Tag Archives: Thameslink

Govia Thameslink train incompetence makes me doubt Margaret Thatcher

Fear stalked the bus yesterday

Fear stalked the replacement bus yesterday

I am old enough to remember pre-Thatcherite stand-up comedy routines and the regular cliché butt of jokes was the inefficiency of the Gas Board and of British Railways.

British Gas remains incompetent but now has less incompetent competitors and British Rail was privatised into a whole series of regional franchises and rather bizarre subdivisions, so it is a less easy target for jokes on national TV because rail incompetence has been localised and there is no one organisation to blame.

I have always been fairly happy with rail privatisation. British Railways was so big and everyone had jobs for life, so they did not much care about any service standards or innovation.

I have lived in Borehamwood, using the Thameslink line (under various franchise holders) since 1986. The station here is slightly oddly called Elstree & Borehamwood. The station is not actually in Elstree. This becomes relevant later.

Until late last year, the Thameslink franchise was run by First Capital Connect and I never had any ongoing problems. I rarely travel in the rush hour. Daytime and late night trains were OK under First Capital Connect.

Then, late last year, Govia took over the Thameslink franchise. They also run Southern trains – officially recognised as the most inefficient train system in the UK. Within a month, utter chaos descended on Thameslink with trains cancelled willy nilly all over the place and late night trains a catastrophe of late-running and cancellations, often with the explanation “because no driver is available”.

Govia’s main apparent innovation has been, during crowded periods, to run 8-carriage fast trains (which stop at fewer stations, therefore have fewer passengers) and 4-carriage slow trains (which stop at more stations with more passengers). You cannot fault them for original thinking.

From Thameslink website - journeys include the unexpected

From Thameslink website – journeys + the added unexpected

Since January, every Sunday when I have arrived at St Pancras, the indicator boards have displayed the words BUS SERVICE. There are no directions to this bus service, because there is no bus service. In fact, the trains are still running as normal, but from a totally different, upper, level of the station accessed round a corner and up escalators.  No signs. Seldom any staff to ask.

Last night (Friday) I arrived at West Hampstead station to get my slow 4-carriage train to Elstree. A fast 8-carriage train was due to arrive first on my platform. One minute before it was due, the train disappeared from the indicator board. It had been switched to another platform. There was, of course, no announcement. Those with experience of Thameslink’s ways and of the station legged it up and over the bridge just in time to get on the train. Five people failed to make it.

20 seconds before my own train was due to arrive (I noted the time) the train disappeared from the indicator board. We all – maybe 30 of us – successfully raced up and over to the other platform. There had, of course, been no announcement.

Somewhere in NW London on my unguided tour yesterday

Somewhere in NW London on my unguided tour yesterday

This weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, there are no trains between Elstree and St Pancras, only a replacement bus service. Imagine my joy.

I allowed two hours to make the normally 15-20 minute journey to West Hampstead station this afternoon. It was not enough. You should know that Elstree &  Borehamwood station is on the edge of NW London. West Hampstead is to the south of this.


The Thameslink iPhone app said a bus would leave Elstree station at 1612.

When I asked the bus driver and his supervisor, they told me it would be leaving at 1609.

At 1605, the supervisor told the driver: “You might as well leave now. They haven’t had a bus for a while.”

I was happy enough. Presumably people arriving just before the announced time were not.

Replacement bus

Replacement bus: every turn was an unknowable adventure

The bus, I think, was due to stop at Mill Hill, Hendon, Cricklewood, West Hampstead and St Pancras (although the sign on the front of the bus said King’s Cross, which is not on the Thameslink line). We never went to Mill Hill, just straight down south to Hendon… sort of.

After a while, I started Tweeting, because I smelled a saga.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver had to ask direction to Hendon station from man in street. We arrived at wrong Hendon station.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver has just yelled out “Fuck!” – not good news.

TWEET – Heading north on M1 motorway (away from Hendon)

TWEET – Now north of Elstree, which we left over an hour ago.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now apparently heading NW to Watford. London is SE.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now complaining to passenger: “It’s ridiculous”.

TWEET – Bus now in open countryside outside London.

TWEET – Passenger now giving bus replacement driver directions.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now apparently heading south to Elstree.

TWEET – Bus now heading to Edgware.

TWEET – At last! Houses! We are somewhere near Elstree.

TWEET – Soon we will be back where we started around 70 minutes ago.

TWEET – Phew! Back on route, about half mile off where we started 73 minutes ago.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now taking route advised by passenger standing beside him at all times.

TWEET – Bus now at Hendon Central station. Wrong station. Attempting to get to Hendon Thameslink station.

TWEET – Apparently now not attempting to get to Hendon Thameslink as passenger doesn’t know way.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver attempting to find Cricklewood. This seems unwise.

TWEET – I think I spotted Edinburgh Castle. May be getting delirious.

TWEET – First traffic jam. Pretty good after 90 mins but then we have mostly been in countryside.

TWEET – Passenger points out Cricklewood station to driver as we pass by without stopping.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver asks passenger: “Where do we go next?” Passenger suggests “West Hampstead”.

TWEET – Now my stomach and head are feeling queasy.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver asks passenger: “How far is railway station?” Passenger (looking at his own mobile phone) says “Under half a mile.”

TWEET – In Kilburn High Road.

TWEET – Have arrived W Hampstead station after 1 hr 46 min trip. Well, 1’50” exactly, as bus left 4 mins early. (It was actually 7 mins early but, by this point, I had lost touch with reality.)

TWEET – Thameslink @TLRailUK have just tweeted “SERVICE UPDATE: Good service.” (I was not the only one who had lost touch with reality.)

The indicator board inside the closed station

The indicator board inside the closed station

The bus dropped us right outside the main entrance to West Hampstead station.

As you might imagine, I was interested to see what the trip back from West Hampstead would be like. Several hours later, I went and stood at the point, outside the main entrance to the station, where the bus had dropped us.

Inside the closed station, barely visible, was a train indicator showing the bus departure times.

TWEET – At West Hampstead station. Replacement bus to Elstree due 2144. I got here 2136. Do I feel lucky?

TWEET – Now 2150. Neither 2142 bus nor my 2144 bus arrived. Maybe, as before, drivers can’t find London?

TWEET – Have discovered buses stop not at large glass-fronted main station but at small alleyway back exit round corner. No signs.

TWEET – I am on bus which left at 2156. Man in yellow jacket was supervising from pavement.

TWEET – I suggested he might tell anyone waiting at main ticket office building. He smiled inanely at me and did nothing.

TWEET – We drove off from the back alleyway entrance presumably leaving people at the main station/ticket office.

TWEET – Driver said this bus goes to Elstree. I neglected to ask “Via where?”. I shall phone ahead to friends in Aberdeen.

TWEET – Bus driver has found Hendon Thameslink station. Maybe a lucky mistake. No Thameslink person outside, of course.

TWEET – So near and yet so far. Was about half mile from Elstree station. Bus has now veered off to take longer route.

TWEET – Now arrived at Elstree village, which is not where Elstree station is – It’s at Borehamwood.

TWEET – Phew! Arrived at Elstree station in Borehamwood. 2242 (46 minute journey) I may take up religion.

West Hampstead Thameslink station

West Hampstead station is the large grey-roofed building, centre bottom, with entrance on Iverson Road. The bus stopped top right of picture, near the blue square at end of ‘Black Path’ alleyway.


Thameslink man ignore main station

Thameslink man ignores main station – a bit of roof visible behind him on far left behind wall

I included the Thameslink Twitter account in the Tweets I sent because – for comic reasons – I was interested to see if there was any reaction. There was not, of course.

Being a PR for Thameslink must be a bit like being a PR for Saddam Hussein’s human rights record. Their response (if they ever bothered) would be to blame other (dis)organisations. But it is part of an ongoing pattern of Govia incompetence and don’t-give-a-flying-shit-ness. I thought the new Thameslink (dis)service had reached its twin peak of Govia surreality when:

– I got on a train a couple of weeks ago which both the indicator board and tannoy announcement said stopped at Elstree… It, in fact, whizzed though Elstree station and an on-train information board said the next stop was Harpenden, three stations further on. In fact, it stopped at St Albans (two stations further on). I thought I must have mis-read the indicator board and mis-heard the tannoy announcement until half the train disembarked to get back to a whole host of stations the train had failed to stop at… and another passenger told me this was the third time it had happened to him.

Wrong Thameslink sign

With St Pancras 11 miles behind us, this suddenly appeared…

– (As I mentioned in a blog on 30th May) after a series of catastrophes – as we approached Crystal Palace and arrived in East Croydon heading south, the on-train information board displayed the words “approaching St Pancras”. We were travelling south. St Pancras was around 11 miles behind us to the north, as the pig flies.

Clearly I underestimated Govia Thameslink’s capacity for incompetence and lack of any discernible professionalism or customer care.

Flying pig - suggested new Govia logo

Flying pig – suggested new logo for the Govia Thameslink line

I still do not think a return to a give-even-less-of-a-shit national British Railways is a good idea.

But, at West Hampstead yesterday, I got on the Overground, now very efficiently run (compared to what it was before) by the Mayor of London.

Apparently Boris has had his eyes on taking over the Thameslink route. I can only hope his successor does.

I do like a bit of surreality and have a high threshold of chaos. But there are limits.

I suppose the company name Govia – Go-via – should give a hint at their lack of any specific direction.

(MORE TALES OF THAMESLINK CHAOS HERE)

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‘Old’ comic Lynn Ruth Miller, journalist Claire Smith & paedophile Jimmy Savile

My damaged big toe

I am now hobbling in a way that sadly befits my age

Things are not going well. The sharp edge of a heavy wooden shelf fell on the big toe of my right foot. I am now painfully hobbling in a way that sadly befits my age.

There is also a national rail strike next week but the good news is I will not notice it because, ever since Govia took over my local Thameslink franchise (they also run Southern trains – officially recognised as the most inefficient train system in the UK), there have been trains cancelled all over the place due to lack of drivers and yesterday, on the way to Brighton – a series of catastrophes – as we approached Crystal Palace and arrived in East Croydon heading south, the on-board information board displayed the words “approaching St Pancras”.

Croydon is on the southern edge of London. St Pancras is north of central London. They are around 11 miles apart as the pig flies. And we were travelling in the opposite direction.

I arrived in Brighton four hours after I left home – normally a two hour journey.

Lynn Ruth Miller and Claire smith yesterday in Brighton

Lynn Ruth Miller & Claire Smith talked yesterday in Brighton

I was travelling to Brighton to meet comic Lynn Ruth Miller and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judges Kate Copstick and Claire Smith (both comedy critics for The Scotsman newspaper). We were going to see a show (not Lynn Ruth’s).

Inevitably, this did not happen.

The show we were seeing fell through and I got a message from Copstick saying she could not be there because a surveyor was coming round to her flat. She is selling her flat in Shepherds Bush, West London, and probably moving to a canal boat in Barking, East London. Despite my warnings about Barking, which is even worse than her bite.

Inevitably, shortly after I met up with Claire Smith and Lynn Ruth Miller, I got a text from Copstick which started:

“The fucking surveyor isn’t coming till next fucking Tuesday now!!! The entire fucking flat is transformed but I will never keep it like this…”

It continued in much the same vein.

Lynn Ruth Miller  + Roy Brown of Bardsleys Fish & chip shop, Brighton

Lynn Ruth Miller & Roy Brown of Bardsleys fish & chip shop  (Photograph by Claire Smith)

By this time, Claire, Lynn Ruth and I were eating in the fish and chip shop which currently hosts Lynn Ruth’s art exhibition (which I blogged about recently). The paintings are being taken down on Monday.

“I don’t know what to do with them,” said Lynn Ruth. “I’ve got nowhere, but they have to come down.”

“Why is (comic) Will Franken wearing a dress?” asked Claire.

“Where?” asked Lynn Ruth.

“All over Facebook. All these pictures of him wearing a dress.”

“I don’t know,” replied Lynn Ruth.

“This weekend,” Claire continued, “I have to interview Puddles, The Clown With The Golden Voice. On Skype. In mime.”

Puddles the Clown may be mis-quoted

Puddles the Clown With The Golden Voice may be mis-quoted

“Where is he?” I asked.

“America.”

“Why in mime?” I asked.

“Because he doesn’t speak,” explained Claire, as if this was perfectly normal for an act called The Clown With The Golden Voice. “I am going to ask him questions by doing mime and he is going to react visually and I am going to write down what happens.”

“Are you an expert mime?” I asked.

“Well,” shrugged Claire, “I did agree the other day that I am going to do interpretive dance at (comic) Michael Topping’s funeral. He is going to have a dress rehearsal, because he wants to see his own funeral.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said, “but this mime interview with Puddles The Clown – isn’t there a risk of mis-quoting him?”

“Well,” Claire argued, “journalism is a parasitic art form but, in this case, I get to be creative. I get to describe what’s happening and my relative, subjective perception will be correct.”

“But,” I said, “the poor man is going to be mis-quoted left, right and centre.”

“If he gives me a gesture I misinterpret…” laughed Claire.

“My grandfather choked chickens. He really did…” said Lynn Ruth Miller.

We both looked at her.

“…and, if you had seen my grandmother you would understand why.”

Lynn Ruth reportedly still a youngster

Lynn Ruth is reportedly a mere youngster at the age of 72

“You are,” I prompted, “in the final of the Old Comedian of the Year contest.”

“Yes,” she said. “but I’m the only one that’s actually old. I’m 81. You only have to be over 35 to be in it.”

“And,” said Claire, “the Chortle report said you’re 72.”

“That’s almost defamation at your age,” I suggested.

“Why,” asked Claire, “did they think you were 72?”

“Because I use products,” said Lynn Ruth.

“Chicken soup?” I asked.

“Schmaltz,” she replied. She is Jewish. “It gets rid of the wrinkles. The only problem is you have to pluck the feathers.”

“Schmaltz?” I asked.

“Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat,” she explained.

“I had no idea that was the origin,” I said. “Anyway, back to the Old Comedian of the Year…”

“I’m not only the right age,” said Lynn Ruth, “but I have two of my own hips, my own knees and I don’t dye my hair.”

“You don’t dye your hair?” I asked.

“No I don’t, which means the carpet doesn’t match the drapes.”

“Why are you living over here in the UK?” I asked.

Lynn Ruth tried to tempt me in the Max Miller room of the fish & chip shop

Lynn Ruth tried to tempt me in the Max Miller room of Bardsleys fish & chip shop yesterday

“I was hired to be a presenter on Brighton Lights, a TV show, and I was promised I would have a salary, a place to live – that I paid for myself – and a visa and I could live here for the rest of my life. I was living on the Pacific in a gorgeous house. It was perfect. They kept telling me: You’re going to have a wonderful life in Britain! I spent $4,700 of my own money to bring all my stuff over here. Then, last December, they ran out of money. With my visa, I have to leave the UK this November.

“So that’s my next problem. But people want to help me. That’s what I love about this country – which you all get resentful about – that you help people. I love that.”

“There was a bloke on British TV,” I said. “Jimmy Savile. He helped loads of young people on his show Jim’ll Fix It.”

“I went to his 80th birthday party,” said Claire. “I wrote a couple of articles about it.”

“Was he a clown and a children’s entertainer?” asked Lynn Ruth.

“Not a clown,” I said.

“He didn’t like children in the right way,” said Claire. “He fucked children up the arse.”

“I knew that,” said Lynn Ruth.

The Scotsman,” said Claire, “ran a series of articles in which people who were well-known talked about things they loved about Scotland. I thought: Well, Jimmy Savile could talk about Glencoe.

“Ah, of course,” I said, “he had a cottage in Glencoe!”

“And,” said Claire, “I had this idea that maybe because he had been famous for so long that that was why he was so weird and maybe, when he was in Scotland, he was more natural.”

Jimmy Savile - the truth revealed in the edit

Jimmy Savile – not Scots

“He was from Scotland?” asked Lynn Ruth.

“No,” said Claire. “He’s from Leeds, where I’m from.”

“As was the Yorkshire Ripper,” I said. “Is there a connection?”

“There is,” said Claire. “One of the Ripper murders was right outside Jimmy Savile’s house and on my walk to school.”

Lynn Ruth said: “Did you know he was a paedophile?”

“Well the weird thing,” explained Claire, “was that everyone knew in a way, because it was always gossiped about in newsrooms that he had sex with dead bodies in morgues and all the things that came out later. But I didn’t believe it.”

“It was,” I said, “so OTT it was unbelievable.”

“To have sex with dead bodies,” said Claire. “You think: Well that surely can’t really be true. But actually it was. The only person who told the truth at the time was Jerry Sadowitz.”

“Jerry Sadowitz,” I added, “said: Never trust anyone whose voice is like the sound of someone having a wank.

Claire Smith at the fish and chip shop yesterday

Claire Smith at the fish and chip shop in Brighton yesterday

“I had this idea,” said Claire, “that maybe it was just a media construction and, if I saw him in his own house, he was just an eccentric person and not so odd. But, at his birthday party, he was just cold. There was nothing there. When I got back, the News Editor asked: What’s he like? And I said: I’ve got no idea. He’s hidden and he’s hiding something. But I don’t know what it is. I wondered if it was because he was gay or something.”

I said: “I always thought he was gay because he wore brightly-coloured clothes and kept going on about how much he loved his mother.”

“You think that makes someone gay?” asked Lynn Ruth.

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A talk with a man in a rumpled grey suit which looked slightly too big for him

A comb

A comb

I went to the Leicester Square Theatre last night to see a very good Burns Night comedy show.

Though it was not Burns night.

Before the show, comedian Simon Munnery got out a tape measure and, unseen by most of the audience, was very carefully noting in a book the dimensions of a seat towards the very back of the auditorium. When he performed his act on stage, he never referred to this.

I texted him after his performance: Why were you measuring the seats before the show?

Aye; ah have ma reasons, he texted back.

Afterwards, I was on a train back home to Borehamwood.

At Mill Hill Broadway station, a middle-aged man got into the carriage and sat opposite me. I had to get off at Elstree station, the next stop.

“I know you, don’t I?” he said.

“I don’t think so,” I told him.

I think I may have a common face. Occasionally I get mistaken for other people. Though never for Brad Pitt or Justin Bieber.

“It was about twenty years ago,” the man persisted.

I have a terrible memory for names but a good memory for faces.

He talked a lot about the rain. He tried telling me the names of various people we might know in common but nothing specific about companies or towns we might have met in. Mostly, he talked a lot about Margaret Thatcher (he was not a fan) and the television programmes he watched when he was a child growing up in St Albans. It was a monologue rather than a conversation. Then he talked about the rain again.

We reached Elstree station. I got up to leave.

“We’ve never met,” he told me.

“I didn’t think so,” I said.

“I just wanted someone to talk to,” he said, smiling slightly.

I went home.

He stayed on the train.

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Chinese Communism and how it overlaps British Rail bureaucracy

Last night, I went to the Empire cinema in Leicester Square for the opening ceremony of this week’s China Image Film Festival in London – the biggest Chinese film festival in Europe.

The ceremonial side involved lengthy bouts of people explaining that everyone had worked very hard and how culturally important film was and encouraging rounds of applause for officials who stood up and waved to the audience. After 40 minutes, I whispered to the friend who was with me:

“This is like living under communism.”

There were the distinguished guests from various organising committees and some officials had flown in specially from Beijing but also present, inexplicably, were the former mayor of Redbridge in suburban London and the Chairman of South Cambridgeshire District Council, who gave a speech in which he said he had visited China, but never seen any Chinese films there, so he was grateful for this opportunity. The man standing by him who translated his speech into Chinese looked a bit surprised, as if he could not understand who this man was or why he was giving a speech.

I had some sympathy with the translator.

The former mayor of Redbridge gave no speech, which I thought was a pity, as I would have been interested to hear what he said.

The opening film of the Festival was Apart Together, which won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

In one scene a couple, married for almost 50 years, decide to get divorced but discover that they cannot get divorced without first having a marriage certificate which they do not have because they got married shortly after the chaotic civil war between Mao Tse-tung’s Communists and Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang nationalists when official marriage certificates were the last thing on people’s minds.

So they have to get officially married in order to be officially divorced on the same day.

Communist bureaucracy, eh?

Phoaw!

How the almost entirely Chinese audience laughed!

No wonder they love Yes, Minister on TV in China!

After the ceremony and screening, I got a tube up to St Pancras station and leapt into the front carriage of a Capital Connect Thameslink train, just before it was due to set off.

On the seat opposite me was a small but expensive-looking pack of 15 computer CDs left behind by someone.

As I was sitting at the very front of the train, I jumped off and tried to give them to the train driver.

“I’m not allowed to accept any lost property,” he said apologetically. “You have to give it to the station staff – that bloke down there the other side of the barrier.”

It was an eight-carriage train. I looked at my watch. It was two minutes before the train was due to leave.

“I won’t have time to do it and get back on the train,” I told the driver. “And the station I am going to is unmanned at this time of night.”

“What you could do,” he told me, sympathetically, “is leave it on the seat and, if it’s still there at the end of the journey, I can collect it when I check the carriages.”

So I did that.

Whether anyone nicked the discs or whether they were still there when he checked the carriage I do not know.

I am a lover of the surreal but not of bureaucracy.

But rules is rules, eh? They’re there for a reason.

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