It's Open!

 

At last, the Hindhead Tunnel is open. It genuinely will make a positive difference locally and it has to be said, against all expectations, the tunnel guys have delivered a great project with minimal disruption given it's size. 

I'm told it wouldn't have happened were it not for the Olympics........... every cloud then.. and the 10-15% uplift in property prices south of Hindhead won't harm us either.

 

SWT; Stand & Deliver

 

I hate South West Trains. If they walked around in striped jerseys, masks and carried large bags marked "swag," it couldn't be more obvious that they have been given free license it relieve passengers of hard earned money at every available opportunity and with precious little oversight.

Yesterday, in the modern equivalent of highway robbery, the scheming swine relieved me of £930 for an annual car park space at the station. It wasn't the fact that the car park was unusable for 3 weeks earlier this year because unlike all the other local businesses they couldn't be bothered to clear the snow that irritated me with the intensity of a hemorrhoid flare up. No, it was the fact that £930 represents a more than 10% increase on last year's cost. £930 for a bit of tarmac 50 miles from London....... sods.

Moving on, we have an update from our friend Dirk in Kent  for whom the lights of the commuting experience seemingly grow ever dimmer; enjoy,

"Overflowing man was jutting out into the aisle, probably deliberately so as not to miss the refreshment trolley as it lumbered past.  With his foot acting as a stabilizing chock he was able to place a substantial order to help fill that needy little hour between tea and high tea, certainly he’d left plenty of room inside for it all to be packed.

It was with some reluctance that he eventually drew himself in to allow the trolley past and we could see what he’d ordered: 3 packets of crisps, 3 packets of fruit cake, 2 kitkats, a packet of miscellaneous biscuits and two cups of tea.  The Snickers bar (one of a double-pack) that he’d been nuzzling as he’d boarded was left half demolished while he tucked in to the main course…or that was the plan for he’d just torn open the first packet of crisps when his phone rang.  “About 7.30” was his response to whatever was asked, and after the next question which we could only guess at there was a considered pause until he answered “boiled would be nice”."

 

 

Tickets Please!

After our recent adventures with South West Trains it's over to our old friend Dirk in Kent for another of his "Episodes of the Kent Commuter......"

A lovely scene witnessed on yesterday's train when the ticket-inspector lurched into view.  
The man wedged in by the window pleaded to be excused proof of his validity, his ticket being stowed on the overhead rack in his jacket pocket.  Our inspector obviously got a ratty whiff in his nostrils and calling his bluff asked which jacket that would be and would he like him to get it down for him.
Unfortunately, on retrieving it from its folded position the SE Trains man let loose a shower of coins and a mobile handset which clunked down onto the head/lap of a dozing commuter who nonetheless remained oblivious.  We then had the surreal situation whereupon the ticket's verification became a sideshow while the by-now ruffled ticket collector rummaged around in a stranger's groin trying to make good, and no doubt contemplating being charged with assault of one man and robbery of another in the course of trying to do his job properly. These weren't just pennies, they were £1 coins and their loss therefore not to be sniffed at, especially given where they'd vanished. Their combined worth might even have been enough to pay for the wretched ticket had it been required but our man proved to be an innocent season-ticket holder after all, though possibly a couple of quid poorer for his efforts to stay cool.
That'll teach him to travel in shirt-sleeve order.      

The Lost SWT 18:30hrs Train From Waterloo to Portsmouth

An Epic Tale of Endurance


 

Monday was the anniversary of D-Day and I had hoped to post a little anecdote or too in remembrance of that fantastic feat of arms. Unfortunately, events rushed past and I neglected to post my piece. I couldn't anyway, have improved upon these two which you can enjoy here and here.

One of the reasons Monday was a wee bit hectic was in no small part thanks to our old friends at South West Trains. If any organisation exists to make a simple job really expensive and difficult whilst exacting maximum pain, discomfort and inconvenience on their customers it's the merry band of jolly souls at South West Trains.

We endured a grim start to the week, engineered by South West Trains unique but incompetent approach to customer service. Apparently, a passenger leaned against an electric door outside Woking and broke it; (the door, not Woking). Having evacuated the train at Surbiton I joined hundreds of other weary and sodden travellers in watching lots of other trains whizz through the station for the next half an hour before one stopped. Well, obviously I didn’t make it on to that one or indeed the next but I did manage to scuttle onto the third. I hate South West trains and it’s quite beyond me why on earth travellers to the City accept this and then go and research / recommend / buy Stagecoach, (owners of SWT), shares. We should tell Souter and his bandits to bugger off. They have a taxpayer subsidised licence to print money and constantly take the mickey out of us. I note, just to add insult to injury, that Souter recently donated £500,000 to the SNP.  

The day didn’t finish at all well either with SWT coming back to laugh in the faces of the weary home going commuting public with what I can only describe, even with maximum restraint, as a weapons grade cock up at Waterloo in the evening. Having received a number of texts from friends warning of timetable meltdown I arrived to find no one at the station knowing any more about departure times than the nearest foraging pigeon.

Queue at Waterloo Station on Monday

Battle hardened by years of SWT incompetence, I made a judgement call.  I boarded a train simply on the basis that it had a driver, was on the usual platform and was pointing West. It turned out to be a good call but it departed mostly empty, leaving hundreds of its usual passengers on the platform because no one had told them where it was, where it was going and at what time. It was a good call; I received this email later from a client…… “The 6.30 pm has just pulled to a halt at Surbiton again! 80 minutes in and still not halfway.” Honestly, these people would be out of their depth standing in a puddle.

If that were all we could perhaps put it down to experience but the laughs and giggles have carried on throughout the week. Ever wondered what you get for £6,000 a year from South West trains. Let me, with the help of a friend who is currently marooned outside Woking on the 18:30hrs from Waterloo, a little window into their startling and abject failure to get the basics even close to an acceptable standard. It is currently , by the way, 21:15hrs.

19:23hrs "Don't know if you are caught up in this but two signal failures and we have stopped dead. Announcement is that there are severe delays into Woking."

19:59hrs "We've been parked at West Byfleet for half an hour. The guard has just announced that those wishing to get out and catch a taxi to Woking can do so." Those who are a bit stressed about the situation are welcome to step outside for a cigarette. This is the 6.30 train. Not very encouraging."

20:16hrs "Its got worse. We moved a mile off West Byfleet. Stopped for 15 minutes and they have just announced that the crew of the train parked at Woking on our track has gone missing, and until a new crew is found we will be parked here. There's a group of loud Australians who have taken refuge in 1st class and drunk the trolley dry just to compound problems."

20:30hrs "They have just announced they are still looking for a crew. And that SW trains have said the next train from Woking to Basingstoke - for poor sods who intended to change at Woking....will now depart at 1am"

20:40hrs "Drivers just told the now plastered Australians that he will ring their campsite as they probably won't get to the Isle of White till after midnight. Now I'm depressed."

21:02hrs "The guard has just told us that the people he rings to get information (as we still haven't moved), aren't picking up the phone and appear to have gone home."

21:27hrs "The lights and air-conditioning have just been turned off and the Australians have started a disco and now have to shout to be heard. The train feels like its moving but its just the reverberations from the dance floor."

21:30hrs "The Guard has asked if there are any police on board."

21:55hrs "They have now called for a doctor; I think it was old age."

and another abandoned soul pings in a text from "The Lost Train From Waterloo,"......

22:04hrs "On the 18:30 and still haven't reached Woking yet. Doesn't get any worse - someone did a runner so they have turned the power off. Festival goers en route to Isle of Wight now well oiled."

back to our gritty correspondant,

22:07hrs "Hope - the power has now been turned on. Some of the Australians have started to wilt."

22:21hrs "Power has been turned off again. Apparently we are two miles from Woking and the state of the toilets has to be seen to be believed."

(SWT did of course refit the trains on delivery and reduced the usual number of lavatories the manufacturers build to enable them to squeeze more seats in).

22:31hrs: "It's a problem - they turn the power off because people jump off the train on the tracks. No air conditioning so they open some doors to stop people passing out and then more people jump off. The people going to Basingstoke are starting to worry they are going to miss the one o'clock train."

22:41hrs "Power turned on. Fingers crossed as tightly as my legs."

22:51hrs "Driver has just reported the train in front has started to move slowly to Woking. We haven't yet moved."

22:56hrs "The guard, who has been very good under the circumstances, has announced that he has asked for water to be brought aboard at Woking, but says that given staff shortages, it may not happen."

What they need here is every bloody manager out of his bed, on the job and sorting this out and they might well call the Sally Anne and get one of their brew wagons out while they're at it. I'm not joking, they did it for Eurostar passengers.....

 

It's more like Dunkirk than D-Day with South West Trains............... 

22:59hrs "He has also announced that those seeking compensation from SWT should quote a number. Now that will be interesting. And while we are moving - it's very slow and yet we are passing many.... crap, we've stopped.

23:04hrs "Woking - wonderful Woking. And in only four and a half hours. No sign of any water! And I hope we aren't going to be waiting for it."

Always with their finger on the pulse, this is what the SWT website has to contribute to matters,

"A signalling problem is causing disruption near Brookwood. Because of this, there are delays of up to 180 minutes through Woking. Delays will continue until the end of service."

Clueless as always, they don't even know where their own trains are.

23:41hrs "Well, it's all over. Petersfield in five hours and ten minutes. Third time this week that South West Trains has legged me over. However, the guard was a legend. He works for utter bastards but he has done a good job. Don't think you'll see me on the early train. Might take me a little while to get on a train again."

Well played to our hardy correspondent and oh my, I just can't wait to get on the 06:15hrs tomorrow............. who said commuting was dull?


Step Back

 

Good marriages need to be nurtured, they don’t just happen. Ever conscious of this I occasionally take Mrs Flashbang away for a romantic weekend and last week was one of those special times. Now, I’d be close to an untruth if I suggested that a weekend spent swapping one battlefield for another and visiting the battlefields and war cemeteries of the Somme and Passchandaele would be her first choice, but I’m sure it’s right up there. And, given there were 40 other parents from school on the trip, there was plenty to talk about.

Interestingly, battlefield tours have never been more popular, (not just with Mrs Flashbang), with coaches from British schools, regiments, British Legion branches and battlefield tour companies criss-crossing the countryside all over Flanders. At the Menin Gate each evening, you can easily expect to see 1400 people present to watch the Last Post, whereas a generation ago there might only have been a slack handful. The internet is impacting aspects of our lives in the most unexpected ways and interest in history and our forebears is one of the more meaningful. If you have yet to make the pilgrimage, then do. You won’t regret it. Visits are though, inevitably charged with many emotions. That though, is exactly how it should be.

 

Bloody Trains

SWT 06:15 from Haslemere to Waterloo

Anyone with the misfortune to be a customer of South West Trains will be painfully aware of their corporate drive to charge more for less and of their skill in getting away with it year after year, unimpeded by regulators. Anyone with the brazen affront to remove lavatories to squeeze more seats in and deploy urban metro trains on inter city routes clearly operates on a "do as we damn well want basis."

43cm (16.9ins) is all you get in standard class, usually three in a row; bastards.

Obviously, the weary South West Trains commuter believes himself to be a model of uncomplaining fortitude. We're not though, alone. Our old friend Dirk Randolph with his latest dispatch from Kent,

"I pressed the button for the doors to open, and with a gallant flourish allowed the high-tog lady to climb aboard.  I know this one, she tends to waddle off to wedge herself securely into one of the table seats facing backwards, a comfortable crash-pad which I have in mind to aim for in the event I get catapulted there in an accident.  I was relaxed in the knowledge that she wasn’t going to go where I like to go, up against a window buttress in the spoon-seats, but to my rage she made straight for it.

With chivalry back in its box I was forced to settle across the aisle where I glared from behind my newspaper, too late realising I’d put myself right in the zone for the Two Morons who got on 10 minutes later.   This pair are well-known to us as top-tier irritants, guarranteed to jabber away for the entire trip to Waterloo East. 

One of them, I would charitably suggest, has a speech defect but it’s probably just lazy diction, and his side-kick doesn’t know any words but hangs in there in case he’s supposed to react in any way.  With one of those smirky faces much like that of York’s victorious team captain on University Challenge I’d like to think you’re with me on this.  Today I was too close to kip but perhaps I might learn something of interest.  Perhaps he really was as brilliant as York’s team captain.  As it turned out, I am able to confirm what I’d already assumed for the chat was incessant but utterly useless.  They are both morons and deserving of my continued disdain, and for that I feel strangely relieved." 

Bloody Trains Rant

Coalition Transport Spending Plan

I don't believe for a moment that any of us war weary infantry in the trenches are in the least bit surprised in the supposed revelation that Vince Cable believes that he could bring down the coalition at any time of his choosing. The only surprise is that Vince Cable might think that any of us care in the least what he says. We're all just too familiar with the massive egos and arrogance of these people to be surprised which is not news given one of the people who has least earned the right to ego and arrogance is Mr Cable. Greatness doesn't come from just regurgitating the last thing you read on the internet.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, there is indeed no limit to the ego of all these people for they all leave humility at the front door of Westminster the moment they walk inside. The way they like to project their largesse and public spirit is, somewhat tragically for the long suffering taxpayer, by embarking on huge vanity projects at our expense. That we neither need not want them is irrelevant as they seek to concrete themselves in the public conciousness Oh you will lads, but for the wrong reasons.

£800m on the Millennium Dome would be a good place to start in the lesson, "How not to do it," but Westminster missed that and hurtled on to drive a coach and horses through what taxpayers wanted by throwing what will end up costing £20bn to keep Lord bloody Coe quiet on the Olympics. £20bn? Let's just stop for a moment and question this insanity. Yesterday a great big PR fuss was made of the floodlights being switched on and £65m being given to sport for schools. Here's a reality check - for £20 bn we could give every secondary school a top class gymnasium and small stadium. In fact, all our schools could be equipped just like those cutsy American High schools you see in the movies. Instead, we're spending an absolute bloody fortune on a bunch a minority sports that no one ever pays to watch. The utter waste is criminal and the servitude to the IOC is demeaning to every Briton that has ever drawn breath. The Russians got the World Cup; let's just give them the Olympic fools errand too, in fact, we should pay them to take it and retain some dignity and cash flow.

But political vanity projects are the order of the day for every administration and so the Coalition have theirs....... fast trains to bloody Birmingham. Well, that's a good way to spend £34bn isn't it?

Here's a little bit of context for you from our friends at Think Defence; despite all the drum beating about the Military Covenant, this is what the Coalition have achieved to date,

  • Reducing the planned purchase of 22 Chinooks to 12
  • Cancelling Nimrod MRA4
  • Reducing armour and artillery
  • Reducing surface vessels
  • Reducing Tornado
  • Withdrawn Harrier GR9′s
  • Withdrawing Sentinel
  • Slashing allowances and expenses
  • Setting up the armed forces for a post Afghanistan change in terms and conditions of service
  • Implementing a 2 year pay freeze
  • Reducing pensions
  • Reducing service personnel by 17,000
  • Reducing the MoD Civil Service by 25,000 which will likely result in more work for service personnel

Moving swiftly back to the £34bn we're about to hose on getting to Birmingham marginally more quickly than we already do, these people, well the Government I guess, (they could be aliens for all the familiarity they demonstrate to the lives of taxpayers), need a reality check. Obviously, I'd like the reality check to be a swift kick up the rear but instead I'll make this as simple as I can,

"We don't want to travel at 250mph, we simply want to travel at reasonable cost and with a reliable service."

My season ticket costs £5256, plus £800 a year to park my car at the station; that's after tax. Given we subsidise South West Trains anyway,  the true cost to the traveller can only be guessed at. I won't bang on about the wanton exploitation of the travelling public by South West Trains because I've talked before about them stripping out lavatories on trains to cram in more seats, about using small suburban trains for inter city services and that rather special couldn't give a damn attitude to snow clearing on their premises.

The point here, is that the Coalition should stow their egos and focus on just what would help the travelling public and the workforce and it isn't fast trains to Birmingham. Indeed, if I were a betting man I can almost guarantee that it will end up costing £50bn and the rest of us will enjoy fare increases to compensate for their utter stupidity. Muppets.

 As a postscript, I found this comment on a post on Andrew Gilligans blog interesting and exactly the sort of thing the government should be making their business to explore. They won't, it doesn't massage the ego enough and strangely, I can't now find the comment on the blog; here it is anyway:

"My favourite suggestion that went nowhere, was from a South-West Trains driver who had noticed that if you were to build a mile-long spur from a point a mile south-west of Feltham mainline BR station up between the Bedfont Road and the Primary school and past the Clockhouse Roundabout into Terminal 4, you could have a very cheap Heathrow Express, going into the surplus international-spec Eurostar platforms at Waterloo once the cross-channel trains started going into St. Pancras."

Stand up whoever you are and find that bloody driver; we can't afford to let original thinking like that fall by the wayside.

 

Snapback!

Following the creatively named post, "Bugger, blast, bugger....!!!!" I've been in receipt of some very useful advice from a good and helpful friend, and being a good and helpful chap I'm going to share it with you.

You'll recall that I was pinged by a sneakily hidden radar gun in Banchory out of the back of a van, unfairly I thought, 30 yards from my journeys end after a 565 mile journey.

My friend suggests the following,

"I'll bet a pound to a penny that their radar "gun" wasn't properly calibrated that day. They have to be calibrated over a fixed distance at the start of every shift.  Just contest the ticket and write to request the calibration certificate and the log for that particular piece of equipment for that day.  If it was the following make/type of radar gun they were using, you've got a great chance of not paying....

The LTI 20/20 radar gun is a speed gun used in the UK. You could clock sparrows hopping about on the ground at 140mph!!!

The device, made by a US-based company, has been the source of much controversy since its introduction for its unreliable speed readings. Tests in 2007 recorded a wall as traveling at 44 mph, an empty road recorded 33 mph, a parked car was clocked at 22 mph and a bicycle ridden at 5 mph was recorded moving at 66mph. A man is currently fighting his speeding ticket, demanding the source code of the radar gun to deny the improvement of the device."

Interestingly enough, there appears to be a growing guerilla movement of little guys fighting back against this monstrous demonisation of the driver. More links to the fightback and failings of the LTI20/20 can be found here, here and here.

One piece of parting advice, don't use a mobile phone in the car. If you kill someone whilst talking on a handset it's an automatic 7 years in the chokey which is no laughing matter either for you or the victim. Mrs Flashbang thought this handset thing didn't include looking at a text in slow moving traffic; the Hampshire Constabulary in Liphook thought differently and she's now the lucky participant on a driving awareness course. This complements nicely, the speeding awareness course she attended a couple of years ago for doing 34mph in a 30mph limit at 8am on a Sunday morning in Crowthorne.  

Constabularies up and down the country however, might be well advised to send their own officers on such courses given the destruction they regularly visit upon the public and their cars. The Telegraph last year reported that,

"Officers admitted causing 3,357 crashes last year – an average of more than 64 a week - many of which were caused by basic driving errors.

Accidents were caused by failing to stop at junctions, doing U-turns without looking, taking bends too quickly and failing to use mirrors when reversing."

Keep picking on housewives doing 34mph though, that'll solve the crime problem.

Bugger, blast, bugger.....!!!!

Sometimes, you just have to feel that life is conspiring to make ones unceasing quest for a quiet life altogether more difficult than it might be. I sometimes get to the end of the week feeling like a medieval pilgrim who has reached his journeys end having overcome all manner of difficulties and challenges, most of which seem to come in one form or another from South West Trains.

This week though, this week has been different for things have been breaking and each and every one has been dammed irritating in it's own right. First, something in the back went delivering what felt like 20,000 volt shocks down the leg to a tingling foot. I then naively took the advice of a well meaning friend and went to see a not so well meaning chiropractor. £75 poorer and I now know what a potato feels like when it's being mashed. Still, the pains gone. 

Next, and in no particular order, the internet went at home for which BT are only going to charge me £200 to pop over and see if it's their fault, the spin dryer went apparently, (not sure what that is), the driver belt went on the lawn mower and the dishwasher blew up, (by that I don't mean Mrs Flashbang went bat sh*t crazy; it's just another broken machine in the kitchen). Then the sat-nav went in the Land Rover. I mean for goodness sake, anything but the sat-nav, it's saved my marriage on countless occasions. Quick off the mark, Land Rover said they could fix it in double quick time and promptly ordered the spare part. Yep, they ordered the wrong spare part so I've now got a week to look forward to being navigated around the Highlands by an easily distracted teenager. 

This may explain why, on arrival at our destination earlier, after a 9 hour drive, we guaranteed that having put a bad week behind us at the other end of the journey, we started this week with another irritating little piece of bad luck.

I got pinged by the local polis 40 yds from the hotel after a 565 mile journey.

 

Clearly, the brave boys of the Grampian Constabulary in Banchory have been chatting with the boys of the Hampshire Constabulary in Liphook because they employ exactly the same tactic of pointing their cameras at people driving out of the village, sneakily locating themselves around a corner and under a shady tree. As I explained before, most people might think the sensible thing to do to elevate speed awareness and pedestrian safety would be to tackle speeding drivers entering the villages but no, these boys have obviously thought the problem through and figured out that the best way to raise revenue is to ping motorists on the way out when they're anticipating the higher speed limits, and forget the pedestrians in the village.

At least they're consistent.

 Lets hope the salmon are somewhat less proficient in camouflage and concealment.

Boris and His Bloody Bikes

So, today Barking, Bonking Boris launches his Bikes for Hire scheme in London. It won't end well.

Cyclists are already a menace and law unto themselves in London and are more or less left to get on with whatever they like, wherever they like, completely unhindered by the constabulary. They don't follow any rules or known traffic conventions. They just career around the place as if they own it. I honestly believe they think themselves to be some sort of modern day righteous knights, upholding what is good and true on the roads, pavements and wherever else they choose to go, protected by some sort of Magic Boris Bubble. 

Anyone who doubts me should have a look at the junction on the northern end of Southwark Bridge on any morning at 7am. The scene is the closest thing to anarchy you are likely to witness with bikes hurtling across red lights and threading in between moving traffic and pedestrians with abandon. Little wonder some of them end up underneath said traffic.

Into the mix of HGV's, buses the length of football fields, lycra loony cyclists and dispatch riders we're now going to offer innocent visiting tourists the opportunity to experience Reality Death Race 2010. Cycling through a quiet Dutch or Mid Western town is no preparation for London traffic. It's utter madness but when I look at the author of this madcap scheme why should I be surprised?