Friday, December 28, 2007


I don't know why people need hallucinogenic drugs. I've just been channel-hopping and have bumped into a version of The Weakest Link where Roly Mo, Roland Rat and George and Zippy faced Anne Robinson and her twitch.

All that dumb plastic brought to life by the magic of television.

You can do your own punchline.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Designed for dwarf vampires

A trip to London today requires a journey via Virgin Trains, something I've gone out of my way to avoid of late. The services have improved by leaps and bounds as far as punctuality and reliability are concerned, being just quarter of an hour late. In this respect they're almost bearable. The major problem is, of course, the Pendolino Train. Much-hyped and much-loved by people who don't travel on it. A horrible, horrible, horrible train, even compared to the worst of the British Railways Board boneshakers.

What's so bad about it? Well, it's cramped and pokey and claustrophobic and shaky. Its internal design is that of a tube not much more than eight feet in diameter. All the lines within the carriage -- the seat tops; the curving luggage racks, the windows -- emphasise this shape. The windows themselves are small and low so that unless you're actually hunched up beside one you aren't going to get any natural light. The lighting is dim, the air hot and stuffy. All in all, the whole effect is like sitting in a Jetstream aircraft except that the seats are more uncomfortable and there's no hostess service. And it's a very turbulent ride!

Like all else in these trains the toilets are over-engineered to the point of unusability. These were all, like me, seasoned travellers and had emptied bowels and bladders prior to the journey to avoid having anything to do with the toilets. For those of you not in the know: the problem is the door. It takes a few pushes of buttons to get the door open and then the fun begins. How do you get the door to shut and stay shut for the duration of your visit? And don't be fooled by the messages that suggest that you have successfully secured the door: you may still get visitors. And the door may just fling itself open of its own accord anyway. If you must go, I suggest you carry along a modesty blanket and sing in a loud voice.

You will get frequent announcements about the Virgin Train Shop. The Virgin Train Shop experience is your friendly neighbourhood famine. So the most frequent announcement is: "There is no hot water and so hot drinks are not available." I've never been on a Virgin Train where hot drinks were available. You would think that nice Mister Branson could afford to buy them a few kettles. Almost as popular an announcement is: "The shop will be closing because of technical difficulties." Not like them nasty old British Rail buffet cars then.

Is there anything positive about the experience?

Well, the staff are professional in less-than-optimum circumstances.

And the trains do get you from the north of England to London in the same time it used to take in the 1970s.

So that's all right then.