21 October 2010

Adventures in public transport

I've been on a trip to the UK since the beginning of October, which I hope explains my blogging silence. It was a strange visit, starting in Aberdeen and ending up in Kent, with lots of buses, trains and walking in between.

One of the big differences between living in rural Ontario and living in a British town is the availability of public transport. In my trip away I saw the best and the worst of UK public transport, from severe overcrowding on trains in London and Leicester, to punctual and frequent bus services in Aberdeen and Dundee. OK, the bus from the airport into Aberdeen on my first day wasn't so good - I had a half-hour wait in wind and rain and then the woman who was sitting behind me vomited into her bag as we got into the city. But otherwise, my bus experiences in Scotland were fairly positive.

In Leicester I enjoyed the scenic environs of the New Walk very much. Except for the point when a man entered the park and urinated against a tree just twenty feet from where I was sitting. That was another low point of the trip. As I walked back to the station, a couple were having a screaming row on the path. So loud and passionate were they ("This time I never slept wiv no-one!"), that I half-suspected it to be a piece of street theatre, with hidden cameras recording the responses of passers-by. At times on this trip I wondered if all these people had been sent to misbehave around me just to reassure me that I'd made the right decision about emigrating.

The only other note-worth journey was the experience of going into and out of London's St. Pancras station on the Southeastern Highspeed trains. It was novel to get from Kent to London by first travelling through Essex. The trains had a mildly annoying three-note chime before every announcement.*

On my journey back into Kent something had gone wrong with the automated announcements altogether and it seemed to be stuck on a continuous loop, repeatedly informing us that the train was on its way to Faversham. This began by being irritating, but soon I became close to breaking into unseemly giggles, as everyone else in the carriage was studiously ignoring the repetitions. Perhaps it happens every night. I began to feel that there was some deep significance to the brief pause and then seductively breathy emphasis that the female voice gave to the final word of the announcement "and...Faversham". It was quite a relief to get off that swish, clinical and high-tech train at Rochester, to board a smelly regular train, whose digital display insisted, for the remainder of the journey, that the next stop was going to be Bromley South.

Where we are now, there isn't much public transport at all, so I miss these delights, in a perverse way. Now, when I go back, I feel like an outsider and observer of British life, rather than a part of it. It's an odd feeling.

*British readers of a certain age might remember a similar arrangement in announcements made in the 1980s sit-com Hi-de-Hi. It was very similar to that.


Linda said...

Welcome back! I loved to read about your trip.....when we visited Aberdeen last winter we took the train to Inverness. I was very impressed! Loved all the names of the villages as we drew up to each station. I would have never figured out how to pronounce them by just looking at them!

Amanda said...

Linda - thanks! You should try going to Wales - it's even harder to work out the pronunciation of Welsh place names. :-)

Quinn said...

I would have been laughing to the point of weeping over the Faversham announcement. I did the spontaneous snorty-laugh as soon as I got to the words "continuous loop."

We recently got a new copier in our office, and it makes a faint, two-note sound exactly like a gendarme sireny thing. The first time I heard it, I thought a colleague had changed the ringtone on her cellphone. When the copier was revealed as the culprit, in the midst of a 50-page run, something about the sound just cracked me up - I just helplessly ROARED with hysterical laughter, which got everyone else going. What IS it about repetitive sounds? Either crazy annoying or crazy funny!

Linda said...

I did wonder what Union Street was doing on your blog! Please don't hold random vomiting women against Aberdeen. It's the best city in the UK, in my opinion. But perhaps you always love where you've been a student. I far prefer Aberdeen to Edinburgh, where we live now.

Anonymous said...

I always feel like an outsider when I go back "home" now too. Last time I went what struck me most was how big and heavy the coins seemed in comparison to the States!

I can relate to awful crowded trains on the line from Leicester to London too. I grew up near Loughborough, (the stop before Leicester), and used to travel on that route from London after I moved down there all the time to visit my parents. I always dreaded the over crowded trains. Sunday evenings were the worst. Don't miss that one bit.

Glad you had a good trip.