In the shadow of Heathrow

2006-08-27-132411

Right on cue the air screams with the vibrations of a timely plane as it passes overhead, seemingly close enough to reach out and touch. This is Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world and arrivals and departures number in the seconds not in the minutes. Believe it or not you do tune it out to some degree but the sight of the giant metal Avians littering the sky is a familiar one and one you expect of a bustling city like London. Being somewhat of a country bumpkin myself i nevertheless feel very at home in my city second home and thrill in the vibrant diversity of it all. The hustle and bustle feels very compact and crammed in , with every available space untilised to the maximum and hardly a green space to be seen unless it be of the grass verge variety. Or so i thought.

061258s
Following a maze of urban streets you step through the gates of a city park and are instantly transported to rural heaven. Along winding tree lined avenues, following the wild overgrowth of the River Crane, you would believe yourself to be in the heart of the British countryside and not infact in the depths of the largest city in England. Butterflies wheel and spin, vying for airspace as they dance their fluttering dance across the heat shimmering sky. The air of silence is oddly shattered by the alternating sounds of the overhead jet engines interspersed with the raucous cries of squabbling magpies. Crossing an elderly bridge to gaze down at rippling water and contemplate a game of ‘Pooh Sticks’ before turning a corner and stepping back in time.

St Dunstans church nestles serenely in a sunlit corner of the park showing visible signs of age yet none the less impressive for all that. Splitting wood and age worn gravestones announce proudly that this elderly house of god has been there for many more years than you and i could contemplate.

”Come inside” it smiles invitingly, like some beneign old grandfather welcoming you around for tea. Who are we to refuse and we walk carefully around the grounds interestedly peering at those gravestones visible enough to still be read. Yes old it is and the gravestones lay testament to its age. Who were you we wonder as we pause by first one and then many more of the higgley piggledy scattering of stones. Serene and welcoming and cause indeed to linger a while before continuing on our way.

Crane-Meadows
Much of a surprise then to round a corner and see undeveloped land as far as the eye can see. The alien bulk of a distant control tower the only blight on the otherwise rural looking landscape. Golden fields ripple in the gentle breeze leading to enticing looking tunnels of trees and yet more green and golden expanse. A flash to the right as a little grey body makes a dash for cover, white fluffy tail bouncing madly as it makes a bid for safety.

Bunnies!!

Yet another and then two more as they pause to consider our motives before either fleeing or dismissing us of no consequence and remaining as they were. We briefly halt our progress and tarry a moment to consider them as they in turn watch us a little warily but do not flee. Another is not so bold and dashes for the safety of a large patch of undergrowth yet perhaps it was not us who sent him there as a large magpie hops madly around upon the path infront of us. Just about to perform my usual superstitious salute i spot another and lower my arm in relief. The area is almost deserted compared to the overpopulated urban madness not a stones throw away, yet here it is peaceful and only the odd passing stranger indicates that we are not totally alone. Along the river we wander before out into the wide golden wilderness we step once more. Some thoughtful soul has cut a wonderful path of crossroads within the expanse and some time is spent wandering first one way and then another , randomly taking first one turning and then a  second. The bunnies give way to a lone kestrel soaring in the evening sky, clearly it is time for dinner and we are too far away to disturb his efforts and so he pays us no heed. Look another and yet another and still one more! Six we count in all and they swoop and soar in the warm evening air first gliding landwards before flapping madly to hold in some advantageous position. Glorious they are and so many is a sight to see but secretly i pray ‘dont catch a bunny, oh PLEASE don’t catch a bunny! ‘
kestrel
Again the raucous call of a bullying magpie as a tag team of the embullient avians lay chase to an unfortunate Kestrel. Clearly laying ownership to a small tree they are having none of the poor Kestrels attempts to gain perch there for some small moment of time. Two against one is no match and in defeat he wheels away to seemingly float upon the night sky with his bretheren. Pause for a ‘selfie’ for posterity and then it is time to let those jet engines intrude once more as the rural hideaway fades and urban life encroaches once more. How magical to find such a place so hidden from view in a most unexpected place and one i hope i shall visit again sometime in the future.

Lo-commotion

spoiled-brat

Being a regular train passenger means i definitely do get to meet my fair share of characters. Christmas eve therefore was defintely likely to be one of those events that i was likely to encounter those fellow travellers designed to stay in memory. The terrible storms of the previous few days did nothing to help the travelling conditions and as cancellation after cancellation flashed up on the deparature board even laid back little old me began to become a little worried. 

”I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when i’ll be back agaaaaaiin” i yowled tunelessly.

I know i cannot sing and although i was not infact actually going on a plane at all, nevertheless i was looking forward to my destination and happily crucified a much liked song. My singing has been likened in the past to a strangled cat, a fact i announce quite proudly for i happily admit i am tone deaf and could not carry a tune in a bucket. Stil since i am never likely to be dragged kicking and screaming onto X Factor and nobody but my cats have to hear, i quite happily launch into my very best rendition a la Armageddon style.

”Leaving on a jet plaaane” i screeched merrily, whilst keeping one eye on the train updates for further news. What can i say it was Christmas eve and i was excited! That is my excuse anyway and i shall be firmly sticking to it. 

Checking the train timetables yet again i squawked in horror as my planned train flashed up on screen saying ‘CANCELLED’ followed by a message from the train operators advising passengers to travel earlier than planned and by any route necessary. 

PANIC!!!

Okay, maybe not quite panic for i am far more practical than that and having travelled to London so often these last two years i know every route like the back of my hand. Several swift minutes of  searching left one available route flashing merrily on screen.

‘ON TIME. ON TIME’

The problem was this train left in 40 minutes instead of the two and a half hours i had originally planned on. Standing there in my oversized pyjamas with my hair stuck on end i really was not exactly travel worthy nor fit to be seen in decent society. Now when i say my pyjamas are oversized i MEAN oversized. So after a quick call to the local taxi firm i hurtled for the stairs with great swathes of fabric bunched in one hand, tripped drunkenly over the over long trouser legs and narrowly avoided using my staircase as a prayer mat. I trip over these trousers so often you would think i would throw them into the trash but i cannot bear to part with the tent like comfort of them. With a speed worthy of Wonder Woman i effected a rather miraculous transformation only stopping to lecture myself on the demerits of carrying luggage down a flight of stairs in high heels. 

”Put the shoes on DOWNSTAIRS next time  you dummy” I chided myself ruefully as i clung like a limpit to the bannister with my one free hand. 

Giving myself a mental shake i don an air of sophisticated composure that belies the hurried rush of the previous few minutes. Surverying the mountain of luggage as i slicked on red lipstick i had a momentary doubt as to how i was going to manage the less than small pile sitting waiting to accompany me. A load worthy of Scott of the Antarctic, the amusing thing was that this did not include clothing which was already at its destination. A tooting horn from outside left me frantically gathering up baggage, pausing momentarily to  swiftly swap from arm to arm until i had a balance i could safely totter along with. It all seems such a good idea at the time until you have to actually carry it although i consoled myself with the hoped for reception to the gifts inside. What can i say, i love to give and can easily be accused of going overboard when it comes to gifts but i do not care. Giving is fun. The taxi driver knows me and as we drive along buffeted by the storm force winds he enquires ”London again?”

I nod happily and once at the station gather up the giant luggage bags and stagger towards an elevator. THEN comes the spanner in the works….they cancelled my train!!! 

”Noooooooooooooo” i wail in horror, frantically wishing at this point that i had data left on my phone. A passing platform attendant hears me and enquires where i was trying to get to and helps a very relieved me onto a waiting coach outside for the first leg of my journey. I can already feel myself turning green for i do not travel well on buses at all and have a mental image of vomiting into the lap of the gentleman beside me which makes me stifle a hysterical giggle. Oh well it’s only for half an hour i console myself as a rather large gentleman and his equally large partner squeeze themselves along the narrow gangway, bumping everyone as they go. 

A frazzled looking woman dashes for the seat behind me tapping my shoulder as they sit down. 

”Are there toilets on here” She whispers loudly ” i’m dying for a wee and i didnt have time to go in the station”

I shake my head and tell her no and at her wail of dismay enquire where she is going. I feel a pang of sympathy as she tells me her destination is over two hours away and tactfully suggest she plead with the driver to tarry a minute at the next station to allow her to alight and find a bathroom. Thankfully the driver is in a most Christmas like obliging mood and allows the desperate woman to rush from the coach in search of relief. 

Once on the move the conversations of my fellow passengers swirl around my head and i am confessedly nosey enough to listen half interestedly to what they are saying. There is a man rushing to get the last flight to the channel islands behind me sitting next to the now relieved ‘i need a bathroom’ girl. I listen as his rather cultured tones describe his desperate need for the coach to arrive on time for he will be stranded with no way to his destination if it does not. To my right a twenty something lad telephones his obviously clucking mother to reassure her that he is on his way whilst my heart feels for the man and his daughter infront who are trying desperately to get to the nearby city hospital. So many people all in the same boat, almost all trying to get somewhere for christmas. As i listen i hear some complain, some are resigned and some like me do not care too much about delays just as long as we get to where we are headed. 

Alighting at my station i am relieved to find that one solitary train is due to head for my London destination and i clutch a much needed cup of coffee and wait with those straggling few who had dared to take a chance on getting a train. A smilingly apologetic platform attendant flits from person to person enquiring on destination and offering solace to those waiting to depart. As yet another train is cancelled and replaced by a bus, a man at a nearby table explodes in anger and thumps his fist onto the table infront of him. He does not want to get on a bus he shouts although i gently point out that i have just come from that way and the journey was fine. He is not to be mollified, he wants a train and not a bus though i cannot understand why since does it really matter HOW you get there just so long as you do?

Relieved i gather up my baggage as the train to London is announced, abandoning my much wanted coffee when i discover i do not infact have a free hand to carry it. Tottering along like a japanese geisha i am startled by a twenty something guy clutching a coffee who offers to carry one of my bags for me since it seems obvious i am rather overloaded. There is plenty of time to board and i am not too far from the train so i smile and thank him and assure him i can manage. Eyeing his coffee i cannot help but wish i could have managed to carry my own for i am very much in need of it and i have a long way yet to go. Thankfully the carriage is not infact the crush i had expected, instead being almost empty and as i reach for my tablet to read a book i am relieved at the thought of a nice peaceful journey. 

Did i say peaceful?

”I dont WANT to sit in the middle” Hollers a scowling little darling, blonde pigtails bouncing furiously as she mutinously shakes her head. She climbs determinedly into the seat across the aisle from me defiantly folding her arms infront of her. My heart sinks and i mentally wave goodby to my peaceful trip. A woman i can only assume is her mother rushes back from the middle of the train and pleads with the child to move offering colouring books as a proverbial carrot to persuade her. Miss pigtails is having none of the womans wheedling and announces even more loudly that she is NOT moving and intends to occupy her current seat for the entire journey. 

Oh great! 

”Please darling, come and sit with mummy and we can look at a book together” the woman desperately pleads.

As the child still resists she admits defeat and wanders back to the side of her male companion whilst Miss pigtails stands up in her seat and bellows to her father that she wishes them to move and sit where she has chosen. His refusal brings forth loud wailing which he ignores until catching the expressions of the other passengers upon which he leaps from his seat and barks at the child to move. Surprisingly she does and i heave a sigh of relief before an older woman throws herself into the seat opposite.  i smile politely and continue reading my book but it seems she clearly is something of a chatterbox and does not care if i wish to read in peace. 

Ten minutes pass as i politely answer her questions and engage reluctantly in the conversation she seems to seek before trying to get back to my much enjoyed book. She however has other ideas and continues to talk incessantly and i abandon all hope of my quiet trip and i had hoped. Flicking through a magazine reading my stars i am startled when the woman pulls my magazine down with one finger and announces ”oh im a virgo are you looking at your stars??”

My mouth drops open in surprise and i mumble that yes i am just having a quick glance although i only partly believe in them. Still she tries to peer at my magazine until i at last offer it to her hoping she will read it and leave me in peace. 

”Oh MY” She exclaims loudly, leaning across the table and waving the magazine at me. ”How could anyone actually DO that to someone?”

I mumble something non commital and return to my book but it seems she is not finished for she again exclaims loudly and wafts the pages in my direction. Inwardly i am muttering with a diatribe worthy of the cartooned Mutley although i refrain from grinding my teeth since this might be rather audible. 

SHUT UP!!!! PLEASE!!! 

I am not so rude as to say it though. Generally i am very sociable and will politely talk to anyone but right at this time i just wanted to quietly read and get the journey over. As time passed and the refreshments arrived she eventually subsided into her tea and magazine and i quickly produced another incase she should read faster than i hoped. 

Peace at last. 

I journey a lot and never fail to meet a character or two on my way and most make me smile although some i should like to never meet again. But as my train slowed for its final stop and a smile crept on to my face, a beaming elderly man wished me a merry christmas and gave me a wave. I grinned back at wished him the same then happily departed from my Lo-commotion journey. 

On the wrong track

The rhythmic rattling and jolting draws nearer as the train lurches steadily towards the station. A surge of people, already pushing and shoving, rush for the doors of the not yet stationary transportation. A groan echoes up and down the platform as the doors open revealing a crush of people in the doorway, grimy windows revealing the absence of seats in a visibly overfull carriage. Never mind, people will be getting off here and making way for those waiting to board and the waiting passengers shift restlessly looking for the chance to break for the slightest sign of a space. One or two alight but not enough to make a difference and the milling crowd jostle to find room.

Standing occupants from previous stops frown in irritation as yet more travellers squeeze into the already claustrophobic space and reluctantly we go with them hoping to find there may be seating after all. Alas it seems the grubby vision was no mirage. Barely even standing room and we are forced to shuffle along the corridor in an uncomfortable crush with other passengers. Sandwiched between a less than pleasantly odoured male and two hysterically giggling teenagers, my personal space was undeniably invaded. The unappealing smell of the nearby toilet mingled with a pervading stink of wet dog from a nearby unidentifiable person making me resort to shallow breathing and covering my mouth with my perfume scented sweater.

                        

You have to expect these conditions in a third world country of course, only this is not a third world country this is Great Britain. In conditions many would regard as only fit for animals we travelled with First Great Western having actually paid to travel this way. As usual only three carriages on a route that frequently leaves passengers standing, yet the train operators themselves refuse to provide adequate seating despite a recent hefty hike in ticket pricing. Perhaps the uncertainty of recent franchise developments have left those thrifty penny pinchers considering their own benefits rather than those of their customers. On this occasion it would defintely seem to be so.

The train pulls in to yet another station and an argument ensues between a current passenger and someone forcibly attempting to join the already overfull doorway. There is nowhere to go and we are almost nose to nose yet the guy on the ground is as determined to board as the other gentleman is not to let him. The new passenger wins and heaves his bulk through the doorway, stepping on a nearby female passengers toes before wedging himself in next to the not very pleasant smelling gentleman.The journey was an interminable torture and the sight of our destination could not have been more welcome. To say it was a relief to disembark was somewhat of an understatement and the rush of fresh air was definitely a pleasant change. I could not help thinking that all it had needed was the presence of a few chickens and a goat and we could truly have been experiencing third world railway travel.

                        Image

Expecting the return journey to be less busy i was in for a rude awakening as yet another heaving train drew into the station and not wishing to repeat the experience we chose to wait the half an hour for the next. When the next proved to be equally as overladen we quite angrily decided to pass and wait for yet another. Watching in disbelief a short time later as the departures screen announced that this next train was also full and standing we quickly realised that another porcine style journey was upon the cards. Then a saviour rolled into the station heading our way. A lovely shiny clean South West Trains service with adequate seating and a pleasant atmosphere and the relief was palpable all round. Travelling home in comfort with coffee and bottoms perched upon comfortable seats where they had paid to be was luxury indeed. In future i for one shall be a lot more particular when selecting the operator i travel with. 

From this passenger and, i imagine, a good many more i give a huge thumbs down to those out of touch personages at First Great Western. To their fellow operator South West Trains, after yet another pleasant journey with them, i give a huge thumbs up and my custom wherever possible. After all if i wanted to travel in third world country style i would buy a goat and travel on a third world country train wouldn’t i? Or maybe i’d just jump on one belonging to First Great Western …..

                   ImageImage

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