08 October 2008

STD 0632

It's ten to eleven at night and I have just left Paddington - after a
day spent almost entirely on trains. I should have been on my way for
the last leg of the journey half an hour ago, but the Underground let me
down and from King's Cross onwards my frustrations have been mounting.

My itinerary allowed 45 minutes to get from King's Cross to Paddington -
a brisk walk would probably have done it. Instead the Circle Line took
about 50 minutes, during which I could not phone home to explain that I
was now running late. The driver made announcements but failed to
direct his voice to the microphone, so they were virtually inaudible,
and to make matters worse they often competed with announcements on the
platform loudspeakers during the lengthy pauses at stations. The
station announcements were neither more informative nor more
comprehensible, being delivered in a conversational tone which
completely failed to carry: they were merely louder, and won the
competition on that basis. Why can't London Underground give their
staff some coaching in making these all-important announcements?

Had there being some warning of the delay on the Circle, I would have
made my way to Paddington by one of several alternative routes, but
conveying useful information is another skill that deserts the
Underground system at this time of night. Perhaps the assumption is
that everyone out and about at this hour is drunk.

The Circle Line train was then rerouted to the Hammersmith and City
line, so when it arrived in Paddington I was at the wrong end of it: I
made several abortive attempts to phone home: and when I took a seat on
the train and started to listen to voicemail messages, the guard decided
to make an announcement at a volume sufficient to compensate for the
inadequacies of his colleagues on the Underground. On top of which I
have not eaten since shortly after leaving Newcastle, intending to find
food at Paddington in the interval that I fully expected to have before
catching the 10.15 - some chance!

The East Coast line train offers free wifi, which enabled me to file a
Community trade mark application on the journey north this morning -
though the connection speed, or the performance of OHIM's servers, or
something, meant that I had no time for much else, and that was a trip
scheduled to take nearly three hours that was delayed 30 minutes by a
points failure. On the way home, I plugged in my computer and happily
worked on it until it announced that its battery was flat and I should
switch to mains power, but as it was already plugged into the only
available mains outlet (which clearly wasn't working) that didn't assist.

Finally, sitting on the stationary train at Paddington waiting for it to
leave I tried again to connect to the wifi there, but the connection was
hijacked each time by Network Rail's secure network and nothing I did
would stop the computer connecting to it. The network I needed wasn't
even showing, and that is typical of my experience of trying to connect
at Paddington.

The reason it all went wrong at King's Cross must have been that I was
hailed from across the tube station by a former IP student from London
Guildhall who miraculously recognised me despite the passage of 10
years: that is why I wasn't on the tube train before, of course, but it
is very reassuring to be recognised, and rewarding to learn that someone
remembers you after such an interval (and such a limited acquaintance at
the time). Combined with a good set of appraisals at the end of this
afternoon's course (including a form from one delegate who left at
teatime without saying goodbye but leaving a set of straight As on his
form), it's been a reasonable day: not as good as the recent half-day
course at the end of which the delegates all applauded me, but close.
The chat with the taxi driver who took me to the station in Newcastle on
the way home - an independent financial adviser making ends meet in
these disastrous time - was another highlight, and I enjoyed reminiscing
about bands we had seen at Newcastle City Hall as we drove past.

Just a shame about all the train travel.

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