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Archive for February 1st, 2009

The Lady With the Whistle

Whistle

Whistle

The 4.00 train from London to Aberdeen was packed on Friday – trains out of London on Friday afternoon usually are, I suppose.     An open return does not guarantee a seat, but I struck lucky and found a seat which had been booked from London, but was not occupied.     I sat down and said hello to the lady beside me, as you do.

Sometimes fellow passengers are up for a bit of conversation, and sometimes not – they might be deep in a book, or on a laptop, or just hiding under a coat trying to get some sleep.     This lady was American, and had not been in the UK before – she had been at a trade show in London and was going to York for a couple of days.

We had a really interesting conversation – it is 2 hours from London to York, and we managed to fill in the time just fine.    It is always interesting to hear what first-timers to the UK think of us, and this lady liked London, and had managed to get to a couple of shows – fitted in round a hectic work schedule.    Being brought up on English children’s literature, she ‘knew’ some familiar names, and loved just walking about the city.   

And we got to talking about California (which is where she was from):    the weather, trains, wine, climate change and the ever-present threat of earthquakes.        And spotting a “Yes We Can Do It” bracelet, Obama was a safe bet as a topic, which filled in a good few miles.

And the whistle attached to her necklace?    Her simple but effective earthquake kit, carried everywhere.

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Trains, Trains, Trains

I had to go to London for a meeting last week, and went there and back in a day by train.    Edinburgh to London, city centre to city centre is about as quick as flying these days.

National Express

National Express

National Express now run the East Coast line, and when it works, it is a great service.    There is even Wifi on the trains now – except the Wifi was not working going down this time, but is was OK on the way back up.     Everything went to time, even down to the 6 minutes I had to change trains at Edinburgh onto the Scotrail service to Perth.    6 hours London to Perth is pretty good really.

But coming from the comfort of the National Express onto the Scotrail service to Perth was a bit of a jolt.    Just two carriages long, this new service through Fife was casebook old rolling stock.   The wind whistled in through the windows, the heating was not working well, and the train was filthy.   Really bogging.     The carpet where passengers got on and off near the door was worn flat and was brown – it looked like a herd of cattle had been through.   It is supposed to be the colour of purple heather that Scotrail uses (see photo).   The rubbish leftover from the last passengers was still there – sticky table with a half-eaten punnet of blueberries at mine.   I was not brave enough to finish them – like communal bowls of peanuts in a pub, you really never know where other fingers have been.   

scotrail interior - not brown

scotrail interior - not brown

We rattled across the Forth bridge and through Fife, and when I say rattled, I mean it:     the train shook,  grumbled and clanked.       And the automated signs and speech were not tallying up at all:   “This is Perth” announced the automated voice brightly …….   “Change here for stations to Inverness”.       The moving sign in my carriage was stubbornly stuck on ‘Dunkeld’ ……. where the train was not going.    

The Scotrail staff were very cheery, as always.    The lady checking tickets scribbled on mine in her biro.     “Why doesn’t Scotrail give you nice ticket punching pliers?” I asked.    ” Because if you punch holes in the tickets, the automatic ticket barriers can’t read them”, she replied rather sadly, “it’s just how it is”.

A scribble with a biro is ultimately rather disappointing.    National Express still punch neat holes in theirs.    And Perth does not have automatic barriers.

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