Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Personal belongings

I travel by train a lot now. Rail travel has changed in many ways since my travels with my chimp. Firstly, you're no longer allowed to open the train doors for yourself. Secondly, they cram a lot more people in and people tend to be rather bad tempered. Thirdly - hey, it's not all bad! - if you are a small child, and fall over, you don't get up from the floor black with ground in fag ash, as I seem to recall often happened to me when I was one. And fourthly, the toilets are slightly more civilised. Teflon - what a brainwave. Many trains now have pumpout toilets in preference to the rail version of a sea toilet (see, boating reference), which has to be good for trackside wildlife but is not so good on the way home when the tank's full and they just lock the doors and pretend someone's been in there for an hour and a quarter. Also, I do not trust the ones with automatic doors with electronic locking. Oh no; I like a bolt you can see, thank you very much.

Fifthly, there are masses more announcements now; non-stop anouncements. Automated announcements that stop and start randomly. Sometimes these are useful - for example, being told which carriage you are in when you need to be in the front four is long overdue. Their usefulness however is predicated entirely on their being accurate, and you can never be quite sure that the person in charge has pressed the right button. The automated display telling you 'the next station is Gatwick Airport' even as you draw into Victoria does not inspire confidence. But all of this is a lead up to two points about announcements that I really want to mention.

The first is about recorded anouncements on stations, rather than on trains. I don't know what it's like in other parts of the country, but the practice on Southern (lets call it the LBSCR, it sounds much nicer) seems to be to get station staff to record the messages that are then broadcast over the next few months. I have visions of a new edict coming in (a recent favourite has been 'passengers are reminded that ordinary bicycles cannot be conveyed on Southern trains' between certain hours, but folding bicycles can be, 'provided they are fully folded.') and the managers asking each other, 'Who shall we get to read this one?' 'How about Stan? He's got the worst speech impediment...' 'True, but Bob has a lovely boring monotone..' And they really say 'conveyed'. Plus they keep alive the term 'alight from' long after it has passed from use everywhere else. In fact they have all sorts of tortuous formations. A bete noire of mine is 'calling at Lewes, where the train will then divide.' That 'then' is utterly redundant.

But finally, my favourite is an actual live - albeit obviously scripted announcement - made by the guard (or whatever they call them now. Train bloody Manager?): 'If you are leaving the train at this station please make sure you have all your personal belongings with you.' To which the only proper response is to adopt a slightly panicked expression, look around you increasingly frantically, and then cry desperately 'Oh no. I've left most of mine at home!'


Adam said...

All these announcements make it much more difficult to get a decent sleep on the way home from a night shift. (But I have to say that South West Trains are far worse than Southern: they've even got one explaining about the quiet carriage.)

My favourite announcement happened a few weeks ago at Haywards Heath, where the Chichester train has one from Hastings or Eastbourne or somewhere joined to the back of it. "Please remain seated while the attachment takes place. There will be a small jerk at the back of the train during the attachment -- but don't worry about him, he's just Mark, the other guard".

Anonymous said...

Travelling daily to Nottingham I used to love the announcement of the 'Boat train', hastening between Manchester Piccadilly and "Harry witch Parky stone queh", and always before Christmas some wags would hijack the mike for spontaneous carol singing, possibly somewhat the worse for drink. Ah happy days!