Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Revealed: What 200 people were doing in a field in Crayford on a Sunday afternoon.

Sunday 4th August 2019

Nice clickbaitey title 😀

So now the embargo has been lifted on this I can talk about what happened on the first Sunday in August. At the beginning of july I got an invite from Geoff Marshall of All The Stations fame to take part in something slightly silly and railway/tube related along with a couple of hundred other like-minded idiots enthusiastic people.
How would you like to come to Crayford wearing a tee shirt the colour of a London Underground line and stand about for an hour?

Well who wouldn't? Name added to spreadsheet, railway ticket booked.

The idea was to create a human version of the "Tube Map" - or at least the Zone 1 section of it because we're not that mad - and then video the result to be published on Youtube. Previously All The Stations had done something similar, the BR Double Arrow symbol. That only needed 100 people to be herded into place, the tube map would need at least double that (we'd hoped for 300).
One thing became apparent, getting enough people with enough of the right coloured tee-shirts wasn't going to be simple.

Hammersmith & City (pink) was always going to be a problem.

Everyone has a black tee-shirt so Northern Line definitely wasn't going to be a problem.
I chose Piccadilly (dark blue) because I was born near what at the time was the western end of it. Having decided on Saturday that my intended shirt had in fact faded to something nearer the Victoria line I went cheap tee shopping (Decathlon £1.99 as it happens) and as at that point there were plenty of Piccadilly and not enough District looked for a suitable green tee as well. It seems the clothing industry only now knows two versions of green, fluorescent lime or khaki, nether of which are close to the required shade.
 The event was held on the pitch at VCD Athletic / Oakwood Training Ground, Crayford. It wasn't hard to find, followed the trail of coloured tee-shirts from the station.
Once the goalposts had been moved out of the way and some group photos taken by the talented Luke Agbaimoni all that was needed was to arrange 200 people into a semblance of Zone 1 of the tube map. It took a while, with a few tweaks and rearrangements and checking from above by drone. Eventually we were ready for the actual filming. This was all done from Geoff's drone which he assured us had never fallen from the sky yet so we would be perfectly safe 😀
 And it didn't.

So what was the point of all this then?

Does there have to be a point? A lot of people, most of them having some interest in railways and or the Underground got together and did something essentially a bit daft and chatted, socialized (the football club bar was open and it was a hot day), and met people who they might only have known online or have met before only briefly. Not all "social media" activity is carried out through a screen.

Nobody fell over backwards Falklands penguin style following the drone as it flew over (and no one got that reference when I mentioned it at the time).

At no point did I hear anyone shout out "Mornington Crescent!", though it was a big field and I'd be amazed if nobody thought of it.

Everyone who was there seems to have enjoyed the experience and in these uncertain times that's not something to be passed over lightly.

The final result?

That's now live on Geoffs channel, go and watch it and "think yourselves accurs'd you were not there, And hold your manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that stood with us upon Human Tube Map day." 😜

Human Tube Map, The Video.


Saturday, 3 August 2019

Journey into the fiery furnaces of hell*

* Also known as Birmingham New Street 😅

25th July 2019

It started off well. A leisurely Pret breakfast and walk down to Shrewsbury station to catch a train for home. The forecast was for rail-bending record high temperatures though so I got an earlier train than I originally intended, hoping to get well on my way before everything melted.

It didn't work out that way.

The 1103 departure to Birmingham New Street waited at the platform and I was glad to see that West Midland Trains kept it running and with the air-conditioning going because it was already very warm outside. We rolled out of Shrewsbury on time and the journey to Birmingham was pleasant and uneventful, the train lightly loaded. Arriving at New Street I could probably have run and caught the 1304 Cross Country train bound for Bournemouth to get to Reading but I had an Advance Single ticket, valid only on the 1333 departure to Reading. That was probably my first mistake. Shortly after the 1304 train departed the cancellation of the 1333 to Reading was announced.
Oh well, get the 1404 Bournemouth train then, ticket now valid on any train because the booked train was cancelled. So stooged around in the station, got tea, got a pasty, used the snazzy new seats with USB charging built in to top up the phone, and listened to the announcements and watched the screens.
They weren't a pretty sight, nearly every train delayed as the temperatures rose and speed restrictions were imposed.

1404 Bournemouth moved slowly up the list. Right up until the single garbled announcement that it would now depart from Birmingham International instead of Birmingham New Street and that passngers should go to platform 7 to get a train to there to catch it. On platform 7 there was a train to London which didn't appear to be stopping at International so no one knew they were supposed to get on it until it had gone. A poor train driver who was waiting to take over an incoming train was the only uniform present so was soon besieged by confused and irritable passengers wanting to know what to do and where to go next. Fair play to the guy he did his best with the apps on his smartphone and concluded that we should all return to platform 1. The next departure from which should have been 1433 to Reading which was mysteriously absent from the departure screens and from my Train Track app. Only by checking carefully on Cross Country's web site did I find out that all the Reading trains had been cancelled and passengers advised to use the Bournemouth trains - or to wait until the next day when they would be happy to accept tickets from today. I did consider that option but getting a hotel room in the centre of Birmingham at that short notice proved to be difficult, expensive or a combination of both. So wait, sweat, and hope the 1504 Bournemouth train wasn't cancelled or diverted as well. 
I can't say I recommend Birmingham New Street as a place to hang about in >35℃ heat. We were exhorted over the PA system to carry water when travelling in the current hot weather. I took the more sensible course of actually drinking it. What goes in has to come out though and you have to hope you don't miss an important announcement whilst having a piss.

CrossCountry Class 220
The 1504 arrived at a packed platform 1 around 20 minutes late and the desperate scramble to get aboard began. When it moved off we were packed in in conditions that would be illegal if we'd been livestock. I was in the vestibule of coach D between the bike racks. The coach in which the air-conditioning had failed.

It was fucking hot. Before long I had little fountains of sweat coming out of my lace holes 😅 Still, if anyone was going to pass out from the heat they'd have to do so standing up, there wasn't room to fall down. After Birmingham International a few people got off, whether that was their intended stop or whether they couldn't handle the sauna-like interior of the  Voyager any longer I don't know but it allowed some of us to move from the vestibule to the saloon. It was maybe a couple of degrees less hot in there. After Leamington enough passengers baled out for me to get a seat. Also the train manager announced that as soon as he could move down the the aisle he'd try to get the air-conditioning going in coach D. When he did so he got a huge round of applause 👏👏👏 and the temperature dropped to "still bloody hot but a bit more bearable". Slowly we trundled south through Oxford to Reading. We arrived 2 minutes after the train to Sandhurst departed. Train Track app showed the next was due in about 40 minutes and the two after that were cancelled, which was a bit worrying.

I found a bench, got out my Kobo reader and finished reading Kate Williams' Rival Queens until the train arrived at platform 4 then grabbed a seat on board for the last leg. After just under 9 hours I arrived at Sandhurst station having completed what should have been a three and a half hour journey, on the hottest UK day on record. It was hellish though not in fact my longest disrupted train trip, that "honour" still goes to a journey to Glasgow in June 2018.

Friday, 2 August 2019


24th July 2019

After my trip up the Heart of Wales Line I had a day to explore Shrewsbury. Whichever way you pronounce the town's name it's a really nice place to visit with historical buildings around every corner.
Starting (if you arrive by train) with the railway station which is as impressive as a London Terminus.

Built in 1848 and Grade II listed since 1969 its imitation Tudor style was intended to match the real Tudor Shrewsbury School opposite, which is now the library.

At the south end of the station is Severn Bridge Junction signal box, the largest surviving mechanical signal box is the world and the station has an interesting selection of upper quadrant and lower quadrant semaphore signals as well as some colour light signals, a result of its joint LNWR & GWR heritage. Elsewhere if you like old half-timbered building then this is your
kind of town. There's a castle too, obviously, an Abbey, and a Roman Catholic cathedral.
There's also more modern building too, this is a working town not an open air  museum, with three shopping "malls" jointly managed, one of which seemed to be dominated by charity shops. Most of the usual chains and eating places are present (including Pret I was glad to see) and some nice pubs (better than Swansea, sorry Swansea) and I'd recommend The Loggerheads with it's multiple small bar rooms, and the Three Fishes Inn. Both have a good selection of real ales.
Most of the historic part of town is enclosed by a loop of the River Severn with the Welsh Bridge (5 arches) and English Bridge (7 arches) crossing the river on the west and east sides respectively. Given the very warm weather a boat trip on the Severn was an obvious choice of activity.
The Sabrina sails - or rather motors - around the loop of the river from Welsh Bridge to English Bridge and back again and was a pleasant trip with views of the town and riverside buildings.

Post voyage I went for a walk and a '99' under a shady tree in the large riverside park called The Quarry, part of which was being prepared for the big flower show and much of the rest was dotted with young mums'n'kids picnicking.

I spent much of the rest of the day exploring the town. There really is a lot of history here.

And here's the photos: