Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Ideas above my station

I am going to miss writing about the train when I walk to work. Well, I will miss writing about it but I’m definitely not going to miss getting up at 6.25am, leaving the house at 7 to walk a mile and a half in 25 minutes and then doing the same thing 12 hours later, in reverse. I may even get to see Neighbours! Although since the move to Channel 5, it looks weird. Plus, I don’t recognise anyone in it. I suppose the point is, I could watch it, if I wanted to. More to the point, I can start running again, huzzah. Theoretically I could run now, but I get up as early as I can bear now and I get home so late that I’m absolutely ravenous when I get in the door. Running as well would either mean going on an empty stomach and not having the energy to enjoy it or waiting until I’ve digested a little bit which would mean me having enough time to run, return, shower and go to bed. This does not a happy commuter make. My start date is yet to be confirmed but I assume it’ll be around the last week in October-ish as I finish in Cambridge on the 17th, which is a Friday.

However, I will still keep up with the writing – I find it really soothing and it’s great to be able to write without it having to be technical or useful or reviewed by the team. It’ll probably have more reviews though!

I got on the train at Norwich this week to find two people fast asleep on the seats. One person was hidden in a hoodie and the other had music on and was middle-aged. It wasn’t even half seven yet so I guess I’d sleep on the train too. I’d also just watched the train come in and everyone get off, so I knew that I was the first person in the carriage getting on at Norwich. Most importantly, the hoodie was in my seat! I exchanged glances with one of the quiet Natives, a guy who gets off at Wymondham and also occupies the same seat each morning. He shrugged. After a bit of deliberation I decided to wake the older gentleman by poking him in the shoulder. It took a couple of tries – he was sound asleep and dreaming, bless him. When he woke up with a bit of a jump I explained that the train was at Norwich, to which he grabbed his stuff, thanked me and got off. Hoodie followed as he’d woken up by then too. It was definitely a fun start to the morning.

I had the chance to employ some of this social responsibility I’m always talking about the other day. I can’t stand the way everyone’s happy to let everyone else wreck our communal spaces because they’re bored/stupid/whatever. In the current climate I’m definitely more careful about what I say to people, but if someone walks into me or drops rubbish, for example – I’ll let them know about it. Anyway, I was on the train at Cambridge and a boy sits in the vacant seat of the pair I’d occupied. He dumped his schoolbag at his feet and took out a card. I admit it. I peeked – it was a birthday card for his dad. He disposed of the rubbish by releasing the table, shoving everything on it and then closing the table on it. I spent the next ten minutes quietly fuming. There are bins between seats and at either end of the carriages on those trains and if there weren’t any – take it home with you! It was a bit of plastic, not anything smelly or heavy. Why should the people who empty the bins on trains and clean up after the rabble have to check every table to make sure some wide-boy hasn’t decided to squeeze their litter in there? I had therefore decided to remind this sixth former about social responsibility and consequences of actions. He got off at Ely and I waited until I knew he was going to leave his rubbish before freeing it from the table, poking him in the back and handing it to him. He took it without grace but he did take it. Score one to the responsible (and perhaps a little busybody-ish) citizen. He may have dropped it off the train, but I hope he didn’t.

I overhead a couple of hilarious phone conversations in the last week. One was from the biggest man I’d ever seen – he was TV fat and I worried about how he was going to fit in the seats, to be honest. It was snug but surprisingly easy, in the end. He got on with an equally proportioned (well, near enough) friend but the train was quite full so they had to sit apart. That didn’t stop them though – they were the loudest Geordies I’ve heard for a long time. That was entertaining in itself, but then his phone went off. The ringtone was a police siren. I kid you not, dear reader. He then proceeded to tell whoever it was that someone or other had no right to take away her money, which sounded interesting except that it wasn’t. He then enlightened the carriage with his knowledge of the local geography, announcing at Attleborough that he was “in Cambridgeshire”. In case you’re as unfamiliar as he certainly was, Attleborough’s firmly in Norfolk. I suppose, to give him some credit I wouldn’t know all of the counties in other parts of the country, but I’d at least have the sense to realise that the train would’ve crossed at least one border after an hour and keep quiet about it.

I was most fortunate to sit in front of an extremely Norfolk young man on the phone to what I can only assume was his beloved on a different journey. I can’t remember the exchange word for word, but it involved him trying to get her to meet him at the train station by employing all manner of tactics. One was emotional blackmail “Don’t meet me, I’ll walk on my own” , while another was threat “Well, I may as well just turn around and go back again”. The best one was when he said he’d get a taxi from the station and then changed his mind almost immediately, going back to his “I’ll walk on my own” effort. The funniest thing was the high pitched shrieking I could hear on the other end which increased in intensity when he started the conversation with “What you so moody for?”. The climax was definitely near the end of the call, when he said “I luv ya Chelsea” with a straighter face than she could have hoped for from me.

I’ve been thinking about treating myself again. Ooh, the cons have arrived but they’re waiting at the sorting office, boo. Mr Charming hasn’t collected them yet (it’s Mr Charming because I am as yet unqualified to drive) as the books haven’t arrived yet either and I couldn’t stomach two trips to the sorting office in a week. I hate that place. The staff seem hand-picked to be the rudest , most unconcerned employees they could hope for. I’ve had to endure numerous conversations about their weekend while they wander about looking half-heartedly for my parcel/free lightbulbs/under stamped letter and three thousand others wait behind me. They always ask for id when you could give them a train ticket and they wouldn’t care and they don’t accept debit or credit card. Who doesn’t accept card? It’s no wonder Royal Mail are in trouble. There’s a crappy hand written sign in black marker which states “Credit or debit cards are not accepted” in capital letters. The sight of that sign makes my blood boil.

I digress. I think I may treat myself to a week’s long season ticket in First Class for my last week. The seats in there are easily double the width of standard, twice as comfy and even better – there’s never anyone in there! It all depends on how much it is, obviously. I would estimate a 50% increase in the standard ticket which would make it about £95. Hmm, that’s quite steep. It would be fun though.

I read my second Philippa Gregory last week: The Other Boleyn Girl. I don’t like her writing style at all. I struggled through the monotony of the first hundred pages and managed to actually get to the end in a decent amount of time, but really I only finished it because I like the costumes. The characters are badly written and if I ever see “gleam” attached to people again I’ll kill someone. Their voices were indistinct and I had a hard time telling who was speaking, especially in scenes with the Boleyn family meetings. I found the ‘history’ aspect interesting, but I think I’d be much better off reading the actual history books referenced at the back. Or wikipedia. I remember people raving about all of the Philippa Gregory books and about how great they are. To me they’re bodice rippers with a tinge of history, which elevates their status slightly. I suppose the same could be said for Harry Potter, which is just The Worst Witch re-worked for modern audiences. That’s not to mention the countless other ‘nods’ Ms Rowling included from Diana Wynne Jones to Ursula LeGuin to Tolkien himself. While we’re on the subject, does anyone else ever feel like not jumping on the bandwagon? As if Ricky Gervais was actually marching down Oxford Street naked, and everyone stands and applauds? I’ll never understand the fawning over that man’s stand up. The Office and Extras I can go some way to appreciating, but that’s for everyone else and nothing to do with Gervais.

Anyway, enough celeb bashing. I hope to read some of my new books soon, the aforementioned Middlesex is high up there, along with New Moon and Twilight Watch. Huzzah. I should make more of an effort to look like I’m working, I think.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

No ticket

Phew, doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself?
Apologies it’s been so long since I last wrote anything – I haven’t forgotten, I’ve just been busy with other things.

GM is still being a pain. I’m really trying not to let him affect my walk as that makes me as pathetic as he is being, but it’s a bit hard sometimes. Last week I was walking a short distance behind him, but to the left, when he decided to cross the whole path in order to stand right in front of me. I wouldn’t have taken any notice but he managed to time it so I was too close to move by the time I passed him, which meant I had to “excuse me”. I looked like the villain of the piece, basically.

Speaking of which, where does everyone stand on fare dodgers? I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that there always seems to be at least one passenger who does not show their tickets when the guard passes through the train. Now, some may reason that it’s a victimless crime (akin to prostitution) but I would beg to differ. I believe, perhaps incorrectly, that the absence of cash leads to a rise in ticket prices that wouldn’t have occurred if everyone paid their rightful fare.

Yesterday I was on the homeward journey when two men got on at Ely. This station is not equipped with gates, as Cambridge is. The men sat in a double seat across the aisle from and behind me. When the guard walked through the carriage and called for tickets, neither of them moved to get theirs out. I caught the eyes of one, who looked really guilty, to me, anyway. The guard didn’t notice them sweating and ignored them.
I resolved to do something about it the next time the guard came down the carriage, for the reason I announced before. In the meantime, I thought about what I could, or should, do. I could advise the men that if they didn’t show their tickets to the guard, I would ask the guard to see their tickets. I could catch the guard and ask about procedure when dealing with fare dodgers. I could point at the two men and loudly declare “I don’t believe you’ve had the pleasure!”. The possibilities were endless. In the end, it didn’t matter because the guard didn’t appear back in the carriage between then and Thetford, which isn’t a long journey – only about 25 minutes. Regardless, I still felt that I should have done something else. I pay £16.00 a day for my train journey – why should I pay for the people who are too lazy/tight to buy their own tickets?
Just as an FYI – a single adult ticket from Ely to Thetford is £7.60*. Which means those two men lost the train company £15.20 in that twenty minute journey.
To add insult to injury, a man got on at Attleborough who obviously didn’t have a ticket either! That’s a whole £4.80* down the drain.
What can we do? Count people? Take photographs of every passenger? Have a conductor stand on the platform for every train and count the passengers who get on, then let the on board guard know how many to expect? It’s tough. But there must be a more efficient way to make sure the law abiding citizens don’t end up paying for the shirkers. Hmm, a bit Daily Mail there, I think. Still, my point is valid.

Ah. Operation Hush update – goal achieved! I have informed my employers so I feel comfortable writing about the bare bones in the public domain. I have been offered a job with a well-known employer in Norwich, which I have accepted. Among other things, it means that I will be able to set my alarm clock later than 06.25 and still get to work before 9am. Bliss. Of course, this also means that I will no longer be able to blog about the train journey to work now. However, as Miss F correctly pointed out “I can blog about the walk to work”. The posts may be shorter.
I have a notice period to work but I should be able to start my next job within the next month.

I treated myself to some things. A bit naughty, I know, but soon I will not have to spend £250 a month on travel, so I felt that I was allowed.

Blue sparkly ambrosia resides here...


Aren’t they beautiful? Thanks to Amazon for providing that link and for pointing me in the direction of shoetopia. Ha.
I also bought some books that I’ve been meaning to buy for a while, including Eugenides’ “Middlesex” , which I think sounds fascinating. Ooh, and I bought “The Fountainhead” as the last three books I’ve read have mentioned it, and how great it is. Seriously. I haven’t read anything amazing for a while. I really enjoyed “The Handmaid’s Tale” *which mentions Ayn Rand) although I’m shocked to remember it being on the GSCE reading list. Did anyone study this for GCSE and find themselves traumatised by it?

Okay, I must rush off. Thanks for reading, as always. As soon as my html whizzkid is free there will be a new blog, complete with the spangly things I have envisioned.








*prices correct at time of print.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

In the bleak midwinter

Isn’t that photograph of Norwich RC Cathedral beautiful? Norwich is amazing. This is the smaller of the two cathedrals in Norwich! It won’t be long before we see that kind of weather again – I do like snow as it looks so beautiful, but it’s terribly inconvenient.

The nights are definitely drawing in. It’s colder, wetter and I even had to dig out my winter coats this week. I know it’s a generic thing to say but really – where did the summer go? Did it ever arrive? I remember a fortnight in May where it was beautifully sunny. Never fear – next year I shall venture abroad to somewhere I can lie next to a pool on a sun lounger and do nothing. I may read a few books. Ah, the sunshine. How I miss thee.


I got my results back – I am not diabetic or anaemic. I am allergic to some nuts, which wasn’t terribly helpful as I knew that anyway. The weird thing about the results was that the test showed an allergic reaction to peanuts and not almonds, when in fact it’s the other way around. I discussed this with the doctor, who told me that my IgE level was so high that it could, and probably did, produce false positives. Eep.


In other news, Mr Charming and I have our fifth anniversary coming up soon. We have the day off from work, which is always nice. We’re not sure what we’ll do but it will involve dinner in the evening. I can’t believe it’s been that long already, to be honest. It feels like it should be no more than about three years. It’s all good.


I had another encounter with Grumpy Man the other day. He appears to have taken rather a shine to making my walk from the train station to work as difficult as possible. He’s there when I walk to the gate, out of the door and along the road to the office. I know, this does sound arrogant but honestly, the guy just doesn’t have anything else to do. So, there I am, walking to work and I cross the road to turn into the road that my office is on. Out of nowhere, GM appears and nips in front of me. He’s so close I almost trip over his heels. I tend to walk fast and I’ve noticed that people, especially men, dislike it when I overtake them. Once, a guy even ran onto the road to get round me when I’d overtaken him. Seriously. It’s not my fault that I’m usually cutting it a bit close to be wherever I need to be.


Anyway, GM had positioned himself so he was in the most awkward place possible. Directly in front of me, on a path that would be wide enough to cross on if he hadn’t insisted on walking like a gorilla. When I moved onto the grass to get past him, he moved over too. After about thirty seconds of this ridiculous dance I shouldered past him, muttering “Excuse me, please”. As soon as I did this, he crossed to the other side of the road. Basically, he’s an absolutely giant ass. It’s a shame, because there are a few Natives like him who walk the same way and get the same trains. It’d be nice to have a bit of company. Apparently he’d rather make a fool out of himself than act like a normal human being.

Speaking of which, I had company on the train the other day! It was the homeward bound train, rather than the morning one. A little early for a shopping trip, I feel. Anyway, Miss F and I rendezvoused under the station clock... Well, outside the train station, at least. It was really nice to have someone to speak to for a change. I was a bit aware that there were a couple of passengers who were particularly interested in our conversation, like the guy who came on clutching a can of Strongbow and then proceeded to stare at us for the half hour he was on the train. When he finally got off we were treated to a whiff of him as he swept past us – it’s really hard to describe the smell – old clothes, stale BO, alcohol…. You get the idea.


A little after he left two blokes stormed down the carriage. They were typical Bad Men – loud, proud and the types who would fly off the handle if someone looked at them the wrong way. As they walked past us Miss F had the pleasure of a corner of the last one’s jacket on the shoulder. He turned back. I have to admit, I held my breath for a split second. Then he said “Sorry!”. It was all a bit confusing, really. They proceeded to have a rip roaring barney peppered with suitably Northern words like ‘div’ as well as the usual suspects (begins with mother ends with... well , you get it) but then one of them announced he was going to sit down, stormed back down the train and sat down. Politely. Quietly. He even leant across to ask me something when I was making a cigarette (“Excuse me, love?”) but then decided not to and apologised instead. I reckon he wanted to ask for some tobacco but then saw that it was Cutter’s Choice and thought better of it.

It was still strange, though. I do think that either one of them would have a go at anyone who looked at them the wrong way, but they were also aware of the social environment they were in, and nodded towards that from time to time. It was a bit like the Friends kitchen phenomenon, where anything said in the kitchen can’t be heard in the living room.


Operation Hush is full steam ahead – there will be a decision around Tuesday next week, and the likelihood of the outcome being agreeable to me is 50%. Not bad odds – not as good as I hope right now, but we’ll see.





Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Human Affliction

Ah, another three day weekend. A much needed one, too. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that every weekend should be three days long. I wouldn’t mind taking a month’s less salary for a three day weekend all year round. We could have Fridays off which would mean we’d still have that sinking Monday feeling, but that would be alleviated by the half a dozen or so bank holidays scattered throughout the year.

By the way, while I remember – my apologies if there are typos in some of these posts. I do endeavour to keep it proper, but for some reason my version of Word has decided to set the default language as Welsh, which doesn’t appear to recognise any typos or come equipped with any sort of spell check at all. Any tips would be welcome, although I have already tried the obvious ones (like setting my language as English UK and making that the default) but to no avail.

Ooh, I finally got a haircut! It’s just trimmed as I’m still lusting after long, beach combed tresses. I wish my superpower was to grow my hair really fast, as well as it being thick and obedient. I just read this book which is called “Superpowers”. It’s actually pretty good.

It tells the tale of five college students who wake up with more than a hangover after a stormy night on the moonshine, and how they and the people around them cope with the changes. It lacks the clich├ęd superhero plot about the villain and how they have to save the world, but that’s addressed quite wittily. I’d recommend it if you harboured fantasies of flying when you were younger, or the other standard hero powers. It has a nice, shiny cover too.

I seem to have been on a bit of a superhero tip on my last library visit, as I’ve also read the book by the lady Shauna Reid, “The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl”. Her site can be found here. It’s an account of how she lost a shedload of weight and gained a husband over a period of about seven years. Wait, it’s more interesting than that... If you’ve ever thought about the way you look at food and decided it’s not that healthy to treat it as comfort/affection/your best friend quite as much as you do, you’ll probably identify with this.

I got to ponder the human affliction again one day last week. I reckon it was Thursday morning. We’re just pulling into Cambridge and I, as usual, politely ask the person beside me to let me out. I like getting up a few minutes before because it gives me a chance top stretch and generally get sorted before I have to get off the train and hotfoot it to the office. Plus, I shouldn’t have to justify myself! Over the past two months and eighty something journeys (ick) I’ve had a couple of people who object to me getting up three minutes before we pull into the station. The most recent was, as I’ve previously mentioned, Thursday morning.

There’s one man. He gets on at Ely, and is always wearing a black leather jacket and a rucksack. There are normally a couple of seats free in the end carriage by Ely (which is the last stop before Cambridge) but he tends to eschew them in favour of standing up. The last time I had a run in with him, he almost walked up my behind when I dropped my ipod outside of the station. Flustered, I snapped something about not actually helping and then overtook him as we walk the same route. He objected to this so much that he tried to block me overtaking on FOOT and then tried to trip me up when I passed him. Average Grumpy Man, then.

So, this Thursday, I ask the person next to me to let me out, and she gets out but goes the way of the doors. We do an awkward dance until I get past and she can sit back down again. When I reach the end of the seats (and the beginning of the door section) there is a queue of people. This consists of the GM and another passenger. There is about an acre of space by the doors, so I tap the GM and ask him to move forward, so the other passenger and I can get out of the way of the other passengers who were trying to get out too. I received a fairly typical reply in answer, where he correctly asserted that the train was stopping in a minute. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of a repeat of the first request. He moved, grumpily and didn’t even respond when I thanked him. After all, he didn’t have to move. It made more sense to and there was no reason he needed all of that space to himself – he still got out first, after all.

The other responses I’ve had when I’ve asked people to move to let me out of the seat range from sighs to feigning deafness. One woman even sighed loudly, moved to the other side of the table and snapped at her new seat mate, when she asked to move: “It’s the terminal, everyone gets off here anyway”. I had to bite my lip on that one – the poor girl looked heartbroken and I wanted to tell her that no-one has the right to tell her when she could stand up. But it’d probably be less “Dead Poet’s Society” and more “Coronation Street”.

Which leads me to the next thing I’ve been thinking about lately.

We’ve all seen them. The people who manage to maintain a double seat for one the whole journey. This relies on finding an empty pair of seats or table, and is not designed to hound people out of their seats! Here, just for you, I’ve collated some top tips on…

How to keep your seat

  1. When sitting in an empty pair of seats, ensure you sit on the one nearest the aisle. Anyone who wants to sit down will therefore have to talk to you or climb over you.
  2. Make sure anything you have that can play music, is playing. As loud as you can bear it and preferably with one ear piece hanging loose, beside your chin. This is to provide maximum volume for the rest of the carriage.
  3. Eat. Something smelly and/or messy is preferable, such as a banana sandwich or a McDonald’s.
  4. As soon as you get on, call someone. Talk as loudly as you can for as long as whoever you’re calling is free. Make sure that your ring tone is as obnoxious as possible (akin to the Nokia ringtone) and that your keypad tones are on full. Continue to call and text as many people/chat lines as possible for the duration.
  5. Grab loads of stuff and put it on the empty seat. Awkward items like paddles or big items like rucksacks are best for this situation.

Any or all of these are not guaranteed to allow you to keep your sacred space free of Other People. They will, however, make everyone in your vicinity hate your guts.

DISCLAIMER: I do not partake in any of the above practices. Nor do I condemn or condone.

On a side note, on my day off yesterday I enjoyed a bit of sunshine and a blood test. I actually had three vials taken out, which looks like an awful lot if it’s yours. There were two reasons for the test. One was for to check for diabetes, as I’ve had all of the symptoms and family members have diabetes. The other was to determine what nuts I’m allergic to and how severe the allergy is. When I have certain nuts I experience allergic reaction type symptoms – nausea, hot flushes, constricted breathing and stomach cramps.

Fun. So I should find out the results within the next week or so, I guess. I had to fast for fifteen hours before the test, which you wouldn’t think would be that hard. I could still smoke but I could only drink water, which got boring really quickly.

The other project will have an outcome within two-three weeks, too. First stage: achieved. Second stage: complete. It’s all out of my hands now, anyway.