Monday, 29 January 2007

First Essay Complete

It’s been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently. Work has got a bit busier and has occupied my working time (quite rightly!)

The good news is that one of my four essays for my Diploma in Commuting is now complete. One down and three to go. This first essay was actually the easiest. This is why I have completed it so quickly and with only a tiny bit of discomfort.

Congratulations to me!

Friday, 19 January 2007

Late getting home

I finish work at 5.00pm. I didn’t get home until quarter to eight last night. As a result of the wind, the trains were well and truly buggered up. Last night at the train station was an example of how to operate crowd management. Trains kept terminating at the station that would otherwise carry on, and more and more people were being filtered onto the platform, all waiting for one train. Then we all got on that one train. Jammed in like beans and stuff.

I don’t know how, but I succeeded in getting a seat.

Then the train conductor announced that it wasn’t going where everyone thought it was going. So loads of people got off with a lot of huffing and puffing. I remained on the train as it was still going to where I needed.

Then the train conductor changed his mind, so everyone got on again. People who had lost seats by getting off were not pleased.

And then, the conductor changed his mind AGAIN and this time there was swearing from passengers.

The whole time, I just sat there with my head in my book trying to distance myself from the entire situation. For once, it is not South West trains’ fault for trees breaking all over the place. I’d rather get home late than be involved in a derailment. So I settled into Two Lives and that was that for the next 2.25 hours.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

South West Trains Website buggered

What an annoyance - how am I meant to tell what time I'm going to get home ?!


Blowin' in the Wind

I think High Winds are exciting yet scary. There’s something quite humbling about being nearly blown off your feet by something so powerful. It makes you realise how small and little we are in comparison to Mother Nature. I quite enjoy listening to powerful winds from the safety and comfort of an indoor place.

On the other hand, high winds can be extremely frightening and dangerous. You only have to look at the headlines on the breakfast news to realise the tragedy that high winds can evoke.

On the train this morning, there was a tree that had fallen over the track. It hadn’t fallen in a way that meant we couldn’t pass, though. The train driver braked sharply (as sharp as you can brake with a train which doesn’t do anything quickly) but then made the decision to barge through the tree with his big train. It worked, but the tree knocked against the side of the entire train as the train passed. It was a bit like when you go past low-hanging trees when you are sitting on the top deck of a double-decker bus. Bang bang knock crack – right on the window by your face.

The sea goes mad when it is windy. It crashes right against the walls of the coast and sprays sea water all over the place. It’s very exciting, but today they have closed off the road that runs parallel to the sea for fear of flooding. Plus, I am told that salt water is no good for a car’s bodywork.

I hope everyone is coping well with the wind today!

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

A Diploma in Commuting

I have a fresh train challenge. I am going to endeavour to write four essays in six months. Now, that might not sound like too bad a challenge. That’s what university students up and down the country are doing whilst also maintaining their daily lie-in. However, my challenge is to do these four essays on top of full-time work and 2 hours of commuting a day.


Like many industries, mine has a ‘Diploma’ qualification that takes three or so years to achieve. I have completed years one and two. I then moved jobs and moved down to the bottom of the country (only bottom in geography, not in quality of location!) and swiftly forgot all about the third year as I grappled with the new politics and procedures of my new work place.

New year resolution was to get back on track with this qualification. I then found out that the awarding body are now phasing out this qualification for a different one which is pretty much the same except for the title. This means that if I do not complete the final stage (4 assignments) before June 2007, I lose the work already started and have to re-qualify.

How ridiculous is this?!

However, I have always been someone who strives to work to deadlines. There is nothing like a speedily approaching closing date to get your butt into action.

And so, I have commenced what I call ‘Operation Commuter’. The essence of this plan is to complete as much work on my four essays as possible while travelling on the train. I have two hours a day where I sit there doing nothing much except read, sleep and think. Therefore, if I use this time productively, I could get myself a Diploma in no time at all.

So, I started this week. It’s hard. People keep on sitting next to me so I have to reshuffle my bags and extra papers and place them under my seat. I try to concentrate but I keep wanting to sleep (especially on the evening journey). I am most productive in the morning before hoards of people get on at a stop on my journey. I have written about 4 or so pages (handwritten of course) which seems a good start. However, it’s been years and years since I attempted to write an essay by good old fashioned pen and paper methods. At university I would do the whole thing on a computer – right from first thoughts all the way through to completed document. It makes editing much easier. Already my papers are full of scribbles and crossings out. It’s messy.

Once I’m happy with what I have written down on paper, I am going to attempt to put all of it into work on my little handheld thing. A slightly lengthy process as there is no keyboard as such, but at least it means I don’t have to do it at home.

Well, I’ll keep you posted as to when I give up with this process and just take it all home with me!

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Football Fans

Football fans. Why do they consistently match the formulaic representation of hooligan football fans when they get together? They are, in all probability, all regular, well-balanced individuals with a steady family life and a good job in the real world. Once they convene in a group though, they just turn into monsters. There seems to be something quite primeval about a troupe of men together in honour of eleven men kicking a ball around. I was blessed to encounter a pack of football fans on the train on the way home last night. When they stepped into the carriage they were swiftly followed by the stench of stale beer on their breath. There is nothing worse than smelling beer from another’s breath, especially in confined quarters.

They are even worse than the teenagers for yelling and bawling at each other. Yet another group who fail to understand that it is not necessary to shout at each other when just sitting opposite one another.

Can’t you tell I’m trying to sleep!?

Monday, 15 January 2007

Too many cooks spoil the broth

Another week commences.
What is it about Mondays during the winter that is so substantially dismal?
This morning I was even more befuddled than normal when the alarm went off. I truly thought it was Sunday morning and I felt enormously bad-tempered that the radio had switched itself on at the weekend.
And then I remembered.

I have noticed that, since the return to work in January and the onset of various engineering works and problems with the trains, that there are colossal numbers of South West Trains staff patrolling the platform of the station where I board the train. There are literally swarms of them in coats and high-visibility jackets. They just stand around in groups of three or four, chatting amongst themselves and generally taking up a lot of space on the platform. I can’t quite grasp why there are so many. Are they members of staff who have been displaced from other stations where there is only a bus service? But what is their function? They don’t talk to customers. There are just a couple checking tickets, and sadly the free-tea man has disappeared. The rest seem to be wasting time for no apparent reason, having a laugh with their hands in their pockets. Perhaps it is for show – ‘look we know the service is rubbish for those of you who have the misfortune to step onto one our 1970s replacement bus services, but there are loads of staff about to help you get on the bus and to answer any questions.’ Yeah, loads of staff. Too many staff !!

Have you noticed how the replacement bus services now have South West Trains branding on them? They recognise that they need to use them so often that they have taken the decision to actually invest in some and paint them red and yellow and whatever other colours are in the branding. Good thinking there. But not very reassuring for lowly passengers like me.

On another point, I read an article today about how trains are the new work place. Apparently you can adjust the work/life balance by working on the train instead of/as well as in the office. This can save the amount of time you spend at work. Nevermind the issues of privacy and teenagers hurling abuse at each other, and people peering over your shoulder (I always do this when someone sits next to me with a laptop. I’m just nosy, but I might learn something interesting. Plus I like to see what people do for a living and stuff like that. I also like to see what books people are reading, and then I feel especially smug if I have already read that one.)

So, perhaps I should use the little handheld thing more often? Or I could just sleep.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

There's a tree stuck under a train

You’ve got to feel affection for high winds and slashing rain. Especially when you are leaving your house at the magnificent hour of 7.00am to be faced with hair-messing gales and rain beating on your face horizontally.

There is nothing better than lying in bed listening to the fine tones of the rain hitting your attic window, listening to the wind whistling around the house, and knowing full well that you have just 30 minutes to get your sorry self out into that weather.

As I opened the car door after BF gave me a lift to the station on the way to work, the malevolent wind nearly yanked the car door right out of my hand and blew it away. Nearly.

As I stood on the station platform waiting for my train, the impatient wind did a good job of finishing off the blow-dry that I didn’t have time to complete. And also giving me a ‘just-stood-on-a-station-platform-for-too-long’ kind of look.

However, I should count myself blessed.

I got on my train, into the relative warmth.

We were then told that there was a tree jammed under the next train at H…. so there was little chance of us moving in the near future. As I looked out of my train window, I could see the gloom on people’s faces as they shivered in the wind, trouser legs rippling like flags against people’s legs. I settled down smugly in my seat with my new book, Vikrem Seth’s ‘Two Lives’ , and promptly removed myself from the situation.

After just 25 minutes of waiting at the station ( I thought it was going to be longer actually) we finally moved off and began the journey.

I swiftly fell asleep.

A colleague was not so lucky. She had to spend those 25 extra minutes standing on a platform with NO shelter, quivering under a tiny compact umbrella that proved quite useless when faced with horizontal rain.

So, I am quite lucky really.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

Oh dear.
Superdrug are doing 2 for 1 on my favourite beverage.
This is the fizzy drink that will cure all hangovers (well, all of mine anyway), perk me up when I need it, cheer me up, give me energy, and quench my thirst. The taste is divine. A glimpse of the beautiful red and white logo makes me squirm with pleasure.
Quite sad but true.

Feeling a bit thirsty on the train home? Pulling this out of the handbag will always make the train journey better.

Yes, it’s Dr Pepper, the finest fizzy drink in this land, oceans better than its rival Coca Cola, and equally as bad for your teeth.

So now I come back from the shops at lunchtime with not one, but two, portions of bottled delight.

This is not good, I’m very sorry Mr Dentist.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

The End of the Free Tea Week

This morning I felt a twinge of withdrawal as the position where the jovial chappy usually stands with his trestle table and free tea was vacant this morning. Just the ghost of free beverages remains in our hearts and minds.

Have they decided that they have been nice enough already? Now they can continue to get away with crowded platforms and bus replacement services because they gave us one week of tea?

I, fortunately, am not affected by the bus replacement service. It begins at the stop I get off at. There must be nothing worse than finishing off an already over-long journey with a cold, damp trip in a 1970s double decker bus that only sees the light of day for ‘rail replacement services’ these days.

I have now had three scammers from Nigeria try to con me into sending my phones to them. Three! Each time I report the incident to Ebay. They respond with a polite message and sympathies. But they can’t do anything about it. It is a waste of time! Ok, I haven’t fallen for it, so at least I didn’t lose my item. But it completely undermines the very value that the success of ebay is based upon. Trust!


I am reading ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ at the moment. It’s very light. The plot is not dissimilar to ‘Ugly Betty’ on C4. I shan’t remember a word of what I’ve read when its finished. But it keeps me entertained on the train at least!

Friday, 5 January 2007

A Rant About Ebay

I thought I would take the opportunity with this blog to write about something non-train related and it could be valuable to readers if you ever sell anything on Ebay, or if you know someone who does. Perhaps you have come across this scam before, perhaps not. However, read ahead if you have ever/intend to sell something on Ebay.

(Plus I do enjoy a good rant and am feeling slightly smug for spotting the scam immediately and not falling for it, thank god)

Being as money conscious as I (and indeed many people are after Christmas) am at the moment, I decided to sell my free upgrade from my mobile phone contract rather than actually use it. If I used it, I would only lose it, scratch it, and subsequently get upset. It’s a very swanky phone actually. My upgrade was a Nokia N73, about 20 models above the model I currently have. However, I am happy with my phone and simply don’t see the need to have yet another piece of expensive technology in my handbag. (Hey, I already have an I-POD Nano and a Personal Handheld Computer thing. Now this too?? I think not) So I decided to sell it. I listed it on Ebay with a starting price £150.00 and a BUY IT NOW price of £220. (from looking at Ebay, some people actually are mad enough to pay these prices!)

Within hours someone had done ‘Buy it Now’. I was pleased that the phone had sold so quickly. I was doubly please that someone was prepared to buy it for £220 straightaway.

BUT. It was a con. A scam. A cheat. Fraud. B@stard.

The ‘buyer’ emailed me requesting I send the phone to Nigeria. He sent me a fake email from Paypal saying the funds had been transferred into my account.

What a scam. Apparently, what happens is this:

They send you a ridiculous story about how they are based in USA/UK but they really need you to send the phone to Nigeria to their daughter/boss/uncle/vicar etc.
They send you a fake e-mail claiming to have paid the money into your PayPal account
You think the money is in your account.
You dispatch the phone all the way to Nigeria.
You never get any money.
You can’t trace where the phone has gone.
Item gone.
Money nowhere.

Incidentally, I tried selling another phone on Ebay on the same day. A Motorola L6. I bought it and decided I didn’t like it, so I am now selling it.

Exactly the same thing happened. A scammer asking me to send it to Nigeria and ensuring they would THEN pay the money into PayPal. How stupid do you think I am?!

But apparently people have fallen for it. You can read their sorry stories on this website..

And here is the ridiculous e-mail he sent me:

Thank you for notifying me about this item i won and I want to inform you that i have paid suficient money for the shipment to my son address in West Africa immediately i won your item, and it has been deducted on my account.The item is meant to be a christmas gift but as i am unable to to meet up i am making it new year gift.I would have sent it myself but i am out of town for An AID'S/ HIV CAMPAIGN RESEARCH.And i want you to send the item to him on time because i want him to receive it ASAP for New year gift purpose that is why i will want fast shipment to his place through Royalmail 1st class Service.I have paid GBP 40 for the shipment.T

his is his shipping address below:Name: Jide RichardAddress: 65 Ogunleti StreetCity: OjotaZipcode: 23401State: LagosCountry: Nigeria.Awaiting your fast response to ship when you get confirmation of the payment.Regards.

How DOES he sleep at night?!

Late Again.

Boo hoo
I have realised why South West Trains are being overwhelmingly thoughtful and charitable to me in the mornings by benevolently providing tea and coffee free of charge.

Engineering works means that all services are being delayed by a few minutes here and there.

Normally I don’t object too much about this in the morning. I get to work over 30 minutes earlier than I should do according to my payroll. However, this allows me lots of flexibility with train times and delays, and I can grant myself an unhurried saunter from the station to the office as opposed to a power-walk of stress.

On the way home, though, I require a train that arrives on time and delivers me to my destination on time.

I do not want to wait an extra half an hour on my train as it waits patiently just 10m away from the station I need to get off at, while we wait for the green light. This is what happened last night. I was not pleased.

As the train chugged closer to my intended station, I had put my book away (Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ is the current read) and had checked my phone for the last time before shoving it into my handbag and zipping it up. I had rearranged my scarf around my neck in preparation for the 11 minute walk home. I was ready to go.

And then we stopped. For 35 minutes. I wanted to bang on the doors and say ‘please let me out – I can walk up the track if need be. I don’t want to wait here for this silly train. Oh, signal failure you say? Who needs a signal to say you can go?! You can SEE that the platform is clear!’

As a result, I got home nearly 40 minutes later than I normally do. Which is a shame as it makes the evening feel sooooooo short.

I attempted to comfort myself with watching a bit of the new Celebrity Big Brother on C4. What a total pile of
cr@p and who are all those people anyway? I seem to remember saying this last year and ending up absolutely loving the programme, to my shame. Who knows- maybe that will happen this year. maybe not. However, CBB did not provide much comfort to me. I imagine I’ll be arriving late home every night in January. January is when the engineering works are being engineered. Expect delays. No kidding.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

New Gadget and more Freebies

To my delight this morning, the free tea and coffee was back. Today however, South West Trains were slightly more enterprising than yesterday. Instead of simply supplying free drinks, they have diversified into selling newspapers and cookies too. They are hoping that, in receipt of a free hot drink from them, we may also be tempted into purchasing some reading material or some sugary snack. Such inspiration. You can’t teach it.

Today, I had a new-fangled gadget on the train to play with. A handheld computer thing. I’m not really certain what it is technically called. You can do Microsoft Office on it and access the internet (if there is a wireless network somewhere). I spent the first half of my journey tapping on it with the little baton and looking tremendously accomplished. I intermittently do some freelance translation work in my spare time for a company that I used to work for when I was a student. So, the aim of this new gadget is so that I can do it while I am on the train. Using my time wisely.

As my BF pointed out, this could come in useful.

At £12/hr, you could earn 48weeks*(50/60)minutes*5days*2per day =400hrs, *£12/hr = £4800 over the year if you charged for all your travelling time. After tax, that's £3744, which puts you £2144 in pocket after paying for your fare. Ker-Ching!

That would be nice. Very nice. Unfortunately, the freelance translation work is not quite frequent enough to allow for such a profitable extra income.

But it is a nice gadget.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Happy New Year.....back to it

Back to work again.

Back on the trains.

It’s even colder than before Christmas.

There is engineering works going on which means disruption and more standing around in the cold.

Everyone on the trains seems to be coughing their guts up and sniffing noisily. In my direction.

Did I point out it’s cold?

However, there was a bit of exhilaration at the station today. We got to stand on a different platform to the normal one. This disrupted the unwritten rules about who stands where. Nobody had a regular spot.

Not only that, South West Trains were providing free tea and coffee on said platform. One announcement over the tannoy that the man standing at a trestle table with polystyrene cups was actually giving something for nothing, and there was a mad rush towards the exquisite swirls of hot steam coming off those kettles.

I’m very content to see that they are spending my money from my annual gold card wisely. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if they provided free tea and coffee everyday. Or perhaps if their budget couldn’t stretch that far, every Monday at least. That would help a little bit with the mammoth struggle of getting out of bed on a Monday (and a Tuesday, Wednesday etc.)

They could trim down costs even further by just making a huge kettle of tea with a few teabags and then pouring that out for each customer. Today, we were all treated to a teabag each which was quite a luxury. However, in the interest of making this free tea and coffee a habitual occurrence, I am willing to accept some sort of compromise to the quality of the tea. Ah, dreams.

Or, were South West Trains simply feeling guilty about something today and buttering us with free tea/coffee up to halt the hands grabbing for the complaint forms?

Happy New Year all!

Today, no sleep for me on the train. Awake and alert. Must be the start of a New Year.