On momentary connection

Usually, when I get on the train in the morning, it’s full of other people who are all minding their own business, and presumably trying to wake up before they get to work. People read if they have space to hold a book or a phone, or stare out of the window if they don’t. We all squish up to each other, but try not to actually acknowledge anyone’s existence.

Occasionally something happens which breaks the spell, even if only momentarily. People catch each other’s eyes and smile. It lasts a couple of seconds, and then it’s gone. Except it’s not really gone, there’s still the faintest hint of connection in the air. The slightest remembrance of the smile on the faces of strangers.

It doesn’t happen nearly often enough, but it doesn’t take much, just something a little bit unexpected.

Last week, as the train doors closed and the train pulled away from the station, the driver, who usually says, “Train to Spandau, next stop ..XYZ..”, announced, “In case anyone wanted to know, it is exactly 7:10 am, NOW!….” There was a pause, we all looked round to see who might actually want to know what the time was. Eyebrows were raised slightly. “…And incidentally, have a fantastic morning!”. We smiled, grinned even, and went back to our books, our phones and our vacant gazes out of the windows.

The connection was short, but real.

At the next station we looked up, waited expectantly for the next announcement, “Train to Spandau, next stop XYZ.”

On buying problems in a wine bottle

I lugged my suitcase up the steps and onto the train and breathed out – unaware that I’d even been holding my breath..

Looking around, it became apparent that I’d landed in the first class carriage. I would have to wrangle my suitcase and an unwieldy bag of picture frames* through the restaurant car and past the private cabins, but at least I was on the train.

***

The station had been full of people walking slowly, and I’d got stuck behind a deaf couple going just fast enough to make it hard to overtake without bashing someone.

They were too busy signing with each other to notice me, and since asking them to either hurry up or let me through was a hopeless case, I tried not to think about the time, and instead concentrated on not ramming them with my luggage.

The train was already there and the platform was mostly empty by the time I’d made my way up the escalator. Luckily.

I ran, or stumbled, unhindered (except by myself) along the platform and hurled myself at an unblocked door.

***

The train left before I’d had a chance to find a seat. I lurched forwards, trying not to fall on anyone, and still panting from running along the platform.

I asked the first person sitting by themselves if the seat next to them was free and flopped into place as they moved over to the window seat.

After getting [most of] my breath back, I checked my phone, told DB I’d caught the train ok, repositioned the picture frames so that they weren’t poking my legs more than necessary and took out the biscuit tin.

image

One of the guys at the meeting on Saturday had provided 3 tins of Christmas biscuits and since we hadn’t eaten them all yet, they were offered to whoever wanted them.

It’s still a bit early for Christmas biscuits, but they are good ones, and they are easy to eat on trains so I volunteered to take one of the tins off their hands :).

Anyway. It’s a little bit rude to eat biscuits by oneself, even if you don’t know your neighbours, so I turned to the window-seat-man and offered him the tin. He looked a little bit lot perplexed, but ate one regardless. πŸ™‚

Then he reached down into his bag and produced a slim black tin which he presented me..

image

For some reason I first thought it must be cigars, but it turned out to be chocolates – “from Dubai”, he said casually, as if everyone carried excess tins of Dubai chocolates with them**..

A surprisingly interesting conversation ensued – he’s an on-call pilot for a rich Russian bloke with a private jet and a string of inportant worldwide business meetings (hence the chocolates from Dubai ;)) – and I was a bit disappointed that he was changing trains after only a couple of stops.

As the train pulled up to his station, he started gathering his stuff together. A coat, a suitcase, a laptop bag….and a very large cardboard box.

“That’s a bottle of wine. A very big bottle of wine. A huge bottle. I bought it in Italy and it’s the reason I’m on the train. I usually fly home, but I wasn’t allowed to take it on the plane! Taking liquid on my bosses plane is ok, but not on passenger machines… I should have known that I wasn’t buying wine, I was buying problems in a bottle!”

And with that, a smile and a wave, he was gone, leaving me with a small black tin of chocolates and a story for my travel collection – and a post! πŸ™‚

* Three were almost exactly what I’d been looking for, for a project I’m working on, two were simple and colourful and would go well on my wall. And besides, they weren’t very expensive and I don’t go shopping much ;).

** If they do, can someone tell me why I knew nothing about it?

On not being rockstar material

Argh. Written but somehow not sent last night…

***

It’s Sunday.

I have been ‘on the road’ since Thursday. That’s 4 days.

4 days isn’t exactly a long time.

Not really, in the big scheme of things.

But.

Thursday certainly seems like a long time ago.

I am knackered.

I even fell asleep on the sofa at last night’s birthday party*.

It’s really really good to see all the people I rarely see otherwise, but I’m not capable of keeping this pace up for long.

I have a 7 hour train journey home tomorrow, and a colleague’s birthday party and a day trip to a specialist on Tuesday. After that, life’s back to normal** and I can [hopefully] get enough sleep again.

There is NO WAY I could go on a 6 month tour – somewhere new every day and a concert or two every night would probably kill me….

***

* and apparently while pressing ‘publish’……

** commuting and working and gardening and looking after the house – which used to feel crazily busy, but will seem relaxing compared to the last few days πŸ˜‰

On [not] helping

I spent a lot of yesterday getting on and off trains.

I love the freedom of county tickets and days off – the freedom to do exactly what I want, where I want to do it. πŸ™‚

Each time I realised the current plan wasn’t going to work, I changed it, checking the timetables in the stations and on my phone as needed.

I took my time over breakfast, looking at churches, letting the dried fruit salesman persuade me to buy horrendous amounts of ginger, walking through town, perusing the postcard stands and eating local sausages from a street market stall.

Overall, everything worked out well, but I ended up waiting for half an hour on a semi-desolate platform in a fairly small town / large village.

A Turkish guy asked me in very broken German if I could help him work out which trains to catch across most of southern Germany to Munich. He’d got a ticket, but had missed the train he was supposed to get, and was a little bit out of his depth.

I’ve been stranded on enough platforms with little or no idea which train to catch or how to read the timetable or what all the abbreviations mean, to know how helpless it makes you feel. Even if you speak the language it’s tough in a strange place.

I’ve also been helped by more people than I can remember. People who have helped me figure out what sort of train (local, regional, national, express) I’m allowed on to with which ticket, which buttons to press to get the machine to talk to me, where to punch the ticket before getting on the train, how to get to the platform I need, …….

Whatever.

My phone battery survived just long enough to look up a connection for him and write it on the back of an envelope. We figured out which platform he needed and all was good. He phoned his German speaking supervisor (he was supposed to be meeting them, but was running late) and asked me to tell them we’d sorted things out and that he was on his way but was going to be there later than previously arranged.

In the middle of the phone call, an elderly-ish gentleman came up and demanded to know where he was headed, he picked up some of what I was telling the supervisor and proceeded to read him the timetable, loudly, jabbing his finger at the board and asking if he ‘couldn’t even read’. (The fact that the timetable only tells you the end destination and maybe 30% of the stops (per journey) was irrelevant. As was the fact that he needed to change trains a couple of times).

I finished the call, already irritated that he had talked at me throughout most of it (can’t stand that!), whereupon he told me he’d watched the guy miss the train he needed twice.

Twice, when the train goes once an hour, means he’s been watching him for two hours.

!!!!!!

What’s with that???

What could make a person spend two hours sitting on a platform watching a foreigner miss multiple trains???

And then, having spent two hours being remarkably unhelpful, what would make them decide to get involved once the situation’s already been resolved???

I really really don’t understand some people.

On falling asleep mid-post

Anyone would think that with all this train travel, I’d be able to get something written before crashing out…

…apparently not.

The meeting went on til gone midnight, and once I’d walked back to the hotel I was too knackered to hold my phone for long enough to finish writing and press send.

No sticking power – the youth of today!!

On quick turnarounds

It’s Tuesday.
I’ve just got back from 3 days away.
I’m going away again on Thursday morning.
That leaves me with tomorrow evening to unpack, and repack my bag, maybe attempt to get a load of washing done.

That has to be long enough – I’ve done 20 minute turnarounds before….

Now, it’s time for bed πŸ™‚

On surviving organisational failure

This is one of those posts that started life as an email in my rough draft folder and has been added to at irregular intervals since then. I’m going to tart it up a bit and post it so that it gets to see some of the world. The rough draft folder is a bit stuffy.

I thought about ignoring it, but it was too close to finished to throw away, certainly a lot closer than others, and it would be a shame to waste a good story about me winning against the “anti-organisation-field”… The original title was “On coins and organisation” but I have no idea what the coins bit was going to be about so I changed it… πŸ™‚

[written on a train in July 2013]

“If life was an exam and there were points awarded for organisation, I would have failed. Not the ‘just short of an A’ line of fail that isn’t really one at all, nor the ‘oh well, I can make up the points on creativity’ sort, not even ‘at least I scraped through with an E’.

Nada. I would have so few points that I’d get a Z. Someone might even have to invent a new alphabet.

Whatever. I seem to have been blessed with an angel whose only purpose in my life is to rush about getting the world to work around/despite the anti-organisation field I generate.

You want an example? How long have you got? πŸ˜‰

Take today.

I have the day off work. I have the day off work because I polished my finger last week and it still hasn’t healed yet. I have to visit the doctor (because of said finger), and I have to catch a train at 12:40 to get me to a-village-nearly-6-hours-away at the same time as my boyfriend. The doctors close at 12 and the bus leaves on the hour and then every 20 minutes.

The plan was to wake up, have breakfast, pack, tidy the place up and get on the bus at 11:20. That would have given me enough time for there to be a queue at the doctor’s, several red lights and a bunch of slow people in front of me…….”

[Written later July 2013 and slightly edited in early 2014 in an unsuccessful effort to get the post out]

“… and that’s as far as I got before I couldn’t take typing on my phone any more.

This is how I might have continued (and even if it isn’t, it’s how I’m going to continue today):

…The reality looked a little different.

I missed the bus at 11:20, and also the one at 11:40.

I only just caught the one at 12:00 by running up the hill and hurling myself at the bus driver.

Naja, running is a euphemism.

I was wearing a backpack and a handbag, carrying a wicker basket and dragging a suitcase behind me – thankfully one with decent wheels.. That doesn’t leave much scope for running up a hill.

I left my house in a state of general dereliction.

I’d been off work for a week and had chosen to split my time between reading, dancing, visiting people and doing the hyper-focus stuff I don’t usually do. Things like getting the black gunk out of the washing powder drawer in the washing machine with a toothbrush. Things like finally getting my receipts in order and updating my spreadsheet (not so much filling it in as changing some functions and adding a new totals page). While I’m sure it’s good to take life slowly sometimes, it probably wasn’t the best use of my time. Whatever. I hadn’t done the things I ought to have done. Things like packing, washing up or sweeping the floor. (Also things like writing the new school stuff onto cards, working on my Glass Thing Theory Project, drawing my masterpiece…)

When it occurred to me that I was leaving in a couple of hours I panicked. When I panic I am less able to function than usual. I had a shower. I faffed about looking for clothes to wear on the train. I looked for my shoes. An hour before I was supposed to leave, I decided it would be a good idea to get my suitcase out. I threw things at it for 10 minutes and then went to check my email and start reading a blogpost someone’d sent me. Once I’d started I was stuck for a good 20 minutes. Ignoring the problem makes it go away, right?

Wrong.

When I finally remembered I’d actually been doing something else, I had less than half an hour to be on the bus. I threw some more stuff at my suitcase and gave up. My house was a wreck, I was a wreck, I hadn’t packed, I was going to miss the bus and get to the doctors after they closed and then have to wait until after their lunch break and miss the train andmaybenotevengetANYtrainthatdayandmessupR’splansandmakehimhatemeandmaybehe’salreadyannoyedandmyhouseisamessandIcan’tpackorwashuporleaveontimeand…

At this point I think I managed to pull myself together and tell myself that sitting there wasn’t even going to give me the chance to make it to the bus stop. I continued on throwing stuff at my suitcase. Obviously it didn’t all fit, what with me going to a wedding an’ all. My makeup bag was bigger than my wash-kit usually is. I also hadn’t made the final decision about which shoes to wear so I had to pack them all. I went to get my backpack.

About then, the bus left. I figured I could get the next one and carried on.

As I was hoisting my backpack onto my shoulder I remembered that I was supposed to be working for a week (after the wedding) and that having snuck into work in the middle of the night to get my tools and goggles, it would be remarkably dumb to leave them behind.

I put my backpack down and tried to imagine where there might be enough space for delicate pointy graphite things. Graphite is wonderful stuff, but stupidly brittle.”

[added later – Sept 2015 – Two years on, my memory isn’t sure of the details, but the main events are still amazingly clear :)]

“There most definitely wasn’t room for them. I left my backpack and suitcase on the landing and looked for a suitable bag for my tools. My stash of bags lived in a wicker shopping basket. While I rummaged through them, looking for one without holes and with both handles intact, I decided the basket would be better than any of the bags, and it was stabile enough to withstand being bashed and still protect my tools. I emptied it onto the floor and took it to my room where I took a T-shirt out of my cupboard, ignoring the clothes which fell out in the process, bundled the tools in (carefully, but hurriedly) and rushed out of the house, picking up my backpack and suitcase on the way past.

I got to the door and remembered I’d been holding my buspass when I’d had to go back in, and that I wasn’t holding it anymore. I left the suitcase and basket in the hall, went back up stairs (still wearing the backpack), unlocked my flat (knocking a couple of shoes off the shelf with my backpack), picked up the buspass, relocked the flat and came back down the stairs.

The neighbour’s daughter was standing outside when I finally made it out of the house. She was 4 or 5 and for some reason she really really loved me. Enough to want to tell me all about everything every time she saw me anyway. I only got out of a long winded conversation about something complicated like rabbits, because she was supposed to be going somewhere too.

I half ran, half walked up the hill and caught the 12:00 bus. Just. I think it might have been a couple of minutes late but I don’t remember.

I got to the doctor’s somewhere between 12:10 and 12:15, totally out of breath, and on the verge of crying. They closed at 12:00 and have until 13:30 lunchbreak.Β I had to be on a pre-booked train at 12:40. The next train (which I would have to pay for again) would leave at 13:40 which was impossible to catch, if I was allowed into the practice at 13:30. The one after that left at 14:40 but wouldn’t be in time for the last connecting train to the place I wanted to get to. I was a bit stuffed. However. Whatever else happened, I had to be seen by the doctor at some point during the day. If you’re on sickleave because of work-related accidents, you’re not allowed to travel out of the town you live in.Β To make sure you don’t go gallevanting while you’re supposed to be recouperating, they make you go and see them every couple of days, even if it isn’t really necessary. If you don’t go, there’s big trouble with all kinds of autorities. I was on the way to a wedding, and would have taken the afternoon off work anyway, even if I hadn’t been off sick, but I wasn’t officially allowed to go anywhere until I was given the all-clear by the doctor.

Luckily, someone came out and I got in before the door shut behind them πŸ™‚ I left my suitcase and the basket in the foyer and went into the waiting area. The nurses behind the desk knew me, and knew I only needed the bandage changing, so they smiled and pointed me towards the nearest free room instead of kicking me out or making me wait until after lunch. They unwrapped my finger and made small talk until the doctor came in, glanced at my finger, pronounced it “healing well” and went out again. My finger was bandaged back up quickly and I was out of the practice by 12:25.

On a usual day – walking, with no luggage – it takes me 11-13 minutes to get between the doctors and the train station, depending on traffic lights and how many people get kicks out of standing in my way. On this day, the lights were on my side, and there weren’t enough people out, for them to really be in the way. I probably bashed some old people with my basket on my way past, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t knock anyone over :).

I was at the station at 12:38, and collapsed onto the train 30 seconds before it closed the doors to leave.

And then I remembered how to breathe.

(I also thought of the state of my house, and the craziness of my morning, and how unfit I was and how stupid the whole situation was and … yeah, I cried too.. and wrote the first part of the post :))”

On SatNags and Maps

I wrote this ages ago, but somehow never got round to posting it…

***

Last summer, DB and I went on a road trip along the south coast of England in a weird and wonderful VW van. The van is truly wonderful in all sorts of ways, but its weirder habits are a little bit annoying. One of its favourites involves playing with CDs (as opposed to just playing them like normal cars). The game starts the same way playing CDs does, you poke them into a slot in the dashboard one at a time. Then the fun starts. They spin round ever so fast, making strange noises and come out etched with sparkly spirograph patterns. The game can be played repeatedly, but after a while the patterns aren’t as pretty and look more of a mess. The van especially likes playing this game with expensive CDs. It’s very most favouritest are the ones with maps on them. The special VW ones which cost a small fortune every couple of years.

After playing the CD game with the van a couple of times we bought a map. It was a Good Map, the sort where the page order makes sense and doesn’t have Southhampton next to York on a double page spread (Our German one has the equivalent. Don’t ask). Also, the sides of the pages have arrows with a page number in each directions so you can find the next part of the map.

When we got back to Berlin, DB’s Dad bought a SatNag. It was cheaper than getting a new CD for the van.

Technology is a wonderous thing.

People are too.

Some people have incredibly good ideas and other people are incredibly good at making them work. Later, other people take the ideas a step further and make them even better.

For example, maps are a Good Thing. Someone started drawing directions, the next person coloured them in and the next bundled them into books. Someone decided to use satalites to make them more accurate and the next person took the printing stage out of the equation and let us use the satelites almost directly.*

Satalite Navagation is another Good Thing.

Having someone tell you where you have to turn left or where you can find the next petrol station is really useful if you’re on your own. Fitting a stack of road maps into a device the size of a phone is a genius idea, even more so when you consider how easy searching for miniture villages or specific motorway junctions becomes.

However.

Sometimes it isn’t the idea that counts.

Also, sometimes, good ideas don’t need improving.

We discovered this when we borrowed DB’s Dad’s new SatNag for the Christmas journey from Berlin to my parents house in picturesque (and very rural) south England. He bought a new one after the old one mysteriously went missing in about March. He said we’d lost it, we denied all knowledge and said he must have lost it*. He said he hadn’t seen it since we used it when I moved house. We agreed that we’d used it for that journey, but said we’d given it back when we arrived. He refused to listen to us and said…

Except it doesn’t matter what he said, the argument didn’t get us any closer to actually finding it so he replaced it. Simple as that.

Since then, he’d turned it on a couple of times, mostly to see whether the nice lady approved of how he drove to work, but none of us had driven anywhere ‘foreign’, or even more than 200km away.

As sensible organised people (count me out of this one, I can’t take any responsibility here), we decided to test the thing before setting out. We wanted to know where we would be driving and how long it was going to take. I was satisfied with the version Google Maps had thrown at me, but apparently it’s better to look at things the way it’s going to be in real life.

After about an hour faffing about with the new-fangled interface and typing in all kinds of things, DB was incredibly miffed (and a little bit outraged) to find that the car would fall off the edge of the known world just outside Dunkirk.

It appears some genius decided to bring out SatNags with “Europe” on them, but not bother to including Britain. Croatia’s on there, Greece is on there, even most of Russia is on there, but no England. The marketing department must have thought they could make a fortune out of selling the 4 (or 5) updates separately**. The old SatNag had England on it, and set the whole “you lost it” – “no, YOU lost it” debate off again.

It took 4 of with 2 computers and a laptop the best part of 6 hours to decide there really, REALLY was no England on the stupid thing, and that there was no chance of getting an update for less than the price of a new SatNag.

Hmm.

We set off regardless and hoped for the best.

About 350km from The Edge Of The World, we found the road map. Complete with handwritten recommendations for good campsites ;).

***

It rained half the way across Germany, all the way across Belgium and through the tiny part of France which leads to The Edge of the world. It was still raining when we fell off the edge, and also most of the way to Dover. When we got there, it cleared up just long enough for the sun to come out, and for me to say, “SEE! It DOESN’T rain ALL the time!”, before it started to get dark. Apparently the rain not only appears to have a deal with The Continent, it also has a deal with the dark and the wind. Whatever. It kept us company all the way home.

The map was just as good as it was last year.

I distinctly remember more fish and chip shops on the coast front though. It took us the best part of an hour of driving round in circles in the rain before we finally found someone willing to sell us something to eat. Admittedly it was far too early for dinner, but we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and were hungry.

The rest of the journey was incredibly straight forward. I looked at the map, looked at the signposts, pointed out which lane we should be in, informed DB well in advance where we should turn off, what road number to look out for. All that kind of thing. And I was the water monitor ;). (Opening bottles while driving has got to be at least as dangerous as pressing the loudspeaker button on a mobile…)

We got home (to my folks) a little bit later than planned, but we didn’t get lost, or miss a junction. (Except the one we avoided on purpose because of traffic jams).

That’s a lot more than I can say about the journey back.

***

We found the original SatNag in the pop up table in the back of the van. (The table wasn’t in there as I moved house – the van was full of my stuff.. Whatever.)

Obviously we were chuffed to bits to have found it and duly plugged it in to charge. It took a bit of getting used to after the new one, but we eventually got the SatNag set up to take us to the tunnel on the way back to Berlin.

Right from the beginning she had odd ideas of where to go. I got the map out 20 minutes down the road because I couldn’t remember EVER going the way she was directing us. Despite me trying to look at the map as well, we got lost, took wrong junctions, changed lanes at the last minute and generally had a lot small heart attack moments. The nice lady didn’t recognise some of the roads, said helpful things like “exit the motorway NOW” while we were in the fast lane. She didn’t say anything when we headed into instead of round London and I ignored her when she told us to use the minor roads which ran parallel to the motorway.

I vote we stick to map reading in future.

* Or something like that. (twice ;))

** Or they were banking on Britain leaving Europe…………….

On commuting, phones and free time

I’m back on the train.

I have joined the commuting classes – as if there were such a thing – and I’m quite glad about it.

Not especially about the ride, but it creates a small space in my day where no one can complain about me ‘playing’ with my phone. No one can be jealous or upset that they don’t have my full attention, no one can make me feel guilty for not unpacking/tidying/washing the floor/working/whatever. No one can try and convince me that writing is a waste of time or that no one wants to read what I want to write. Continue reading “On commuting, phones and free time”

On intolerance and trains

I would like to believe that I am a tolerant person.

However. Commuting seems to bring out my intolerant side.

Some things are especially infuriating.

Take, for example, bikers. People who ride bikes. Most of my life I held the opinion that cycling was generally a good thing to do. Environmentally friendly and all that. These days I think it depends on the definition of “environment”. If you mean trees and lakes and mountains you might still be right. Probably even. If you mean “whatever-happens-to-be-around-you” I’m not so sure. Especially if there are trains and other people involved. Even more especially if there are early mornings and lots of people involved. Extra especially if it’s 7 am on a Berlin weekday. Even more extra especially when there are several of them. Bikers I mean, not weekdays.

Why do people have to take bikes on the tube at 7 am?? Don’t they know how full the tube is?? And that’s before you add buggies, bikes and fat people into the mix. I can see that people with small children (and buggies) need to go places and don’t necessarily have cars. That’s fine. I can accept that fat people are entitled to ride on trains. Not a problem. What I don’t get is why the bikers find it appropriate or acceptable to make everyone squish together to make room for them and their bike and then stand in the way while half the passengers get off the train to let other people out/on at each and every stop.

ARGH.

I wouldn’t care if they spent all day on the train, really, as long as they stay off them during rush hour. Or pay for at least 5 tickets.

What also annoys me is the reluctance of certain people to sit by the windows. They prefer to sit on the edge, with one knee sticking out into the isle.

Assuming there are seats available, you can almost guarantee that they will be windowseats with an obstacle course between them and the door. It mostly isn’t worth fighting your way past all the ferocious people who are intent on staying exactly where they are and making it difficult for you to get past.

If everyone chose the windowseats first, then a whole lot more people would be able to sit down. That in turn would free up some space for the people who have to stand up.

Maybe then the bikers wouldn’t be such a problem……