28 December 2007

My Favourite Things

Being one of the handful of people in the UK at work yesterday wasn't the experience I thought it would be. I planned to take advantage of the peace and quiet to cut a swathe through all those pieces of work that have been gathering cobwebs for the last few weeks or even months. A three-hour journey to work effectively knocked that on the head, and an incipient cold ensured it wouldn't get up again. I scratched the surface, but only lightly.
In the internet age, the emergence of a major news story also creates massive disruption. News of the attack on Benazir Bhutto broke at lunchtime, and it was quickly announced that she had been killed. I find it hard to concentrate on the mundane when there are world-changing events happening, and beng reported on my computer screen.
On the train home, a gentleman whom I have seen many times but never spoken to before engaged me in conversation. He remarked that this is the worst day of the year on which to travel by train: most of the passengers are on their way to the London sales, and it's the one day of the year (and probably not every year) when they use a train. He had spoken to a lady on this very train, he told me, who had been generous in her praise for the train and the railway system in general. He had expressed surprise and disagreement, and had gently tried to disabuse her of these extravagant and perverse views. Eventually he had told her that they would have to agree to differ. Perhaps, by the time we reached Reading some twenty minutes late (engineering works at Airport Junction, my interlocutor explained, which have closed two of the four lines, precipitating the morning's meltdown when a Heathrow Express "went pop" as he put it, to which now we had to add the mandatory wait outside Reading station until a platform became available) she had revised her assessment.
In recognition of their failure to operate anything remotely resembling an adequate rail service, First Great Western are offering - note, not simply giving - season ticket holders vouchers for two days of rail travel. My new friend grasps the supreme irony of this immediately, but begins to recommend destinations on the west coast of Scotland that I might consider. (I doubt the vouchers will entitle me to travel by sleeper, and even if they do I remember the newsreel pictures of the derailed sleeper just before Christmas, the train painted in familiar livery with the name of its operator - "First" something - prominent for all to see.)
This morning I left home slightly later again, and like yesterday parked a hundred yards closer to the station end of the car park than usual. A train pulled in from Oxford as I strolled down to the station, so I ran to platform 4 and jumped on it, leaning back out of the window to check its itinerary - it was indeed for Paddington, the only terminus inter-city trains run to in that direction, but stopping three times instead of just once: that's all right, I cann live with that. But wait, there's a train at platform 2 (how did it get there without me seeing?) and it's pulling out ahead of us - and I doubt it tops at Maidenhead and Slough. Still, this is a quiet, almost deserted, service and it will get me there in reasonable time. Meantime I can listen to something on my MP3 player: John Coltrane appeals this morning, after yesterday spent exploring Audience's back catalogue. And My Favourite Things is the perfect ironic choice.

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