Wednesday 16 July 2014

The Blue Eyed Maid

With my new assistant curate Nikki about to be ordained, I was invited by her course leaders, The SouthEast Institute for Theological Education (or SEITE), to a meeting for receiving incumbents to hear about the training she had received. The meeting was to be at their London premises “near London Bridge”. I booked advance tickets and was able to travel for a very good fare. I did not have the cheek to travel First Class at the parish church's expense, but in fact I was paid expenses by the course so … I still would not have done, for wherever the money comes from it has ultimately been given sacrificially by God's people.

The meeting was just three days after the church trip to York, which had been in First Class, and so the contrast between the two journeys was easy to see. Boarding my connection as usual at Peterborough at lunchtime I found my reserved seat (advance tickets always come with a reservation, another advantage of buying them) and noticed that no-one had reserved the one next to mine. And no-one took it, either, so I had more space than I might have done. I brought a packed lunch with me but bought my drink from the refreshment trolley that makes its way through Standard Class, this being the trolley's last run before the train was due into King's Cross. A can of Stella Artois went very nicely with my sandwiches but not as good as the included Old Speckled Hen at the other end of the train, in my humble opinion.

When travelling to or through London I generally book just to the terminus at King's Cross and use an Oyster card for my travel within London. This ensures that I always pay the minimum fare and that while I never pay more than the daily Travelcard limit, I do not pay as much as that limit if I travel less than it would cover. Cash per journey is the most expensive way of travelling in London, but if just going to one place and back, the London Travelcard can cost more than you need to pay, Oyster fares being lower than cash fares. London Bridge is easy from King's Cross: out of the side exit and across the road into the main entrance to St Pancras International station, straight across to the First Capital Connect (Thameslink) platforms in the basement, and there is a frequent service from there to London Bridge and beyond, with some interesting views of central London here and there on the way.

I had deliberately arrived with plenty of time to try to find the venue for my meeting. It was in a “court” off Borough High Street but the address was unknown to any of my on-line maps although the postcode gave me a rough idea where to look. So, getting off at London Bridge station I strolled around, eventually deciding to stride along Borough High Street until I saw Chapel Court. What I didn't know I needed was the simple instruction to “turn left at the Blue Eyed Maid,” that being the pub on the corner of Chapel Court and which IS on the on-line maps and stands out in the street with its distinctive signage, whereas the street sign has to be sought out. And there it was, the building I was looking for.

The view from London Bridge during my stroll before
the meeting
I shall not bore my readers with the content of the meeting, save to say that having signed in at reception we were taken through a door labelled “probation service” for our business, which was just slightly disturbing. I made my way back to London Bridge afterwards and caught a train through to St Pancras International. By now it was the evening peak and surrounded as it is by offices London Bridge station was heaving with people trying to get home to all parts of the home counties. I was deeply impressed with the way the various train companies who now make up our railway industry coped with the intensive demand, especially as this station is in the throes of a very substantial rebuilding project. The train I caught was a through train from Brighton to Bedford and threaded its way slowly through London, crossing the Thames at Blackfriars, a station which has had its platforms extended and now spans the Thames with entrances on both banks. The stop at St Pancras, being opposite King's Cross, has opened up a large part of South London to travellers from the East Midlands, the North and East Anglia without having to cross London on foot or by other modes of transport.

Back across the road to Kings Cross I had a few moments to wait for my train back to Peterborough and then the connection to Stamford. Having been fed sandwiches and other nibbles by SEITE just before I left I did not need any tea before travelling home. The rebuilding of Kings Cross station has made waiting for trains so much more comfortable than before. The long queues across the old concourse have been replaced with a two-level waiting area with seats and no queues – as most of us now have reserved seats there really is no need to race for the trains anyway. For East Coast trains where the First Class section is always at the London end, First Class ticket-holders are best waiting at ground level and then walking through the ticket barriers and on to the platforms by the original way, but with Standard Class it is better to wait upstairs and then go to the platforms via the footbridge where escalators take you down to the appropriate part of the train, and this is the way I went.

This time the sat beside me had been reserved, but still no-one occupied it and I still had some space. This happens often: unless travelling on Advance tickets like the one I had, you can take any train but it is useful to reserve a seat on the most likely one you think you'll take, and if you get another then your reserved seat stays empty. Again, sometimes people simply find another seat they prefer elsewhere (not next to that Vicar, perhaps?!), or miss the train or don't travel for some reason. But Standard Class can be a bit tight on space and if you need to work it can be quite difficult, so if cheap First Class tickets can be had, it is definitely worth it.

I had a bit over 30 minutes to wait for my connection at Peterborough. This is not too bad, although I'd have been happier with less. Sometimes it can be almost an hour, which is OK if you're not in a hurry and are happy to sit in the bar of the Great Northern Hotel or the station cafe, but when you just want to go home a shorter wait would be much preferable and there is a little campaign under way to try to get the next franchise on our line to include a half-hourly service, as well as later evening trains, to make these connections better. We are so well-placed here with easy access to London and even easier to Birmingham and yet the services stop too early and could usefully be more frequent. If you want to sign the petition, it is at and you have until 26th August to sign. You can follow the campaign on Twitter @BetterRail.

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