Archive | September, 2014

Strangers on a train from Staplehurst. Up to Town!

22 Sep

Staplehurst is a large and sprawling Kentish village with an enormous commuter car-park. It’s fifty minutes or so from the heart of the Kentish Weald to Charing Cross. The throng on the platform at rush-hour gives way to the blue rinse ‘Let’s go to the V & A’ set after 9. I board the sparsely-populated luxury of the 9.51.

When I was a smog-aware lad in the 1950s we called London,  ‘Town’ or ‘The (Big) Smoke’. The latter has been expunged from Southern vocabularies but I found myself using the former unconsciously when making arrangements with my daughter. London to her the centre of the universe, Staplehurst is part of a strange and shadowy hinterland.

Going up to Town still excites, despite a few years of commuting as a youngster and, more recently, watching humourless faces trudging to and fro Staplehurst. The size of the car park indicates the number of human ants scurrying daily to the mammon mound of the capital city.

As for me, I’m scribbling away in my notebook as countryside gives way to cityscape. Whatever is outside the carriage, occasionally diverting as it is, remains reliably neutral. My attention is taken by activity within.

A woman gets on at Paddock Wood, talking loudly on her phone. She’s late for a meeting and is trying to reorganise via, I’m guessing, a PA or secretary. She is flustered. Her child was feigning illness and refused school. The saga went on; she missed the 9.21. She hadn’t got home until 8.30 the previous night. Could her PA reschedule for midday? Her diary was full for the afternoon and she had promised a 6pm pick-up at the childminder’s. That meant catching the 4.40 – latest. Today (a Thursday) she was supposed to work from home anyway. More information rattled across the airwaves and our carriage. More business chat, some social – all of it wearying for her. All of it heard by the rest of us clutching our travelcards and pretending to read the Times.

A man opposite me has fallen asleep. 10.30am. He can’t have been up that long. Like babies we get drowsy with motion it seems. Now the ticket inspector or, more pompously, the train manager appears. ‘Tickets please!’ Ha! Another call from the inner ear of my 1950s nostalgia. This chap is recklessly upbeat. It’s have a nice day gone mad. The 50s certainly weren’t like this. He cheers his way along making a running commentary on his every interaction. “Travelcard, eh! Have a nice day out, madam;  lovely weather, mind you don’t forget your umbrella; sorry we’re a couple of minutes late everyone, thanks …and thank you..and …”

A smart-suited man can’t find his ticket. Cheery inspector waits politely. Then: “Tell you what sir, I’ll go away and check a few more and come back. That usually does the trick. You’ll find it in a pocket you didn’t know you had. It usually works. See you in a minute.”

It didn’t work. But a receipt was found. Back comes Mr Cheerful. Man in suit shows the receipt along with:”You didn’t believe I had bought a ticket did you?” Mr Cheerful’s rejoinder was a stunner.

“I’m a pragmatist sir. I don’t philosophise  about what might or might not have happened to your ticket but you have clear evidence that you bought a ‘weekly’ on Tuesday. That satisfies me – but wheter that receipt will satisfy my colleagues at the Charing Cross ticket barrier is another matter. You need a ticket to escape the station’s clutches.”

An entertaining riposte. Man-in-suit mumbles something inaudible in response to the elegant setting-out of the train manager’s position.

As I am enjoying this command performance we rumble into London Bridge. It is heavy with crane and concrete as it undergoes a huge facelift. The Shard, just a few yards from my window, rises up to heaven and is surrounded by a burgeoning glass city. At ground level high-vis jackets, cement mixers and building detritus litter the area inside and beyond the station. It is a relief when Southwark Cathedral and then Borough Market hove into view.

A stubbled 30-something who boarded the train at London Bridge is talking into thin air. Wires hang from his ears and he is unabashed as he looks around at his carriage companions chatting to someone in the ether. It’s a ‘Fuck this and fuck that and he’s a wanker..’ type of conversation. Funny and just a little disturbing. He catches my glance. I swiftly replace my rural, senior railcard demeanour of disapproval with a slick ‘shit happens’ sneer. I wish I hadn’t shaved. I’m in Town.

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Scoland has decided….now the rest of us have the problems.

19 Sep

I awoke, twelve hours after the last post, to find the UK intact. Now promises must be fulfilled and each part of the federation will be looking to its own interests. The West Lothian question, delivering on ‘Devo Max’, the grumbling from Welsh and Northern Irish and so on. Never mind the General election and Nigel Farage grabbing any high ground he can as the three major (currently) Westminster parties scrabble for disunity in the run-up to next year’s campaign, while having to stick by their  desperate concensus on Scotland’s future.

For all this the energising thing about the night’s events has been the turnout. Over 85% of the enfranchised Scots voted. How brilliant is that? Well done Bravehearts. Well done too to Salmond and Brown, the latter probably swaying things at the death but it appears that there was a silent rump of voters who went for NO to swing the vote firmly that way.

I remain detached as we English are, from the whole thing but I’m pleased that RBS are staying in Edinburgh.

Scotland decides….that’s the problem

18 Sep

simplysorro

Thursday 18th September 2014. A landmark day for St. Andrew’s people – but not if you live anywhere else. And not a landmark day for the Welsh, the Northern Irish or the English. We have no say if one limb wants to hack itself off and diminish the whole. That’s why I can’t summon up much interest in the whole thing. Wrong, I know but the mistakes started a while ago.

Firstly YES is a more inviting word than NO. Never mind Cameron’s stupidity in ruling out ‘Enhanced Devolution’ as a third way, his first gaffe was in agreeing the question to be posed. Why didn’t he fight for ‘Scotland should remain part of the UK’? Then he could have engaged us more with a YES campaign and Salmond would be fighting the NO. Big mistake. If I were a lass or laddie from 16 to 60, I might be tempted by…

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Scotland decides….that’s the problem

18 Sep

Thursday 18th September 2014. A landmark day for St. Andrew’s people – but not if you live anywhere else. And not a landmark day for the Welsh, the Northern Irish or the English. We have no say if one limb wants to hack itself off and diminish the whole. That’s why I can’t summon up much interest in the whole thing. Wrong, I know but the mistakes started a while ago.

Firstly YES is a more inviting word than NO. Never mind Cameron’s stupidity in ruling out ‘Enhanced Devolution’ as a third way, his first gaffe was in agreeing the question to be posed. Why didn’t he fight for ‘Scotland should remain part of the UK’? Then he could have engaged us more with a YES campaign and Salmond would be fighting the NO. Big mistake. If I were a lass or laddie from 16 to 60, I might be tempted by the tub thumping of the SNP. Yes is what all people want to hear in a response to a question from infancy on.

Daddy can I have an ice cream?

Yes my son of course you can.

Three cheers for Daddy!

There followed a number of other errors, not least in allowing Alistair ‘eyebrows’ Darling to lead the appallingly negative NO campaign. Seeing dear old Gordon Brown rise to the challenge in the last week must make Dave and Nick and Ed rue that decision.

As I mistakenly pressed ‘publish’ I had a frisson of the excitement or panic that voters might have north of the border. A huge turnout, we hear; people engaged in politics more than they ever have been. Hmm, not sure that nationalism is quite the same as politics and I hope that, whatever happens, the Scots will remain as fervent in their engagement. I think we English rather feel the cold wind of dislike. Certainly the Westminster toffs haven’t done much to stem the blue fervour. The sense of disenfranchisement in other parts of the UK is palpable. However, apart from a few observations, I’ll leave further thoughts until tomorrow:

1. Alex Salmond – untrustworthy, methinks. I prefer Nicola.

2. The Cameron, Clegg, Milliband axis spun out of control a while ago. Team Gordon so much better.

3. Andy Murray is a bit of a plonker.

4. Will the Welsh and N. Irish take their deficits and leave us with ours?

A beer is needed. And we won’t be chatting about the vote…much.

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