I had not forgotten Lewis S’ comments and am still replying to that. Unfortunately, the computer I use at home has broken down so I am having to write up in a nearby internet cafe, which is less than ideal. I am also considering breaking down the response into 4 separate posts as it is getting quite long as it is, and would not want to bore you.
In the mean-time, I shall let you have a brief window on my world; in particular, my world of train travel. Last week, I was sat on the First Crapital Connect train from Bedford to Brighton when it stopped about 300-400 yards outside a station. Nothing particularly unusual about this, we often get held up for a minute or two at a red signal. After 15 minutes of being totally stationary, the driver (who was the only staff member on the train) came wandering down through the carriages, informing each of them in turn that someone at the rear of the train had forced a door open and was having a cigarette. A few minutes later, he came wandering back again, towards the front of the train and said that it wasn’t someone having a smoke, it was in fact an electrical fire. The train would not be terminated at the next stop (which we could have comfortably walked to and from several times by now, had we been inclined to take a turn down the railway line), which prompted a number of people to stop him and make further enquiries. Now, I am not usually a fan of judging people on appearances, though it did seem that given the attire and tone of voice, that the majority of those who were holding up the driver, and consequently, the whole train and everyone on board, were stereotypical Telegraph readers. When we did eventually pull into the next station the exodus from the train was somewhat chaotic and it took a full 5 minutes to cross from one platform, under the underpass and up on the next one. So having left work shortly after 6pm, I was not able to get home until after 8pm – a delay of around 40 minutes.
On Monday of this week, we had the wrong time of sunshine. In Essex, the overhead power lines were drooping in the heat and so the “high speed” trains (I use the term very loosely here) were being slowed down so as to minimise the risk of the power lines being ripped off by the trains passing underneath. Somehow, but I know not how, this had a knock-on effect for the Sussex lines. Everything from central/north London passing through London Bridge was cancelled or delayed indefinitely. So I had to brave the underground. In spite of new air conditioning, the overcrowded nature of the line I was on meant that the temperature was 45 degrees centigrade (113 degrees Fahrenheit). My shirt was stuck onto my body and the sweat was not only dripping off my chin, but also the ceiling of the carriage. It was truly grim. I eventually made it to London Victoria, where the main concourse did not so much have be traversed as waded through, as there were hundreds of people milling about like the cast of Dawn of the Dead, wondering how they were going to get out of this ghastly city. I did manage to get on a Littlehampton-bound train where I was joined by a very peculiar pair of people. It seemed like a middle-aged man and his elderly mother. She had an Italian accent, and wanted to ensure that she could get to Bexhill, while he was very loud, tried to strike up a conversation with a very unfortunate passenger, where he claimed to be an Iranian nuclear scientist. I kept my head firmly in my book and tried to avoid eye contact with him, lest he try and engage me in conversation. I get uncomfortable enough having conversations with friends, let alone strangers who seem a sandwich short of a picnic.
Tuesday of this week saw the wrong type of lightning. There were massive thunderstorms all over the south-east. One lightning bolt even hit the control tower of Gatwick airport, disrupting flights. Another bolt hit a moving train, which backed up all the south-coast trains for several hours. I managed to get the last seat on the last train out of London, and even while we were still north of London Bridge, we had to leave people on the platform, as every carriage was rammed. At every stop, the atmosphere was close and it seemed like a fight was imminent, but where from, I could not tell. The driver of the train was encouraging people to breathe in, in order to allow the doors to shut. Once again, I tucked my head in my book, only looking up to see if there was someone elderly, pregnant or disabled who needed my seat. When it came time to get off to catch my connection (my trains do not take me directly home) it took a good 2 minutes to fight my off, while those on the platform, having seen how crowded the train was, were all the more eager to get on before those of us disembarking had finished doing so. I crossed platforms and saw that the next train I needed was half an hour away, having already been delayed for half an hour. So I thought “**** it, I’m getting a taxi the rest of the way.” Fortunately, just as I got to the taxi rank a bus pulled up which was going my way. So rather than spend £5 on a taxi, I only had to fork out £1.30. But all in all, I still would rather we hadn’t had to leave people in London when they were clearly desperate to leave.