February 19th, 2005


Murder on the Occident Express

Sometime towards the end of last year, the Thames Trains franchise was reassigned to First Great Western.

Now as far as I can remember, there was nothing particularly offensive about Thames Trains. They weren't any worse than any other operator. So what's changed? First Great Western Link (which runs services from Paddington through Reading towards Oxford) have introduced new rolling stock. Whoopee. Unfortunately it's new rolling stock that has fewer standard class seats. They are either (a) running fewer services or (b) running services without enough coaches. I have been to London twice since the new year, and on both occasions there have been as many passengers standing as sitting. I'm pretty pissed off with this. It's only half an hour from Reading to Paddington, but it puts you in the wrong frame of mind. And I'm travelling at a weekend, which according to all the train operators is when far fewer people travel on the trains, so I pity the daily commuters who have to put up with this service.

The mood of the passengers was really ugly, and it was close to a riot even without any train staff there. Had an inspector arrived they would have been lynched. I recall an interview on the Today programme with a director of the train operating companies association, who said, George Parr fashion, that the primary duty of the train operators wasn't to run services, it was to provide value to their shareholders. How they can do one without doing the other has become abundantly clear. There is no choice of service, even on a line where there used to be multiple operators running. There is no decent bus service from Reading to London. If you want to make that trip, a First Great Western train is the only choice apart from using the car (ha ha).

I am going to write and complain. I'm sure they'd much rather I phoned or e-mailed them, but frankly I'd rather they provided me with a seat when I pay for their transport service. I don't really see what I can achieve; in the old BR days it was fairly easy to gain travel vouchers by complaining, but the private sector bean-counters tend to fight these things more. At least I can be confident it will cost them as much in administration as I have paid for my journey. Please comment if you have any particularly special phrases you think could be used.
  • Current Mood
    pissed off pissed off

The Old Turks

The reason for today's trip to London with kharin was to visit the Royal Academy's Turks exhibition.

uitlander and I have already agreed that we are both Meldrews, but I really do believe the behaviour of museum visitors is deteriorating. Like the Aztecs exhibition a couple of years ago, it was very busy, and people dithered, fiddled with their audio guides, stuck their elbows over the exhibit captions, and butted their way in to look at the paintings close-up. Accessibility is one thing, but blotting out other punters' views of the exhibits by holding the large-print cards against the cases is merely replacing one form of rudeness with another. Is there no such thing as etiquette any more? It took us nearly three hours to get through the exhibition, and this aspect was rather draining.

And the exhibition itself? Well, its scale and scope is certainly impressive: the exhibits seemed to range beyond the stated 600-1600AD at both ends. There's a mixture of paintings and drawings, carvings and artefacts. The Turks are impossible to define singularly: they encompass many ethnicities, many religions and many languages. The scripts ranged from runic through Chinese and Arabic (though one visitor, "assisting" the others, said he spoke Arabic but couldn't read these scripts, which he thought were Turkic). The empires across Asia Minor, Persia and Central Asia evolved in many forms, and separate rooms attempt to capture their different flavours.

Logistically, the exhibition has some flaws. It is probably inevitable that many of the exhibits must be displayed in subdued lighting, but this does mean it is difficult not to cast one's own shadow over the exhibit labels. There appeared to be one or two errors and omissions in the labelling. The section on "Muhammed of the Black Pen" contained many drawings to a page, but each label described only one of them. So what was the picture that seemed to show two men being simultaneously crucified and burned at the stake? It certainly didn't have any obvious connection to its partner, which was described by the captions. The numbering systems are also confusing. Why have (at least) three different numbering schemes - the main catalogue, the audio guide entries, and the children's trail guide? Couldn't they all use one single scheme? Wouldn't that be easier?

The RA's restaurant also seems to have gone downhill - though menu-wise we may just have picked a bad day. In the end we headed back to Paddington and the reliable West Cornwall Pasty Company emporium, before doing battle again with the trains. The return journey, on 1970s rolling stock, was far more bearable. Clearly, the old ones are best.