All you wanted to know about seating

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Well, it’s been a little while. I’m definitely part of the “If you don’t have anything to say” school of thought, which I realise might be an adaptation of the conventional philosophy, but you get the gist.

There have been very few mental passengers, the Natives are still strangely absent (like the calm before the storm) and no engineering works to damp the general spirits.

Last Friday a group of what I thought were girls but actually turned out to be boys, jumped on the train at Cambridge. After five minutes of general noise, one of them remarked on the fact that there are people trying to read. At which point, Captain Bigmouth here pipes up with “TRYING to read…” After that a stabbing ensued – significant as the first one outside of London and to someone over the age of twenty-five. Not really – this isn’t the front page of The Sun, after all. We had a light hearted conversation about what to do about the one extremely loud male foetus. I suggested gagging. His friend elaborated by throwing “with a sweaty sock” into the mix. Added to that, they got off at Ely, a mere fifteen minutes from Cambridge. Bless ‘em, they were good boys – just a bit sugared up from their trip away from the ‘rents.

I have a lot of time to think, on the train. I generally fill up the time with reading and/or music (depending on the background noise and the fullness of my own brain) but it’s impossible to escape the idle thoughts. Such as – when a conductor checks your ticket for the second time in an hour long journey, why do we put up with it? Isn’t it rather like patronising the cinema only to find the lights up half way through the feature while they check you’re allowed to be in there? I realise it’s hard to keep track of everyone especially if they move around, but I always thought it was a vital part of the conductor-y type job. That and serving tea at 100mph without spilling a drop. Amazing.

You know what else is amazing? The tables on trains. How can it be that the train lurches around corners and topples passengers onto other passengers, but your full, large coffee doesn’t even break a sweat? I don’t understand. I can only conclude it must be magic – something to do with lightweight velcro. They could probably stand to make the carpet out of the same material, though.

I did have a brilliant run in with Grumpy Lady today though (hereinafter referred to as GL) who I have sat next to before, or rather, she sat next to me. You know who she is. She’s the person who makes you feel like you should apologise for not curtseying when she enters the train. As if you should throw yourself prostrate on the ground so as not to sully her eyes with having to look at your face. She also has a hell of a lot of Stuff. As in, plastic bags, laptop bags, handbags… Basically a bit of a nightmare ot sit next to.

There I was, on a half empty train, enjoying my book and whiling away the hour with odd thoughts, when the train stopped at Brandon. Before I knew it, a terse voice barked “Excuse me” while a veritable holiday’s worth of crap got dumped at my feet. Bewildered, I raised my head and pointed a slightly trembling finger to one of the empty pairs of seats nearby. When I say nearby, I mean actually directly behind her. “That one’s free” I offered, “If you don’t want to sit next to anyone”. She muttered something unintelligbile apart from the tone and sat down bad temperedly at the empty seat. The one in the aisle, so no-one else could sit down next to her. Seriously. Why would you WANT to sit next to someone when you didn’t have to? This was made all the more relevant when she spent the next half hour applying make up. After that, she compounded my hatred of trainers with a suit by changing her racy red stilletos for fugly black trainers.

Rather like the urinal etiquette, I believe there is a strict code of train seat etiquette which could perhaps be applied to any seated even i.e. cinema, gig etc.

The idiot’s guide to seating etiquette.

  1. Do not sit directly beside, in front of or behind someone unless there is absolutely no room. If this means walking the length of the train/stadium, so be it.
  2. When you wish to sit down at a seat which already has an occupant (but enough room for you and/or companions) you ask the occupant if you may sit down. This may only be a perfunctory gesture, but it counts for a lot and will save your elbows on the ensuing journey.
  3. Armrests. There is one word to remember when dealing with an armrest hogger – SHARE. Very often those who sit next to the window do not have an armest – something nice to consider if you happen to be sitting on an aisle seat.
  4. Tables. There are definite pros and cons to sitting at a table if you are a lone traveller. The extra room is a bit of a con really, as you share about the same amount of space with three other people, as you would have with a dual seater.

My guideline is basically to esnure your feet do not encroach past the half-way line on the table. However, please remember that some people have longer legs and may need more room.

  1. The final rule, the last but not least, if you will – remember the person next to you is actually a human being. If you don’t have enough elbow room and want to get the pointy bits out or fancy playing mean footsie because your toes are a bit squished and you’ve spotted they’re wearing sandals – ask yourself how happy you’d be if they did it to you. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been elbowed, trodden on or barked at just because someone else isn’t 100% comfortable. Believe me, I give as good as I get. But I’m so much more relaxed if someone asks me nicely to move my feet or my bag.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, if you think of any more that should be added – feel free.

Ooh, this is the first of my four day weeks. Bank holidays are pretty cool, and I have another Monday off next week,. For reasons unknown.

Book recommendation of the week: “twilight” by Stephanie Meyer. I’m a sucker (ha, no second pun intended) for teen vampire books. I definitely blame Buffy and all her scooby gang. If you haven’t heard of “twilight”, it’s about a girl called Bella who moves to a small town to live with her dad, and encounters some kids at the high school who… are a little bit different. Beautiful, dangerous and exciting – can Bella handle the pace?

I know, I know. I should write the blurb on the back of books. Before I’m thirty I want to realise my ambition of writing a Millls & Boon novel. Of course, it will probably be about high school vamps.

Modern day addictions

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Another week, another… dollar? I can never remember how the saying is meant to go.
Anyway, my point is, it’s Monday. The rain is still falling from the sky and I am still neglecting to wear a jacket or even carry an umbrella.

I’m pretty happy today as the engineering work has officially finished, which means my journey now takes an hour and twenty minutes instead of two hours and multiple changes. Huzzah.
The train was disconcertingly full this morning though. Other people actually had to sit next to me. My favourite was the man who sat down across the table from me and proceeded to actually kick my feet out of the way. When I protested (by saying “Ouch”) he barked at me to move my bag, which was nestling happily between my feet, to the rack. As if, upon seeing a fairly young girl alone he deduced he could be the boss of me. I replied with “It’s fine where it is, actually” and then he tried to start a foot war, which I politely ignored. I don’t understand some people. There isn’t a lot of room, granted, but I try to stick to my side of the table as much as possible. I do have long legs though, so I’m aware that I take up more room than people would expect me to.

This month has to be the slowest month in the world. Fact. I’m sure I last got paid about six weeks ago, and yet here I am, with another week to go. This month has been tremendously busy though – in a time span of a fortnight there has been no less than six birthdays, that I can think of off the top of my head. Darn winter, making everyone go to bed earlier. Oh, winter. I can feel it already – let’s face it, our summer happened somewhere around mid-May. Our grass is already out of control again, but it’s never dry for long enough so we can cut it properly. I say we. I mean Mr Charming.

Oh, and I’d just like to say. Hello. My name is Suzanne, and I’m a scrabulous addict. It’s like a disease. If I get beaten and my score diminishes rapidly, I sulk. If I win, my score never increases by enough. I check scrabulous every ten minutes or so, to see if anyone has moved since I checked it last. I think I need help. Well, maybe just a bit more willpower. Or I may have to self-block facebook at work. But then I wouldn’t be able to play Scrabulous, which may mean that I think about it all of the time and get no work done anyway…. In fact, if any of the people who might be reading this fancy a game – feel free to click on my scrabulous link. I play SOWPODS regular games and normally score over 300. I sometimes use an anagram helper but never use words I don’t understand, or board generators.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to urge everyone to read my friend’s film review blog. He’s going to be writing for the NME pretty soon, so catch him before he’s catapulted into the mainstream and leaves all of us lowly bloggers behind… Also, he said he’d read my blog as I read his, so maybe he’ll be more interested with a bona fide mention.

I’ve been thinking about a conversation we had this morning at work. One of my colleagues commented on a new breed of commuter in this area – that of the business lady with trainers on. Personally, I hate this ‘look’, and said so in my usual subtle way. My other (male) colleague then told me that I didn’t ‘get’ it and people who do that are trying to be comfortable. I replied that there are flats for this purpose, which means that you don’t look like a moron. The conversation was terminated there, which I think was a bit of a shame because there could have been some interesting discussion. My office is about 99% male, so the view would have been different. It still got me thinking though – is it just sensible to wear trainers with your work outfit and then slip on heels at work (especially if you’re visiting the gym during the day) or is it plain fugly?

Of course, it’s a moot point for us really. We wear jeans and t-shirts.

No Ticket

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Well, here I am at the end of another week. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed at the arrangements for the last couple of weeks, in terms of the engineering works. It’s all gone pretty smoothly and relatively pain free. I won’t be sad when the journey time returns to forty five minutes less though.

Ah, the weird and wonderful inhabitants of that murky area that could be called ‘commuter-ville’. There have definitely been some classics this week.

Like the charming woman who exclaimed quite loudly that the conductor sounded like he was foreign as she couldn’t understand “a bloody word ‘e was saying”, despite the fact that he actually had a really broad Norfolk accent. She was so loud and rude her table mates actually got up and left to seek refuge. When this happened she shouted “go on then, bugger off” after them – two quite well dressed, middle aged ladies who evidently had no idea what had hit them. It was when she burst into “Jerusalem” that I retreated into i-pod world. Although it’s just struck me that it’s her fault that I haven’t been able to look out the window without humming “… In England’s green and pleasant land”.

I love the people who get on trains with the wrong tickets. I can definitely understand how it can be a little bit confusing, but not when the conductor announces at least once every thirty seconds before the train moves off that you can only travel with a specified ticket or an open ticket. There was a woman on the train this morning who pleaded ignorance when the conductor reminded her that her ticket wasn’t valid. She still had to pay extortionate prices, but to be honest, I didn’t buy her “but I’m just a lay-dee” fluttery eyelashes either. Especially when she pulled out a laptop and revealed some of her Native true colours. Hmm.

Who else thinks you should get a YP discount on season tickets? Show of hands, please… I certainly do. Without my YP discount, the monthly season ticket is about £15 cheaper. This means that if I miss a couple of days a month (bank holidays etc) it costs me more money. With a YP discount, it would bring the cost about level with the savings made without a YP card. If that makes sense. It’s never going to happen as no doubt there will be uproar about positive discrimination. While we’re on the subject – I have never seen the first class section of a carriage full. Interestingly though, if you are a pregnant woman with a season ticket you can apply for a free upgrade to first class. Of course, there are caveats which need to be fulfilled – you practically have to show a live shot of your unborn child, in triplicate, but it’s still pretty cool. Not worth getting pregnant for though.

O, my kingdom for a hairdresser that stays open past 6pm in the evening and is easy to get to from the train station… I confidently rang my hairdresser yesterday for an appointment on Friday, only to be rebuffed as their latest appointment was 5pm. Boo. I’m starting to look like… well, an unkempt, split ends version of myself, basically. I’m also torn between having an actual style or keeping the length. It feels like I’ve been trying to grow my hair out for years, an ache which has only intensified since I saw “Mamma Mia!” and the amount of long, flowing lockage in that. One day.

On the topic of fantasies, I read “Chocolat” this week and thoroughly enjoyed it. I haven’t seen the film and deliberately steered clear of the book as it’s one of those books – the ones your Mum reads on holiday.

Vianne and her daughter Anouk arrive in a sleepy French village and basically stir up trouble with their chocolate concoctions. Mixed up with all of this runs a seething river of lust, envy and forbidden fruits which goes as deep as class war and religion.
My only criticism is that it’s too short. I finished it in a couple of journeys. However, I still plan to read the sequel – “The Lollipop Shoes”.

Operation Independent Mobility

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Huzzah – six down, four to go. This week it’s all change (pardon the pun, really wasn’t intended but I’m going to leave it in anyway) as there is now a bus between Norwich and Thetford and then a train from there to Cambridge. I’m a bit worried about me at the moment though, as I’ve spent the last fortnight convinced that the bus is the last part of the journey, not the first. Oh well, I seem to manage pretty well.
This morning I snubbed the bus/train combo in favour of three trains – Norwich –Stowmarket, Stowmarket – Ely then Ely – Cambridge. It sounds like a lot of hassle (let’s face it, it’s no picnic) but it got me there twenty minutes earlier than the bus, which leaves at exactly the same time. All important when trying to maintain that 4pm leave time. Was quite a pleasant journey, actually.

I sat next to a boy on the Stowmarket-Ely train who I could’ve sworn was about 20. When he pulled his ticket out for the conductor, it had that awful five letter word stamped across it: CHILD. I feel so old. Obviously, I looked again and he was actually an embryo. Twenty-five feels ancient at times like these. Especially when I sneaked a peek at his i-pod and he was playing Foals – not “Cassius” either. Other than that, no real characters on the train today. I guess the Natives have either persevered with their Driving Alliance or all gone on holiday together. On a train holiday, no doubt.

Nevermind – my driving test is hurtling ever closer – a mere six weeks away. Eep. I get nervous tummy just thinking about it. I have had a two hour lesson every week for a year though, as well as a little bit of practice inbetween. I should be fine. Anmoyingly, I cancelled a test in August as I didn’t feel ready, but the lesson after the day I should have had it was the most confident lesson I’d had in a long time. The manoeuvres went swimmingly, driving was great and I feel that I would have passed my test with that performance. Oh well – I just need to hang on in there for another month or so. I am hideously nervous though. I tend to do well in exams, but I’ve always stuck to the theory type subjects, you know? It’s exciting, too though – I could go anywhere I wanted, on my own, without having to rely on public transport or Mr Charming! Brill. I’ll probably still catch the train though, I’ll just get even less exercise by driving to the station instead of being good and walking.

Speaking of which, I am currently awaiting news on a project that, if it comes to something, will be aces. Seriously. I have sworn myself to secrecy as well as the few friends who I’ve told, but watch this space for future updates.
Have different nervous type symptoms. In a good way. That sounds like I’m pregnant – I’m not. Nothing to do with house or baby or anything like that. All will become clear in due course, as BB might say.

Wish me luck for the return journey. All journeys between Norwich and Cambridge were cancelled this morning. Hmm.

Three days down, seven to go

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Well, it’s day 3 of the fortnight long engineering works. Thankfully I had yesterday off to celebrate Mr Charming’s birthday, so it was really only day two for me.

It’s not too bad. A bus that takes an hour from Brandon to Cambridge when the train journey would take about half an hour is irritating, but NXEA seem to have got it pretty right. On Monday the buses were there when we disembarked at Brandon, and were there when we alighted at Cambridge that evening. They’re not too shabby either – all of the ones I’ve been on have had that weird, scratchy seat material that seems to be old curtains, but they’re fairly clean and moderately comfortable.

The only down side is that I have to make up about an hour and a half of time from work, as I’m arriving at 9.30am and leaving at 16.10 every day. My employers have been extra helpful though, and have lent me a laptop so I can carry on working on the journey. Lessens the guilt for me and means I don’t have to stay later another time. I’m currently working on my second laptop though – I lugged the first one home last Friday night, charged it on Sunday night and settled down Monday morning for a spot of task building, when the battery decreased 97% in about three minutes. Not terribly helpful. So another laptop’s been sourced, which will hopefulyl last longer than that one. I won’t hold my breath though. Apparently it’s because the laptops in the office are rarely used as actual laptops, but as portable desktop PCs. If that makes sense. Basically, they’re always plugged in to the mains.

The view is definitely different from a coach, anyway. We went past RAF Lakenheath this morning, and I had never realised how vast the base is. There are sternly worded signs along the length of the barbed wire fence (which is low enough to jump over, I reckon) which tell would-be intruders to stay out otherwise the guns/dogs/bombs/soldiers will get ‘em. The bit we drove past though, is clearly a golf course. They even have golf buggies. Not that scary. Plus, I saw brand new housing being built – massive houses which I hope are flats otherwise I may well consider an Army career. The weirdest bit was that there was absolutely no-one around. We navigated a fair amount of the perimeter and I didn’t see a soul. No dogs, birds, children – not even soldiers guarding the gates.

Then the bus passed one of those hilarious signs that helpfully advise “queues likely”. To me, it’s a bit like cramming an airport into a swimming pool and then warning that there may be delays. Maybe I’m approaching it from the wrong angle. It tickled me, though. Oh, and also – how do they know where to put the animal road signs? This is ringing a bell with me as I’m sure someone’s mentioned this recently, but it’s still a relevant observation. What comes first – the duck or the signs? Do the ducks know not to venture outside of their dictated perimeters, as that way lies sure death by fiery demon? I would like to live in a place that has a duck advisory sign.

In terms of passengers, the train has been beautifully quiet. As I mentioned before, The Natives formed The Driving Alliance and have temporarily seconded. Other than that, there are a few tourists around and the occassional newbie, like myself, who does not have another way to get to work. If I had, I would probably not be gracing the train with my presence.

I did try to help out today, though. As the train pulled in to Brandon, which is the last stop this week, there was a dapper old gentleman waiting to board. As I was the first out of the carriage I advised him that Brandon was the last stop. He nodded at me and came back with “I’m going to Cambridge”. I re-iterated the advice but he just nodded at me again, bless him. On the way past the driver I pointed him out as he was making his way back along the platform, at the back of the crowd. I looked out for him on the coach but couldn’t see him. Some people are funny though – they assume you’re going to mug them or they just ignore you.

On Monday afternoon the coach pulled up to Brandon and everyone spilled out in a blind panic. As I was at the back I waited until everyone else was off (I wasn’t being helpful then, I didn’t have a choice) and wandered past the two guards at the entrance of the platform. When I rounded the corner, everyone from two coaches was standing on the platform, eyeballing the stationary train. I turned on my heel and went back to the guards, who confirmed that it was indeed the Norwich train. I retraced my steps and headed towards the furthest carriage (Norwich is an end of the line station) to resume the doze I was in on the coach. When I looked back, about fifty people were following me to the train. Hmm. I wasn’t that comfortable with the responsibility, to be honest. But I also felt sorry for them for being such sheep – every single person had walked past both guards in their haste to get to the platform before as many people as possible, but no-one had the brains to ask the guards if it was the right train, or even the driver.

I didn’t resume my nap. I read work stuff instead.

One way ticket to engineering hell

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I had planned to follow up my initial post before this, but work got in the way.

By overhearing a Native discussing the impending doom, I learnt on Wednesday that the Norwich-Cambridge line is undergoing engineering works for the next fortnight. I say ‘overhearing’ when actually what I mean to say is, tried to block her and her whinge out for the full 75 minute journey. As if she was the only one affected. Don’t worry about her though – the other Natives have banded together to form the Driving Alliance, which basically means the replacement bus service will be empty.

Next week, there will be a train to Brandon and then a bus from there. I will get in half an hour later than usual on the way in. On the way back, by some curious time drain in the early evening, I’ll take the same journey (in reverse, obv) and get home an HOUR later. I’ll never understand how that happens. An extra ten billion stops adds twenty minutes to the ‘fast train’ but the same journey is a whole sixty minutes when you’re just going the other way. Oh well.

Then, the week after that, I’ll have the joy of getting the train to Stowmarket, then to Ely and then to Cambridge, before again rocking up half an hour late. The train back (from Thetford) will merely take forty minutes extra. Perfectly acceptable.

I actually wrote an e-mail to good ol’ NXEA yesterday requesting more information on the engineering works. They haven’t replied. It’d be pretty cool if they advised me that the train journey would take forty five minutes as a result from then on, or that the train would hover three mm above the lines. But I doubt that’s what they’re doing.

So, what else has gone on lately?
I had the pleasure of sitting next to what can only be described as half man half hobbit, but what I think was actually female. It was a classic Space Invader whose powers were strengthened by the fact that I didn’t actually want to touch anything belonging to it. And (I’m going to call her she just for grammatical ease, but please bear in mind this might not be the case) she was one of those passengers who feel the need to reply to any announcements from the conductor. The most charming one followed the announcement about no smoking on UK trains or station platforms. It ended with a stern “Passengers found smoking will be removed from the train”. To which HMHH replies “When it’s movin’ I ‘ope!” and cackles madly. I love sitting next to anti-smokers on a train – they’re the most interested when I pull out my rolling machine and assorted paraphernalia.

On a different journey (a return one again) a group of semi schoolies/semi tourists piled on at Thetford. I was sitting with my back to them, which made it more interesting when their peppered with bullet slang speech was revealed to be from three of the whitest spotty yoofs I’ve ever seen. They were obnoxiously loud and amusingly immature. Their discussions on footballers and their origins made me giggle, as well as their protestations at being classes as children (perhaps mentally, but definitely not physically) which the conductor actually fell for. Or maybe he couldn’t be bothered to argue. However, I ended up moving seats anyway because their conversation turned to world politics. This is the extract I can remember: “Well, it’s obviously workin cos petrol’s gone dahn ten pee, innit? Fuckin brownies don’t know wot’s goin’ on”
I should have given them all a clip round the earhole and a boot up the bum, but I was too tired and fuss’d, so I moved down the carriage instead. I could go into a diatribe here about the youth of today and how they have no respect for the troops that have died out there, or even the simple fact that petrol seems to have doubled in the five years since the start of Iraq War Mk II, but I won’t.

Another nightmare bunkmate came in the form of a rather large woman who occupied my airspace without so much as an ‘excuse me’. To add insult to injury, there were no less than three empty two seaters a mere two rows away. Either she fancied me or that was the first seat she saw. I always seem to get the weirdos. Hmm.

As it’s the end of the week I’m going to stop moaning and move on to something altogether lighter – my book reviews. The daily three hour journey time affords me reading space I wouldn’t have normally got, so now I read two – three books a week.

The best book I’ve read in a while is “The Post Birthday World” by Lionel Shriver (she who gave us Kevin, the high school serial killer, in “We need to talk about Kevin”). The story follows Irina, a forty something Russian children’s books illustrator who’s happily settled with staid boyfriend Lawrence, until an eventful moment with their mutual friend while Lawrence is away. Ramsey Acton is a Lahndahn snooker player renowned for placing as runner-up in a large amount of Championship finals. This moment occurs at the snooker table in Ramsey’s house, following a cosy dinner. It follows the “Sliding Doors” idea of alternate universes, based on one moment. This differs in one crucial way though – she is the cheater who makes the choice, not the cheated.
Anyway, you get the idea – it’s thought provoking and strangely compelling. I found it to be harder going than Kevin but just as rewarding.