Tag Archives: trains

The Rules of Moving around London

Regular readers (all both of them) will notice that this is a repost of something I first posted over two years ago at: The 09:59 to Waterloo

This is partly because that was tagged-on to the end of a rantlet about something else and I feel like separating it out, but also is prompted by some fun blog posts by Brendan Nelson at The Geneva Convention of Public Transport and a couple of earlier posts linked to it. Read them as well as this!

How to Move Around in London

Let me tell you the truth about commuting. You have a DUTY to your fellow human beings when you are walking in a big commuter crowd in a place where acts of public transport are committed. It is to get out of the way of the people behind you as quickly as possible . And that usually involves getting to wherever you are going as quickly as possible. So the right thing to do is to move as fast as is compatible with health and safety. To move opportunistically, to fill gaps, to pass slower people, and to keep on going… this is not selfishness, that is being public spirited. It gets you out of the way. It gets you out of MY way for a start.

There are RULES about this. Let me share a few with you. And we don’t wan to hear any more of this “nobody told me the rules before I came to London…” Big Boy’s games – Big Boy’s Rules. (*) These are the rules. You HAVE been warned!

Universal rules

  • Buy your ticket or pass before you get on the bus or train. Don’t offer the driver money. That’s so twentieth century.
  • Don’t try to talk. Everyone will think you are mad.
  • It is always open season for hunters of luggage on a stick
  • Let passengers off the bus or train before you try to get on. If you don’t we probably won’t kill you – but I have seen a busdriver refuse to move until someone who pushed on got off the bus.
  • There are nice maps on every bus stop and at station that show you exactly how to get where you are going. Use them.
  • Yes, you do get up off your seat for someone who is pregnant, aged, carrying small children, or visibly more crippled than you are. Even in London. Even on a delayed Northern Line train creakingly approaching Bank from London Bridge at 0850 on a wet Monday in a recession. Yes, this means YOU!

The Rules of the Train

(and the Platform)
  • Drop not your paper cup on the seat when you get off the train. That IS littering.
  • Drop your newspaper on the seat when you get off the train. This is NOT littering.
  • If you ask people which train to get from Embankment to Charing Cross you deserve to get laughed at.
  • Mind the Gap!
  • Move to the back of the train
  • No eye-contact
  • Read your own book
  • Stand clear of the doors please!
  • When the machine at the barrier rejects your ticket or pass you do NOT stand there like a drunken Dover sole in a warm puddle wondering what to do. You do NOT try it again and again. You get out of the way as quickly as possible and sort it out with the nice person at the big gate where they let the luggage through.

The Rules of the Bus

(and the Bus Stop)
  • Be nice to bus drivers. It gets you where you are going quicker. And the driver DOES have a direct radio link to the police. And these days the police come armed. You have been warned.
  • Do not argue with the driver. Even if you are in the right. You really do not want the karmic burden that is being laid upon you by the eighty-seven angry commuters stuck behind you who want to get a move on.
  • Do not bang on the door of a bus trying to get in. The driver will think you are a looney.
  • Do not stand in the folding doorway of a bus pathetically groping around inside your clothing in the hope that you have mysteriously grown a season ticket. Get off, let the bus go. There will be another one. You might even find your ticket once you don’t have the stress of fending off delay-maddened passengers
  • Hold very tight please! And I mean the handrail, not the woman in front of you.
  • The back seats on the ground floor of a double-decker bus are too hot for human beings.
  • When you get off the bus look both ways as if you were stepping off a kerb into a road. Because that is what you are doing.
  • And yes, much as I love cyclists, and much as I know that most cyclists are far safer road-users than most car-drivers, I have seen one or two suicidal idiots try to ride between a bus and the kerb. Just. Don’t. Do. That.

The Rules of the Moving Staircase

(and the Corridor)
  • Stand on the Right, Walk on the Left
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you don’t walk on your right if it is quicker or safer to go on the right. Its a corridor, not the bloody motorway. You have a duty to get where you are going for the sake of the other two million people using the system, you have a duty to do so safely, and if walking on the right makes it quicker or safer, do it
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you religiously stick to the left if someone is running the other way on their right, playing a sort of commuter chicken. Get out of their way. Get out of their way on the double if they are riding a bike, whether legally or illegally.
  • On the other hand the sign telling you to stand on the right walk and on the left of the escalator DOES mean stand on the right. Like everyone else does. Not on the left. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the pie and if you stand on the left – or even sort of lean a little over to the left – or let your bag or your baby or your baby-buggy encroach on the left – then YOU ARE THAT BAD APPLE. There is a special place in the FOURTH CIRCLE OF HELL being prepared for those who stand on the left on the escalator and I can tell you that those escalators go a LONG WAY DOWN!!!!
  • The sign that says babies must be carried and not seated in their pushchair does NOT mean that you stop the buggy right at the top of the escalator and spend a minute and a half trying to persuade the little one to get out and walk (**)
  • When you get to the bottom of the escalator you carry on walking. You do not stop to look around. Especially you do not stop to look around if you have luggage on a stick ready to smash the ankles or knees of the fifteen people behind you. Age is no excuse.

(*) That works better in a Gene Hunt accent.

(**) And frankly, I think having a kid strapped in to a pushchair on the escalator is a damn sight safer than trying to go on it with child in one arm, folded buggy in another hand, and all your luggage in your third hand while holding on the rail with a fourth hand. That needs two more hands than most passengers have. I have yet to see Kali dragging her sprogs through the tube system. Of course there are some parts of the lower levels of Victoria that she would do best to avoid.

Rochester, Chatham, and ?

Is it Gillingham or Jillingham? I’d say the second. But station announcers at Charing Cross seem to want to sit on the fence. I just heard a recorded announcement that used both in the same sentence. I guess its mashed up from separate snippets but it did sound like one voice.

Distant suburbs with names starting in H

To Bedfont Lakes for a work meeting, or sales pitch. Second time I’ve been in the Heathrow area in a few weeks – I popped over to have a drink in the bar at the end of Eastercon (as usual I couldn’t go to the con myself as its one of the busy times of year at church) That was train to Feltham, then local bus to the north side of the airport, today train to Feltham and little local bus to Bedfont.

Architecturally its still the 1960s out there in the outer western reaches of London where where placenames start with “H”. If not the 1930s. As always in buildings 30 or 40 years out of date looks more dated than 300 or 400, and the Heathrow area looks very dated. OK, know a lot of the hotels and offices are newer than that but they don;t look it. Compared with the buildings you see in Inner London these look dull and unimaginitive. Air travel was once a thrill and airports were once stage-sets for the party of the future, but now they look boring. Inner London. even the parts of it full of Gearogoan or Victorian retrofits, looks much more futuristic

The most interesting buildings you can see from the Heathrow Perimeter Road are in fact the older ones that look left over from the 1940s or 50s or even before. Rows of sheds with unlikely looking corporate logos advertising some small company you have never heard of that is in to import/export, or oil exploration, or even “aviation” whatever exactly that means nowadays. Its as if the old between-the-wars civil aviation culture of small engineering firms, dodgy dealers, and mechanics tinkering with This and That that I vaguely remember in the backdrop of old films and TV programmes has somehow managed to survive in the gutters and beneath the onramps of the corporate monocultures that replaced them.

In a similar way the little 1920s bungalows in the suburbs round about, squeezed between rows of 1970s officed or 1990s blocks flats, some retrofitted into newer larger “properties”, others still looking like small sheds with fake beams and tarmac sheeting rooves (but all I suspect double glazed) are more interesting than the EMEA HQs and cheap business hotels.

The whole place is caught in a sort of fast-moving limbo. Its not the network of semi-rural suburbs it once was, before the War and the motorways and above all Heathrow Airport turned it over, although it is full of survivals of that era. But its not quite the American-style low-rise decentralised suburban landscape it could have been – there is just too much naff 1950s and 1960s municipal Englishness about, a whiff of the the Council Estate, the H-Block, the Nissen Hut and the Scout Hut. The overlaid palimpsest of the 1950s, a hint of Durrington. Yes, if Woodingdean was thirty times the size, flat instead of hilly, and had a major international airport inside it, and was nowhere near the sea, it might look like this. Maybe that’s why it feels like the early 1960s to me because the buildings (nothing else, just the buildings) remind me of where I spent my own early 1960s. And it hasn’t gone forward to the kind of post-modern high-tech complexity that it might one day become.

From a literary-architectural point of view the Heathrow area left John Betjemen behind, bypassed JG Ballard (though he chased after it and nearly caught it) and hasn’t yet arrived at Ken MacLeod.

Not too many photos from the Con I’m afraid. It was dark most of the time I was there.near_heathrow_8178

I do have a few of the hotel bar though. Like most cheap/mid-price hotels, whether in suburban sheds with legoland trimmings (as this one was) or in old buildings in town it seemed to have that tedious interior design that’s a sort of mixture of fake vaguely 18th century English wood-panelled massiveness and late 19th century French frippery. Flock wallpaper and cut glass, the direct descendent of the Gin Palace without the over-the-topness. Both unimaginitive and deracinated.

But the room the bar was in was much better! A sort of truncated atrium dominated by a vast garden water-feature with pastic glow-in-the-dark fish on sticks. And big Buddhist pots in piles of pebbles. OK jsut as ersatz and off-the-shelf but at least its different and most importantly it was a pleasant and easy space to be in – though I guess a lot of that was due to the lightly-arched glass roof that meant the whole room was adequateley and indireclty lit by natural light right up almost to sunset. Follow th link for more (though not better) pictures: easterc0n_8170

The visit to Bedfont Lakes produced even fewer photos. I’ll have to go back one day when I’m not working. Its a nightmare to navigate, no rationality to anything and no signage. Took us longer to find the building we were looking for once there than it did to get there from Feltham Station over a mile away. Everything assumes you are coming by car. What I should have done is follow the car road in and walk straight in ignoring the barrier that said “No Pedestrian Access”, which was how I got out. As it was I ended up getting to the Cisco building by going round the back of one of the IBM buildings and past the lake. Which was pleasant. I’m sure there is another way in on foot – I can even guess where it might be – but its not signed.

These places are too planned, too centrally controlled, and have too few children visiting them. A council estate laid out like that (and the word ones are) would soon be crossed by “paths of desire” taking you everywhere you need to go. That doesn’t seem to happen here.

So to Staines, just because I’ve never been there before. Much the same applies to Ashford and Staines as to the places begin with H. Except that the river is of course wonderful. Staines looks a bit sad, its not what it once was. Of course in an absolute sense it and its inhabitants are much more prosperous than ever before. But in a relative sense, over against London or the countryside round about, I get the impression that it was at its peak in the late 19th century. Its full of places that look as if the used to be small shops run by locals and are now rotting.

It would have been as small but prosperous market town, connected to the rest of the world by river, canal, and railway, with enough industry (Lino a speciality I think) to provide work for the locals and the nucleus of an industrial proletariat and skilled workforce. Near enough to London to commute to work, but too far to do your regular shopping there. There woud have been libraries and churches and social clubs and a full range of shops and services on the High Street. On Saturdays and Sundays Londoners might come up for a spot of boating or a walk by the river and a pint of local beer in the Swan. (All of which are still available to them and I can tell you walk and the beer are very pleasant) An HG Wells or Jerome K Jerome sort of place. staines_8201

Destroyed as a viable and distinct economic community by the Great War, the motorways, Heathrow Airport and shopping malls. Its still there, it still has some lovely houses, its probably very convenient (if expensive) if you have a car and you work bear Waterloo Station, but its not quite a Place of its own. It has become a node in the broken network of outer suburbia. At least its a lot prettier than Bromley, Dartford, or Romford.

And Ali G exists. There really are young Asian men in baggy trousers and hoods talking rap. Well there were some at the end of Platform One at the station. Or are they consciously living up to the stereotype? Maybe they are Londoners taking a day trip to Staines to act like Ali G? The trainers and hoodies as real or as fake as the blazers and Oxford bags and straw boaters that other young men wore on days out to the same station a century ago?

Why do the outer reaches of West London always smell bad?

N17

To deepest North London to see my daughter who is staying at a friend’s house for a while. Walking back to Seven Sisters tube I go another way from the road I came by and misread the map. I don’t mean I went the wrong way, but I failed to guess what sort of place I was walking through. There’s a circular street called Clyde Circus. On the map it looks like the sort of street plan I associate with 1930s or later council estates. But when I got there its actually very late Victorian terraces and quite posh. I should have paid attention to the words rather than the pictures. Anywhere called “Beaconsfield Road” is likely to be a long straight street of late 19th century “villas” (because almost certainly named after Lord Beaconsfield AKA Benjamin Disraeli, who died in 1881).

North London feels different from South London. (for a valus of “South London” that is I suppose more or less South East London inner suburbia). At any given distance from town it tends to be more inner-urban, with a more developed and denser infrastructure, perhaps more sophisticated, and also somehow less provisional. It feels like they finished building it. And fewer of those dark streets. S

And it really is a quick way back to the tube.

Not that that did any good. Hoping to be back home just after midnight I tried to change to the Northern Line for London Bidge at King’s Cross. Arrived on the platform about twenty past eleven and waited, and waited. No southbound train on the indicators. Just when I was starting to think about looking for a bus they did the Inspector Sands announcement, Sensible passengers started leaving immediately. A few minutes later they did the evacuation alarm and we all made our way to the surface. False alarm it turned out but at five to midnight I was at the back end of St Pancras watching the staff try not to have a fight with an aggressive drunk. So out to the bus stop, and three cigarettes later (waiting for 63, 171, 436) was back at Lewisham at nearly half past one.

Then I still had to change the washing in the machine do some other stuff to get ready for tmorrow and fell asleep in an upright chair which is why I am blogging this now.

Can I go to bed and get up in two or three hours? I am about to find out.

Not pretentious at all

Overheard on a train:

Someone who works with films was talking to someone who works with TV. Odd lines stuck out:

“He calls himself ‘Ironik’ spelled with a “K” but he takes himself more seriously than anyone I’ve ever met”

“You can guess the pitch – a cross between Flashdance and Fame but set in London”

“Only one person who has ever been in a film before”

“There are some theatre people involved – and that’s FATAL!”

“Charlotte Rampling has signed up for it, and that’s good”

“My credibility depends on this”

The 09:59 to Waterloo

(A slightly updated version of the list at the bottom of this rant appears at The Rules of Moving Around London)

The 0959 from Lewisham to Waterloo and Charing Cross seems to attract more weird people than other trains

I don’t mean the usual assortment of nutters and loonies you’d see on the Circle Line, these folk are superficially normal. Staid and conservative even.

I got to Waterloo East as normal , and lots of people got off the train, very much as they would have if this had been the 0955 that I had just missed by a few minutes or the 1002.

Maybe I should say that the 0959 is a sort of protected train, as there is another one closely on each side of it. So I rarely catch it. I had got to the station a few minutes earlier I’d have been on the 0955. If I’d got there a few minutes later – or even if I hadn’t but my knees had been feeling bad – I’d have got the 1002 which goes from the more convenient Platform 3 instead of the inaccessible Platform 1.

Anyway the people got off and suddenly it was difficult to walk in the crowd. Everyone was getting in each others way. I realised that these people DON’T KNOW HOW TO MOVE IN LONDON.

Maybe its because the train doesn’t stop at London Bridge and so most of the real commuters miss it and its full of grannies and mothers with kids and luggage on a stick. Maybe it comes from somewhere particularly yokelish out in Sheppey. But whatever the reason, they bumbled around getting in my way and in each others way. They walked two or even three abreast along the narrow corridors and ramps.
When they passed the gang of ticket inspectors who hang around on the corner where the ramps from the Waterloo East platforms reach the bridge to the main part of the station they STOPPED WALKING as they showed them their tickets! Can you believe it? And worst of all Some of them even stood on the left on the escalator!!!!

Let me tall you the truth about commuting. You have a a DUTY to your fellow human beings when you are walking in a big commuter crowd in a place where acts of public transport are committed. It is to get out of the way of the people behind you as quickly as possible . And that usually involves getting to wherever you are going as quickly as possible. So the right thing to so is to move as fast as is compatible with health and safety. To move opportunistically, to fill gaps, to pass slower people,, and to keep on going past the bloke in the expensive coat bellowing at his staff down the phone, and to keep on going past the busker even if the music is good, and to keep on going past the clinic advertising well-person herbal stress check-up massages before work, and to keep on going past the clump of trainspotters on the end of Platform Four, and to keep on going past the drunk Scotswoman yelling incoherently at her rough-sleeping boyfriend who is paying attention to his little frog-mouthed dog and pretending not to notice, and to keep on going past the film crew making a particularly violent episode of The Bill (unless of course they are real police making home videos of themselves stalking Brazilians), and to keep on going past the grumpy women in high heels going on and on into their mobiles about how they hate London and hate public transport , and to keep on going past the idiot pretending to play a broken saxophone, and to keep on going past the idiot who just threatened you for walking on the wrong side of the corridor, and to keep on going past the information desk with the bored but very attractive young woman sitting at it trying to trick you into talking to her with some inane question, and to keep on going past the lift that doesn’t actually go anywhere interesting so there is no point in waiting for it, and to keep on going past the lost grannies, and to keep on going past the loudmouthed football fans, and to keep on going past the miniskirted French fifteen-year-olds on their first visit to London smoking cigarettes and trying to look very grown-up, and to keep on going past the piles of free Antipodean newspapers, and to keep on going past the rats gambolling in the suicide pit, and to keep on going past the staff, and to keep on going past the strangely fey young people trying to sell you plastic tubs of pink yoghurt with porridge, and to keep on going past the ticket collectors in their mock-police uniforms, and to keep on going past the vaguely familiar model or filmstar or minor TV actress that the other blokes are pretending not to stare at, and to keep on going past the vicious old Yorkshiremen in cloth caps who like in wait for unsuspecting travellers they can pounce on you from the shadows and drag you down to the nethermost slaughter-pits of Basildon, and generally to keep on going, and heaving kept on going, to go.

This is not selfishness, that is being public spirited. It gets you out of the way. It gets you out of MY way for a start.

There are RULES about this. Let me share a few with you. And we don’t wan to hear any more of this “nobody told me the rules before I came to London…” Big Boy’s games – Big Boy’s Rules. (*) These are the rules. You HAVE been warned!

  • Be nice to bus and train drivers. It gets you where you are going quicker. And the driver DOES have a direct radio link to the police. And these days they come armed. You have been warned.
  • Buy your ticket or pass before you get on the bus or train. Don’t offer the driver money. That’s so twentieth century.
  • Do not argue with the driver. Even if you are in the right. You really do not want the karmic burden that is being laid upon you by the eight-seven angry commuters who want to get a move on.
  • Do not bang on the door of a bus trying to get in. The driver will think you are a looney.
  • Do not stand in the folding doorway of a bus pathetically groping around inside your clothing in the hope that you have mysteriously grown a season ticket. Get off, let the bus go. There will be another one. You might even find your ticket once you don’t have the stress of fending off delay-maddened passengers
  • Don’t try to talk. Everyone will think you are mad.
  • Drop your newspaper on the seat when you get off the train. This is NOT littering.
  • Drop not your paper cup on the seat when you get off the train. That IS littering.
  • Hold very tight please! And I mean the handrail, not the woman in front of you.
  • If you ask people which train to get from Embankment to Charing Cross you deserve to get laughed at.
  • It is always open season for hunters of luggage on a stick
  • Let passengers off the bus or train before you try to get on. If you don’t we probably won’t kill you – but I have seen a busdriver refuse to move until someone who pushed on got off the bus.
  • Mind the Gap!
  • Move to the back of the train
  • No eye-contact
  • Read your *own* book
  • Stand clear of the doors please!
  • Stand on the Right, Walk in the Left
  • The back seats on the ground floor of a double-decker bus are to hot for human beings
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you don’t go on your right if it is quicker or safer to go on the right. Its a corridor, not the bloody motorway. You have a duty to get where you are going for the sake of the other two million people using the system and if walking on the right makes it quicker, do it
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you religiously stick to the left if someone is running the other way on their right, playing a sort of commuter chicken. Get out of their way.
  • The sign that says babies must be carried and not left in their pushchair does NOT mean that you stop the buggy right at the top of the escalator and spend a minute and a half trying to persuade the little one to get out and walk (**)
  • There are nice maps on every bus stop and station that show you exactly how to get where you are going. Use them.
  • When the machine at the barrier rejects your ticket or pass you do NOT stand there like a drunken Dover sole in a warm puddle wondering what to do. You do NOT try it again and again. You get out of the way as quickly as possible and sort it out with the nice person at the big gate where they let the luggage through.
  • When you get off the bus look both ways as if you were stepping of a kerb into a road. Because that is what you are doing. And yes, much as I love cyclists, and much as I know that most cyclists are far safer road-users than most car-drivers, I have seen one or two suicidal idiots try to ride between a bus and the kerb. Just. Don’t. Do. That.
  • Yes, you do get up off your seat for someone who is pregnant, aged, carrying small children, or visibly more crippled than you are. Even in London. Even on a delayed Northern Line train creakingly approaching Bank from London Bridge at 0850 on a wet Monday in a recession. Yes, this means YOU!
  • On the other hand the sign telling you to stand on the right walk on the left of the escalator DOES mean stand on the right, Not on the left. Like everyone else does. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the pie and if you stand on the left – or even sort of lean a little over to the left – then YOU ARE THAT BAD APPLE. There is a special place in the FOURTH CIRCLE OF HELL being prepared for those who stand on the left on the escalator and I can tell you that those escalators go a LONG WAY DOWN

(*) That works better in a Gene Hunt accent.

(**) And frankly, I think having a kid strapped in to a pushchair on the escalator is a damn sight safer than trying to go on it with child in one arm, folded buggy in another hand, and all your luggage in your third hand while holding on the rail with a fourth hand. That needs two more hands than most passengers have. I have yet to see Kali dragging her sprogs through the tube system. Of course there are some parts of the lower levels of Victoria that she would do best to avoid.

Waterloo morning

Overheard on a platform at Waterloo Station:

“All I do all day is stand here and blow the whistle. I dress up like a fool and stand around on the platform and blow a whistle”

[A middle-aged bearded Railway Servant, as we would have called them a century ago]

Overheard on the train:

“Just imagine walking up and down Oxford Street pretending to be hats and dogs”

[That attracted my attention. I really very much wanted it to be “hats and dogs” not “cats and dogs”. Imagine the unconfined nature of my joy when the reply came:]

“We should do it! Dress up as Monopoly pieces!”

[Two teenage girls with very short skirts and too much makeup who looked as if they were enjoying their half-term. Though they then went on to spoil the general aura of post-modern anti-consumerist Situationism with:]

“Have you seen my MySpace profile this week? You saw X on my friends list?”

“X Y? Yeah, but I didn’t look at HIS profile!”

“His picture is SO GAY!!!! He’s like, a goth, he’s using this goth profile!”

“But he’s such a chav!”

“Yeah, he’s a real chav. He listens to NU METAL!”

The Gardener

I’ve been reading on the train. Short stories are easier than novels because you can fit them in between stations.

Yesterday I started The Mark of the Beast and other fantastical tales which is a collection of Rudyard Kipling stories edited by Stephen Jones, and published in the wonderful Gollancz/Orion “Fantasy Masterworks” series. Its volume 50 and so far there aren’t three duds among them. The companion “SF Masterworks” series is almost as good. They do what they say on the tin. These are the books you ought to have read if you want to have read the books you ought to have read.

Yesterday I flicked through it and read The Man who would be King and The Bridgebuilders and a couple of other stories based in India some of which I’d read before. All very good. This morning on the train to work I read The Gardener as recommended in Neil Gaiman’s introduction.

Last week I read or re-read all of the Harry Potter books and finished the last one on Monday. They were OK. They made me laugh a few times. I don’t think they made me cry at any point. This ten page story by Kipling, which I read on the train between Lewisham and Waterloo, had tears in my eyes by the fifth page. I just about managed to control myself until I read the last line of the story (the last word really) and all but burst out sobbing hand had to get up and walk down the train so as not to disturb the other passengers.

So if there is anyone else writing blogs about odd people they see or overhear on commuter trains in London: I was that soldier.

Euston

In my previous post I praised the train system in London for the excellent way it got me to Euston even though half of it was being dug up by blokes in shiny yellow suits. That’s all very well, but it was Euston it got me to.

There are many reasons why I’ve always preferred to go up north on the East Coast line rather than West Coast whenever I’ve had the choice. Its not just the the view, or the trains, or the comfort, or the timekeeping, or my idiotic preference fro anticlockwise loops. A large part of it is that King’s Cross is so much a nicer place to catch a train than Euston is.

Euston is the nastiest of all London’s mainline stations. Forget the appearance of the architecture (cheapo mid-60s international style airport lounge faced in dirty shiny fake stone) forget the supposed desecration of what went before (I’m to young to remember it), Euston just isn’t practical. It is inconvenient to use. It puts unnecessary difficulties in the way of passengers.

The trains themselves are set back very far from the street. If you approach from the main road you have to walk across a barren Euston Square – basically a dog toilet with one gay bar in the ruins of the gatehouse of the previous incarnation of the station, then through then up some concrete steps and under a sub-Corb office buildings raised above you on pilotes, across a rough concrete platform exposed to the open air and frequented by drunks and stray dogs, into the huge main concourse (in winter as unpleasantly hot as the outside is cold and windswept) right across it to the entrances to the train shed which lead to long ramps passing down to the staggered platforms. It can easily take a 300 meter walk to get to your train.

Navigating through the succession of spaces can be a nightmare if you aren’t used to it. And not just for pedestrians. The bus station is an overcomplex figure-of-eight loop of tarmac which has buses going in different directions along the same route crossing each other’s path – you can get gridlock inside the bus ranks at Euston.

The concrete forecourt is raised up above street level and accessed by anything from three to twenty steps, unless you know to approach it from the Drummond Street side or the south-west corner, under the old Inmarsat building, or you find the one kinky dog-legged path leading up by the door to the toilets of the bar. Start anywhere else – such as the middle bus station, or the road crossing to Friend’s House or New St Pancras Church, or anywhere on the east side of the station – and you need to make your way up steps. Of course people carrying heavy luggage, or with young children, or who have mobility problems, never use a mainline railway station. Only healthy young car-drivers with small handbags get on trains.

Once inside the concourse your route to the platforms is obstructed by the entrance to the tube station – it probably seemed a good idea at the time to put it slap inside the main doors but in practice it means that only about a third of the doors are much used, and in the rush hour when there are queues to get down the escalators – or at any time of the escalators are out of order – the middle third of the concourse is blocked by a crowd trying to go underground. Things aren’t improved by the astonishingly stupid siting of the information office which can easily have queues of thirty or so people waiting for it, sticking out into the concourse at right angles to the queue for the tube, making an L-shaped block of humanity breaking the concourse into separate zones. You will probably be in the wrong one.

It is as if the building wants the public to come in from underground or by taxi or car – there is no clear pedestrian route in and out from the busses or the street to trains. As if only inferior and unimportant people came by bus or on foot. The whole structure turns its back, or more accurately its side, against the people and looks in on itself, presenting barrier after barrier to anyone trying to access the inner sanctum where there are actually trains. It is unfriendly and intimidating especially to people with mobility problems, or who have a lot of luggage. The message is that passengers don’t count, you are merely on one of the many things a modern train needs to be provisioned with. Wait your turn.

And things are worse if you do have to wait. Passengers are herded into the rectangular concourse to wait for their trains. There is nowhere to sit. The area is too large to feel safe or comfortable in, too obstructed by the entrance to the underground, by tat shops and concessions to move around easily in, too far from the ticket office or the toilets or the bars.

And they make you wait. Like at Victoria or Liverpool Street (though unlike King’s Cross and perhaps Paddington) they are in the habit of not announcing the platform your train is to leave from until about five to ten minutes before hand. Sometimes not even that. Then there is a huge long walk down the ramp and along to the trains (your seat reservation is always at the far end unless you pay extra) Anyone with the slightest mobility problem has the greatest trouble getting there in the time allowed – you have to guess the end of the station you will be directed to (it has to be a guess as you can’t see the trains, they are hidden at the bottom of the ramps), and move towards the platform in time, obscuring your view of the big board which is deliberately placed to encourage you to stand as far as possible from the trains. And there is nowhere to sit If you have difficulty standing or walking Euston is not a welcoming place.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Victoria copes with perhaps four or five times the throughput of passengers in a similar-sized space, yet feels much less demeaning. When there are crowds gathered, at rush hour or if there are serious delays, there is a buzz about Victoria station, while Euston merely feels oppressive. Kings Cross is tiny by comparison, has about the same number of passengers as Euston (maybe even more) yet fits us into what is actually a rather pleasant space – or at least an interesting one. You can sit in a bar or cafe and see your train and the announcement boards. Charing Cross is even smaller, and has a similar number of passengers to Euston, though as an almost entirely commuter station it has less luggage an and averagely more sussed passenger.

Euston numbers platforms from left to right as passengers look at them.

Why?

Short of complete demolition and rebuilding its probably too late to do anything much about the layout now. But it could be improved. Strip out the kiosks and concessions, move them all outside, open up the concourse space, put in chairs or benches. Redirect the queues for info and taxis. Put some ticket machines in the concourse. Announce platform numbers BEFORE boarding starts. Maybe there is even room for a mezzanine floor at the front, or some retail in the airspace above the trainshed (as at Victoria or Liverpool Street).

Improve the outside. Remove the existing blocky little slab rooves cantilevered out of the front and put in much larger and higher and lighter ones – curved to avoid shading the very nice Robinia trees – to keep rain and a little sun off anyone waiting there. Move more of the sales outlets outside, replace crappy concrete tables with nice round wooden ones and a lot more seating, refocus the shops on the east side to to face more out into square. Simplify and re-route the buses.

But the best thing would be to tear it all down and start again. Ideally do something imaginative. But even if there is no imagination to be found, a retro copy of a typical 1860s terminus would be better than what is there now.

The Curse of the Lewisham Head End spreads to on-train catering.

To Lancashire to see my Mum’s new house

Great thing about living in a city with complex public transport is that there are so many ways to get anywhere. They may all be slow and unpleasant, but there are lots of them.

I got a bus to Lewisham Station intending to take the DLR to Bank and Northern Line to Euston. And then found that, as this is the dreaded Bank Holiday Weekend the DLR was closed from Mudchute to Westferry Circus. (In passing, one of the reasons so many car drivers think that trains are shit in Britain is that they only ever take them on non-working days – when they are usually shit – long-distance trains usually work fine on weekdays outside holiday times). So I took the mainline to London Bridge instead, intending to get the Northern Line to Euston. And got there to find that it was closed for track works as well, or at least the Bank branch was. So I got the Jubilee line to Waterloo, changed to the other side of the Northern Line, and went up that way, and still got there with 25 minutes to spare. Has I known about the tube I might have taken the train to Victoria instead and gone to Euston on the Victoria Line. Or had there been no trains at all at Lewisham I could have taken the bus to New Cross Gate and gone up to London Bridge from there – or possibly even got the East London Line to change to Jubilee at Canada Water or through to Whitechapel to get on the Met or the Hammersmith and City to Euston Square. Or if no tubes at all I could have carried on by bus to the Elephant or to Bricklayer’s Arms and another bus via Aldwych for there – a journey that to night only takes 40 minutes, not counting waiting time, but is probably a lot longer in the Saturday shopping times.

Try doing that with the once every third Tuesday services you get in most places.

complexity makes the system more redundant which makes it more robust and possibly more resilient.

That got damn near a train-spotting post….

We just passed Watford Junction.

Talking of trainspotting, this is a Virgin train and its a bank holiday so I suppose we are lucky its moving. No buffet though. I could do with a cup of tea 🙁 I should have realised and got one at the station (even though it was Euston)

Either that or their brand-merge with NTL has infected the railway operation with whatever dread disease destroyed customer service from that Lewisham head-end, passed on from Videotron to cable and Wireless to NTL and now to Virgin. The Internet is fine, and the cable TV is more or less fine except taht it mysteriously needed a new box at our end that they didn’t tell us about till the bloke came round supposedly to fix the phone which doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for four months now, but a new phone company would make me take at least a day of work to install their line and this is cheap, considered as a way of paying for cable TV and Internet connections, so the phone is an optional extra really. Or in this case, not an extra, because Virgin/NTL don’t know how to make their phones work.

Train driver (or whoever does these things) just announced that “hopefully” a “we will be picking up a member of the onboard catering team” at Coventry or at Birmingham International. Halfway there & I bet it takes 40 minutes to get everything ready & then there will be a queue.

Why is it that when you start thinking about food and drink you want some? If I wasn’t on this train I’d probably still be in bed at the moment (12:30 on Saturday, a civilised time for a lie-in), or maybe just getting and having a bath wouldn’t have dreamed of getting food or tea yet.

We’ve been waiting at Rugby for a long time…

… and the food bloke finally got on at New Street, and didn’t open till we were well beyond Birmingham, and there were 18before me in the very slow queue including someone whose credit card didn’t work and who was 60p short (in the end another customer gave him the 60p because it was going on so long) and I was still in the queue at Stafford, and at Crewe, and got back to my seat just in time for Warrington.

But trains are good. Really.

London is good

Easter over, lets get back to learning about London.

Today showed me just how much easier life is in urban environments than out of them. Just how much the well-connectedness and mutual interependence of things can make life simpler. I didn’t go to work today and stayed in bed all morning. At 3pm (2pm in God’s time) I was lying on my bed reading the Ship of Fools. (I have a posting from 15:09 to prove it – Isn’t wireless Internet access wonderful?) I then washed, got dressed, walked to the station (phoning my daughter on the way – she’s somewhere in the Midlands looking after puking persons), bought a week’s travel pass with my credit card, got on a train, went to Greenwich, bought a ticket to the film, went to the toilet again, and was in the cinema well in time for the 15.45 showing of Amazing grace. (Which is worth seeing apart from the last scene). Not that there was any point in being on time, there were ten minutes of trailer to sit through before the actual film. And they have decent air-conditioning (it was actually hot in London today), reclining seats, and a bar right next to the (very small) auditorium with a panoramic view of Greenwich and you can take your drinks into the show. (I has an espresso – it was only 4pm). Then sit in the bar afterwards for a decent pint of Staropromen and a great view and back home by train, taking me all of 15 minutes. Try doing that in the country. Sometimes cities just work.

Today I like London.

Tomorrow I have to go back to work.