05 October 2010

The Morning of our Lives

It was a classic morning for transport problems yesterday. One of the all-time greats. Cycling to the station was fine, although I was two trains later than I wanted to be, and had I been on an earlier I'd have been through Maidenhead before a truck driver contrived to hit one of the railway bridges there. A bridge strike halts most of the trains, in both directions, until the bridge is judged to be safe: yesterday, a down train went across and, presumably on the simple basis that it didn't collapse, it was deemed fit to use. So a delay of only about 20 minutes - extra preparation time for my webinar on the Bellure case for CLT.

At Paddington, a lot of people were standing around forlornly outside the gated entrance to the underground station. I don't care whether the RMT strike: if I use public transport I take the bus, and if I don't do that I run - which I was dressed to do, but lacked motivation for - after all, this is my first day back to running after a lengthy lay-off and several months of very irregular running. A 205 came along Praed Street pretty soon, and I jumped on - along with a considerable number of other people.

An hour later, we reached King's Cross and the young lady in the adjoining seat, who'd told me she had five hours in hand for whatever journey she was on, left. That takes about 20 minutes on a normal day, by bus or running: I could probably have walked it faster than the bus could manage yesterday. Things improved after that, but I was stuck on the bus for so long that I had to eat my lunch. At every stop, a vast press of people crowded round the doors - if we even stopped, that is, because we went straight past several stops where no-one wished to alight.

The seat next to me was taken as soon as it was vacated, by another young-ish lady who proved to be much chattier than her predecessor. She enjoyed people-watching - and like me wondered what all these people trying to take a bus in the middle of the day were up to. "I wonder what sort of job you dress like that for?" she mused, looking down from the top deck at no-one in particular in the scrum outside the bus door. "I'd like to work there." We remarked on the sight of so many people on the streets - usually so many of them are travelling many feet below the surface. A lot of walking (and quite a lot of running) being done, though hardly any Boris bikes in use: we discussed the merits of the mayor's pet scheme, which I am inclined to dismiss as a token, perhaps a gimmick. What if you're the only person who's taken out one of the bikes? How are you going to dock it when you reach your destination? And with a charge of £45 to get access to the things, buying a cheap bike of your own (and an expensive bike in London is probably just a more effective thief-magnet) and keeping it somewhere handy has attractions.

My stay in the office was brief but fairly intense, so I could get to CLT's offices to present the webinar: by the end of which it was time to head for Paddington, and fortunately I felt much more like running it than I had in the morning. An inordinate number of pedestrians made it tricky to get along the Embankment, and there were plenty of runners out too, one of whom I spoke to briefly - he'd been on my shouldder for some distance, so I asked whether he was waiting to outsprint me at the finish. His destination wasn't  mine, though: he admitted to running with a back pack for the first time in a long time, so I reckon he wasn't a regular running commuter.

I faded a bit in St James's Park so I used the excuse of the drinking fountain there for a pause. I had to mix it with a large number of cyclists down the Mall and up Constitution Hill, but they were well-behaved and I deliberately chose to run in the sand, well away from the cycle lane, which I thought would be pretty congested on a tube-strike evening. At Hyde Park Corner there was a long wait for the traffic lights, during which I cursed the New Zealand war memorial which necessitated the closure of a very useful subway: they deserve a memorial that engenders only positive feelings. I exchanged a few words with the runner next to me, of about my age, and it turned out that he too was heading for Paddington. We headed off side-by-side through Hyde Park, me trying to chat at first but finding the pace too much for that. I settled for a fast tempo and limited conversation: my companion seemed comfortable at that pace, and perhaps in a week or two I will be too. Once across Bayswater Road, I told him I'd use the rest of the run for a warm-down, and he excused himself and headed off for his train, which I saw him catch when I arrived a few moments behind him.

After stretching for a few minutes - something I need to make a fixed part of my routine - I phoned home to confirm what time I would arrive, then while I waited I attended to my 42 single leg squats on each leg. After about 20 on the second leg, the status of my train on the departure board changed to "boarding", and the ticket inspector came over from the barrier to draw my atttention to this. "I heard you telling someone you were taking that train", she explained. This is the sort of service level you receive from many - most - railway employees: it's the management who've lost sight of the fact that their task is to run trains on time and give their passengers the best possible experience. "I was just finishing my exercises", I explained: she urged me to do so, but I'd stopped by then. "No, the moment's gone!" I had to tell her, thanking her very much for her attentiveness.

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