Transported: To The Late Shift

Until last week, I have been generally pleased about my commute which is now just past its fourth year. The occasional mishap notwithstanding, the majority of the travel has been hassle free and on schedule. This last week however I discovered a whole new world of train travel which shocked me a little and made me miserable, a lot.

It was the later hours commuting. For various reasons I changed my working hours from 9 to 5 to 10 to 6 so my morning train was no longer the 0700, 0730 or 0800, but instead changed to the 0830 or 0900. My evening train was meant to be the 1825 or at the latest the 1852 which would get me back to Bristol by 1915 or perhaps 1940. All manageable I thought until I tried to follow this new timetable.

The first thing I discovered was that these hours between 8am and 9am are peak hours for most workers, let alone commuters. There was no hope of grabbing a quick coffee on the way to the station because the queue was out to the door. The wave of commuters I passed as I approached made my feel claustrophic as hundreds of them (as they seemed to me) headed to the city centre en masse. The trains had plenty of carriages but they were ridiculously full as the tickets had just hit their off-peak price which was sometimes as cheap as half the cost of the peak ones.

During the half-term I couldn’t even find a seat and perched in one of the bicycle little areas. So I gave up my coffee and the quiet and the silence. I became used to weaving in and out of crowds of people on the way to Temple Meads and avoiding bicycles through Queen Square. I thought it was probably not too bad.

The worst was yet to come. The evening trains from Cheltenham to Bristol became horrendous. I would arrive at the station at 1800 and the boards wouldn’t even bother with five or ten minute delays. On one day the 1825 was due at 1922 and on this last Monday it was due at 1855. It seemed that every time I showed up at the station I would have to wait nearly an hour and then inevitably the delay would increase as I sat in the waiting room. On Friday night I arrived home after nine o’clock and on the Monday that just passed I was back in time to wash the dishes for 2048.

I have now gone back to my normal hours and after the horror of 13 and 14 hour days I felt motivated enough to catch the 0627 and 0700 to work. The streets were empty, the lights were orange and the trains left on time, both in the morning and the evening.

Utter bliss.

bus stop at the station

Transported: By Commuter Tales

Man sitting opposite: six weeks of train travel he says in a type of weary exasperation. I’ve been doing it for four years I reply. I then have to take out my headphones as he tells me about his shoulder. He’s been on a cycling trip to Wales with a friend, his friend slammed into a gate and he fell after hitting his friend’s bike. His shoulder was compressed and there were various injuries to do with ligaments etc and he is now attending physiotherapy sessions. He’s thinking of going private because the once fortnightly appointment on the NHS is not enough.

The 1652 on the way back to Bristol: A commuter’s husband manages a car rental place. He frequently changes cars and their friends say they never know in which car he will turn up. They also get cheap petrol. Much shaking of head and mirth.

A quiet zone carriage on the 1752 from Cheltenham: The carriage is full and one man is talking on his phone somewhere towards the back. I sit near the middle on the right side by the aisle. At Bristol Parkway the people from one of the tables get out and a young woman not yet in her twenties walks in and sits down while still talking on her phone. A minute or so later a much older woman stands up and is practically shaking. She proceeds to yell at the young girl who looks much bigger than her in stature and to threaten her with ‘if you were a man I’d punch you in the face, no one else is talking on this carriage. I have travelled all the way from Manchester and no one has talked the whole time’. The girl looked up at her then went straight back to her conversation with barely a pause. She seemed most unperturbed but the older woman was so angry she packed her bags and moved to sit elsewhere. I didn’t think it was the right time for me to mention the guy chatting at the back of the quiet zone.

On the bus in Cheltenham around 8am: A woman sitting at the front of the bus leans across to steady herself on the rail across the passageway. She’s in her 50s, wearing a vest and a woolly jumper, has a slightly ruddy complexion and short grey hair. I wonder why she’s leaning but think nothing of it until she takes out a bottle of white wine and drinks some before putting it away in her shopping bag.

The 0730 from Bristol: The king of commuters (unofficially) has been making the journey from Parkway to Cheltenham for 19 years. He has a law practice and has recently been trying out a fold-up bike. He doesn’t have it with him today and I ask how it’s going. He tells me that on his way to work the saddle had slipped, the pedal had fallen off and his leg had been impaled on the latter. He has taken photographs and is ready to sue.

Temple Meads

Guillermo Del Toro, Cancelled

For those who booked a ticket to see Guillermo del Toro at 7pm on Friday 8 October at the Cheltenham Literature Festival you are about to be disappointed.

Guillermo del Toro is unable to attend as he has cancelled his planned trip to the UK and is no longer intending to visit Europe over the next few weeks.

If you have a ticket then please contact the Box Office for a refund or exchange your session for a different one. There are many to choose from.

You can buy tickets and browse through all the sessions at

Cheltenham Literature Festival: Derren Brown

I recently wrote about some star appearances at the Cheltenham Literature festival and now there are three more additions. Derren Brown, Simon Pegg and Maureen Lipman have all confirmed their appearances and their tickets are sure to sell out very quickly.

Derren Brown, 9 October, 8.30-9.30pm.
The conjuror and illusionist extraordinaire presents his brilliant and hilarious Confessions of a Conjuror. Find out how his weird and wonderful mind works as he discusses his obsession with magic and the amazing journey that is his life so far.
Demand is meant to be high- Tickets are £13.

Simon Pegg, 17 October, 7.45-8.45pm

Actor Simon Pegg joins the Festival to discuss his brand-new autobiography, Nerd Do Well, a joyous tale of a home-grown superstar (from Gloucestershire) and a local boy made good.
Tickets are £17

Maureen Lipman, 17 October, 4-5pm
Actress, author and Festival favourite Maureen Lipman returns to Cheltenham to present a one-woman show featuring monologues and sharply-observed episodes from I Must Collect Myself, her new book.
Tickets are £7.

PS I have already booked tickets for Derren Brown so if you’re going I’ll see you there.

Cheltenham Literature Festival, Meeting The Stars

The annual Cheltenham Literature Festival is bringing the stars to this South West town for the 61st time in 2010. Between 8 and 17 October, the likes of Michael Parkinson, Antonio Carluccio and Alexei Sayle will be wandering the streets and settling for an hour or so to talk about their latest work. The theme this year is Dreams and Nightmares and my suitably favourite event is Guillermo Del Toro discussing his new novel The Fall on Friday October 8. Tickets are £7 and the session is on between 7 and 8pm.

Some other eagerly anticipated sessions include Mark Kermode, Melvyn Bragg, James Ellroy, Hanif Kureishi, Alexander McCall Smith, Sue Townsend, Michael Caine and Jo Brand.

You can buy tickets and browse through all the sessions at

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