes to my train. A piece of cake, despite my unfamiliarity with Paddington's set-up, as I ran from the Bakerloo line through the overground platforms in order to get to the H&C line. I chose this course because there were notices on walls and regularly parroted recorded messages on the tannoys about severe Circle line delays due to staff shortages.

There were also H&C delays, but the announcements only mentioned westbound, and I was going east. I got to the platform and looked at the clock.

0928 hours. Not a problem.

A westbound tube train arrived. The one with supposed delays. I thought maybe it was one which had been delayed considerably already. A few got on, a few got off.

Two minutes later, another one arrived. Fewer got on and off.

Two minutes later, another one arrived. Nobody got on, nobody got off. Literally.

Meanwhile, nothing had arrived on the eastbound platform during this period, making a mockery of the announcements still sounding every other 90 seconds on the speakers above my worried head. We were assured that the problems were westbound, but the evidence seen by our own eyes told a different, frustrating story.

Finally, a tube train arrived for us. I boarded it but already I knew I'd not get to Kings Cross on time. This didn't alleviate the rage I felt when it stopped at Baker Street and decided to switch off its engines for five minutes. You find yourself briefly clinging on to hope once the last leg of your journey finally starts, then something like this happens.

Had I gone through to Oxford Circus, I'd have arrived on time.

I got to Kings Cross a whole six minutes after my train's allocated departure time. Hull Trains are never late in setting off, so even a perverse desire for an ineffectual train service - the one we hear about constantly - didn't materialise for me.

There's nothing more frustrating than trying to get somewhere and being late through no fault of your own.

I missed the train.

So again, as I couldn't wait for the next one three hours later for work-related reasons, I paid through the nose for a daylight robbery single ticket via East Coast to Doncaster and then a local service to get me to Paragon. Those £50 tickets, purchased weeks ago and in my possession for four days prior to travelling, were now unused and unusable, bound for the bin.

So it cost me an extra £148 than initially planned, in Christmas week.

And environmentalists and politicians wonder why people don't catch trains when they could. It's because they're overpriced!

I don't do blaming; but on this occasion I know neither missed train was down to my own lack of organisation. A convoy of mobile home transporters brought a city's traffic to a standstill for just enough time for me to believe I'd be able to step on the train, breathless, just as the guard was waving his plastic sign to get the doors shut.

No chance.

Then, on the way back, a staff shortage (which is acceptable) and incorrect looped announcements (which are most certainly not acceptable) robbed me of my paid-for, comfier return home. I'm glad I had no hangover on this occasion (which was a fluke - again see below) and that my only physical discomfort was a mildly stiff back from sleeping on my mate's floor.

Now I know why Londoners sometimes moan about their public transport system. In Hull, which is a large city but has only just managed to integrate its transport structure (the new bus and train combo-complex opened in the autumn) it's easy to scorn Londoners when we read of such whinges. After all, the underground has always been, for me, efficient, quick, regular and unfussy - and, compared to the price of everything else in London - damned good value.

Not any more. I now empathise entirely.

I really should have gone to Oxford Circus.

Maybe Ian Jones, the writer of the ace To The End Of The Line blog (linked on this page), could be on hand for advice next time.

I'm back in London again on Saturday for football reasons. I hope to have better luck, although my journey starts and ends at different stations and only briefly involves the underground.

Oh, as a postscript and a slightly lighter note, my journey home on the expensive East Coast train did at least find me sitting adjacent to Jane Moore, whom I've always really liked. So I got to watch her applying her make-up and writing her Christmas cards, which made the time fly by.

That's worth £148 of anybody's money... maybe.

1 comment:

Bright Ambassador said...

If I wasn't at work then you could have stopped in Newark for a Crimbo snifter. Unfortunately I was so you couldn't.

Do you know the legend of Paragon Lil?
Oh, and where in Hull can I see a goldfish in some public toilets, first shown to me by Jools Holland on The Tube about twenty five years ago? My near-Hull relatives say it's in the bogs under the Queen Victoria statue. Last time I was in Hull, just over a year ago, they were locked. Bah!