All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Transport of delight

I have been in the UK, visiting mother....for the first time since I moved to France, she has not been well enough to visit me, so the mountain went to Mahommet, and, surprisingly, enjoyed the whole trip. I might want to lie down for a few days to recover from it, but I enjoyed it.

Firstly, I didn't have to take a French train. Kind friends took me to the little one horse airport whence Ryanair flies to Stansted, whose cafe seems to attract a lot of local lunchtime custom, and left me to my own devices.

Noting the cost of checked baggage when I booked online, I took only hand luggage, and did not book priority boarding. I was flexible about dates and got a super cheap far, all positives. At the airport, I was processed without having to queue, the staff were far from draconian about the hand luggage regulations, security was fast and efficient and there were so few people who had booked priority boarding that it would have been a meaningless expense.

The 'plane was on time and I enjoyed the freedom of being able to board at either end of the plane, unlike the regular airlines' practice of making cattle class customers board through the first class and business class section, where I am forced to observe people on expense accounts lolling at their ease with free newspapers, while I struggle through to the lairage at the back. Why, when we have video conferencing, do these people need to travel the world? Why does no one seem to realise that we, customers, citizens, mugs, are paying for their comfort, whether through our taxes or in the price of the products their firms produce? Never mind taking the drinks trolley round....wheel on the portable guillotine and let the cabin crew have some fun for once. It would perk up the flight watching that being trundled down to the first class section. I'd even take up knitting if necessary.

Still, on my short flight the cabin staff were pleasant and efficient, and although they were constantly trying to sell me something it did not bother me as I go deaf in 'planes , nor would it have done if I had retained my hearing as I have also retained the power to decline what I don't want. Ryanair has a bad press, but it was all right by me.

Friends met me at Stansted and took me home for a super evening of good food, many laughs and a chance to investigate the Italian wines they were starting to import.....then on the next day they took me to the get a real train! One which didn't have steps up into the carriage from the platform. One I could board without fear of splitting my tights. Carriages with proper luggage racks so that I could keep an eye on my baggage.

When I was last in the U.K., everything was still British Rail, so the new company names took me aback, but the trains themselves were reassuringly tatty, even if the London terminals had been alarmingly tarted up. When did Liverpool Street stop being a pit of stygian gloom? I could actually see the other passengers as I walked down the platform...most disconcerting. In the good old days of Liverpool Street I think you could have walked about naked and no one would have been able to spot your Lady Godiva apparel, so dark was the station concourse.

The Underground was unchanged...apart from having ticket machines which took all sorts of money and gave change...clanking and rattling through the bowels of London, and, inevitably, on the return journey, when time was of the essence for catching the 'plane, the Bakerloo Line was paralysed by a signal failure at Baker Street. Ah, the nostalgia! Alternative routes on trains already so packed that you needed Japanese station attendants to shove passengers into the ambulant Black Hole of Calcutta within. Trained on the Boy Scouts' jumble sales in the church hall in the days of my youth, I used my elbows to good effect and was borne away triumphant. It has to be like riding a bicycle, the technique for getting into a rush hour Tube train - you never forget.

Buses, both in London and the provinces, that you enter at pavement height....buses that indicate the next stop so that you are not borne on into the wilds, despairingly looking for the first stop after Kensal Rise station...buses with flat fares so that there are no arguments with the driver when you do overshoot your destination.....absolute bliss!

The whole thing, from start to finish was, to quote Flanders and Swann, a transport of delight. And mother wasn't too bad, either.


  1. I think you are maybe having a second honeymoon with british public transport - believe me, it can be bad - very bad.

    Only place I've been where it really works is Austria - a kind of uber efficiency that is a delight

  2. Great post! I always notice changes when I go back to the UK..but I do so twice a it's really interesting to see how much has changed for someone who doesn't return so often. I SO agree about the "first class" sections on planes. I think they should be abolished. I thought the class system was a thing of the should be. You're the age of video-conferencing, there should be no need for businessmen to travel the world. And if they do feel the need..then they should struggle with cramped seats and cardboard meals like the rest of us! (Haha I'm sure someone will object to this comment)

  3. Mark, It was an odd experience, returning to U.K. public transport.
    First, everyone seems to moan about Ryanair, but I had a cheap, hassle-free journey with friendly staff.
    Then, my main line trains were on time and cheap if I compare what I paid by booking just before travelling with the equivalent fare in France. Although the carriages were much more minimalist than the old BR rolling stock, they were reassuringly must be the British rail passenger who reduces them to this state, nomatter what the era...but clean.
    The cleanliness of the London terminals took me aback..when I used to commute they formed a sort of half world of dim shapes which eased the transition from leaving home and starting work.
    The ease of just stepping into trains and buses was a revelation after France...probably more appreciated when the joints are not so flexible!
    The Underground was unchanged....unpredictable stoppages, etc. but I was delighted to find that I could still board a crowded carriage....just like the days of my youth!
    Yes, a good dose of nostalgia here, but I did notice things which made travelling much more of a pleasure than in France.

  4. Ayak, I had expected things to be so much worse from friends' grumbles to stuff I read in the press, but I had a great time on public transport.
    As to first class on 'planes, a friend has a phrase I like
    'First class for the second rate.'
    I heard something on radio 4 ages ago where some precious 'environmental activist' was agonising about how she justified her carbon footprint travelling to international conferences....first class. Her justification was that her presence would add value to the conference and that she had to travel first class in order to prepare for said conference!

  5. I love that "first class for the second rate"...perfect!

    And as for the comment about adding value to the conference and having to travel first class to prepare...well...hrumph! (in lieu of a much ruder word!)

  6. I don't go back to the UK that often, so am no expert on transport there, but remember being horrified by tube and train prices where a train fare cost more than my return flight to the UK (but maybe Ryanair isn't fair competition), and one journey on the tube cost the same as a ticket for 10 tube/bus journeys in Madrid. On the other hand, driving was an utter nightmare, with more cars on one road than I'd normally see in a week.
    I'm a firm fan of Ryanair though: excellent prices, quick processing, rarely delayed.

  7. Pueblo girl, likewise on train prices compared with Ryanair, but when compared with last minute booking on French contest!

  8. Yes, I was struck by the changes at Liverpool St. when I was there in 2006. When I lived in Gt. Yarmouth Liverpool St. was our departure and arrival site so I fully remember its old and dreary and depressing incarnation. The other thing we found in 2006 was that station clerks were invariably helpful. That was a pleasing change.

  9. mrwriteon, yes, the ticket office clerks were great this one shut a window in my face, they gave advice on train times...lovely service.
    I used to think that the sun never rose on Liverpoool Street.

  10. I have never tried to fly these "new" discount airlines, but I think they do the job for a short flexible trip. I did hear the customer service wasn't good though.

    I think I'd take the train to go to the UK... but it may be really expensive now.

  11. Zhu, I didn't take luggage...that seems expensive..but the rest was fine.

    Eurostar is expensive.