Black Mafia


While en route to Kings Cross in a Black Cab today we happened to pass Warren Street tube station. I shivered. A bad thing once happened to me at Warren Street tube station. Nothing dark and ominous but a moment of betrayal that is unforgotten. Somewhat unusually, the betrayal had nothing to do with the girlfriend whose flat I was looking for.

Way back, in fact all the way back to 1979, I walked out of the tube station on a dark Autumn night and asked a cabbie the way to an address. I knew it was near. So did he. ‘Hop in he said, I’ll take you there.’ I did and alighted 10 minutes later but only 400 yards away and £5 poorer. Robbing sod; I hope he is suffering a plague of boils and hemoroids in retirement. 


It was, an unusual experience. The only time in fact that a cabbie has ripped me off in all the years since. Admittedly my naivety was in those days, boundless. I had after all, earlier spent 15 minutes on a tube platform waiting for a train to come my way without realising that each line had two platforms, East and West or North and South.

 I mentioned the experience to my cabbie today, ‘you must have had a wrong un Guv,’ he said. There aren’t many. Times are changing though. It is sad for example that with the growing headwinds that cabbies face, and I’m the first to admit that they haven’t helped themselves over the years, that the old fashioned courtesy between drivers themselves is in steep decline. Their world has become one of dog eat dog with for example, fewer letting others out of junctions and not stealing each other’s fares. Interestingly, and in favour of cabs, my daughter (and she says most of her friends), refuse to use Uber. Too many bad stories.

I meanwhile in common with many  others, have reverted to the Tube this last year or two for most journeys after serial idiot policies by London mayors have made it impossible to do even the briefest of journeys in reasonable time and at reasonable cost by cab. To be fair, paying on entry and exit in the tube with the wavy debit card thing has made it super easy and I did learn the other day that all cabs now do the wavy debit card thing too. Interestingly, I actually find the tube while busier, is much less threatening than was the case years ago. There is no way anyone would have sat on the tube with headphones on holding an £800 tablet in the 1970’s or 80s. It would have been like holding a sign saying ‘come and rob me.’

But, you don’t get to talk to anyone in the tube and I miss the daily chat with the cabbie (unless they have those annoying football phone-in radio shows blaring away). I remember once, while standing at the Gunner Memorial at Hyde Park Corner on Rememberance Sunday, the police stopped the traffic for the two minutes silence. An older cab driver opened his door, stepped out, took his flat cap off and stood to attention with the rest of us. I thought it a haunting evocation of what must have happened all around the streets in the 1920’s and 30’s. 

It’s all changing. Some good, some bad. I welcome some of the new, but miss some of the old. 

On to Doncaster then. Wonder which side of the ‘old or new’ awaits me there...

Shock News - 4G Reception in Joe Allens

They took the bar.....

he grew up quickly then....

he grew up quickly then....

The world has finally turned on it’s end – you can now get 4G reception in Joe Allens restaurant. This would have been helpful twenty two years ago when I emerged from the basement restaurant in Exeter Street after dinner with a friend to see nineteen missed calls on my phone. Apparently, I was about to become a father for the second time and if I could have jumped onto a magic time machine I might just have made it to St Peters in Chertsey to witness the event. South West Trains ain’t no magic time machine. I missed the moment. I did though, have form here. I also missed the first and indeed the third births in the family. I’ve never seen childbirth as either a spectator or participant sport and have persistantly believed that the safest place for the father, and indeed everyone else involved, is for him to be firmly on the other side of the closed door.

Of course, the reason that you can now get 4G reception is that Joe Allens, the iconic Theatreland bucket-list restaurant, has moved around the corner to Burleigh Street after 40 years in it’s old anonymous backstreet location. Always one with a keen eye for a bargain my daughter called and said, ‘Bad news and good news Dad…. Joe Allens has closed but reopened around the corner. They are doing a soft launch this week and food is half price….. I’ve booked a table.’ Broadly translated that means ‘You’re taking me out for dinner but it won’t be as hurty as it otherwise could be.’ I’m pleased she did.

new book cover but the story, thankfully, remains the same

new book cover but the story, thankfully, remains the same

Jimmy Hardwick; until his death in 2014 he was the best known and best loved man in WC2

Jimmy Hardwick; until his death in 2014 he was the best known and best loved man in WC2

Walking into the new place felt odd at first but actually, very little has changed. It looks as if they just moved every picture and stick of furniture a hundred yards and put a sign up saying ‘business as usual.’ I wouldn’t even bother reading any new reviews, they are completely surplus to requirements. Just read an old one from five, ten or twenty years ago and it will read the same. The waiters are just as camp, rushed and friendly. The piano still plays, (but no longer with the legend that was Jimmy Hardwick at the keyboard who sadly passed away in 2014 having played there for 37 years). There is no cloakroom at the new place which may be an issue for ladies who lunch and the bar has shrunk to a third or a quarter of it’s old length which is a shame, (I spent many hours at the old bar waiting for a table or a date and sometimes both). Otherwise, it is how it should be.

Still the best.....

Still the best.....

Joe Allens quickly became synonymous with Theatreland after opening in 1977 and it was the first New York grill style restaurant of merit in London. At the time, it wasn’t easy to find a restaurant serving salads of substance or indeed Joe Allens signature dish, the Hamburger, (and it’s still not on the menu).  Now both can be found in a thousand imitators across the capital but few have the easy confidence and casual elegance of JA’s. The menu then is just fine with no major shocks for those, (like me), who are deeply suspicious of change. 

I liked it before. I like it now. Perhaps the world hasn’t quite yet turned on it’s end.

Did No-one Hear The Nonsense Alarm Ringing Long Before?

not in London in 2017... how?

not in London in 2017... how?

We woke this morning to another unimaginable tragedy, this time in West Kensington. We are going through one of those cycles of bad news upon bad news and we all wonder where it will end. For most of us the cycle will flatten out and we’ll move on but for the participants of last nights events there will be no end. A good friend of mine still suffers from flashbacks and smells the rich smell of AvGas whenever he sees a Salvation Army collector or band. They are one of the images imprinted on his mind from Lockerbie when they were handing out tea and sandwiches to soldiers and others tasked with their gruesome clean-up work. Indeed, looking at the pictures on television of what can only be termed a disaster one could be forgiven for thinking that the ghost of the tragedy visited on that Border town had risen last night in West London. 

There will be deep and extensive analysis of what conspired to cause an apparently small kitchen fire to rage out of control and reach the upper stories within, it is said, just 15 minutes. I am no expert in fire, fire prevention or fire fighting but still feel obliged to ask as a concerned citizen, just three questions,

Which genius thought it was a good idea to spend ten million pounds cladding the structure in wood, plastic and polyurethane with a cavity turning a run of the mill 1970’s tower block into one big chimney, or should I say crematorium. Did no-one, no-one at all hear the nonsense alarm going off? In the planning application for the building refurbishment more concern appears to have been extended to trees than to the external building fabric. You don’t have to be an architectural genius do work out the implicit fire risk. No, you could just think, or Google, because the information telling us that polymeric core materials will burn at temperatures well below that of developed fires is hardly difficult to find.  Here is an example,

The mechanisms of external fire spread are succinctly summarised by the author of UK Building Research Establishment (BRE) report BR 135 (see below):

“ The mechanisms by which fire can spread externally include combustible materials and cavities – either as part of a system, or those created by delamination of the system or material loss during the fire.  Once flames enter a cavity they have the potential to travel significant distances, giving rise to the risk of unseen fire spread within the cladding systems.” External Fire Spread – The testing of building cladding systems, Sarah Colwell, BRE

Nor is West Kensington the first example seen in the UK. There were at least 30 fires in the 1990’s in the UK involving composite panels and a series of well publicised fires in the Gulf and Asia in recent years. I won’t go into any more detail, the information is readily available for anyone who seeks it out, including the link above. Suffice to say, someone, or more likely some people should swing for what happened today. It so didn’t need to happen.

My second point is even simpler. Of course fireman did today the brave things that firemen do. It takes a special kind of courage to walk up flights of stairs in breathing apparatus in a smoke filled building of questionable structural integrity which is burning itself to a cinder, as the NY Fire Service can readily attest to. Why though were the London Fire Brigade as recently as last Saturday advising residents in the block that in the event of fire they should ‘stay put.’ It takes a special kind of imagination to believe that you can be safer on top of a burning building than attempting to make good your escape down the stairs. What were they thinking? Did they not look at the experience of 9/11 when many died because they were told to stay where they were rather than attempt to escape? Even easier, just watch Towering Inferno. Get out and get out quickly.

I think we pretty much know what is coming next and that will be a demonstration of prevarication rather than decisiveness from virtually all involved. There will be an inquiry and soothing words to allay fear. Actually, what the public should demand is action. We have a generational problem with our public bureaucrats and politicians in that not only do none of them want to take responsibility for their actions but none want to take any decisions which might lead to career risk. Moreover, any individuals in opposition seeking gain from this tragedy need to be put firmly in their place. Even a cursory look at the history of building regulations in this country and parliamentary reports scream that the lot of them are culpable.

Here’s a clue. The Government should immediately announce an inspection programme of every public and private building of more than five stories with cladding, to begin tomorrow. No if’s, but's or maybes. Anything sub standard must be ripped down and rebuilt. All new builds must have sprinklers and anything else that prolongs survivability in towers. The government will immediately review the veracity of smoke hoods and will quickly initiate a national programme to encourage the purchase of smoke hoods by householders if lives might be saved by their use. The Fire Service will immediately review it’s advice to householders in tower blocks and had better have a bloody good reason for telling them to stay in the middle of a fire if their review concludes that that particular advice is not suicidal bollocks. 

Concrete bollards that obstruct fire engines from getting to their deployment points on the scene. Seriously?

Finally, I save a special remark of contempt for the Channel 4 news reporter John Snow who elevated insensitivity to new levels today. In an interview, while bodies were being counted, he demanded that Nick Paget-Brown, the leader of Kensington & Chelsea council, promise the survivors that the smouldering burnt out shell behind them would not be turned into a new block of private luxury flats. It was a cheap and nasty thing to say to a man who had done the right thing and been available for interview all day and, whilst not condoning any errors of judgement in relation to planning that may have been made in the past, certainly didn’t deserve that. That though, is Channel 4 for you and that, is pretty much John Snow. 


For the casualties; the Regimental Band of the Coldstream Guards and Pipes and Drums of the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons) play the beautiful Sands of Kuwait.

It’s Book Club night so the Coven are getting together elsewhere to stir their potions and compose some new spells against a backdrop of suitably windy and wet weather. The dogs are dozing and I am sitting in that lost space between finishing supper and waiting for the post 10pm exit poll for the first indications of how went the day. I can’t say I am too exited. The election campaign has been a missed opportunity for so many to present a challenging and interesting, vibrant and exciting platform for the future. Instead we have had slow-and-steady or being exulted to believe in fairies. Kind of like a choice between school dinners or blowing all your money in one mad night at the casino. Utterly forgettable the lot of them. If that is the best we can come up with as a country then something has truly warped and ruined our usually imaginative, if occasionally cranky, national DNA.

So, my mind has been wandering as it often does. I can’t help dwelling on the extraordinary courage and tenacity of a small number of individuals last Saturday night on London Bridge and in Borough market. The Aussie nurse who ran headlong into danger to help, the journalist who strode over to take on the terrorists, the London Transport police officer who stood in the shoes of so many before him, the bar manager who struggled to keep the doors of the bar closed against the attackers, the young Spaniard swinging his skateboard to defend others, the bloody minded Millwall fan who wasn’t having any of it. Brave, brave people who in an instant, were confronted with life threatening danger. Up close and personal and through instinctive self preservation, training, selfless courage, anger, belligerence, selflessness; who knows, something clicked in. They saved lives. In some cases at the cost of their own. Others amongst them suffered grevious wounds. We will remember that day for many reasons.

John Bamford GC. Awarded the George Cross in 1952 at the age of 15 after rescuing his two brothers from a house fire despite suffering terrible burns

John Bamford GC. Awarded the George Cross in 1952 at the age of 15 after rescuing his two brothers from a house fire despite suffering terrible burns

We don’t give awards for bravery away with Lucky Bags in this country. The starting premise, certainly for those in uniform, is that everyone does their bit. That is, you have to do something a bit special, above and beyond to be recognised. When recognition is due though, the system is usually unstinting in recognising it. There are occasional omissions. It has often been the case that acts of bravery have not been witnessed, some people have been better at writing citations up than have others but as a general rule, the right thing happens. The hurdles to recognition are unashamedly high. For example, as a rule of thumb, it is said that for the George Cross Committee of the Cabinet Office to recommend the award of a George Cross, (awarded to civilians and the equal of the Victoria Cross), there should have been a 90% probability of the recipient being killed. You can see some examples on the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association web site here. Members of Army Regiments and Corps mostly all know the names of their Regiments recipients of the Victoria Cross and all recruits are taught in their Regimental history lessons the stories of days when their forbears won multiple awards in the same action such as the Lancashire Fusiliers ‘Six VC’s before breakfast,’ at Gallipoli. 

I believe the actions of those brave individuals on Saturday night will, in time and after an appropriate period of mourning for the dead, be seen in that light. Their fighting spirit and sacrifice will come to have some meaning for us all and they will be remembered for a very, very long time, not just for their individual actions but for what collectively it signifies. A medal is not worth a life, it just isn’t. But embracing what they did, and remembering them, might save lives. I genuinely do believe we ought to start treating the dead and wounded of terrorist actions as war casualties and give the memory of their actions the dignity they earned.

Saturday Night

I had the joy of popping up to London on Saturday to meet my daughter for a late birthday dinner treat. We avoided joining the marching sisters protesting about, well just about everything as far as I can work out but mostly against President Trump. In their mass demonstration of toddler petulance, ‘if I can’t get my way I’m going to lie down and cry,’ they are in denial. It is this very hectoring and lecturing, holier-than-though attitude, (neatly described by Brendon O’Neil in the Spectator), that has alienated the silent majority who are now making their voices heard. Anyway, our evening kicked off at a rather fun cocktail bar called Cahoots, which is set in a 1940’s tube station with music and themed cocktails to match. It was more like walking into a movie set than a bar which was fine because given the period I immediately felt at home. I have form here having previously co-starred with Stephen Fry and Hugh Lawrie in Jeeves and Wooster, (I was a Drones Club member). Two things though, struck me as being slightly off theme. The first being the cocktails. None were of the time. Most were sweet and sticky which I guess is what people want rather than the Horses Neck’s, Pink Gins and Whisky & Sodas which would have been more prevalent then. In fact, the very drinks that some senior members at the Club still regularly imbibe although their numbers are now sadly, in steep decline. The second thing that struck me was that all the men there, and I mean all of them were dressed like 1970’s folk singers. All had beards, flat caps and flannel shirts. These I guess are the so called ‘hipsters.’ It was like a Geography teachers convention in a 1973 power cut except that all of these specimens were drawn like magnets to any nearby reflective surface to check their hair, carefully placing any wayward strand with a finger flick. Very prissy, very non 1940’s. Nonetheless, I would recommend the bar as a starter for an evening. Do book though, it is popular.

the Godfather of the 'Hipster' look

the Godfather of the 'Hipster' look

In fact, popular doesn’t quite cover it. Central London was buzzing and I lost count of the number of new restaurants, bistro’s, cocktail bars and ‘kitchens,’ that we walked past. Obviously, the currency is contributing and Q4 fears in the hospitality business that many Eastern Europeans would return to work in Europe for an immediate salary uplift, (when calculated in value of funds they send home), after Christmas bonuses were paid seem on the face of it, unfounded. I couldn’t help thinking though, perhaps we’ve reached ‘peak cocktails.’ (We must definitely have reached peak beards). When even my local pub in West Sussex now stocks 30 different kinds of gin, is that telling us anything about social and market peaks? Perhaps it is just telling us that we are rediscovering a 19th century enthusiasm for gin consumption on an industrial scale. Then again……… 

Uber; Actually, Pretty Good

Actually, that's not me and that DEFINITELY isn't Mrs flashbang

I’m a bit of a stick-in-the-mud die hard traditionalist and deeply resistant to change. I’ve been following the development of Uber over the past 12 months but hadn’t used it until last evening. I had been at a book launch just south of Kings Cross, it was raining and I couldn’t find a cab. It took a few minutes to download the Uber app and electronically hail one having first done a fare check.

The email told me Hocine was three minutes away in his E Class. I could see that on the map and tracked him as he zeroed in on me. 13 mins later I jumped out at Waterloo, no money changed hands, just the email receipt above which is roughly the same as a Black Cab charge for the journey. I rated the driver with his 5 stars and he rated me. Job done. Friends tell me one irritating flaw is the “price surge,” when prices increase with demand but given fares can be checked before ordering I can live with that.

Now, much as I love Cabbies, and I’ve used them all my adult life, they are going to have to seriously up their game or they will be extinct. They can start by turning off their radio’s which constantly blare out inane LBC football talk shows; I don’t care if Arsenals centre forward is Polish or Peruvian, “know what I mean cause I told him, told him John…” Incidentally, should you register using this promotional code, 44zvl Uber tell me you will receive £10 off your first ride.

British Military Tournament 2013

It's that time of year again, the British Military Tournament kicks off tomorrow with four performances over two days in aid of service charities. Obviously, we all miss it's big brother, The Royal Tournament, but this show is a cracker nonetheless.

Frankly, as long as the Field Gun and Kings Troop are there then that's all the value proposition I need.

Of course over the years there have been many amusing incidents at Earls Court, not least of which was in the "Last Run," in 1999 when the Field Gunners, against the express and explicit instructions of General Evelyn Webb-Carter, (top man incidentally), wore black armbands for the run creating a bit of a to-do in the Royal Box. 

That didn't quite drive General Evelyn to the level of apoplexy that the pipers of the Scottish Division drove Montgomery to in 1967 though which I described here.

and another charming anecdote above......

If you're going enjoy and if not............................ it won't be the weekend it could have been for you.

Field Gun Fest at the British Military Tournament


The streaming cold that I've manfully endured all week and which has felt like a heavy dose of the Ebola Virus, will be swept aside with contemptible disdain this evening as I stroll into Earls Court for the opening performance of this years British Military Tournament

The successor to the 100 year old Royal Tournament, (which was stopped in 1999 by Tony Blair and his verminous Labour government), was launched to great success last year by, and in aid of, the Army Benevolent Fund. 

All the traditional acts are back this year and include the White Helmets Motor Bike Display Team, The Kings Troop with the Musical Drive, the US Army Drill Team chucking their rifles around with carefree abandon and the de rigeur Afghan reenactment shoot-up among others. 

Obviously, all these warm-up acts are to give the audience an enjoyable run in to the centre piece turn; the Command Field Gun Run. Described as the hardest team race in the world, boys from Wellington College will again be running in place of the teams of Naval gorilla's from Portsmouth, Devonport and the Fleet Air Arm who ran up until 1999 when HMG stabbed them squarely between the shoulder blades. Grown men could have cried to see a hundred years of fine tradition go down the pan.......... and they did. 

The Wellington boys, aged between 14 and 18, run with half sized guns. Nonetheless, with 200 lbs of gun barrel landing on your leg there is only going to be one outcome and they do seem to pick up the kind of injuries that make your eyes water. 

Not that I'm a proud father or anything, but one of the Crumble Kids is running. I asked him what the appeal of the Field Gun is. He said, "It's the hardest but most enjoyable thing I've done. Everything depends on the team, there are no stars. It only takes one person to slip up and everything comes unglued and bad things happen. You have to do your own job but rely on and trust everyone around you to do theirs."

Oddly, I'll be back tomorrow and Sunday...... perhaps I am a proud, if nervous, Dad ....


Annabel's; Box Ticked


Somewhat to his surprise, your correspondent found himself in Annabel’s night club last evening. I don’t go to night clubs very often and in fact, am too old for night clubs, unlike my host who glides across the late evening landscape with the ease and confidence of a vintage Bentley. It is though, charming and elegant beyond expectation and easily fulfills everything one has heard about the place over the years.

Actually, no matter how smart it may be, I do recall Mrs Flashbang warning me some time ago that Annabel’s was just “an expensive place full of old men and young women.” Well, what is there not to like with that but I am left wondering, how does she know?

Still, in one of those bizarre moments which felt like an out of body experience, an evening that started with a very civilised wine tasting ended up with meeting the Colombian president on the smoking terrace. Visibility was limited however; as we stood in a fog of Cuban cigar smoke generated by El Presidento and his charming entourage. I quietly suspect that we weren’t the first patrons of Annabel’s to have an out of body experience with a Colombian export but that, of course, would be for entirely different reasons.......

Nonetheless, it means I ticked two boxes on the “things to do before you die without realising they were things to do,” list and I rather think it will be some time before I again cross the threshold of Annabel’s or meet the Colombian president. 

Know Your Place


Time for another report from our old chum Randolph as he describes another chapter in the daily commuting grind,

"There's a new man on the platform for whom I've developed an unreasonable degree of resentment. 

I long ago decided that commuting on a daily basis was perfectly bearable once a certain rhythm was established, but to covet any particular type of seat was a slippery slope into nerdism.  Besides, a slouch to the same side on a regular basis can't be good for the spine.  It's better to mix it up a bit, convince yourself that sitting backwards is perfectly fine, steer clear of the loos and it matters little where you end up and pity those who don't actually have a choice of seats at all. 

With all this karma in mind why is it then that I object so much to this young blade who insists on being the one to hit the yellow button?. There you'll be, 15 yrs of experience to tell you where the doors will come to a halt and he springs in from stage left like Billy Goat Gruff (he lurks in the lee of the pedestrian bridge).  He's been known to stand aside to let a woman board but he's already ahead of her when it comes to the seats.  There's an almost audible sigh as he stakes his claim, movements now in slow motion since the battle's won for another day.  Did I imagine it or was he looking round for approbation? 

Anyway, no room for smugness later for it was only as he made to get up at London Bridge that he discovered he'd made the schoolboy error of failing to spot the chewing gum.  Rather fresh too, made malleable from 45 minutes of pressurised warmth and creating significant drag on his coat which he then had to remove while he made good.  A small moment to treasure and a rare high-five to the schoolboy."

A Rare Butterfly


Time once again for some input from our old friend and long suffering commuter Dirk over in Kent,

"Like a rare butterfly the blonde alighted on the seat next to me launching a heady waft of scent.  There are precious few of these on my line and I didn't dare move a muscle for they're easily startled.  An exploratory swivel to the right would have allowed me full appraisal but in circumstances such as this it's important not to register any acknowledgement at all.  Like the person standing behind in the queue for the ATM I was aware of her presence but she was invisible to me, and I'd not have picked her out in an ID parade had she sported three heads.

I sat there ostensibly concentrating on my newspaper, getting giddy from the strain of trying to clock what she looked like out of the corner of my eye.  A yellow curtain of hair concealed the facial details (just the one head), gloves were no giveaway (gloves?), leg was robustly-trousered, shoe was not exactly petite...but never mind, this was a welcome improvement on the usual travelling ghoul. 

Much later, awaking from the customary doze and hoping that I hadn't been snoring in an unattractive slack-jawed fashion I was delighted to find she was still there.  The time was fast-approaching when it was time to leave the train and all would be revealed.  Like that interesting parcel under the Christmas tree that turns out to be a box of Hoover-bags I was to be equally disappointed.  This was no young thing, not even a Paris Hilton or a Susan Hampshire.  I'd have settled for Vanessa Feltz but instead this was Iggy Pop, or perhaps Rick Wakeman. 

Let's hope we didn't sleep together."



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?