Saturday, 25 July 2020

Exciting, but daunting

The next few trips by train

Well, over the last week or two I have bought train tickets for our August excursions. One of these trips I had almost decided would have to be done by road, and I really was not looking forward to that, and the other two have had to be cut short because of cancellations and other complications arising from the coronavirus pandemic. They are all long journeys and involve changes of train, and although I have been able to minimise the number of changes I am still concerned that if we miss a connection owing to late running we may not be able to board a subsequent train if it is deemed "full" by social-distancing regulations. I am also, I must admit, not overjoyed at the prospect of wearing a face-covering for a long journey, even though the journeys will be broken by mealtimes when we can temporarily remove them. It is also unclear at present what catering will be offered, if any, on the services we shall be using, so we shall take our own provisions.

Coastway train approaching Chichester
These will be our first train journeys since February and the first long ones since last autumn, so I am looking forward to them immensely even with the foregoing concerns! The first will be our usual trip to Chichester where we shall meet our friends holidaying on the south coast at Bracklesham Bay. We are omitting the originally-planned few days on the Isle of Wight which were going to precede it because of the uncertainty of how we might have been able to get there: these trips require advance planning and there was no way of working out what would be operating and what would not, and if we could not cross the Solent we could not get there - and that was one trip for which I definitely did not want to take the car, too. We can manage that with just two changes, using a Thameslink service right through from Peterborough to East Croydon - slow but simple, and the trains are spacious. We'll do that in Standard Class as there is little to be gained from First.

The next is a family gathering on the Purbeck peninsula in Dorset, and we'll be travelling via Birmingham New Street to Bournemouth by Cross Country Trains and then open-top bus to the hotel. This is the journey we had always planned to do, although I might have chosen to go one way via London and the other via Birmingham, but although much longer the Birmingham route is so much simpler and involves just the one change of train - the reduced frequencies do mean a long layover in New Street but it is at lunch time so we can eat there.

Finally there is Edinburgh. This was to have been a couple of nights before a Royal Scotsman tour of the Highlands, but that had to be cancelled by Belmond, the provider, because although they could manage financially with only half a load, all the rest of the booked passengers were American and would be unable to get to Scotland. So we are just going to spend the weekend in Edinburgh and come home: the Royal Scotsman will have to wait for another year, if, indeed, Belmond is still in business another year. It is all very difficult to plan anything at present.

In the autumn, all being well, we are due to go to Italy with Great Rail Journeys, but who knows? we could be in the midst of a second wave of coronavirus by then, with international travel curtailed. Next year? Well, that is anyone's guess. We'd like to pick up the Scottish rail tour and to return to Le Locle, Switzerland, in the late spring when the lakes and rivers are full, and to visit the Isle of Wight again. The putative trip to the USA is pushed back further and if Amtrak does not survive it may never happen.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

The Mystery of The Prisoner

Why does he drive up The Mall? 

Following my post a few months ago on places in London associated with James Bond, I thought I would write this little piece on another fictional agent, Number Six in Patrick McGoohan's "cult" TV series The Prisoner. While much of the action is in Portmeirion, significant events, including the weekly opening sequence, take place in London and that is where Number Six lives.

Abingdon Street Car Park
There are many, many mysteries in The Prisoner, but one that's always mystified me is the route Number 6 takes in the opening title sequence, from his desk-thumping resignation to his home at 1 Buckingham Place, followed by the sinister hearse. The office of the mysterious agency from which he resigns seems to be a secret location hidden under College Green and accessed via the Abingdon Street underground car park, right opposite the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament (where we see him bidding farewell to Number 2 at the end of the last episode). From there it is only a shortish walk to Buckingham Place, but of course he has his car with him, having driven in from who-knows-where to hand in his resignation, so he needs to drive home, but why that route?

The Prisoner's home in Buckingham Place
My assumption is that this drive home is between two anonymous places in London which we are not intended to identify, and a route is chosen which is long enough for the drama and which shows enough landmarks to place it clearly in London. While the agency's HQ can be placed by the arrival of Number Six's car in a street opposite the Houses of Parliament, his house is altogether more anonymous (although the street name can be read on the corner of the house for those who wish to place it - which is how I found it when I took the photograph!), especially since he arrived from an odd direction for someone driving from Parliament. A significant thing about the house which we do not take in until the very last episode is that its street number is 1. Number Six asks throughout his imprisonment who is Number One, but he answers the question himself when he goes home and passes through the front door with "1" on it, a door which, like those in The Village, opens by itself. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Here's hoping

Will travel be possible again soon?

Well, I have my "iconic blue" British passport in which Her Britannic Majesty requests everyone to let me through their borders without hindrance. I am not convinced I shall be hindered less than I was with my European Union passport, but this is the new reality and it no use pretending otherwise. I had to renew my passport because the trip to Italy which was to have happened in April was cancelled (well before the pandemic, nothing to do with that) and moved to the autumn, by which time less than six months was left on my old passport: given that we have left the Union and are well on our way to ending the transition year with no real agreement about borders I dare not risk it being so tight. So, I have a passport photo with my lockdown hair style ... or lack of hairstyle.

The real question, of course, is whether it will be of any use. With most of Eurostar's train sets in storage and staff on furlough, and with dire notices from rail companies in the UK only to use their services if absolutely necessary, am I going to be going to Italy anyway, or to anywhere else? Not just my passport, but my Senior Railcard (used just once since its renewal and well short of covering its cost) and my concessionary bus pass are also useless, as well as the hefty balance on my Oyster card. I have my car, of course, and parking is free in many places at present, but with holidays in the UK being encouraged and public transport being discouraged I dread the idea of driving to anywhere worth going this summer. The highways will be jammed, the car parks inadequate. We need to get back on the trains smartish or the nation will choke.

Meanwhile, I am taking the time not only to build the model railways I've been writing about, but also to sort out photographs from many years ago when I took them on film but was far too busy with a young family to sort of decent slide sequences - hopefully I'll publish the less personal ones here and/or on Flickr and YouTube before too long.