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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Travel : The Train Way

When I read other peoples’ blogs, they are usually centred around a single subject; 

  • keeping fit... 
  • food and cooking 
  • technology
  • travel
  • hobbies

The thing is, I have such a varied range of interests; none of which include running or cooking (unless I’m eating it!).  From previous posts, you'll know that I like technology; and I also enjoy reading. Another interest is travelling.

Mind you, this post isn't about travelling of the romantic, off to the sun type. No. This is about train travel of the ordinary kind.  

I have recently been making weekly trips from Manchester to London, courtesy of Virgin Trains.  It usually involves an early start from Piccadilly, with a late return.  So, I thought I’d regale you with stories of my journey.




It all started early on Monday morning, as I pulled into the car park at Piccadilly Station.  The walk to the station was uneventful; if a bit wet and windy; the concourse was particularly quiet; it really is quite romantic at silly o’clock!


The shops were open; WHSmiths were doing a roaring trade in the daily papers; stationery and lunch.  At the other end of the ‘Mall’ (yes, they call it a mall!) Sainsbury’s was doing brisk trade in all sorts of groceries, drink and lunch meal deals.


In between, Starbucks had a queue, which I joined to buy my treat of a skinny latté.  This always makes me chuckle to myself.  A latté with skimmed milk, into which I pour a tablespoon of sugar!  Coffee in hand, I head out to the train.  There’s always about two or three Virgin Trains ready and waiting, such is the frequency of the service to the capital.


It’s just over a two hour journey, but I like to get a table seat, so I can power on my laptop - not to work you understand.  I have films to watch; and sometimes I even download programmes from the BBC iPlayer, to catch up.  However, I inevitably end up dozing off for half an hour or so.


The service is usually quite busy, and by the time we've left Crewe, for the non-stop journey to London, there’s not a  seat available.  Occasionally, the service is empty, and I wonder why there are 11 coaches at all, when three would do!


The on-board announcements are a source of amusement; especially the new ones being trialled.  I even took to sending tweets to @virgintrains to complain.  As usual, they were quick to respond - they have a top social media team…


Nine times out of 10 the journey is uninterrupted; and we make swift progress to Euston. On occasion we can be delayed due to points problems; and this gets me to thinking that really, when you consider the volume of trains running, and the relatively small and very ancient infrastructure, how well train services are run.

I know we like to bash them; but we’re British.  We bash anything that doesn't work 100% of the time.  We are unforgiving in expressing discontent at the slightest problem; but all things considered, most of the time, the trains run on time; and in the case of Virgin, with friendly and pleasant staff.


The arrival into Euston is greeted with another “bing bong” as we are reminded to take all our belongings with us.  This also makes me chuckle - I couldn't possibly carry all my belongings, but I’ll take the bag I brought on with me!!


Joining the cattle market that is Euston is not pleasant.  Trying to cut across swathes of waiting passengers; staring blankly, almost robot-like at the departures board, waiting to see which platform their train will be leaving from, and whilst trying not to crash into other commuters all converging on the single escalator to the tube, makes for a fraught few minutes.


Then there is the sheer volume of people all heading underground, to jump into metal tubes to whizz them around the subterranean train set.  Another feat of engineering, that started in 1863, that continues to amaze; but not when crammed in like sardines.


Finally; fresh air again, and a short walk to the office; for a day in a stuffy room; before repeating the journey in reverse.


In fact, the reverse trip is during rush hour; which just means there are more people crammed into the confined space; and more people to jostle, push and barge, waiting to see which platform their train will be.  This time, I'm amongst them!


The train journey home is less busy, and during the winter, in complete darkness.  No, not the carriages, but the outside world just isn't there.  The odd light flashes by; but for the motion of the train, you wouldn't know we were moving.

What’s my conclusion to all this?  Don’t get me wrong; I like going to London; I'm just glad I don’t do it every day.  The journey may be relaxing; but the hustle, bustle, up and down the escalators, pushing and shoving is something that is to be experienced on a less frequent basis.
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