As I was walking down to Central Station last Friday, to catch a train for yet another trip to London, it occurred to me that I’ve given overseas train travel a lot more attention on this blog than I have to our home-grown railways. So I decided there and then to post some kind of record of my journey to the capital - a journey I’ve made countless times over the years and with every inch of which I am affectionately familiar. Mostly.
I’ve always felt an almost personal sense of disappointment with the recent development work at Central Station. Although it was a sensational idea to ‘glass-in’ the portico, the resulting space is wasted on a couple of coffee outlets, a florist and some ticket machines.
Newcastle lies at the hub of the birth and development of railways. So why no public art in the ‘new’ portico to mark its importance? Why no themed design on its flagstones or artwork on its magnificent glass arches? And why no fountain on the large wasted space that’s been created immediately east of the portico?
My train was due to leave from platform 3 and, sure enough, there was a train waiting there. Being a sensible kind of fellow, though, I checked the platform train indicator - just to make sure that, if I boarded it, I wouldn’t end up in Plymouth or Reading or somewhere equally as unsettling.
Eventually I plucked up the courage to seek enlightenment from a bored-looking man wearing a Virgin Trains East Coast uniform. ‘Yes’ he said, ‘this is the 1225 to London.‘
‘That’s not what the train indicator says.’
‘Just ignore that’ he said. I asked him if he was absolutely sure and his wordless look - an unhappy mixture of frustration, anger and enforced ‘customer-service’ politeness - convinced me not to pursue the matter further. I did however venture to suggest that the train indicator might also need a ‘software update’.
Just looking at the trains makes me seethe uncontrollably. The company has found the money to repaint the entire East Coast train stock in its Virgin livery...
No refurbishment here. Just the same old weirdly uncomfortable, worn out seats from decades ago packed in so tightly that some people don’t even get a window to look out of.
As we pulled away and over the Tyne, the ‘customer catering, refreshment and pleasure manager’ announced that drinks, snacks, sandwiches and (for all I know) casual sex were available in Coach Haitch, thus setting my pedantic teeth on edge by ignoring one of the language’s two most obvious firetraps. Namely, that H is pronounced without an H. (The other is that pronunciation is not pronounced pronounciation.)
The Angel waves goodbye. See it?
I used to think that this was one of the finest views you could get from a British train.
But I was wrong. It is THE finest view...
Durham is not a county of noble mediaeval church spires. Chester-le-Street has a good one but I was too late with my camera. This is a good one too - it’s St Cuthbert’s, Darlington.
Between Darlington and Northallerton, the ‘train cleaning, tidying and rubbish disposal operative’ passed through the carriage. Emblazoned on the back of his jacket - in big white letters - were the words COMMITTED TO ENHANCE YOUR EXPERIENCE, a phrase with no actual meaning whatsoever.
These 'Heath Robinson' instructions are a diverting feature of Virgin East Coast train toilets. Once you're inside, they tell you how to lock the door - in 5 easy steps.
1 - They don't tell you how to unlock the door
2 - They are helpfully printed in English only; God only knows how many head-scratching tourists have been caught with their pants down (as it were)
3 - 'Continuously' is mis-spelled
The cleaner's job obviously excluded enhancing our experience of the carriage’s toilet, which didn’t work. It stank. European trains have aircraft-style toilets which empty by suction rather than gravity. I guess that Virgin Trains East Coast, having disbursed so much money on repainting the carriage exteriors, had no more money to bring the toilets into the 21st century. The poor cleaner may be committed to enhancing our experience but the company itself is not.
If you can be bothered to look very, very closely indeed at the low-lying range of grey hills in the distance, you may be able to make out a small shape near the top of one of them - it's just about in the centre of the photo. This is the Kilburn White Horse, a few miles east of Thirsk. I’ve seen it several hundred times on my road and rail trips to and from the north-east and this is the first photograph I have EVER taken of it.
By the way, I think that we should all offer up a prayer of thanks to the Cleveland Hills and North York Moors; they hide Teesside safely out of sight.
Poor Peterborough; it was recently assessed as having the worst public transport in all of western Europe.
And so to London...
I’ve been quite vituperative about King’s Cross in the past. Now, though, it’s been transformed into a showpiece of modern station design - worth a trip to London in its own right!
The clock in the central tower was taken from the Crystal Palace when it was moved after the Great Exhibition of 1851.
The sculpture is by Henry Moore and is called Clunky Writhing Torso With Hole Number 3.
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