Friday, 26 June 2009

Go where?

Paddington is an exquisite terminus, maybe even sumptuous. However, the people running it have the mean habit of refusing to reveal where their trains are leaving from until 5 minutes before departure. At the best of times this precipitates a rush among the would-be passengers that is unworthy of the surroundings. Moreover, I found a new twist to this on Wednesday. If, as I did, you misread the departure board (for the 9-30 to Bristol Temple Meads, if that adds to the piquancy) you find that there is neither means nor time to retrieve the situation: in the wrong part of the station none of the information you need is displayed, and none of the staff know anything either. Of course, this didn't matter in the slightest; it was only a train, and I took the next one.
But when I was a boy you could expect station staff to know about their trains, and staff in a bookshop to know about their stock, whereas now any such hope is regarded as eccentric, or even unreasonable. It wasn't as if I wanted detailed recommendations ("The 12-30 is an excellent train, sir, you won't go wrong with that. And the claret in the dining car is really most drinkable, but the zinfandel is suspect, I don't think it's been cellared properly"), but they knew nothing. Not their fault, clearly their management intends them to know nothing, but who gains by this?

Friday, 19 June 2009

Return of the native

Last week I had a free day in Kyoto (fabulous place, deserves better than this blog, too hot for tourism) and another in Sapporo (fabulous weather, too dull for tourism). Present-buying was a success: Mitsouko for Mme Inkspot, some junior perfume with an embarrassing name for Mlle I. And the trip back was as unghastly as possible, despite the check-in staff in Sapporo going to a great deal of courteous trouble in an attempt to send me to London and my bag to Paris. [Warning: plug follows.] Air France was a pleasure, with free champagne even in cattle class and some movies well worth watching, despite the tiny screen. I'd thought for ages that I'd seen La Dolce Vita, but that was the sort of self-delusion that leads Jeffrey Archer to believe that he really has an Oxford degree. After all, every gentleman has seen it, and I'm a gentleman, so I've seen it, even though I can't remember exactly when. But it's fabulous, of course, with loads of gorgeous actresses whom I had trouble distinguishing, I must admit. OK, Anita Ekberg is blonde, but she starts off not speaking Italian, and then she does speak it, so whoa, is this the same person? Maybe I need new spectacles.

Actually I'm too harsh on Sapporo. I had some outstanding food there, including sea-urchin (uni), which I like a lot even though it doesn't look like anything you'd want to eat. Well, to be frank, it looks like something you'd definitely not want to eat, so the first time is a bit of a trial. But subsequent times are a joy. It's a bit expensive, but the Japanese, although they'll only pay (me) for an economy airfare, are otherwise generous with expenses, with no nonsense about receipts. Instead, you're met on day one with a thick wedge of high-denomination banknotes, so there's plenty left over for the acquisition of a gentleman's requisites.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Those things

The role of chairman at a conference is simple: at the start of a lecture,  announce the name of the speaker [you should try to get this right] and the title of their talk [ditto], and at the end, say "Let us thank the speaker." Except that this time I did it, I committed the spoonerism that every chairman dreads. 

Fortunately the theaker on this occasion had a sense of humour.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Up up and away

The Docklands Light Railway is an easy way of getting to London City Airport, according to the airport's website and and Transport for London's website. Easy peasy, no hint of engineering works anywhere. So I get off the tube at Bank (the Circle line having already let me down) to find the relevant bit of the DLR apparently closed, for engineering, and an incomprehensible bit of paper advertising a replacement bus service. Well, we all know what those replacements buses are like, you're better off walking. So I took a cab. Except I didn't; at 8 am on a Saturday the City of London is deserted, those bankers don't get out of bed for less than a million, and not at all on weekends. After 20 minutes of waiting and wandering I get one to stop: "Sorry mate [mate? what happened to guv? was I just demoted?] I can't get you there, all the roads are closed, I've just come from the East and I've seen it." Fuck fuck and double-fuck, I've got a plane to catch and a connexion to make in Schiphol.

How can they close off an airport and not tell anyone? Has some arse, offended by some slight to religion or ancestors, set off a bomb again? So back into the tube and ask someone in a relevant uniform if I really can't get there. "Oh, take the tube to Plaistow, there are buses running from there". Now this is so clearly insane (Plaistow??) that not even I believe it, so I get off 2 stops later, go to a DLR station and see an actual train driver, the first person to say something coherent and true: "I can take you to Canary Wharf, and there are buses from there." It's my only chance at this point, so I go for it. And at Canary Wharf bugger the buses, there is a cab driver who gets me to the airport in time. Whoof.

OK, rant over, only not quite. Look, I understand that engineering has to happen, but why is every piece of information about it either concealed or invented? If I were some wretched Japanese visitor faced with this depravity I'd never want to return. Whose fault is it? Isn't that pointless buffoon BloJo in charge of TfL, so it's him, isn't it? How can I, in my turn, reduce him to weeping frustration? Can I hire a skilled rentboy to spend the weekend bringing him nearly, but not quite, off? No, that would be too much like Eton. Suggestions please.