Times Tables

November 19, 2018

What with one thing and another, I seem to have spent the last three weeks on a train with one or other of my bikes. This weekend it was Glasgow and the Go Bike AGM where I was filling in for my little sister as a speaker. Bigtown to Glasgow is usually pretty civilised by train, as long as you check the football schedules before making any plans – the train is slow but scenic and takes six bikes without any need to effectively lock yourself in a cupboard and have faith that someone will let you out, unlike when travelling on Virgin, so the big bike gets to go, which is fortunate as Glasgow has potholes that would swallow a Brompton whole.

bike on train platform

There’s a snag, however. I stayed overnight in Glasgow so I wouldn’t have to be rushing for the last train or, indeed, suffer the horror that is the last train out of Glasgow on a Saturday, a journey that can sometimes be a bit … lively. Unfortunately this meant that the first train I could get home on a Sunday was at 3 in the afternoon (and the next one after that at 10), which is the sort of service you might expect from a country bus, not the direct train service between Scotland’s largest city and a fairly major town about 75 miles away. So my kind hosts were stuck with me not just overnight but well into Sunday lunchtime too.

Fortunately, it being a sunny morning and they being cyclists too, they had just the plan to fill the morning. A nice pootle round Pollok Park (and fortunately it was a pootle – these being people who think nothing of 100 mile days on the bike), followed by brunch after we’d worked up an appetite. Brunch isn’t something that’s quite reached Bigtown yet as far as I know, so it was a welcome novelty. Indeed, it was a bit of a novelty not to be rushing anywhere, so maybe the Bigtown Sunday train service has a point.

cycling in Pollok Park

Today I had the luxury of having nowhere I needed to get to other than a ride out for the paper, and nothing I had to do except make inroads into a stack of work that’s building up. I don’t think it will last – indeed I have to be in Edinburgh on Thursday, having forced lots of Important People to rearrange their schedules because – guess what – the train service meant I’d have to spend three hours hanging around before the meeting if it had been at its originally scheduled time. Ironically enough, it’s at Transport Scotland (and yes they’ve had some full and frank feedback about rail services to the South West) but it turns out even they can’t make the Transpennine Express stop at Lockerbie on a reasonable schedule.

I seem to remember I used to spend quite a lot of time complaining about the train service in London back in the day. Man, I didn’t even know I was born …

I’m Not Convinced…

June 20, 2016

X95: where every journey is an adventure

…That as bus route straplines go (and since when did bus routes start having their own straplines?), ‘Where every journey is an adventure’ is precisely what I want out of a bus journey, but that may be why I’m not in bus marketing.

brompton on bus

Fortunately there were no unexpected adventures for the Brompton and me as we made our way multimodally from Duns to home. By car this is a 2.5 hour drive, 3 hours if you stop for coffee in Moffat. By public transport this meant a 45 minute drive to Galashiels, 2 hour bus ride to Carlisle, 40 minute wait, 45 minute train journey to Bigtown and a 45 minute cycle home (OK, so maybe that was a bit of an adventure).

Still it made for excellent progress on my sock, which has been sadly hampered by my failure to get selected for jury service earlier this month.

sock progress

Knitting: Turning every inconvenience into a sock

101 Uses for a Brompton: Getting Directions

September 7, 2015

I am in That London with my Brompton for a flying visit, having been asked to help chair a round table (I still get Monty Python songs going round my head whenever I hear that phrase; no doubt eventually I will grow out of it*) for the Near Miss Project which is researching cyclists’ experiences of all those scary moments where your life and usually the tail end of a double-decker bus passes before your eyes which means you get to both help science AND have an audience for all those ‘and then you won’t believe what the driver did …’ stories that your nearest and dearest have long since stopped listening to (and if you missed being part of the Near Miss Project last year, never fear, they are recruiting again). This meant Bromptoning from Euston to Vauxhall yesterday, a trip which went reasonably well, adjusted for the fact that I decided to improvise a little in Soho and found myself unexpectedly heading northeast with the firm conviction that I was going south, something that could happen to anybody as long as that person has the sense of direction of a compass in a tin mine.

Today I had to navigate my way from Vauxhall to Baker Street & when I asked my hosts for advice on timings and routes the suggestion was ‘On a bike? Don’t’. Twitter was a little more gung ho, however, and between us we worked out a route over Lambeth Bridge (Vauxhall Bridge has a fantabulous wide separated new cycle track but it’s only currently accessible going southbound), up to St. James’ Park, through Hyde Park and then working my way north – or, you know, possibly south if I wasn’t careful – to Baker Street. Some of this I knew well enough from Disgruntled Commuter days, so I only went the wrong way a couple of times (it’s been a while), and having crossed the river safely I paused at one of the map monoliths to check I was more or less where I thought I was. A passing Bromptonaut, spotting a fellow owner, paused to ask if I knew where I was going and reassured me I was on the right track. We then fell into conversation (I admired his very nifty arrangement of water bottle holders on the back of his saddle), and, having tactfully pointed out the off-road cycle path just as I was about to fling myself into the maelstrom of angry taxis that is the Mall, he more or less took me under his wing and guided me the rest of the way to Hyde Park. Clearly either Londoners have mellowed, I look even more helpless than I am, or the fellowship of the folding bike trumps all rules about not talking to strangers. Either way I was grateful.

I could have done with my native guide as I made my way to King’s Cross after the event. Somehow my cunning plan of riding parallel to the Marylebone Road along quieter streets by Regent’s Park turned into me being decanted straight back onto it. The last time I cycled along that road I was 22 and foolhardy and heading to Paddington with an enormous backpack on my back to take up a last minute place on a course in Bristol. With no greater sense of direction than I have now – but considerably more courage and less sense – I had simply followed the main roads and, when I came to some big junction as the lights were turning orange, accelerated instead of stopping, not considering just how much slower a bike is through a junction than a car. Somehow I made it across alive with traffic coming at me from what seemed like every direction, horns blaring. It’s a moment that is imprinted on my memory though, for ever more.

There were no horns this afternoon, and no near misses either, although I can’t say the experience was exactly pleasant. I’ll be looking forward to getting home again, where the main hazard is buzzards rather than buses and the only horns I hear are my neighbours, saying hello…

* OK, maybe not


January 31, 2012

Well it turns out that spending two days in intense discussion on cycling policy and infrastructure has the effect of leaving my brain feeling as if it’s been taken out, steam cleaned, ironed on the linen setting and then put back in upside down. Which is my excuse for having lost my mobile phone AGAIN. It’ll be the third time I’ve mislaid this particular model and I’ve got the feeling the mobile phone gremlins are going to be the ones going ‘third time lucky…’

Still, confirmation – if confirmation was needed – of the need for the cycling embassy came at the end of the first day when we were assembling outside, preparing to set off for the nearest pub to continue the conversation there over beer. The woman who’d let us in dashed out because she wanted to see all the Bromptons (it’s not a proper UK cycle meeting if there isn’t a ‘fold’ of Bromptons in the corner). She wasn’t a cyclist and she knew nothing about bikes but she was entranced by the folding ones and she wanted to see us ride off on them. I asked her if she was thinking of getting one herself

‘oh no,’ she said. ‘My boyfriend cycles everywhere but it’s just too scary for me. I would if it was like Holland with those cycle tracks everywhere but here I have to mix with buses and everything and I’m just too frightened. I love the Boris Bikes, but there’s no point for me because where would I ride one?’

I’m about 99% certain that someone didn’t put her up to it … but we couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Back home tonight, or at least that’s the plan, although given the way a single broken down train at Wimbledon managed to bring the entire SouthWest Trains network to its knees last night, I’m not counting on it…

Moments of Rural Humiliation

November 24, 2010

Me: Single to Bigtown*

Bus Driver: Pardon

Me: Bigtown

Bus Driver: Pardon?

Me: (slowly and clearly) Single to Bigtown

Bus Driver: Pardon?

Standoff. I mean, this bus only really goes to Bigtown. How much more scottishly do I have to try and say it?

Bus Driver: You mean, “single to Bigtown, please”

Me: Aargh, sorry. I used to live in London, that’s the problem

Bus Driver: That’s nae excuse.

I was even more mortified because I now can’t remember whether I’ve said ‘please’ or not in the past; he’s never mentioned it before. Possibly it’s been bugging him for the last few months and he’s only cracked now. Or possibly it’s because I’ve now taken the bus enough times – about half-a-dozen trips – that I’m sufficiently familiar to be teased about my London ways.

Still, I wasn’t the only one getting grief on this trip. The bus was in the process of sailing through Intervening Village when he slammed on his brakes, backed up to the crossroads and sat waiting while an old biddy came not-particularly hurrying up the side road to the stop. He then reminded her briskly of the timetable before letting her on so we could all set off again.  I’d like to see that happen in a bus in London. But then, in London there’d be another bus along in a minute, as opposed to in a couple of hours as happens here…

*Obviously I didn’t actually say ‘Bigtown’.


May 13, 2010

Waiting for my train to Glasgow this morning, I noticed that Bigtown Station had had some work done. Mostly, this seems to be about improving accessibility: buttons to automagically open the doors, hearing loop signs and – my personal favourite – individual walking stick holders at the ticket windows so you can come in and make long and involved theoretical inquiries about buying tickets (‘I’m no buying any the day, mind, because I’ve come out wi’out my money, but if I were to buy one…’*) without holding up the queue of people who’ve come to buy actual tickets any further by having to search around for your cane afterwards. They’ve still not put in a ticket machine (could a ticket machine sell purely theoretical tickets? I think not) although there is an Irn Bru one, of course. And nor have they tackled the real accessibility issue which is that there are hardly any bloody trains. So a 90 minute appointment in Glasgow has turned into a full day’s travel with epic amounts of hanging around – at Bigtown Station (in case I get stuck in the queue behind someone wishing to discuss the metaphysics of possible ticket purchase and miss the morning’s train) – in Glasgow, at Bishopbriggs, and of course on the incredibly-scenic-but-not-particularly fast chunter there and back on the train.

Hmmm. I was waxing lyrical about the slow pace of life around here just a couple of days ago, wasn’t I? It just doesn’t fit too well with having to be somewhere – anywhere – at a particular time.

Oh, and it’s started raining again. I knew life would be worse under the Tories

*I really wish I were making this up

Trains, Trains and Automobiles

April 20, 2010

This is never going to work, I thought to myself as I had a closer look at the schedule National Rail had helpfully given me. I had just spent two days in Nottingham catching up with an old friend and was attempting to get home and, while the UK train network is very good (I mean, adjusted for being the UK train network) at getting people into the Great Wen and back out again, it’s not really designed for getting people swiftly and easily from one non-Great Wen bit of the country to another. So here I was, about to take a bus followed by four trains (run by four different train operating companies, natch) each with no more than a 9 minute interchange between them. How could that possibly work?

Would you believe me if I said ‘like clockwork’? No, really. And this despite one leg of the journey being on one of those one-car chuffers that meandered to Crewe via such places as Blythe Bridge, Longport and possibly even Royston Vasey. The only hiccup came at the end when the other half was late picking me up because he’d been stuck behind a tractor, but that’s the sort of delay I can handle. And now I’m home, shattered (I’d blame the trains but I think some alcohol may have been involved at some point) and plotting how not to go anywhere anytime ever again.

And thanking my lucky stars I wasn’t trying to fly…

If you Notice this Notice…

December 8, 2009

On the train to England to do our Christmas shopping this afternoon (taking advantage of the exchange rate), we stopped at one of the intermediate stations – no more than a halt, really. There, on a lamppost, under the station name, there was a sign headlined ‘Public Telephone’ which said

‘For information about the location of the nearest public telephone, please consult the station information poster which is situated near by.’

I think this is a strong contender for the most useless sign of 2009, but I am prepared to be proved wrong.

Submissions in the comments, please