A Commuter’s Dictionary – ‘On The Train’

The English language is very versatile but many words never even make it into the spoken lexicon despite describing some of the sights we see day in day out. Well, all of that is about to change as we begin an occasional series aimed at enlightening you into a few terms that you may find useful in everyday use.

Today, we look at the topic of ‘On The Train’

Glaredown
Avoiding eye contact with the person who occupies the same position opposite you on board public transport each day and could be a future lover.

Hunchbunch
The line of back-arching commuters whose spines fit into the curved shape of many train doors in order to be the last ones who make it aboard an overcrowded service.

Paperhate
The insistence on reading a broadsheet newspaper aboard said overcrowded service.

Yellowperil
The art of dodging ground-based urine whilst using on-board facilities.

Yoblete
The teenage gang doing pull ups on the luggage rack.

Yobless
The youth who falls and injures himself undertaking said feat.

Horsebagging
The ingestion of entire fruits including pips and cores to avoid the trip to a litter bin.

Fat controller
A train conductor who insists on making public address system japes on all topics including lateness and the train turning a sleeping hobo into mincemeat.

Dre-adful
Being able to Shazam the music emanating from a particularly leaky set of £400 headphones.

Starfleet commando
The person commandeering an entire table with upwards of six gadgets under the pretence of doing work of a higher importance than anyone else.

Disgustipation
The sneer given to anyone eating a pasty or burger on a train during commuting hours. See also: Cheese Doritos.

Bodybaggins
Those carrying suspiciously large items of luggage aboard a train.

Tummytrouble
The uncertainty over whether to give up one’s seat to an apparently pregnant bystander who may just have ingested one too many items from Greggs.

Somnishuffle
The gentle shimmy away from a snoring stranger as their head lolls towards a resting place upon your shoulder.

I hope you find these useful as we guide you through the perils of your day to day life. You’re welcome.

Advertisements

The Ten Commuting Commandments

The Ten Commandments

Brought to you in association with Charlton Heston.

It’s no use pretending that commuting is easy. Considering we do it at the busiest times of day, surrounded by hundreds of people all with their own agenda, it was never going to be the most fun part of the working week. Fortunately, there are some simple rules to follow which I picked up on a recent commute to Mount Sinai…

1) Thou shalt always move down the carriage

Possibly the golden rule of commuting on all forms of transport, there is very little point in simply boarding a vehicle and then just standing there at the nearest available area. The herd behind you still need to board and so you’re delaying your own journey. It’s a relatively simple equation and one that makes even more sense when the aisle spec actually gives you MORE room than being pig-penned in when the train fills up further at the next stop. Expect me to shout if you don’t do this. As Bobby Brown quite rightly once commented, that’s my prerogative.

2) Thou shalt not pay for purchases under £5 with thy Switch card

Whether I’m in a hurry or killing time waiting for a delayed train, there isn’t anything more frustrating than being behind someone in Starbucks who is using a card to make a regulation loose change payment. We don’t live in a cashless society, and the use of cards simply causes a myriad of mis-read chips, declined transactions and machine failures that could be avoided via the use of old fashioned pound notes. This one is intrinsically linked to the unwritten eleventh commandment about sensible cashpoint usage; you can usually guarantee that there are other ATMs available other than those directly next to the station platforms, so stop queuing in a triple snake of 400 people and getting in my way.

3) Thou shalt not conduct banal conversation

There are a few occasions when it is acceptable to speak to someone on a train:

a) When asking the conductor for a ticket.

b) When apologising for accidentally bumping into someone due to a sudden train sway.

c) Asking someone to move themselves and their increasingly offensive family of mouthbreathers out of your way so you can either move down the aisle (see Commandment 1) or somehow extricate yourself from the rickety deathtrap.

Every other reason for opening your stupid trap on public transport is entirely unacceptable. Do I care that Margaret is back in the ‘hospikal’? No. Am I bothered about how you got to the station and how much traffic there was? No. Do I need to know what you had for tea last night (bearing in mind I can probably still smell it)? No. Keep all thoughts to yourself.

Commuter Train

How to make friends on the train.

4) Thou shalt not make friends on public transport

Sometimes this can go hand in hand with the above, leading to dangerously repetitive conversations spilling over from the previous day. Presumably, if I have overheard that same joke before (accompanied by that same forced laugh) then you’re a pretty boring dullard and your accomplice is only speaking to you out of sympathy and because you historically assumed the same spec on the platform. This practice is very risky, and can lead to going for coffee or even an alcoholic beverage together. Be warned.

5) Thou shalt not bring thine own wheels onto public transport

Ah, the bicycle. A wonderful invention for a weekend jaunt into the countryside or a quick trip to the shops in the daytime in order to save the ozone layer. But let’s face it, it isn’t for carrying around with you like some sort of wheeled handbag. If you’re so serious about being a helmeted lycra-clad warrior, then maybe consider sitting on your little saddle and moving your legs in a circular motion? The trend of taking bikes on trains (without having to pay extra for the additional space taken, natch) is getting worse with the now-mandatory Brompton hate machines turning up in each carriage. Handy tip – in the time it’s taken you to transform your Decepticon, I’ve walked to work.

6) Thou shalt have thine ticket ready for inspection

Picture the scene; you get the same train to the same station every single day. You’re in a rush. So why is the last thing you bother to think of to prepare your annual gazillion quid pass for inspection once disembarked? It isn’t hard to keep it in the same pocket, or maybe even in a special pouch on your utility belt, so please don’t make me walk straight into you as if I’m performing a particularly violent piece of early-morning anal savagery whilst you fumble about. It’ll only end in tears. Oh, and you’ve just missed that connecting train.

7) Thou shalt not read large newspapers in enclosed spaces

Common sense once again, if we’re all cramped up like a jar of particularly over-friendly anchovy fillets, there probably isn’t room for you to whip out your daily rag. Even more importantly, if you decided instead to pull out your mobile telecommunication device and boot up the icon labelled “Internet”, you’d probably find news that is less than a week old anyway. I can probably reveal today what will be in next week’s editions of the litterer’s favourite “Metro” anyway:

  • Man makes pair of shoes out of lobsters.
  • Leathery celebrity mistaken for antique bedside table.
  • Being alive makes you dead one day.

Newspapers on trains – it’s what Kindles were invented for.

8) Thou shalt not buy leaky headphones

Let’s face it, very few people have exactly the same taste in music, so it’s pretty frustrating when even your own headphones can’t drown out the wailing of the latest R&B chart-botherer or the jungle bass crunk of a dance floor anthem. The only positive spin on this is my invention of the soon-to-be-turned-into-a-TV-show-hosted-by-Ant-‘N’-Dec game, Leaky Headphone ShazamTM. Not only does being able to use your own mobile device to identify the track in question highlight the biggest offenders, it also tells you which are the latest, most hateful ‘artists’ in the hit parade. Two wins for the price of one.

9) Thou shalt not bring an entourage of children and shopping bags onto commuter trains.

The scourge of many a commuter, the last minute dash for a soon to be departing train is acceptable when unavoidably delayed, but not when you’re too self-important to avoid busier times and laden with 739 bags of tat from your once a year trip to town. Let’s face it, all you’ve spent the past five hours doing is trying to squeeze your fifty stone frame into a £4.99 Primark bikini for ‘yours holidays’. No excuse for being late. And leave your caterwauling lifestyle choice on the OUTSIDE of the train next time would you?

Ecco The Dolphin

Ecco – Texting away on his very own TransPennine Express.

10) Thou shalt set ALL mobile device tones to ‘off’.

The fact that I can no longer count on both of my hands AND feet the number of times I have assumed Ecco the Dolphin is aboard the same train as me, clicking away, is deeply, deeply disturbing. I really have no idea what people get from having keypad tones set to tap-tap mode, other than it being some form of reminder that their hearing still works, or that they are still alive despite their obvious lack of mental capability. Also on this list are those still chuckling to themselves at their ‘hilarious’ “Help! I’m in your pocket!” ringtones, along with the clown car horn honk and the radar text alert. For clarity, no, you’re not a ship’s captain or a kidnapper. Well actually, you might be. And you’re definitely a clown…

The Commuter Scoring System

Regular subscribers here and to my Twitter feed will be more than aware that I have lots of fun each and every day dealing with transport, the general public; pretty much life in general. To sum up how my mind works on a day to day basis, I’ve decided to reveal the factors that determine just how miserable I’m likely to be on any given morning.

I begin each day with 100 Morning Points, but a selection of events can make this rise or fall, and here are just a few examples of how:
(Note – these are in no way copyrighted by me, so feel free to play along at home. And when you hear this noise *ting*, please turn the page).

Train Delays

Minus 456 points.

-10 points for having to get up at 5.30am.
-10 points for the bus being late.
Additional -5 points if it’s so late you miss your train.
-5 points for every banal conversation overheard before having a chance to insert headphones.
+10 points for seeing someone run for the train only to have the doors shut in their face.
-20 points if it is you.
-10 points if the train is so busy you are massively interfered with.
+5 points refunded if it’s by a fitty.
+10 points for beating Running Man out of the station.
+15 points for your preferred Starbucks staff being on duty and having your coffee ready before you’ve even ordered it.
+5 points for Mentalist Man making beheading gestures.
+10 points for seeing someone trip up the stairs in Piccadilly Station.
Additional +5 points if they were carrying coffee.
+5 points for getting your favourite spec on the tram.
-10 points for the tram breaking down or being insufferably slow.
+5 points per fare-dodging scumbag getting hoisted off the tram and publicly ridiculed at Pomona.
-5 points for every copy of the Metro left on a public transport seat.
-5 points for each person getting the work lift to anything lower than the Third Floor.

Generally I am left with so few points each morning that my life force ebbs away like the skeleton graphic on Knightmare, leaving me a withered old bag of bones by the time I hit work. Nevertheless I get on with it, and look forward to out-scoring myself the very next day.

You can of course extend this into a fully-fledged game of Commuter Bingo, and to give you an example of a potential scoring system, see the gallery below. Enjoy.

Sony – The End of a 20 Year Love Affair

Sony logo

Sony and The Affs – the end of an era.

Those who know me will be aware that I’ve always been a massive proponent of Sony technology, so you may be surprised to hear that myself and Sony could well be over.

My relationship with the brand began when I inherited my mum’s stereo. It was a turntable-topped, double tape deck, CD drive-based beast. I used it constantly, stunned by the sound from those great speakers, and forever showing off its monolithic appearance to my circle of friends.

It wasn’t long before everyone started getting Walkmans (Walkmen?) so I just HAD to seek one out (with a radio on it too) to keep me occupied on those long car journeys to far flung parts of England on the annual family holiday. A massive supply of tape-recorded albums and mix-ups courtesy of my friends would be a god-send, along with cassettes of some gigs recorded directly from the radio (swearing usually included due to sluggish broadcast-delay editing).

A Sony Discman soon entered into my Sony-stash, a good £100’s worth of prime tech, pumping pristine shiny disc music into my ears wherever I went. It may have been bulky and it certainly skipped every time you moved too quickly, but it was still a revelation in portable music technology.

When the offer of a new stereo came with my 18th Birthday, I had no hesitation in picking out a magical neon-lit five-CD changing behemoth from the company I knew I could rely on for quality and for design spectacle.

Mini-disc arrived next, and I bought a little silver Sony machine with great build quality and an (admittedly now misplaced) view that I was staring at the future of portable music.

When I went off to University I took my Sony kit with me and added a Sony dictaphone to my stash. A staple requirement on any journalism course, I was once again unconcerned with paying that little bit extra for a trusted bit of tech.

After finishing University, I treated myself to the hugely impressive PlayStation 2, finally getting a DVD player in my life along with a whole world of possibilities. I’d skipped the original PlayStation as I’d previously been a Sega fanboy, but as they slipped away from the video game hardware world, I defected to the new Japanese pretenders.

When portable music took a new turn, this time towards a digital future, I bought one of the first Sony MP3 players that saw the light of day. I wrestled with the god-awful Sonicstage software, insisting to people that the sound quality and reliability made it better than any grey-screened iTunes-locked down iPod or web developer friendly Creative Zen box of tricks.

I then bought a house, and used the opportunity to kit it out with the latest and greatest from the Sony Corporation. Trinitron TVs both upstairs and down, with matching VCRs and DVD players. Even the bedside clock radio was a Sony device, preferring that to cheaper models, despite it largely being a glorified timepiece. The PSP soon followed, seeing me again fighting against early reports of a a clunky, non-ergonomic design and Game Gear-like battery life. I even bought the PS3 on launch day for a mammoth £425, and more recently the PS Vita, a new HD Sony Bravia TV and a bedside iPod/iPhone dock radio.

I’ve also owned Sony earphones for a good three or four years now. This was a no-brainer compared to Apple’s own shockingly bad buds, but I still turned down Sennheisers and other top-name brands in order to go with safety and security from a brand that I trusted.

Even last year when it was time to spend my hard earned cash on a new laptop, I turned a deaf ear to those insisting I should go with a MacBook Pro, purchasing instead my second Vaio, along with a netbook for on-the-go scribbling. But now I can’t help but think I should have listened all these years.

Back in October, my then 15 month old Vaio would not turn on. Initially thinking it was a charging or battery issue, I plugged it in, charged it overnight, all to no avail. Quickly searching the Internet, the main reasons people had reported were with the motherboard itself. I was initially shocked that the main board of such a new machine could die so quickly, but knowing it to still be in warranty (I got a free two-year extended warranty when I bought the laptop) I went about getting it looked at.

My first port of call was the Sony Centre from where I had originally bought the product…until I realised it had shut down. With no other Sony store nearby I went online and followed the process to log the fault electronically. I soon received correspondence back saying I would receive packaging via DHL in which I should place the laptop and send it away for them to look at. So far, so good.

I got the DHL man to come to my place of work, expecting him to hang around whilst I popped the unit into the box, but oh no that would be far too easy. The box arrived but the courier was “not allowed” to hang around. Instead I had to package my laptop up and call DHL to get them to come back again and pick it up. Painful, but not the end of the world.

Again, service was quick and I soon had a voicemail from Sony saying the engineer had looked at it and it would cost £320.08 to repair. Knowing this to be a mistake as it was still under warranty, I called back the offshore call centre who had left the message.

They stated that the engineer in the UK had found the fault to be caused by liquid damage and this was something not covered by the warranty therefore it had to be paid for. I vehemently protested this diagnosis, as the laptop had never even left my house, let alone ever had anything spilled on it., but there was no arguing with the operator who only seemed capable of reading from scripts and so I had no other option than to request they returned it to me, unrepaired.

Looking at my other options, things appeared bleak. I knew of a few people who were handy enough to replace a motherboard, but getting the appropriate part for such a new model looked like costing the same as it would via Sony. I wondered how the machine could have got such damage and as it was certainly not caused by myself, I could only assume that the fault was present at purchase and corroded over time, so I sent Sony UK Customer Services a letter stating that I wished to get the machine repaired free of charge under the Sale of Goods Act.

Eventually I received a call from Sony’s complaints/customer services department in this country. They explained that my first port of call should be with the shop from which I bought it as they, as the retailer, would be responsible under the Sale of Goods Act. Explaining to them that the store was no longer open, they admitted that they’d had a similar problem with other customers as many Sony Centres had closed down. They then admitted that Sony Centres were in fact unrelated to Sony themselves and weren’t even franchises. They advised that I should look for head office details on my receipt to try and find who may now be able to help, and after taking an email address for Sony’s department in case I needed them again I grudgingly began to explore this route.

Unfortunately there were no head office details on the receipt, so I started digging around on the Internet for contact information for the administrators. I received no response from them, and so I emailed Sony customer services again to explore my next options and to express my concern that I and many others buy Sony products from Sony Centres as we expect to get suitably preferential after-sales care from a seemingly affiliated outlet. The next email from Customer Services did admit that although they were un-affiliated, the level of service they offer does impact on the Sony brand. Nevertheless, there was nothing more that they could do to help.

After running through my options, I decided that my only choice was to pay to get the machine repaired, get all my data and information from it and then sell it in order to part fund an Apple MacBook Pro.

I emailed Sony again, simply to enquire whether I needed to log this repair as a new job or if I could just package it up in the box I still had and get a collection arranged. A few weeks passed and on chasing my request again, I was eventually told to phone an 0870 number.

I did so, and was promptly on hold for over half an hour, before being put through to an offshore operator who could not help and would need to arrange for me to receive a callback from the team who could deal with pick ups and charge any pre-pick up fees. I strongly informed the operator that I had already received a quote for the repair and had been charged no fees previously and after trying to pull him away from his script, he eventually admitted that I would pay no more than was originally quoted, £320.08.

When I received my callback, the latest operator I spoke to told me that I would need to pay a £60 “logistics fee” as in my reporting of the repair, I had told them it was due to liquid damage which was not covered by warranty and so the DHL costs were also exempt from Sony picking up the tab.

Outraged, I suggested to the operator that I could, in theory, simply telephone back and report the laptop as being faulty, without suggesting a reason, thus avoiding this charge and she admitted that I “could do”. I decided to pick the issue up with the UK-based Sony team again to see if I could get some rationality and common sense and again after an extended wait I then received a call, during which I again expressed my disappointment with the time taken to resolve my issue and also with the inconsistent messages coming from the company’s various departments. The customer service agent did eventually agree to waive the logistics cost and arranged for me to receive a call back from the collections team once more.

A day or so later, I received the call, and again I enquired whether to save everyone’s time and effort I could just package up my laptop in the same box as last time. I was told that I couldn’t as I needed a new address label (the possibility of sticking this over the top of the previous one appeared alien).

I then asked whether the DHL courier could wait whilst I packaged up the laptop, but again the only scripted response I received was that he would need to leave and I would need to phone to arrange a new pick up. With no alternative I had to again follow this ridiculous process, phoning DHL to arrange pick up almost immediately after the original driver had left the building.

Two more days passed, before I received the call from offshore advising of the cost…it had gone up, and was now going to cost me £343.26.

I again had to call Sony, to ask why on Earth this cost had risen and they confirmed that a logistics charge applied. After checking with their supervisor, they agreed to remove it, bringing the cost down to the previously quoted amount.

I now await delivery of the repaired laptop so I can go about the process of getting everything off it,  restoring it to factory settings (if it isn’t already in that state) and then getting shot of one arm of Sony’s hideously admin-heavy, customer-unfriendly corporation from my life.

So that’s it then. One of the biggest companies across the globe has finally lost my business. And do they care? Doesn’t look that way. The majority of responses have been hugely scripted with no research into an individual’s issue and zero personal service.

I don’t necessarily expect Sony to be be less than faceless due to their size but there ARE plenty of companies out there these days that deliver a personal touch. Take Virgin, O2 or Tesco for example to see a classy, modern online customer service strategy in action. Instead, Sony make the customer jump through hoops, forever implying that they are in the wrong and charging hideous fees for anything that doesn’t suit their approach to warranty-related repairs.

All I can say is thank you Sony. Thanks for the previous 20 years, but no thank you to the next 20. I’ve spent a lot of money with you over the years and recommended others do the same, but that isn’t going to happen any more.

The Greatest Show On Earth – Part Two

St Pancras International

St Pancras International getting into the Olympic spirit.

After the Olympics threw up such a stunningly golden day for Great Britain, I was full of anticipation leading into the event that I was due to attend on the Sunday afternoon. I was also pleased to know that if the previous day was anything to go by, my public transport fears would also be well and truly allayed.

Setting off from Croydon, I decided to take the scenic route to the ExCel Arena. The Olympic organisers had been trying to discourage people from using London Bridge Station after identifying it as a hot-spot for potential congestion, but ignoring this advice, i was pleased to see that it wasn’t too full at all. Quickly diverting to the tube, the Jubilee line took me efficiently to North Greenwich, and it was at this point I realised just how well planned the whole event was. Every route map of the City, in tube carriages, at stations, on buses, had all been replaced by new ones highlighting (in the Olympic brand purple) where to go for every Olympic venue. This must have been a mammoth undertaking and no expense was spared; these weren’t just stickers over the top of existing maps, every last one had been re-printed and replaced.

Secondly, Olympic ticket holders had all been supplied with a Travelcard for use on the day of their events. This one gesture probably saved hours upon hours of confusion and queuing, preventing tourists from having to try to figure out for themselves which ticket they needed to travel across town. A simple touch but one that no doubt worked a treat.

The Emirates Air Line

High wire fun at Olympic time.

On arriving at North Greenwich I made the decision to try the new Emirates Air Line. A £60million, one kilometre cable car trip over the Thames, the Air Line links the Greenwich Peninsula with the Royal Docks. Originally, it wasn’t intended to be ready for the Olympic Games, but as it provided such a handy (and gimmicky) route straight to the ExCel, I scanned my Oyster card and boarded a pod. Departing every 15 seconds, the cable cars take passengers over 90 metres into the air, showing them stunning views across the City. Admittedly on this particular day it was a little moist to truly get a clear view, nevertheless it proved to be a quick and thrilling route to my venue.

Despite knowing it was unlikely that Team GB had an athlete capable enough to enter into the Greco-Roman wrestling tournament, I still looked forward to seeing something that won’t often be seen on these shores in my lifetime. The venue itself is absolutely enormous, and needed to be whilst playing host to so many spectators watching all forms of martial arts as well as boxing and fencing among others.

My tickets allowed me to see the 55kg and 74kg wrestlers compete across three mats in the ExCel’s North Arena 2, and after a brief run through of the rules and regulations, it was all systems go. Initially baffling, the first round saw three matches being competed simultaneously, so it was tricky to focus on one individual or match up. Nevertheless, you were soon warned to interesting goings on in another bout by the crowd’s roar and so the frenetic action was easy enough to follow.

Greco-Roman Wrestling

Olympic-level cuddling.

Progressing quickly through to the quarter-final matches where only one bout occurred at any one time, I was then pleasantly surprised to see that in a change to the published schedule, the semi-finals were also going to be part of my session. The crowd in these later matches started picking their favourites and really hollering them along, whether they were old or young, British or Hungarian, there was a great atmosphere and a true Olympic spirit.

After the matches had finished, we were pointed efficiently towards public transport routes and I picked the Docklands Light Railway to get back to Bank from where I could get the tube towards King’s Cross. Sitting at the front of the driver-less DLR, I was reminded of how long it had been since I was last a tourist in our capital and also how much the place now has to offer with iconic sights everywhere.

After a couple of quiet pints of Suffolk cider in The Betjeman Arms in St Pancras International Station, watching the Eurostar trains come and go, I meandered to Euston and headed home, thrilled with every aspect of my first and maybe only Olympic experience.

So far, criticisms of the Games have come from all sources. Some say the events are elitist niche sports which the every-man on the street couldn’t possibly aspire to be a part of. I can’t disagree more on this; anyone can walk, run and even jump if they put their mind to it and if they put enough hard work into being the best they can possibly be. I agree that fencing and dressage may be a little pricey for the average punter to take part in, but that hasn’t hampered my enjoyment of watching events unfold at all.

I can honestly say that I will be sad to see the end of these Games. They may not have been as flashy as Sydney or Beijing but by God they’ve shown what Britain can do, both on and off the track. This truly is something for us and our children to be immensely proud of for many, many years to come.

The Greatest Show On Earth – Part One

Hyde Park - BT London Live

Hyde Park – BT London Live

I still remember where I was when it was announced that London had been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. It was Wednesday 6th July 2005, and I was about to be made redundant from my job. Topping that, the very next day, some idiots decided to set about blowing up half of London’s transport network. As much of  a juxtaposed euphoric high and terrible low as you can imagine, suddenly the enormity of what London was taking on became clear and the seven years to play with almost didn’t seem long enough.

Fast forward to 2011 and after the police shot dead Mark Duggan, riots erupted in the capital and across the country. One year away from the Olympic Games and England had become some sort of feral wasteland. Surely there was no coming back from this?

I’m proud to say that the country would not be beaten. The British media have desperately tried to destroy the event before it even kicked off, claiming Danny Boyle’s opening shindig would be too ambitious, that the weather would be the worst in human history, and that security would be abysmal. I’ve debated with many (including Doctor Who companion Peri, via Twitter, randomly) whether these stories are truly in the public interest or whether the press were just desperate to derail the games and give themselves more headlines throughout the month. I for one truly believe that media and public alike should unite behind such a once in a lifetime event,  and at this point, I’m pleased to report that all of the media scaremongering hasn’t proven to be true. The only headlines we have been seeing are about the fulfilment of golden dreams.

I admit that the event hasn’t been without its teething problems. I’ve been to four Olympic football matches at Old Trafford and have seen some shoddy organisation. From slow moving frisking queues and rammed trams through to the unforgivable lack of pies before half the matches had even kicked off, you’d expect better. Even so, the atmosphere at the events has been nothing short of electric, and these specifics appear more the fault of Old Trafford and Metrolink (who really should know how to cater for large crowds) rather than the Olympic organisers themselves.

But football 200 miles from the main event isn’t really what it’s all about and this weekend I was privileged enough to journey down to London to soak up some of the Olympic buzz. And what a weekend to do so.

The event for which I had tickets, the Greco-Roman Wrestling, was on Sunday, so I decided to travel down on Saturday morning. The Virgin train was typically rapid and pulling into Euston at midday I could already see the huge number of purple-shirted Olympic helpers, pointing punters in the right direction with a smile and a giant foam hand.

My intention was to head towards Hyde Park where the BT London Live event was showing loads of the action on multiple big screens, mixed with some live music and special guests. Knowing that the triathlon had taken place in and around Hyde Park earlier that morning, I was dreading how awful and crowded everything was going to be, but getting the tube from Russell Square to Hyde Park Corner was effortless. Straight away, you could see how much thought had gone in to moving people around quickly and efficiently. Regular readers will know my thoughts on how the general public can be zombies at the best of times so it was pleasing to see that megaphoned transport workers were ensuring all spaces were filled and that people kept on moving, all the while keeping a smile on their faces.

Getting to Hyde Park, I had to wait to cross a couple of inner park paths whilst cyclists zoomed through but again, the crowd control workers were friendly and chatty, making the experience far more pleasant than it had any right to be. Arriving at the gates to the Hyde Park event I was again filled with dread at the prospect of queuing for hours to get through the airport-style security. I had my man bag with me with all manner of weekend essentials inside; iPad, tail shine, bullet belt. Yes, I was one of those people they really hate when it comes to prohibited items and general idiocy. But once again, all fears were unfounded. I found a queue that was short and the guys and girls on the gate were polite and friendly, allowing me to nip through the scanners in no time at all.

It was a gloriously sunny day at this point, made all the more wondrous by the buzz around the park. Although not as full as it would be later that night for the big athletics finals, the crowds were certainly gathering and picking a decent spec was tricky. Eventually we plonked ourselves on a picnic table next to one of the screens and took in some tennis and hockey whilst relaying beers back to the group from one of the nearby bars. Once again, the refreshment side of things was where the organisation was let down a little, as despite beer pumping machines churning out 20 pints at a time, the tent always seemed to be devoid of Heineken and the staff appeared to be more interested in flogging souvenir cups than any actual liquids. I found out later that they had a competition going to see who could sell the most cups, which wasn’t really in the spirit of the whole event.

Nevertheless, with careful queue picking, getting a little snifter in wasn’t too tricky (but was pricey) and as the sun shone down on us and our new multinational friends (hello American lady and random table of Dutch folk!) we soaked up sports from all around the event, checking in for golds over on the cycling screen, a live appearance on stage from Sir Bradley of Wiggins and even a set from snotty upstarts McFly.

Having over-indulged in sun and shenanigans it was time to head out to my accommodation and once again, all was well. A short walk to Victoria and a train to East Croydon was simple, and with every stop the news of further medals kept the atmosphere electric.

Rounding off the day with Ennis and Farah’s heroics on the track, Saturday 4th August had truly been momentous, and I was honoured to have played a small part, all before I had even attended the event for which I had travelled…

Modern Life Is Rubbish

I always feel a little resentful on the day I part with another £100 monthly train & tram ticket, but when it’s a Monday as well, you know it’s not going to be much fun.

I do think though that things could be so much better if people were more considerate and less incompetent.

I know I bleat on about First Manchester’s godawful peasant wagons but it only takes a few small tweaks to make things at least 50% better. At the moment, the things turn up late with the wrong number and/or destination on the front and the driver never has any change. Surely better training, better punctuality and greater attention to detail can’t be too hard to find?

At train stations, I know why there aren’t any bins, but what are the alternatives? Why hasn’t some genius thought up a way to prevent the strewn Metros, Gregg’s coffee cups and heart attack pasty wrappers from littering the platforms? And while they’re at it they may like to consider enforcing that smoking ban they’re so keen to bang an auto announcement out about too.

None of this is of course helped by the general public. I don’t think I can remember the last time a polite hand stifled a yawn or smothered a hacking cough. Instead there seems to be a competition going on to see who can contort their face the most whilst bellowing out a noisy yawn or how far it’s possible to shower one’s infected bodily fluids over others.

People should all have one basic mantra to live by; go about your business in a manner that respects others. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much of this going on anymore.

Instead we’re left with a place that no-one cares about anymore. A place so run-down and poverty stricken that it may as well be in the third world. The cost of basic foodstuffs goes up whilst unemployment does the same. The attitude of your average man on the street is no longer full of the Bulldog spirit, it’s one of thinking they are owed all the trinkets they desire rather than having to work for them. The whole mentality of this country is wrong.

As it stands, this country doesn’t need multi-million pound infrastructure investment anymore, it needs to be taken out the back and put out of its misery.

Solving Problems On Britain’s Train Lines: Free Consultancy For National Rail

As a child I was taken to Bristol Temple Meads station during the summer holidays and would while away hours spotting some of the majestic steam and diesel locomotives that powered much of our great nation. Noting down their names and numbers in my notebook, this was a great, simple (and presumably cheap for my parents) pleasure in an age before cameraphones and Netscape Navigator, but it was all good clean, harmless fun.

Since the glory days of the mid 80s locomotive movement and the subsequent privatisation of the entire network, it could be argued that things have gotten a little silly on Britain’s trains. I for one have been using regular services into and out of Manchester for the past 11 years and before that was a frequent flyer (railer?) on trains between Sheffield and Bristol in my University days. Regular readers will be familiar with my trials and tribulations aboard the old puffers, but I thought it was time to stop moaning about the quality of the service (or lack thereof) and instead focus on a few ways in which I can help to make the whole kaboodle better. Listen up National Rail, this one’s for you.

1) Trespassers on the line.

There have been a few times when my trains have inexplicably slowed down and even stopped, even on short 15 minute journeys. After sitting there for a while presuming there had been a signal failure or somesuch, the conductor has then announced that there have been reports of “trespassers on the line” meaning the train has to either stop or run at a reduced speed. Now, to me this just means that these trespassers (whoever they may be) aren’t going to be taught a lesson, as they will have succeeded in delaying hundreds of people who are going about their daily business. My suggestion, therefore is that the trains should actually speed up, thus scaring the pubic hairs (if they have them) from these urchins. I’ve been on board a train when it’s hit someone and despite a bit of a bump (imagine a truck going over a large bag of cow legs) and a lengthy delay to hose down the nosecone, little harm was done, so I see no real reason why this delay cannot be overcome.

2) Ditherers

The act (or art) of boarding a train is relatively simple. You should stand next to the soon-to-be-open doors, allowing plenty of room for people/pushchairs/Bromptons to disembark before filing on politely and making your way to a seat or a standing position WITH AWARENESS FOR HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE STILL TO BOARD BEHIND YOU. There are many issues that can confuse matters including a) trying to find your reserved seat, b) not knowing if you’re on the right train and of course c) trying to get on a busy commuter train with a week’s worth of shopping or a full-sized mountain bike.

All three elements cause dithering as people look up and down the carriage trying to ascertain, Crystal Maze-style ‘what they have to do.’ I propose what is essentially, again, a quick and easy solution; cattle prods. Just as UEFA employs additional touchline officials at major tournaments, surely Britain’s train operators can employ additional conductors (I’m solving Britain’s unemployment crisis here too) to keep an eye on problem doors and ‘encourage’ anyone taking too long (I’m flexible on what the dither-time cut off should be) by giving them a short sharp shock?

3) Platform Alterations

One of the main issues that delays trains is the amount of people concentrating more on their Android mobiles and Dr Dre headphones than they are on boarding a locomotive. I would, therefore encourage more platform alterations to keep people on their toes and get them to pay attention. It’s pretty dull that I know each and every night that my 1756 train departs from Platform 3. It’s been going on for a while now, and in all honesty, I’d quite like a change, so why not mix it up? Maybe try a rogue Wednesday on Platform 10 (training people how to get on at an even-numbered platform in the process) The amount of drones left behind due to a lack of awareness would only serve to free up more space for us sensible folk and ensure that the conductor isn’t stood waiting for Jemima Waddleduck to trot up at the last-minute with her 15 Primark bags and 29 children. She would still be quacking away on Platform 3 unaware of the possibility that the train isn’t always as predictable as her.

So there we have it, three simple suggestions, and I know there will be a lot more. If only National Rail, Network Rail, or whoever bothers turning up to work in the morning and pretending to run our train lines would pay attention, I don’t hesitate to think that Britain would be a far, far better place.

Ticketing Websites – Creating A Racket From A Racket

This won’t be a surprise to anyone and it’s certainly nothing new, but it never fails to annoy and frustrate me when ticketing websites are less than clear and honest about just what we pay them our hard earned cash to do.

I used to buy gig tickets from the ticket counter of good old Our Price in Bristol. From there, you could not only get your ticket but have a chat with the staff about other upcoming local gigs and even buy coach travel to some of the further afield venues. It seemed to be a good, fair and relatively cheap experience and ensured that even as cash-strapped youngsters we could still get out to support live music. I remember specifically that a ticket to see Ash cost £5 with a 50p booking fee. A reasonable deal, I would say.

It appears that people do still go and buy tickets in person from ticket offices but only when the gig in question is likely to be a hotly sought after one. I’m guessing too that a fee is still charged to book tickets in this way, so for the sake of staying warm and dry and not having to queue for 12 hours, I don’t mind paying a bit more for the tickets to be bought online and posted to me, but some costs are just unfathomable.

The David Haye v Dereck Chisora fight at Upton Park is a current example. A top priced ticket is £220, in the block right next to the ring. This amount alone is staggering, but I guess that is down to the promoter to sort out. Standard post for this ticket is £2.75, but if you click on the expandable area next to the price, it informs you that of the £220, £20 is a “Service Charge.” Service Charge for what?!?! I’m not naive enough to think that a show doesn’t cost a lot to put on. There are a whole host of people who need paying from the performers, artists and sports stars all the way through to lighting technicians, stewards and drivers, but isn’t this covered in the ticket price? And if it is, are we paying £20 per ticket for someone to print a slip of cardboard (or sometimes just paper) and put it in an envelope with a label on it? Oh and don’t forget we’ll also be charged an additional £2.75 for a 60p First Class stamp.

It’s not just pricey for such large-scale events either. For a medium-sized gig at Manchester Apollo, (in this case Blink 182, picked at random) the price is £37.75, £32.50 per ticket, plus £5.25 in magical “fees”, plus £3.25 standard post. Hang on, why is it a different price to post this one out? Does it come in a gold-plated envelope? Maybe it is sealed with the tear from a unicorn? Perhaps only Ticketmaster themselves know the answer.

There’s also the excellent idea (in theory) of being able to get your tickets almost immediately with the print your own TicketFast service, whereby an email is sent to you with your ticket as an attachment. But wait! This costs £3.25 too!!! £3.25 to send an email?!?! Plus, it then costs you in paper, ink and effort to print the thing yourself. I’m really not sure why anyone would bother? Surely the ethical thing for ticketing companies to do would be to make this delivery option free?

There are also, of course, the “optional” extras such as Mondial Assistance Missed Event insurance at  £2.99 per ticket, which is massively highlighted, and I’m pretty sure used to be pre-selected so you had to click to remove it from your order. A bit like how Payment Protection Insurance used to be sold, and we all know what happened on THAT front. This insurance covers you in case you can’t make the gig for whatever reason, because obviously nobody ever tries to just sell on their tickets if they can’t attend now do they?

For years now, re-selling tickets on eBay has been condoned as mindless profiteering but there are a couple of issues with this statement. Firstly, gig tickets are generally non-refundable, so if you genuinely cannot attend for whatever reason, you have little choice other than to sell the ticket on, unless you’re with good old Mondial Assistance of course. And if the show is sold out and attracting high bids on eBay, you would be a fool not to try and get as much as possible for it.

Secondly, deliberately buying sought after tickets solely to sell on eBay only happens because people are willing to pay ridiculous sums for them.

Thirdly, touts are allowed to operate outside pretty much every gig and show I’ve ever been to, and these people offer ridiculously small amounts of cash for spare tickets, only to sell them on for massive profits. Again, they only operate because people are willing to use them, and venues appear to be unwilling to do anything about a transaction which according to ticket Ts and Cs is illegal.

To counteract the eBay issue, Ticketmaster appear to be running their own demand-based pricing model. I recently attempted to get tickets to Lady Gaga’s show in Manchester (I know, but I just adore her stance on masculine empowerment), and after numerous attempts I was surprised to be let through to a screen where I could buy some. Looking a bit more closely, these were listed as “Ticketmaster Official Platinum Tickets.” I hadn’t heard of this before so I read on. Ticketmaster describe these as “premium tickets to concerts and other events made available by artists and event providers through Ticketmaster. They give fans fair and safe access to some of the best seats in the house.” Hmmm, sounds like any other ticket that goes on sale through a ticketing agency doesn’t it? Only these are Platinum (capital P). Meaning they cost around SIX TIMES MORE than normal tickets.

I was utterly shocked by this. It seems that Ticketmaster are sub-contracting to themselves to sell the better seats and areas to gigs at even more of a profit, justifying it by claiming “Ticketmaster’s Official Platinum Tickets program enables market-based pricing (adjusting prices according to supply and demand) for live event tickets, similar to how airline tickets and hotel rooms are sold.”

Ticketmaster continue “The goal is to give the most passionate fans fair and safe access to the best tickets, while enabling artists and other people involved in staging live events to price tickets closer to their true value.” This translates as “We aim to rip off the most desperate fans by holding back the best tickets so that we can keep an eye on eBay prices and make just as much ourselves.” What an absolutely outrageous thing for the biggest ticket seller in the UK to do. And the nerve of them to call it “fair and safe” when in reality they are just as bad as any tout in the game only serves to increase my contempt for them.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Government looked into ticket pricing and fees, but the only result of that enquiry was to make it clearer how much of the ticket price was taken in fees. Companies continue to screw over those who are keeping the live music industry alive, and unfortunately they’ll continue to do so for as long as gullible idiots pay such extortionate prices to get their musical fix.

Litter – How Can We Keep Britain Tidy?

Watching BBC Breakfast a couple of weeks ago, I was pleased to see a prominent feature about reducing litter on Britain’s streets.

I remember the glory days of the Keep Britain Tidy campaign in the mid-80s at a time when the organisation had just become a limited company. Teaching kids to tidy up after themselves was de rigueur in schools across the land and it became part and parcel of getting the country to smarten up its act despite a lot of deprivation. The campaign at the time made sense – a lot of people were holidaying in Britain to save money, so it was only right that we should keep the place neat and tidy for ourselves. Beaches at the time were also taking a slating and the impact of the campaign had a positive knock-on effect to these too.

But in the last decade, or possibly a little longer, standards have really slipped. This itself seems odd as it’s happened at a time when recycling has really taken off. Initial dismay towards fortnightly rubbish collections have turned into an appreciation for making sure as much waste material goes to the right place as possible, but nevertheless council cost-cutting has seen bins overflowing and city centre collections and street cleaning teams reduced in number, letting litter fly around the streets like there’s been a zombie apocalypse. In Scotland alone, around £100 millions is being spent each year on tidying up after litterers, money which could be far better spent on other economic issues.

So why do people litter in the first place? The main reason appears to be that most people really don’t deem what they are doing to be wrong. I will guarantee you that you could go to any major train station on any given morning and see a commuter drop a used Metro newspaper onto a bench. Who do they think is going to pick this up and take it away for them? Some sort of newspaper-hoarding goblin? Maybe part of the problem is that because they haven’t paid for it, they don’t really care about what happens to it. The Metro gets left everywhere as well, from seats on trains to station platforms to Starbucks tables. It got so bad a couple of years back that The Metro themselves were forced to remind people that leaving it “for someone else to read” isn’t recycling, it’s littering, with a poster campaign on trains and buses.

Another major culprit in Litter Britain is the blue and white delight, the paper Greggs bag. Not content with destroying their arteries with grease-sprayed sausage rolls, people seem only too eager to just dump the wrapper on the floor or on the nearest wall. Yes, it’s paper but that doesn’t mean it miraculously turns into nothingness when out of a human’s grasp. Similarly, fruit remnants get left almost everywhere. Again, I appreciate this is recyclable material, but a banana skin on a pavement is not going  to bio-degrade overnight.

The problem in Britain is that no-one really knows what the solution to this is? One obvious one is to use those who litter as an example. Some community service programmes already get criminals to clean up certain litter eye-sores and this is a great way to punish those who exhibit anti-social behaviour and also to help communities. But it doesn’t really hit those who litter in the first place. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone get a talking to from a policeman for littering despite all those who pull the wrapper off their fag packet and instantly let it slip from their hand and blow away in the wind. I would whole-heartedly support big fines for littering as long as it was properly and sensibly enforced.

Alternatively, it would be great to get kids more involved again. I strongly believe that one of the reasons I don’t chuck my trash onto the pavement is because of the way I was brought up. I remember on one school camp we went to some sort of adventure park where the owners of the place encouraged kids to collect empty drinks cans and get rewarded with different badges depending on how many they brought back to drop-off points. There was an absolute mad scramble to collect all the different badges and it made the whole situation fun. Okay, so maybe I was an unwitting victim of child slave labour, and maybe the park in question just couldn’t afford their own wardens, but even so, it gave us children an awareness about where litter should and shouldn’t go.

I want to be proud of my country again, but at the moment I’m disgusted by it everytime I set foot outside of my front door.