Tag Archives: transport

Adham Fisher, record-breaking Extreme Commuter. Why? “No reason”

Adham Fisher in the Soho Theatre Bar, London

“So what are you?” I asked Adham Fisher in London’s Soho Theatre Bar.

“I’m not a comedian,” he told me. “Not a proper one, anyway. I have held a Guinness World Record but I have never been in the Guinness Book of Records. It wasn’t considered for the book because there are thousands of records and they can only put a select few in the book.”

“What is your world record for?” I asked.

“The fastest time to go to every New York subway station.”

“How long did that take?”

“22 hours, 26 minutes and 2 seconds… I must stress that I no longer hold the record, but I did hold it for 14 months. The current record is 21 hours, 49 minutes. There were 468 stations at the time I attempted it; there are now 472.”

“And why did you want to hold that record?” I asked.

“It stemmed from my attempts at the corresponding record here in London: the fastest time to go to every tube station. There are 270. I have been attempting that for 13 years. I have been a dismal failure at that and everything else.”

“Do other people do similar things?” I asked.

“There are a lot of people who have attempted the tube record or the various other unofficial challenges and races. There is a yearly one for Zone One stations only.”

“Why have you been a dismal failure at the tube record for 13 years?” I asked. “Is there a trick to it?”

“The trick,” Adham told me, “is the tube running as it should. Every single day there is a delay or suspension or a trespasser on the line or whatever.”

“You should go to Germany,” I suggested. “I imagine their trains run on time.”

“I did go to every station in Berlin – 8 hours, 2 minutes and 56 seconds. There are only 173 stations.”

“Have you met any of the other people trying to visit stations?”

“Yes I have.”

“Do you find they are kindred spirits?”

“Not really.”

“Why,” I asked, “do you want to do this at all? Just to get into the Guinness Book of Records?”

“Not necessarily,” Adham replied. “I have no reason.”

“Well,” I told him, “that is a very good reason in my book. But it must cost an absolute fortune going round the world doing this.”

“I have only done it in Europe and North America.”

“What is the ultimate?”

“Just to go on every rapid transit system in the world.”

“Do you have a full-time job?”

“Everyone thinks I don’t, so I will let them carry on thinking that. It makes for some very interesting comedy. If, for example, I happen to court some media attention, people will comment online, saying: Well, obviously he doesn’t have a job. And these are people who are able to spend tens of thousands of pounds following football teams.”

“Have you had media attention?” I asked.

“Yes. My moment of fame was appearing in the Guardian.”

Adham took the cutting out and showed it to me.

Adham’s own copy of The Guardian, 28.11.16.

“You carry it around with you?”

“Yes.”

“How did all this start?”

“When I started trying to ride every single bus in Leicester and Leicestershire. I was 16. When I first attempted to travel to every London tube station, I was 19.”

“How old are you now?”

Adham did not answer.

“What did your parents say when you were 16 and went off to ride buses?”

“Well, I had to leave the house at about 4.00am.”

“Did you tell them why you were leaving that early?”

“No… Well… I said: I am just going to ride buses all day. See you later.”

“And they said: Fair enough…?”

“They might have done. I shut the door before they could answer.”

“Do you live with your parents now?”

“Maybe.”

“Are they in any bizarre way related to transport?” I asked.

“No. In fact, I don’t think my parents have ever liked me being interested in transport and so that has led to me just not talking to them.”

“What did they want you to become?”

“I don’t know and I never cared. I never really talked to them about that sort of stuff.”

“16 is an age,” I suggested, “when people start thinking about future careers. What did you want to be?”

“I have never had a career plan.”

“Are you,” I asked, “trying to make order out of disorder?”

“I suppose.”

Adham still always plays the revered Human League on vinyl

“I have all my LPs in alphabetical order,” I confessed. “I am so old I have LPs… Before your time.”

“I was,” said Adham, “the only person at my school who liked the Human League and I was the only person at my school who knew what vinyl was. I sometimes DJ at Leicester railway station… with vinyl.”

“They employ you to do this?” I asked.

“Oh no no no. I just ask them once in a while if I can turn up and play.”

“You sit in a corner of the station and play vinyl LPs?”

“Pretty much.”

“Inside or outside?”

“On the station front. Not in the foyer: that would interfere with the announcements. There is a nice bit outside by a coffee bar.”

“You have two turntables and loudspeakers?”

“Yes. A little busking amp.”

Adam Fisher - The MMs Bar Recordings

“The greatest record ever made”

“What sort of music?”

“Anything. There is a record I almost always play, called the MMs Bar Recordings – a compilation of buffet car announcements from the old Midland Mainline trains before they became East Midlands Trains. It consists of various staff saying things like: Good morning and welcome to the 1054 service from London St Pancras. The MMs bar is now open and clear for service with a wide selection of sandwiches, savouries, sweets, hot and cold drinks and complimentary Midland Mainline tea and coffee.”

“This was released commercially as a record?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“To acclaim?”

“Yes. I actually think it’s the greatest record ever made because it’s so stupid it’s great.”

“Who released it?”

“An artist named Sandra Cross. I have met her.”

“Is it,” I asked, “edited in a creative way so it has rhythm?”

“No. It’s just as the announcements were recorded.”

“Do passers-by get confused by this as they enter the station?”

“One or two have. Very few of them stop. About 99% turn their heads with either smiles or bemused looks.”

“You only play announcements?”

“No. Absolutely anything from Peter Gabriel to…”

“How long,” I interrupted, “do you do this for?”

“The longest stint has been about 13 hours.”

“Is there a record for this?”

“Not yet.”

“You know the Rule of Three?” I asked. “So far, we have had the Guinness Book of Records and you playing vinyl records. Is there a third type of record in here?”

“There is the Public Records Office.”

“Have you been there?”

“Not yet.”

Adham’s publicity for a 2016 MOvember record attempt

“You have been doing this since you were 16,” I said. “How are you going to develop it? You could play your records on every station platform. You could play Midland Mainline announcements on the New York subway system. Do you think you will still be doing it in ten years time?”

“I would like to.”

“Are you married?”

“Not last time I checked. I am the least likely person I know to be married.”

“Why?”

“Marriage just isn’t really my thing.”

“Your main passions are transport and music?”

“I describe myself as a very unpassionate person. I don’t consider myself very passionate about or an advocate for anything. I have just somehow wound up doing certain things. I never wanted to be a DJ. Public transport and comedy and music are just things I have happened to do. I would not describe myself as being any good at any of them. Or anything.”

“You should,” I suggested, “be working for some transit system somewhere.”

“I think if I worked in the transport industry, I would end up hating it. Rolling stock track gauge, infrastructure; I know nothing about that; I don’t particularly care for that sort of thing. So far, it has always been a novelty for me, especially in London because I have never lived here. So taking the tube, the bus, any commuter rail or the tram or the cable car is always a novelty for me.”

“You did a comedy show at last year’s Leicester Comedy Festival.”

“Yes.”

“What was it called?”

Extreme Commuter.”

“And this year’s show was called…?”

Publicity for this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival show

“Extreme Commuter 7.”

“Because?”

“The Comedy Festival gig this year was my seventh. I have done one since, which was the 8th and the next one will be in Sheffield. My ninth.”

“Have you got Asperger’s?”

“I have no idea. I have never been diagnosed with it, but… I don’t even know what I would have to do to request a diagnosis.”

“These comedy shows you do are anecdotes about you riding the rails?”

“Exactly. Rails, buses, trams, whatever.”

“Do you want to do the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“To have a successful show in Edinburgh is the Holy Grail of all fledgling comedians but, because I don’t consider myself very good at this comedy thing, I am not actually bothered if I go to Edinburgh or not. If it happens, great; if it doesn’t happen, great. It would be nice, but I don’t expect ever to be a success there.”

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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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Filed under Humor, Humour, London, Trains

Vaginal knitting and seven new morals which I learnt in the last seven days

The last seven days have been a week of oddity and surrealism…

Blackfriars station proudly proclaims its modernity

Blackfriars station proudly proclaims solar power, but is cold

LAST THURSDAY

I am at the new Blackfriars station, which spans the River Thames. It cost millions and took forever to build. There are solar panels built into the roof. A large ad proudly says: The biggest solar bridge in the world. Generating up to 50% of the station’s energy.

Yet, on the side of the platforms, the glass only reaches halfway up to the roof, allowing gales to blow in over the top from the Thames on both sides at head level. It will be Arctic in midwinter.

Moral: Even people who know what they are doing do not know what they are doing.

Freedom Pass - You can come but you can’t go

Freedom Pass – You can come but, for some, you cannot go

FRIDAY

I get around. The London transport area is divided into six zones. I know two people. Both are over 60 years old. One lives in Peckham, South East London. One lives in Elstree in the north west, which is in Zone 6, within the M25 orbital motorway which encircles London.

Because he is over 60+, the person in Peckham can get a Freedom Pass which allows him free travel within London. The 60+ person in Elstree cannot get a Freedom pass because he lives in Elstree, which is in London’s Zone 6 but is postally in Hertfordshire not a London borough. So the 60+ person in Peckham can visit the person in Elstree for free. The 60+ person in Elstree has to pay £8.90 to visit the person in Peckham. On the same trains.

Moral: Even well-meaning bureaucracy will bugger you. 

Greenwich Christmas tree netting 1

Human Christmas netting: first insert your human in the tube

SATURDAY

I am in Greenwich, in a rush to go somewhere. As I pass a collection of Christmas trees being sold on the pavement, I notice a group of people are putting one of their friends into a Christmas tree netting machine to take photographs. Very funny, I think. I take two photos quickly on my iPhone and hurry on.

Greenwich Christmas tree netting 2

Human Christmas netting: then push him in

I later think: Perhaps they actually did put him through and netted him up. I should have stayed to take the third picture.

Later still, I hear that his friends did indeed truss him up in a net and he was last seen hopping along the road.

Moral: Always hope for a climax, even if it is late coming.

SUNDAY

I am phoned by a market research company “on behalf of the Metropolitan Police” wanting to ask me questions related to “social research”. I ask: “Are you cold-calling me?” – “Yes,” the man replies.

Telephone Preference Service logo

TPS will protect you against SOME calls

I am registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) so that companies are not allowed to cold call me.

“What law allows you to cold call me?” I ask.

“We do not need to act under any law,” replies the man.

“So you are telling me you can act outside the law?”

“No”

“So you are telling me that any market research company can phone me up and ask me questions without me asking them to?”

“We are not doing market research; we are doing social research,” said the man.

Émile Durkheim, early social researcher

Émile Durkheim, early social researcher… Perhaps turning in his grave due to bullshit

I later find out from a Facebook Friend that social research companies “are actually required by law to only call randomly generated numbers, so that survey results cannot be skewed.” He had worked for a social research company and told me: “I don’t now how many times I had to explain that to someone as they swore down the phone at me about being on TPS (by company policy I wasn’t allowed to put the phone down unless they did first.) In the case of social research where it is important that no bias appear in the results, as said, it is the law that the numbers have to be randomly generated. Therefore TPS cannot apply, and these companies are exempt.”

It appears that the TPS covers sales and marketing calls but not calls carried out by market research companies who are doing social not market research. So a market research company doing marketing research cannot call you but a market research company doing social research can.

I had asked the man on the phone: ”So any social research company can phone me up and ask me questions which I have to answer?”

“It is voluntary,” he told me.

“So fuck off, then,” I told him and hung up. As I now understand it, I should not have hung up because, if I did not, he could not end the call and would have to still be holding on, however long it took.

Moral: The law is an ass out of which turds emerge.

StPancrasChristmasTree2013

A safe picture of St Pancras station in London

MONDAY

I am at St Pancras station and see that the police who occasionally meander around the station carrying sub-machine guns are now doing so in threes. This seems a bit excessive. They also walk close together, Surely this makes them an easier single target? I want to take a picture of the police officers, but decide it might be unwise.

About one minute after this, I go into the Gents toilet. A man dressed as a banana is telling a man at the hand drying machine that using the hand drier spreads germs into the air. I want to take a picture of the man wearing the banana suit in the Gents toilet, but decide it might be unwise.

Moral: Bananas always have comic potential, especially in toilets.

MargaretThatcherQueenSoho_flyer

Gay girl Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho

TUESDAY

I see Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho at Theatre 503 in Battersea. It is described as “a drag comedy Christmas musical extravaganza”. For me, as a heterosexual man, this does not bode well. But it is absolutely gobsmackingly good with jaw-dropping levels of production and direction. Amazing. You should see it. The script whizzes along. The production and direction are out of this world. Amazing for a Fringe show. Staggering.

Moral: The old and new meanings of the word Gay can sometimes coincide. 

Il Puma Londinese - whatever that means

Il Puma Londinese – whatever that means

YESTERDAY

Comedian Giacinto Palmieri persuades me to go see a show at an Italian-language fortnightly comedy club in London’s Soho called Il Puma Londinese Lab or, more fully, Laboratorio di Cabaret – Il Puma Londinese. I neither speak nor understand Italian. Giacinto tells me I should go because he knows I like new experiences. Within reason. Buggery and long mime shows are beyond my limitations.

I have directed Czech TV voice-overs in Prague and Danish/Norwegian/Swedish TV voice-overs in London. Usually, with European languages, the intonations are the same even if you don’t understand the words. In North Korea, they might as well be talking Martian and I suspect they often are. North Korean TV announcers have a breathless excitement because (I presume) they are overwhelmed by the honour of living in such historic times ruled by such godlike people. But back to Italian comedy.

Romina Puma warms up the audience last night

Romina Puma warms up her Soho audience last night

Il Puma Londinese was tremendously enjoyable. It was started and has been run for the last two years by the energetic Romina Puma (not to be confused with Canadian Puma Zuma who runs the Lost Cabaret comedy evenings). Romina Puma could enthuse the inhabitants of a mortuary into being a joyous comedy audience up for a night of fun (although I would advise her against this).

Who cares if it sounds racist or xenophobic or cliché – Italians always sound excitable and exciting when they speak because there are more syllables spoken per second than in average English delivery; and the up-and-down variation in tone tends to be greater. It is in the nature of the spoken language.

Il Puma Londinese ended in a sing-song

Il Puma Londinese ended in a very festive sing-song italiano

Last night, there were three English speaking acts sandwiched in the packed Italian bill at Il Puma Londinese. The equally packed audience included a group of Spaniards who enjoyed it as much as I did.

I even picked-up on a few Italian words which I could half-understand so that I half-knew what was being talked about. The words Nigelissima, Coke and vaginal knitting stood out.

I may have mis-heard that last phrase.

Although perhaps not.

The audience laughed a lot.

Moral: Italians and Italian comedy clubs are fun. But listen carefully.

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