Sunday, 17 April 2011

Why it's better to stay than to (try to) leave...

The date is Friday April 15th. Tooting is destined for the uncharacteristically sunny North East, specifically to Newcastle where she is to stay with an old pal for a couple of days. This is how she got there ... 9:52 am - Tooting pops into ... well, Tooting to have some breakfast and run a few errands. She parks, as always, in the Sainsbury's supermarket, and goes to the cafe across the road and has a coffee and an indulgent Danish. She then goes to a couple of shops to pick a few essentials up for her trip, and then to Sainsbury's for a flying grocery shop. 11:53 am - She goes to leave Sainsbury's car park to discover that she's over-run her two hour parking allowance by a minute. "You'll have to pay the fine at the machine, madame," says the grinning attendant. WHAT?! I spend hundreds of pounds in this supermarket and you're begrudging me a flaming minute?! He continues to grin and shrug. 12:05 pm - A £10 fine later, she arrives home, unpacks the groceries into the kitchen, irons a top, packs her weekend bag, waters the plants, puts the rubbish out and puts the laundry away. 12:45 pm - She leaves the house. 12:46 pm - She goes back to the house, picks up her train ticket, and leaves again. 12:58 pm - She boards the Victoria train and makes her way to the tube to Kings Cross. 1:50 pm - She arrives with a respectable forty minutes to kill before her train leaves. She gets some cash out, buys a paper, a coffee and a sandwich. According to the display boards, her train, the 2:30pm, is "on time," the platform will be announced at 2:15pm, and the gates closed at 2:28pm. By 5:30 she'll be out in the Toon, and she's feeling perky. 2:15 pm - the platform number is not announced. 2:20 pm - the platform number is not announced. 2:25 pm - the platform number is not announced. 2:28 pm - The train status changes to "delayed". An announcement is made. "Would all passengers please note that, due to an incident at Biggleswade, some trains might be subject to delay. Please watch boards for further details." 2:40 pm - A new announcement. "Due to a person being struck by a train at Biggleswade, some trains might be subject to delay." All trains on the board now read "delayed", so there seems to be no "might" about it. A passing man in uniform mutters into a walkie-talkie as he passes that, "this shit usually lasts at least an hour." Tooting texts her pal to say she'll be a bit late. 3:15 pm - Train status changes to, "cancelled" and the tannoy crackles into life. The only option presented is to go to St Pancras and get a train via Carlisle. This will take until some time next Thursday to arrive. Alternatively, go home and try again tomorrow. 3:20 pm - She goes to advanced bookings, to switch her booking to a train in the morning. She is advised that a train has to be delayed by two hours before it is considered delayed enough to transfer tickets. But my train has been cancelled. "Not by two hours, it hasn't." The logic is beyond her. "But stick around. Things will be running again soon." Isn't this entirely NOT what she had been told five minutes ago? She shuffles, perplexed, back onto the concourse to mill aimlessly around, wondering who to believe. 3:4o pm - Tooting finds a seat next to an old lady and shares a bag of liquorice comfits with her, whilst comparing notes on destinations and plans. 3:45 pm - There is some movement over to our right. Tooting's new old lady friend says, "I think there might be a train going over there." She looks where she's pointing her crinkly arthritic finger, and see that she's right. People are going through the barriers. Without so much as a backward glance, Tooting leaps up, grabs her bags, and starts running. Survival of the fittest. Through the barriers, along the platform, past as many people as she can get before she thinks her lungs will burst, then through the next door and into a seat. Phew! 4:05 pm - The train glides out of the station. Everyone on board cheers and settles in. 5:15 pm - Just north of Grantham, the train slows and stops. We sit and wait. There is an announcement. "Sorry for the delay ladies and gentlemen. We're experiencing some signalling problems. We'll get moving again as soon as possible." 5:25 pm - "We are sorry for the ongoing delay, ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately we are experiencing complete electrical failure between here and Newark. We are likely to be held here for some time." 5:55 pm - The train reverses back into Grantham station so that we can stretch our legs. 6:40 pm - An alternative train pulls up on the adjacent platform, and everyone pours out of one onto the other. This train will follow a diversion around the signal failure, and link up with the East Coast Mainline at Doncaster. This is a diversion which is anticipated to take an hour. 8:10 pm - We link up with the East Coast Mainline. 9:30 pm - Nearly nine hours after leaving the house, seven hours after her train was meant to depart, five and a half hours after it did depart, Tooting arrives in Newcastle, the promised land. Tired, emotional, starving, and hoping that the rest of the weekend was going to be more relaxed. Which is was.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

End of an era

For as many years as I can remember, the family Tooting have holidayed in Devon. First two weeks in August every year, come rain or shine. To start with we stayed at a bed and breakfast at a farm on the edge of a small town a few miles from the coast. We stayed, all four of us, in a family room, and spent the days at the beach and the evenings chasing dogs around fields. When we outgrew the family room, we started staying at the coast. In a particular village on the coast, we'd book a cottage for a fortnight, and spend our days on the beach and our evenings ... on the beach. All very idyllic. When I was about eleven, my parents booked a beach hut for the first time. It was nothing more than a shed really, but it was somewhere to put the deckchairs, and to get changed without having to do that beach-towel-shuffle that the English excel at. And the hut also came with neighbours, and they transformed the Devon experience for us. On one side, was a Yorkshire family - mother, father and their daughter just a year or so younger than me. In subsequent years, Father Yorkshire recommended his career to me, and I now do almost exactly the same thing as he did then. Yorkshire Daughter and I remain friends, largely thanks to the wonder that is Facebook. On the other, was a retired couple from Oxford. Bob and Dot. They'd have been in their late sixties I guess. He was a not-so-retired artist, and musician. She was the grounded one. They were both lovely. She encouraged my early creative endeavours, and we did the Woman's Weekly crossword together. He painted pebbles with little beach scenes and cartoon characters on for the children that played on the beach, locals and tourists alike, painting as many as 200 in a season. I've still got most of the ones he did for me over the years. He also taught me to play cribbage, patiently taking me through the complicated scoring; fifteen-two, fifteen-four and the rest won't score, and he drove us all mad with his one-man ukulele shows. Over the last twenty years, we have all grown up together. The nine of us in those three huts are 180 years older between us. We have, between us, bought four houses and countless cars. One of us has got married. We have collectively buried seven parents and one child. Three of us have got university degrees and new careers and four of us have retired. And today one of us died. Bob, 89 years old now, couldn't shake off a chest infection, and today it got the better of him. I feel that the world is a gloomier place tonight. I feel wistful that this summer we won't be regaled with the ukulele, or be given a new beautifully painted pebble. I feel a great loss that I've lost my first, and still my favourite cribbage partner. And I feel sad that this year, our original nine will be eight. So, in memory of a great man, and a greater couple, I'm giving you this lovely Video Nation clip of a few years ago, which I watch from time to time when I need my faith restoring in the human race. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Ukulele Bob.