18 July 2006

Didn't last long

Signal failure yesterday evening caused lengthy delays and overcrowded trains, although the signals in question (ast Wootton Basset) seemed distant from the train's route.

This morning there were several cancellations, attributed to signal problems at Goring, which does at least lie between Didcot and London. But why should defective signals lead to the loss of complete trains? Delays I could understand.

The train is consequently very crowded, with standing room only (sitting room, on the floor in the aisle, I finally decide). There seems to be a popular belief among some passengers that in this situation the "no mobile phones" rule is relaxed - indeed, hemmed in by fellow passengers and therefore unable to leave Coach A, I have broken the rule myself on occasion, though only with the leave of adjacent passengers. A few weeks ago I had to call home in just that situation: the gentleman opposite readily permitted me to use my phone, but I did not ask the occupant of the next seat to me, who was engrossed in a fat German book.

I should have realised, of course, that this being an Oxford train I might reasonably expect English speakers to be found reading books in any language known to humankind, and sure enough after I had made my brief call - "Can't talk - on the train - delayed - home in about 40 minutes" - he thanked me (without irony, I think and hope) for my consideration, comparing me favourably with others who phoned without clearing it first. Unironic he might have been, but it made me no less embarrassed. Why should I have been anxious to avoid an episode of incomprehension with a German-speaker? In any case, I know enough of the language to convey my question, I think. And to order a beer, and ask for directions to the toilet.

Today, an electronic beeping starts up and continues for about a minute before stopping. A passenger remarks that we can probably expect to be treated to the same thing every five minutes until we reach Paddington. In the event, it is about ten minutes before it recurs.

'It's that yellow bag', observes the same passenger, one of the fortunate minority with a seat, pointing to the rack above his head and a few feet behind him. A standing passenger, a black expression taking position on his face, snatches the yellow bag from the rack, and - perhaps misunderstanding the seated man's comment, and assuming it denoted ownership of the offending item, for it is clear that the sound comes from it - makes to drop it into his lap. It is intercepted in a neat move by another standing passenger, who places it on the floor and removes the phone that is responsible for the din, silencing it before replaing it in the bag and the bag on the rack. A round of applause greets this action, with any irony very definitely intentional, but he shows little sign of embarassment and returns to his (English) book.

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