Friday, July 18, 2008

Apparently, I don't Hate FGW enough

When I started this blog, I was angry. Livid. To mention the words "First Great Western" to me were unwise, as they would spark a lengthy rant, full of expletives. I was highly pissed off.
I feel I should mention this at this juncture, because I have recently come under attack from someone who feels I am not angry enough, and am some kind of champagne-sipping toff who gets narky if commoners try to invade my space in the first class carriage.
It's true that I'm not as angry as I was, but to be honest, I don't think anyone could have that much energy, as being angry is pretty hard going, even for a few days, let alone for 18 months, and makes you liable to lose friends and alienate people. What I did instead was start a blog, in order that I could share my ranting with others with a similar hatred of FGW. And then, I moved house, in order to be nearer to my work. And then, I discovered the alternative service of South West Trains. And, all of these things have made me calmer, because I am opting out of the thing that makes me angry. I think this is called anger management. And, I suggest to Samuel Roberts, rather than simply being angry for its own sake, it's better to try and find out why something is making you angry, and to do something about it. It helps me to be sane, whereas you sound like someone I'd be very frightened to share a train carriage with.
But, I now have the honour of someone blogging about hating this blog, the imaginatively titled "I Hate I Hate First Great Western". Please visit it here:
In other news, my car has sold in a rather alarming three days, leaving me to mourn its absence, as I really am rather fond of driving. However, the bundle of cash I now have in its place enables me not only to pay the troublesome unexpected tax bill I mentioned in a previous post, but also to invest in a shiny new bicycle. I haven't been this excited since I was a child, and got a bright red shiny racer for Christmas. How I loved that bike. I hope I am able to be as fond of this one, as it will help me to get over the loss of my four-wheeled friend.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Not very app-Ealing

Isn't Ealing Broadway station horrible? Specially late at night. No, actually, let me rephrase that. Aren't the drunk people at Ealing Broadway station horrible?
Last night, after a late shift, I arrived on the tube to get my train to Slough just as the one I was hoping to catch was pulling away, so had to wait half an hour for the next one. This gave me plenty of time to think about station improvements, most noticeably that the dark and grubby nature of the platform I was standing on seemed to give the drunk people the idea that it was okay to gob on the floor, or generally be unpleasant and intimidating. I would like to see a bit more lighting and a bit more seating, perhaps a few more benches further down the platform for those who don't want to sit amongst the beered-up people who always want to talk to you for some reason, no matter how close to your face you put your book.
There are times when I think I'd really like not to have to deal with people at all, especially drunk ones. The way they fill the train with litter and unmentionable stains must rile the poor cleaning staff who have to deal with it. It certainly riles me and I don't have to pick it up or wipe it up - eugh. Perhaps FGW should initiate a "night-status" carriage, which is entirely covered in the kind of plastic that sofas are wrapped in. Much easier to clean, and drunk people don't care where and what they sit on.
Me, I'll bring a cushion. And a larger book.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What do you think the train manager said?

I had a bit of a bad day on Monday. I had finished work early, and decided to walk from Camden lock to Paddington along Regent's Canal, as the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and everything was hunky dory. Then I got diverted off the canal path because of some work being done there, and found myself rather hot and bothered on the Edgware Road, not the pleasant stroll through Little Venice that I had been expecting. When I arrived at Paddington I glanced up at the board and saw the 1651 to Oxford was about to leave from Platform 10. I ran across the station, and jumped aboard, assuming that it was the same as the 1851 I normally take, which runs fast to Slough. Not, as it turns out. In fact, it doesn't stop at Slough at all, though it does go through it, at high speed, on its way to its first stop - Reading. D'oh.
I only realised my mistake when the train manager started to make his announcement about all the tickets that weren't valid on the service. He sounded quite strict and I was a bit concerned about what he would say when he found out that about halfway through the journey, my ticket would stop being valid on any service. Short of throwing myself off the train at Slough, I could see only two options - flash my ticket fast and hope that he didn't notice, or come clean. I'm not one of the world's best liars, in fact, I'm terrible at it, and have therefore come to the conclusion that honesty is the best policy. There was a glimmer of hope when he came into the carriage, as it seemed that everyone on the train had got the wrong ticket, so he spent quite a lot of time charging people extra. But this made me all the more nervous, as it seemed my mistake was going to be quite costly. When he came to me, I showed him my ticket and said "I made a mistake, I thought this train went to Slough". "No", he said flatly, "this train doesn't stop at Slough". Then, to my surprise, he helpfully looked up the next train, and its probable platform for me, and moved on to the next customer. He didn't even attempt to charge me.
On my way back to Slough on the next service ten minutes later, the train manager didn't get as far as my seat before I exited the train, so I didn't have a chance to test the theory twice.
But there you go, scary-sounding train manager being completely reasonable about a genuine mistake.
So, why did I have such a bad day you ask? Well, I got home to find a large and unexpected tax bill on the doormat. I hate the tax man.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Let's get something clear here

I'm getting a bit fed up of people thinking that because I encourage people to wear badges saying "I Hate First Great Western" when they are receiving a bad service, that I am also the kind of person who kicks puppies and pushes old ladies into the road.

One comment in my last post suggested I might be related to a lady who got off at Slough, who'd been abusing a train manager with bad language when he tried to remove her from the first class carriage. Another recent comment has suggested that I am personally responsible for people being rude to staff on board trains.

This is, of course, nonsense. I am in fact most charming and polite, and would never condone bad behaviour of any sort on trains. In fact, I am almost embarrassed to use my first class upgrade, as I realise it's a perk I've done nothing to deserve. My embarrassment is not, however, great enough to stop me using it so far, as it allows me to get some quiet time away from the enormous number of people with pushchairs and children with sticky faces all bellowing away in various languages as they make their way to visit the wonderful tourist sites of Windsor or London.
But I do sit meekly in First Class, never demanding my free cup of tea, or taking away the copy of the Times that has been kindly left on the table. I don't talk into my mobile in a loudhailer voice, put my bag on the seat when there are people who need to sit down, listen to loud music, smell bad (at least I hope not) or generally make a nuisance of myself. I am, in fact, a model passenger, so please desist from casting nasturtiums, it's most distressing.
In other news, I am currently musing on whether to buy myself a folding bike, to take on the trains and spare myself the sweaty crush of the tubes. There seem to be several Brompton owners amongst my usual commuting crowd, so are you one of them, and can I ask about your experiences in terms of suitable clothing, cycling in London, and whether you wimp out and take the bike on the tube if it's raining?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cutting the mustard

I'm not sure exactly what's going on at First Great Western with regard to First Class passengers, but something's up. As I reported in a previous post, my friend wrote to me complaining that there were staff on the platform at Reading trying to stop people even standing where the First Class carriages were going to stop, and threatening penalty fares for anyone who set foot in so much as the vestibule of the First Class section.
Then, this morning, I was standing quite properly at the front of the platform at Slough, ready to take advantage of my First Class off-peak upgrade. But the FGW dispatcher clearly didn't think I was up to scratch, and checked with me and another passenger before we even entered the train, that we were aware that only First Class passengers were allowed into this hallowed door to enter the world of free Times newspapers, and faux-leather seating. "Standard class is at the back" he muttered gruffly, as if to say we weren't really dressed for the occasion.
For goodness sake! It's not as if you even get a cup of tea between Slough and London, so I'm not sure what all the fuss is about, and this was at 1245 in the afternoon, so the train was hardly packed full. Has there been some kind of anti-riff-raff rebellion by the besuited types? I feel that FGW should perhaps be considering their priorities in regard to what they're telling their staff; talk about making us feel like second-class citizens. Or perhaps they know who I am, and are trying to indicate their feelings for the blog. I think I'd be a positive asset to First Great Western, I'm full of great ideas, how about bringing me on board? On board, see what I did there? I'll go now.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Standing room only

I've been thinking about setting up a survey, to find out if things have changed on First Great Western in the past year, and whether you're seeing any improvement in the service. The company says nine out of ten trains are now running on time, so it sounds like things are getting better, but if anyone will know the truth, it's the 'haters' who visit this blog, so I'll be putting together a few questions in the next few days, and asking you for your opinions.

In the meantime, it seems there's still hate out there. I received an e-mail from a good friend this morning as follows:

"I'm so angry!! There are 'revenue protection officers' at Reading station this morning stopping anyone not holding a first class ticket from even standing up the first class end of the PLATFORM! They are now saying you can incur a penalty fare for STANDING in the first class end of the train! I wish I had some of your badges this morning I can tell you! So cross, on a 7.42 overcrowded service to not allow people to stand in first class is utterly ridiculous!"

Surely, surely, on a seriously overcrowded train, not to even allow passengers to stand in the vestibules is unreasonable? Reading to Paddington is only 22 minutes, so first class passengers don't have that long to put up with not being able to move around the train freely, and surely, surely, the aim is to move as many people back and forth along this busy stretch as possible, so why are FGW clamping down on this in such a heavy-handed way? Those of you who work for FGW and visit the blog, please let me know, as this is one of the things that really annoys people. If commuters are prepared to pack themselves in like sardines in order to get to work on time, at least you should let them. Even better, let some of the poor buggers sit down in First Class if they've paid full price for a return ticket, considering how much they cost. Surely, surely, empty seats in First Class and people packed like sardines into standard class is not the way forward? Somebody say something sensible on this please.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On yer bike

Many thanks for all your supportive messages on my newfound cyclist status, it's good to know there are plenty of other people who've given up relying on public transport to ferry them around, and are taking to their own two wheels. I may have to invest in a new bike sometime soon, as the one I've been given has been sitting in someone's garage for a few years. The front wheel is wobbly, the brakes don't really work and the whole frame's a bit small for me, but I'm having a surprising amount of fun, specially since I discovered that you can cycle round Dorney Lake, which is where the rowing for the Olympics is going to be. It's a brilliant man-made facility full of birdlife and rabbits, and no traffic. It's also measured out for the rowers, so you can log how far you've cycled, if you like doing that sort of thing.
Back to First Great Western News, and I've found the website for last night's Week In Week Out programme, which was all about FGW, with Christian Wolmar travelling from London to Paddington and asking the hard questions we all want answered. You can watch it here for the next six days. Try and ignore that funny woman with the badges, there are some crazy people out there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On the buses

I have made the momentous decision to sell my car, and become reliant on public transport. The continuing rise in the cost of petrol, plus the fact that my car spends most of the week gathering dust and bird poo on the driveway, means that it's just not worth keeping any more, particularly if you factor in the cost of insurance, tax and servicing.
However, the thought of being completely at the mercy of buses and trains makes me very nervous. As a country girl, where public transport is limited, I've been driving ever since I was allowed. I passed my test four months after my 17th birthday, and have been the owner of a series of old bangers ever since. In chronological order, I began with a dingy orange Vauxhall Chevette, graduated onto an ancient brown Audi 80, followed by a beige Maestro (this was a low point). Once I was employed, things took a turn for the better, and I've been a happy car owner ever since. So now, for the first time since I was a teenager, I shall be without wheels. I may even have to learn how to use buses, something that I've never fathomed anywhere I've lived. And, you may ask, who is the provider of our local bus system in Slough and Windsor? Why, it's none other than the First group, what are the chances? I am not heartened by a conversation with a work colleage from Bristol last week, who requested an "I Hate First Great Western" badge for her husband, who doesn't even use trains, but has lots of bad things to say about the First bus service there. Still, I shan't judge until I've tried it, and just think of all the fun characters I'll meet on my way to and from the supermarket.
I've also taken to riding a bike (ooh, get me and my non-existent carbon footprint), but although it's glorious at the moment, I can see a time in mid-November where all my best-laid plans go horribly wrong, and I am trapped at bus-stops for hours on end, with the rain soaking into my shoes. Perhaps the purchase of some all-weather gear might be a good idea, and if I wear it on the bus, it might even deter people from talking to me. On reflection, I am far too unsociable to use public transport.
Just time for one more plug for tonight's Week In Week Out rail special, at 22:35 on BBC Wales One, available on satellite, digital, and Welsh televisions. I think you can also watch it on the internet after the event. At least I'm hoping so, otherwise I will miss my short moment of fame.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

And now, for our Welsh viewers

Hello all
Sorry it's been a while since my last missive. I have been away to the fair isle of Ireland, and not a train did I see during that time, armed as I was with a Ford Focus and a road map.
But, on my return, I have discovered that viewers in Wales will be able to watch the Week In Week Out programme about the train service from Wales to London (featuring my good self) on the 10th of June. So tune in, and let me know if I sound like a bit of a loon, as when you have to explain why you run a blog called "I Hate First Great Western" and send badges out to people bearing this legend, it's hard to come off as normal. Still, no change there.
I was interested to read a comment on my last post from a visitor who thought that free WiFi access was a great idea, and one which would affect their choice of train provider, so hopefully FGW will be watching and listening, and fingers crossed this perk may be available soon. I'm still very much enjoying the free off-peak first class upgrade, that really is a favourite.
This led me to wonder what other PR victories the company could score, by simply adding a few extra bonuses to their service. Answers on a postcard.
I've also been whiling away my leisure time coming up with a controversial theory as follows (I expect much abuse for this one, but hear me out):
Why not make the trains slower? In other words, leave a bit more time for them to get between stations, and stop for a few minutes each time. This is what the little shuttle does between Windsor and Slough, it sits for at least five minutes each end, and as a result is never late. If the train timetables were more realistic, and allowed for a minute or two extra at each station, the trains would be much more likely to be on time, because a few minutes delay here and there could be soaked up by not stopping so long at the next stop.
And, if you think that's mad, just ask yourself if you'd rather take a 30 minute journey that was always on time, rather than a 15 minute journey that was very often late?
I always choose South West trains from Windsor to London. It takes twice as long on paper, but in practice, it's often quicker, and it's virtually always on time.
So, should First Great Western take a look at their services, and give themselves a reality check?

Monday, May 12, 2008

No free WiFi? Why?

So there I was, smiling valiantly and answering the questions of rail expert Christian Wolmar, as he asked me exactly why I spend my spare time moaning about First Great Western and sending people badges to wear when their trains are delayed, when something unexpected emerged.
We were filming for the BBC's Week In Week Out series, and I'd agreed to do an interview on Reading station. I dutifully brought along my massively heavy and rather out-of-date laptop, as we'd been told there was WiFi access at the coffee shop on platform four. And so there is, but you have to pay for it, at the rate of £2.50 per half hour, or something like that.
There followed much hassle and bother as the producer tried to use his card to log us on to the system. It took us about ten minutes. My question is: why not make this service free? If it takes ten minutes to log onto it, many people won't bother, and the amount of money it makes must be negligable. So, why not give everyone a treat and offer something useful and free, which they can use when their trains are delayed, thereby distracting them from thoughts of penning a complaint letter to FGW.
Just a thought.