Thursday, 29 July 2010

Day 18 - Thursday, 29th July 2010

The Wheels On The Bus Go Round and Round...

Chilly this morning which necessitated the wearing of a cardigan, old lady stylee, on the bike on the way to the station. The air was damp and it was very slightly misty which gave the fields an ethereal look. The sun was trying to break through the clouds but only very half heartedly and by the time I got to the station it seemed to have given it up as a bad job and gone elsewhere.

The hysterical girl-with-phone didn't show up today, which is the first time I haven't seen her in the morning since I began using the train. I vaguely wondered what had happened with her while I wrestled with two Mancunian Physics Professors and one Herr Einstein. Apparently they showed that it's obvious that E=mc² but I had to read one page three times before I got even half way to believing them.

I scoped out my fall-back plan for the bus and decided that it's a maximum 5 minute walk. Definitely this evening I was going to give it a go and, hopefully, get home before 7pm.

Excitement on the second bus - it was one of those with the crazy one-and-a-half seats and I sat on one. Yes, that's what passes for excitement in my life.

As I was leaving the office today I was intercepted by the colleague who lives in Mönchengladbach who remonstrated with me for not checking with her more often when I leave. Chastened I happily accepted the offer of a lift with her, more-so because I had a shopping bag full of limes (for my daughter's Birthday Key Lime Pie) and cheddar cheese (only available in the supermarket near-ish to my office, I can't get there without a car so I take my chances when I can get them). As I got out of their car the heavens opened but luckily I was swiftly in the station - it was 17:55 so I assumed I'd have about 20 minutes to wait for a train, having missed the 17:49.

But - yaay - there was another train due to depart at 17:59. I hotfooted it up the stairs and, indeed, there was an ancient example of the Deutsche Bundesbahn's finest. Even more exciting: different seat covers. This time they were sort of olivey green with a wide centre panel consisting of the same green background with diagonal stripes of varying horrible colours of blue. I took a photo, and have photos of some of the others. Any readers should start hoping for either a car for me or something exciting to happen soon or I'm going to have to resort to posting pictures of train and bus seat coverings.

The rain pounded against the windows and the sky grew ever darker. By the time we got to Rheydt it was like a monsoon. I scanned the sky, hoping to spot a patch of blue sky and was rewarded just before we got to Erkelenz. Not only a patch of blue sky - but a whole sky full of blue and blazing sunshine. Stopping only to ask myself why I hadn't got my sunglasses with me I mounted my Shiny New Bike and peddaled furiously in a homeward direction.

And arrived at 18:45. Which was nice.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Day 17 - Wednesday, 28th July 2010

Speak up, love, there are a few people in the first carriage who can't quite hear you...

It's still warm enough to cycle without a cardigan, but I took one as a precaution - along with my not-rainproof jacket due to the forecast of heavy rain. It was a pleasant journey and I caught myself saying good morning to three of the four herons that hang out in our village. The Big Brown Slugs are out in force causing me to swerve around them all because I really don't want mashed slug on my Shiny New Bike.

As I rode over the bridge into town a baby rabbit tried to race me - no hope mister rabbit, I've got 21 gears... zooommmm!

We stood around on the platform waiting for the train doing that morning commuter thing of not looking directly at anyone, twenty people looking in twenty different directions. Suddenly everyone was directing their weary morning gaze at a young woman who was dashing to the platform shouting nearly hysterically into her phone. The person on the end of the line was her mother it seemed, the girls's life apparently falling apart she got louder and louder and more hysterical. But she was rushing around so much, up and down the stairs, into and out of the tunnel until the train came and she abruptly shut off her phone.

It was better than EastEnders! But nobody knows how it panned out. I hope she's okay, I really hate to see anyone cry like that.

The rest of the journey, of course went like clockwork. As I sat on the first bus I took note of the location and name of all the stops. My plan was that on the return trip I'd get off the number 71 bus opposite the ARAL petrol station and walk, briskly, to the next stop along - where I could hopefully catch my next bus instead of seeing it retreating into the distance. And if I missed it, well, I'd be no worse off than if I'd missed it at the other stop, since the 38 also stops there.

Of course, on the return journey I totally forgot about that plan and yet again found myself staring at the retreating back end of the 87B bus. Drat again.

Still, it didn't rain (until much later when I was nearly home, and even then it wasn't much - so yah boo sucks to that) so I scrambled more of my brain trying to understand even a bit of my book. When this is finished I've promised myself some Jeeves and Wooster as a reward.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Day 16 - Tuesday, 27th July 2010

Train whistle blowing...

This morning was lovely, a little bit chilly - enough that I put my cardigan on to cycle to the station. And the rest of the journey was textbook timing on the part of the trains and buses.

The trip back. Well, I've realised that I've generally said that the return journey works. But actually, it doesn't work as it should: not the way the timetable says it should. The first bus, the 71, is invariably 5 minutes late. Which means that I watch my next bus, the 87B, whizzing past us as we pull in to the bus stop. Tonight I was cruelly close to catching the 87B - I was about 20 metres behind it when it pulled away from the stop.


Luckily the next one comes 10 minutes later, but the 20 minute wait at the station really bugs me. We have a lot to do this week in the evenings and getting home at just gone seven (I have to be in bed by 10pm or I'd never get up) isn't helping much. Still I'm getting a lot of reading done - even if this week's book is such a brain scrambler I have to read every page twice and stop and stare out of the window every few minutes to try to understand what it is I'm reading. [E=mc² (and why should we care?) by Prof Brian Cox and Prof Jeff Forshaw]

Monday, 26 July 2010

Day 15 - Monday, 26th July 2010

Water water all around

The forecast was for rain this morning, rain this lunchtime and rain this afternoon and evening. I didn't get a good night's sleep partly due to an extended Sunday afternoon nap, and partly due to worrying about cycling to the station in the rain.

My thinking is: cycling home in the rain isn't too bad because after twenty or so minutes it's over, you're home and warm and can get dry and have a nice cup of tea. Cycling to the station in the rain, sitting dripping in a train and two buses: not my idea of fun.

In the event this morning was cool and clouded over, but not cold. Indeed I left my cardigan behind as a last minute thing because I didn't want to arrive at the station all hot and sweaty. Yes, I'm fussy about how I arrive at the station.

It was a nice cycle ride, actually, until I got to the fields which have until so recently been full of the juciest reddest strawberries it's possible to imagine. It was lovely cycling past them with the smell of strawberries in the air, knowing that we usually had a big basket of them at home.

But, alas. Strawberry season ended a few weeks ago and the fields have been ploughed up. And, in order that we get a similar crop of jucy red strawberries next year, the fields have also been covered in poo. Or, if it's not poo, it is something that smelly terribly like poo. I have two children. I know what poo smells like.


Really, you don't need that first thing in the morning so there's only one thing for it, mad peddaling and trying to breathe through your mouth. With all the insect-eating danger that entails. That's the part about living in the country that people don't tell you about. I think most townies are reconciled to the fact that here in the countryside it's noisy. Blimey it's noisy. What with the dogs, the cows, the tractors and the milk trucks. Not to mention the flipping rooster. But the big secret - not so secret now I've spilled the beans - is that the countryside stinks to high heaven for a lot of the year.

The train/bus/bus combo went well this morning. It went well this afternoon too, but the promised rain decided to show up and promptly made up for not having ruined my morning by coming down in buckets.

Not a good time to find out your waterproof jacket isn't as waterproof as you thought.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Day 14 - Friday, 23rd July 2010

Thank goodness - it's the end of the week already

Morning journey: fine. Evening Journey: left the office late, but worked like clockwork. Result.

This morning there were a couple of people conducting some kind of passenger survey which consisted of about 5 nearly useless questions (where did you get on, where will you get off, what's your final destination, how did you get to the station, how will you get from your end station to your final destination).

Unfortunately, despite wonderful travel connections today, the actual day (work) was really scabby, and my after work training didn't go well. Which just goes to show.

Something or other!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Day 13 - Thursday, 22nd July 2010

I never could get the hang of Thursdays

Another day when everything went swimmingly and there is nothing of interest to report. Which is good but boring.

Again my colleague and her husband dropped me at Mönchengladbach station so I managed to get the 17:49 train to Erkelenz, which meant I got home just before 18:30. Which was good because Chef arrived just as I was opening the door.

As I was pedalling home I pondered what to write in the blog. Something about the places I visit, whizz through, pedal past and otherwise visit on my journey. But that's for another day. Because something on the train today reminded me of a fabulous train journey I once had.

The train pulled in to the station at Mönchengladbach there were 4 teenagers in the cab with the driver. They got out at Erkelenz but I didn't get a chance to ask what they'd been up to, but it certainly reminded me of the time I went to Hamburg on the, now sadly defunct, Metropolitan train.

Back when I first started working at LG Display (or LG.Philips as it was then) I used to take care of booking all the business travel for the office. One day the travel agency called me and asked if I wanted to go to Hamburg for a bit of a jolly, test the train and try out a refurbished hotel. All on them. What's not to like about an offer like that?

Having arranged boring stuff like childminders and a Friday off work, I duly arrived at Düsseldorf station to board our train to Hamburg - my favourite city in the whole of Germany, if not the world. But not just any old train, oh no. This was the Metropolitan Train.

It was a luxurious thing and designed to compete with the internal flights operated between Cologne/Düsseldorf and Hamburg. It was fast, it was beautiful and it was free. The tickets were sold on the same basis as plane tickets: if you had a ticket you had a seat. And what a seat! Whereas a normal train has 4 people sitting accross the width of the carriage with an aisle between them - this train only had 2 seats side by side. Beautiful, deep, wide seats in serious leather. They were arranged in groups of 4 around a table and in what was then a revolutionary development, you were able to use your mobile phones without any problems. There were power outlets so that you could plug in your computers (I took a laptop with me to try that out - great fun). There were also portable DVD players and films available (with headphones) if you so desired.

In addition there was a small bar type buffet car and it was such a smooth ride you could walk around quite freely if you - unbelieveably - got tired of sitting in your luxurious serious leather seat.

About an hour into the journey we were served a nice meal - none of your airline stylee pap this, it was very fresh and tasty. There was also unlimited coffee and cold drinks, but that could have been part of our special package. When we got to the only stretch of track that the train could go full pelt there came a short announcement and off we went. Fast, quiet and smooth. Bliss.

I do regret not taking any photos inside the train now, though because it seems almost impossible to find any on the internet or elsewhere. The trip to Hamburg was quite fab, but the trip back was even better.

The group was a lot more noisy on the way back - we'd had 24 hours to get to know each other and several of us had bonded over cocktails on the top floor of the Sheraton hotel with a great view of Hamburg by night. But there was better to come.

Those of us who wanted were allowed, in groups of three, to sit in the cab with the driver. And I was lucky enough to be in the co-driver's seat at the time we went faster than I've ever travelled on land before.

Most certainly that's the best train journey I've ever had. But the most exciing was the one that went from Dover to Leningrad - as it was called back then. But for that, dear reader, you'll have to wait for another boring day travel wise.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Day 12 - Wednesday, 21st July 2010


That's German for we have reached the summit (of the week) and it's all downhill from here.

This morning - no issues with transport. This evening - no issues with transport. A bit of light drizzle on my way back, but I had a waterproof jacket, although, to be honest, I didn't really need it.

So today I thought I'd do a little bit of pondering the designs of the seat covers on public transport. I sure do know how to have a good time!

On my morning train, which is vaguely modern, the seats are covered with a royal blue plush affair. But not just royal blue. There are navy blue squares - about 1.5cm square, all over the royal blue about 1cm apart. Now, I'm not a fan of blue. In fact, out of all the colours it's probably my least favourite. Mostly because when I wear it my green eyes look blue.

But it's not an offensive design, although the scratchy plush material does get very warm on hot days. The bus companies, however, really go to town on their scratchy plush material. The first one this morning had a grey background, graphite sort of colour, with splashes and squiggly lines in red, green, blue (dratted royal blue again) and yellow. Jackson Pollock, though, it ain't. It is just the sort of horrible design that looks like someone was trying to reference Pollock, and then failed spectacularly. At least I'm only on that one for 5 minutes.

The second bus, though, if possible was worse. The same scratchy plush material. The same basic grey background. But, for some reason, the name of the bus company was the design - and it is MöBus. Like that. Written Vertically on the seats. Just say no, folks!

The return buses were similar to the not-quite-Jackson-Pollock design, but muted colours instead which made it less offensive. and the train home was one of the spiffy double deckers with a very pale grey-green sort of design. And it wasn't quite as scratchy. Which is good because I fell asleep and it was digging into my cheek the whole way home.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Day 11 - Tuesday, 20th July 2010

Woke up this morning...

... and yet again couldn't move my sorry backside out of bed quick enough to go for the earlier train. But anyway, the journey to work went, again, sadly for blog readers boringly smoothly. And the homeward journey was even better because one of the ladies at work, who lives not far from Mönchengladbach station, gave me a lift there after work.

Rather serendiptiously I arrived on the platform at the same time as my homeward bound train and I arrived in Erkelenz a mere 40 minutes after I left work.

That leaves today's blog rather scarce today so I thought I'd give a quick mention to a fellow passenger from yesterday. A fine young man of about 22 or 23 (I'd guess) who was sitting down near where I was standing. Our eyes met, and he smiled. "Oh," I thought "I'm old but I still have it."

Then came the pinprick that burst the bubble: "would you like my seat?"

Monday, 19 July 2010

Day 10 - Monday, 19th July 2010

I thought it was too good to last...

This morning I had planned to go on the train earlier than my usual one, but Monday mornings are never (in my experience) a good day to try anything new.

Pity, though, because today would have been a good day to start. It all began so well, sunny, not too warm, left the house on time - and even remembered to put the bin out.

As I approached the station the 07:09 pulled out on its merry way to Düsseldorf. at 07:17 there came a crackly announcement. The 07:18 to Duisburg wouldn't be coming due to some kind of (unexplained) technical failure. Hrumph. Oh well, I could take the 07:33 to Düsseldorf, change at Neuss and head off to Osterath, from whence I could take the number 71 bus to my office.

Yippee, a new combination I haven't tried before. Only - after the drenching I and my baggage had on Friday I'd left my printed timetable at home to dry out. Curses! Not knowing what the margin of error is for that particular combination I decided to chance it and get off at Mönchengladbach and go via Neersen Schloß on the 36 and the 56.

That was a mistake. I managed to get a bus reasonably well (08:08 right outside the train station) but after that it was a bit of a disaster. When I go to Schloß Neersen I realised that my next bus would leave in half an hour. Well, it was a nice day, and there was a bakery nearby so I got a coffee and read some more of my book.

Not much though because very soon after I settled down four rather fat ducks waddled up and started tapping the glass of the bus shelter. An old fellow sitting by me said that they would do that for a while then wander off to the bakery where they would quack for a while until someone came out and gave them some crumbs.

But finally my bus arrived and I got to work at 09:15. Not a jourey I care to repeat.

Going home the 71 was late (that seems to be usual) so I missed the 87 and therefore my first train. But I got the 18:08 from Anrath directly to Erkelenz and managed to get a bit of food shopping done on the way home.

Despite the missing train, not a bad day, travel-wise.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Day 9 - Friday, 16th July 2010

Absolutely nothing of note to report timetable wise for either journey.


However, the bus I caught (the SB87) to Anrath Kirche, which is the first bus after my train on the way to work, was very strange. It had a very wide aisle.

Which would be okay, for things like Pushchairs and Wheelchairs. But the reason it was wide was that the seats were only big enough for 1.5 people. That is: one person could sit next to the window, and then the next person could perch on the remainder of the seat with one buttock.

So, were they designed for very slim people (or children) or quite wide people. After all, some of the people I see on the buses would fit one of these seats very well.

It's a mystery.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Day 8 - Thursday, 15th July 2010

Nothing to see here, move along please

Despite the storms yesterday which have rendered several hundred kilometers of track useless, my train was just about on time today. I knew that because I looked at the Deutsche Bahn website and, because I absolutely don't trust it, I persisted with the hotline until I managed to speak to a nice young man about my train. Indeed, he reassured me, it's running a couple of minutes late, but it will make that up by the time you get to your stop.

In the event when we got to Viersen, which is the stop before mine, I lost my nerve and got off there. It meant I got to work about 25 minutes later than planned, but if I'd gone for my double-bus combo and missed it I would have been waiting at least an hour.

Coming home my journey was only made later by someone wanting me to do some work, how cheeky, so instead of doing my morning journey in reverse, I did the one where i have to wait 20 minutes at a middle bus stop. I had a little snigger as we passed Donk - as usual - then spent a nice 20 minutes sitting in a cool, shady bus stop reading my book.

How boring!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Day 7 - Wednesday, 14th July 2010

The unthinkable happens

There were very few people waiting on the platform and so I had hopes that the trains were running pretty much as normal. But the first thing I heard was the announcement that the 07:09 and the 07:33 trains to Düsseldorf were cancelled. My train, the trusty 07:18 to Duisburg seemed to be on schedule. And indeed it said on the front it was really going all the way to Duisburg - yippee.

It was quite full and I was one of the last on so I had to stand, not a great hardship. But then there was a small commotion at the place where the Non-Body sits. A dapper gentleman in a suit, carrying a briefcase reached accross and shook the Non-Body's legs. At first there was no response and it seemed as though all the passengers were holding their breath. But the man didn't give up. This time he said, very loudly: please move your legs I want to sit there. There was spluttering and muttering but eventually the feet were withdrawn from the seat and the dapper gentleman sat down.

I have now become a nodding-acquaintance with a fellow passenger - one of the women from last evening - who gets on my bus. And that after only a week of commuting! The rest of the journey was totally uneventful exceptt that all the schoolchildren were very jolly and chattery because it was the last day of term today.

The journey home started well. On the radio they announced that all trains were running although there would be delays because some of the tracks had been reduced to single track.

1st bus: Just about on time
2nd bus: Caught it!
1st train: Caught it
2nd train: Caught it but it only made it as far as just past the second stop when the heavens opened and our second almighty storm of the week wreaked havoc on the trains. We lost electricity between us and Erkelenz, but further along from Erkelenz a tree took down some overhead lines then lay, inconveniently accross the tracks. Our train had to limp back to the previous stop.

Actually, it was going to push on to Aachen the final destination, but via Köln and it would take 2 hours (opposed to the half hour it should normally take). The rest of us, however, got off and ran through torrential rain to the front of the station.

While I was on the train I got a call from Chef who told me that it was extremely windy in Erkelenz and that he and the Gruesome Twosome had been cycling home from town when the bad weather struck. Indeed Gruesome #2 had been blown off her bike.

Predictably there were no Deutsche Bahn staff available to point us in the direction of buses. Actually, there were no buses scheduled or otherwise. Knowing how these situations pan out, I shouted above the noise of the rain that I was taking a taxi to Erkelenz and did anyone want to come. Blank looks. So I jumped in a taxi and 20 minutes later he let me out in slightly less than torrential rain where my bike is parked.

As the sky wasn't as black as it had been I decided to cycle home. Luckily the wind had died down and the rain started to slacken off. But I was still absolutely wringing wet when I got home. But at least it was a whole hour earlier than yesterday!

No idea how either of us will get to work tomorrow though. What an exciting life we lead!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Day 6 - Tuesday, 13th July 2010

Has it been a whole week already?

All things considered my first week as a public-transport commuter have not gone too badly. And then the storm happened and everything was up in the air.

Having checked the Deutsche Bahn website it appeared that although many trains have been cancelled, mine would leave on time. Yaayy. Accordingly I abandoned plans to take a bus to Mönchengladbach and then another 2 to Willich in favour of letting the train take the strain. As soon as I saw the hordes of people standing on the platform I nearly changed my mind, but there was then the miracle of an announcement that the Düsseldorf train would arrive any moment. It was a double-decker jobbie and the hordes of waiting passengers, some of whom i summised had been there for a long time from their grumbled commens as they shuffled past me, squashed themselves on the train. It pulled out, slowly and I was left, alone to ponder my possible foolhardiness as I watched the bus pull out too.

But then - oh wonder - my train arrived. Unfortunately in place of the usual destination of "Duisburg" it bore the legend Mönchengladbach. 2 stations before mine. Hmmm. Well, I know that a bus goes from Mönchengladbach so I hopped on, took up a seat and opened my book. Just before Mönchengladbach the automated announcement caused consternation when it announced that our next stop would be Aachen - which is about 40kms in the opposite direction.

Finally we were on the way again and as a bonus the train would now stop one stop further at Viersen. Where I knew - because the guy from work that i met on the bus yesterday morning had told me - that I could get a bus to my office. The train stopped and everyone piled off to catch the buses that have been laid on to take them to the parts that the trains can't currently reach. And promptly all congregated in the doorway so that nobody could move. That didn't exactly set me up for the rest of my journey, but with some pushing and shoving and then running around asking people about bus stops I finally discovered that I could take a bus to the bus station and from there to my office stop. As an aside: does absolutely EVERYONE listen to music while they travel? I don't think I saw anyone who wasn't wearing earphones of some description.

And that was that, or so I thought. Wisely I periodically checked the Deutsche Bahn website and finally established that I could go to my usual stop of Anrath and get the train at 18:08 which was annotated as being "pünktlich" - on time.

There's a lesson here, boys and girls. Don't trust anything you read on the internet. I took a bus. Then I took another bus. And arrived at a nearly deserted station, when the doubts began to set in. A couple of other people arrived, including a woman who had caught the same train/bus combo as me this morning. She had also checked the website. The doubts receded. They receded even more when a few other website checkers arrived.

"No trains today," called a cheerful bus driver.

"oh yes," we chorused. "It said so on the website."

"No trains today," called a passing car driver.

"Hmmm..." we said. It's an unmanned station, but there is an info thing so we pressed the button and eventually a disembodied voice asked us how he could help us. To cut the boringly long story short. There were no trains that day from Anrath. How could we have thought such a thing... Several of us called the Deutsche Bahn info number and received various different answers. There were definitely no trains. There would be a train. There were buses organised to take the place of the trains. There were no buses. We would have to take taxis. We coudn't take taxis because there were buses which we should wait for. Which weren't coming.

Meanwhile the cheerful bus driver announced he was driving to Schloß Neersen and anyone who wanted should get on. Which we did as there was nowhere to sit and no shade at the station. When we got to Schloß Neersen there were 3 of us waiting for the next bus - which was due in 45 minutes. I could have wept - this was my alternative route and if I'd stuck to my guns and gone for that I'd have been home by then.

Still, it was a bit of an adventure, and I had my book and (important for me: I wasn't in imminent danger of needing the loo). The two ladies waiting with me proved to be chatty. We talked of this and that and at one point one of them mentioned her daughter who "is a lot older than you". Hmm, I thought. "How old is she?" There is a sort of freedom in asking perfect strangers such personal questions.

"oh, she's 46" came the reply. At which I smiled quietly to myself. YES! (I'll enlighten you: I'm 46 and-a-half)

Finally, after a long wait and a lot of conversation about Train Journeys That Went Bad, the bus turned up and after a short while deposited us uneventfully in front of Mönchengladbach station.

The was obliging enough to arrive on time and I duly disembarked and switched to my bike shortly after 8pm.

Tomorrow I'm either going to ignore the DB website or I'm going to call them every half an hour to check their data.

One thing is for sure: the Deutsche Bahn were correct when they told me that they can't plan for a one-off event like the storm. I agree and accept that in such an instance my journey is going to be long and silly. But they really have to work on their provision of information to their passengers. Especially on their unmanned stations.

It really can't be that difficult to send someone around with a car and some blank posters with at least an info line number to call.


Communing with nature and the Great Lipgloss Dilemma

Living in the country, as I do, there is some opportunity to observe wildlife. It is very flat around here with not much tree cover or even scrubland or bushes. Which means that generally what we get are hares, rabbits and various species of birds of prey. Buzzards are common but I never fail to catch my breath when I see one. They are beautiful.

Early on in the year there are also plenty of lapwings, or peewits. I love the way they flap around when someone comes close to their nest and try to distract potential predators.

Anyway, this morning I was pleased to see a huge hare sitting in a field. As I got closer I realised that he was staring down a heron who was standing perfectly still giving the hare his best beady eyed look. I turned my attention back to the road just in time to nearly run over a stoat. We've nearly bumped into deer in the past as we've been cycling around, and just as I come into town I often see a red squirrel bounding along the road.

Ain't nature great.

Oh yes. The Great Lipgloss Dilemmma. Yesterday I mentioned that the lipgloss I use was acting rather like fly-paper on all the little bugs that fly around in the mornings.

This evening as I was cycling back my lipgloss was long gone (I'm really not girly enough to re-apply it during the day) and there was nothing to stop the flies getting in my mouth. So now I can't decide which is worse: Flies on my lips or flies on my tongue.


Monday, 12 July 2010

Day 5 - Monday, 12th July 2010

The Body isn't a Body

It was very warm all weekend and the heat didn't dissapate at all over Sunday night. This morning dawned bright and sunny and very warm at 05:30 already. This time I thought I'd try something New and Revolutionary. Instead of pulling on my jeans and stuffing my skirt into my basket - I thought I'd give Cycling Wearing a Skirt a go. It went quite well so I think I'll ditch taking a skirt to work and just wear the skirt from the start. Next: cycling in high-heeled sandles.

My train departs Erkelenz at 07:18 terminating at Duisburg, the one before it goes at 07:09 heading to Düsseldorf. But for some reason this morning it seems that the 07:09 train hadn't turned up because there were twice as many people getting on my train as usual. This offered exciting opportunities for checking The Body out. And indeed, it was there, but in deference to the hot weather this time it sported a short sleeved shirt and sleeveless jacket, but the headband was firmly in place over it's eyes. The change of clothes suggested that either someone at the train company takes care of the body and puts it in seasonal clothes - perhaps that person was on holiday last week and unable to carry out their Body Clothes Changing duties.

But what happened? We pulled out of Mönchengladbach as usual, and thankfully most people had got off there and I managed to get a seat affording me a great view of The Body. I rummaged around in my bag for my book (Molesworth, this week) and when I looked up again: the body was taking off the headband. He examined it carefully before folding it and putting it in an inner pocket. Then he took out some reading glasses, removed his feet from the opposite seat, took a newspaper out of an inner pocket and began to read as though nothing was more normal.

So on the one hand - I'm glad that I haven't been sharing a carriage with a body. On the other, it's vaguely disappointing... After that highlight the rest of the journey was uneventful apart from the fact that I met one of the guys from work (who lives in Mönchengladbach) when we both got of the bus. He imparted a little nugget of knowledge that could cut the number of my morning buses in half. If I get off one stop earlier (Viesen) I can get the 71 bus from there (instead of faffing about changing at the church bus stop) directly to our office. I may try it one day when I'm feeling brave about finding the bus stop.

At lunchtime the sky went an ominous shade of Extremely Dark Grey and the trees outside the office started swaying alarmingly. Suddenly it started to rain, and I had the misfortune to be outside at the time (having borrowed a car so I could have a lunchtime session at the gym). I walked about 50 metres and by the time I got to the car I looked as though someone had chucked two buckets of water over me.

Apparently in other parts of the state there were huge storms and winds (there was some talk on the radio of a tornado) but it wasn’t until Chef called me from Düsseldorf station to say that no trains were running that I realised just how bad the storm had been. Erkelenz, it seemed, had been right in the middle of it all. Luckily for me I have a colleague who lives not far from me who kindly dropped me off at Erkelenz station to recover my bike.

Chef wasn’t so lucky. There was a distinct lack of information at Düsseldorf station, and he had settled down for a long wait. After a few hours of this he recognised a couple of other people from his train and they clubbed together for a taxi. EUR 20 down the drain but as far as we know everyone is still sitting at the station waiting to leave...

For tomorrow morning, who knows what will happen. However I’ve scoped out a bus from Erkelenz to Mönchengladbach station and there’s a bus from there to quite close to my office. It’s very exciting!

The Perils of Lipgloss

There was another learning process this morning. As I've already explained I wear sunglasses while cycling, to keep the flies, pollen and whatever else is flying around out of my eyes. It works quite well - I have my normal glasses for if the sun goes away again.

But I'm also in the habit of applying lipstick before I leave the house. And since I'm a modern type of gal, I have been using the very shiny, very sticky lipgloss that is so fashionable right now. (Oh yes - the 80s are back with a vengeance)

And it is absolutely perfect for trapping little flies, ladybirds and whatever else is flying around. Yum.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Body on the Train

Yesterday, as part of my ongoing research into commuters, I actually sat next to the chap who is either a very deep sleeper or, in fact, a body. I didn't want to sit next to him - or more precicely, his feet - but there was no other seat available and I really wanted to read some more of my book.

My idea had been to try to look at the date of the newspaper under his feet - it turned out not to be a newspaper but broadsheeet sized Media Markt flyer which had no discernable date showing. Curses.

CSI Erkelenz will continue after the (weekend) break.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Day 4 - Friday, 9th July 2010

Wow, I'm actually updating the Blog on the day the journey took place. Either I'm addicted to blogging already or I lead a sad and lonely life where my only diversion is talking to invisible people about my daily commute.

Still, at least I'm not writing it in Elvish. Or Klingon. Yet.

This morning's journey was, again, uneventful. It being Friday and International Dress Down Day (TM) I decided that jeans and a t-shirt coupled with baby pink Chucks would be in order. And why not?

One thing that I've not yet mentioned about the bike part of the journey is that in the morning I travel sort of east south east, as Hornblower might put it. Which means that at 06:45am (what does the "0" stand for? Yep - "Oh my God it's early!" I know, I know. But the old ones really are the best.) Anyway, at 06:45am as I slalom my way along our narrow village street (there is no off road parking in that part of the village and sensible people are still abed with their cars sensibly parked outside) er... stop with the diversions already. As I slalom my way along our village street, between cars which actually start when you turn the ignition key and trundle along nicely, the sun is nicely angled to go over the top of my sunglasses and right into my eyeballs.

I only really wear them in the first place to protect my eyes against little insects and pollen. Usually it works pretty well, if only the sun didn't blind me and render me incapable of seeing most of the parked cars. Usually I bounce from one to another like some human pinball. Thank goodness there's only a few hundred metres of that before I get to what Gruesome #2 calls "the never ending road". Which is, in reality of course, about 700 metres of tarmac between our village and the next.

Actually it's quite a nice stretch of straight, smooth tarmac with hardly any traffic - if I am passed by three cars the whole time I'm on it I would consider that very heavy congestion.

But I'm saving the scintillating description of the bike journey for a slow brain day. Today it's all about the bus stop names. Really I only want to mention two of them, because this afternoon I tried the two bus journey to Mönchengladbach again. Not out of choice.

On Friday we can finish work at 15:15. That's a nice theory and usually most of us are there for a lot longer than that. Last week was a bit horrible, hours wise, so I thought that today if I made sure my PC was all shut down, and my bag ready to go, if I left Extremely Promptly I'd make the 15:17 bus.

I thought wrong, of course, and missed the bus completely. A quick consultation of my oracle, or printed pages from the Deutsche Bahn website, showed me that I could do the short bus, long bus, short train via Mönchengladback combination. A pity since I wanted to be back early-ish to take Gruesome #1 to a party. But never mind. The carless family have to be flexible and show solidarity.

You might recall that this bus combination starts with a short bus journey, followed by a 20 minute wait for the longer journey (and I was really hoping for some more first class entertainment again). However, my first bus arrived one minute early and I managed to get another bus right away. Great.

Not very entertaining though because the only other passengers were a trio of German fifteen-year old girls listening to dire German rap. Really. I usually go to lunch with someone I work with who has a tendency to have really loud metal music on the car hi-fi which makes my ears bleed (yes, Marlies, that's you). But I'll take any amount of that over Dire German Rap. Yuk.

But let's go back to Bus number one because I completely forgot to mention the stops. Usually I give the bus driver a cheery "Guten Tag" as I swish past him waving my season ticket. Sometimes they grunt "tag" back at me, sometimes they just ignore me and often they look like rabbits caught in the headlights. I must consult the Unwritten Rules of Commuting to see if that is a huge Faux Pas. Anyway, today's driver was a grumpy old git who just glared at me as though he'd just brushed all the seats putting pretty patterns in the pile and I was some kind of fiendish interloper who would sit on several of them and ruin his handiwork.

As if.

So, in this opressive atmosphere off we toodled. As it's a short journey I just looked out of the window wondering how annoyed the car drivers were getting at us moving so slowly when the automated announcement for the next stop made me choke on my own saliva.

"Nächste Halt: Donk" (next stop: Donk)

There are a few places round here called Something-donk. Wachtendonk is a particular favourite of mine. Hülsdonk. But Donk on it's own spoke to my inner seven year old and I let out a huge snort of a laugh. Which was cut off in its prime when I caught the fierce glance the driver gave me via the rear-view mirror. Blimey. So when the nächste Halt turned out to be Am Schwarzen Pfuhl (By the Black Puddle) I had to pretend to blow my nose. For about 3 minutes.

I tried to give Lord Volde-driver a cheery "Tchüss" as I stepped off his vehicle but it stuck in my throat and I just settled for a quick nod in his general direction. The stop, Schloß Neersen, is the end of the line for that bus, and the driver whizzes off to a point about 200 metres away and parks up, nose to the road for about 10 minutes before he comes out and does the route in reverse. I was so glad the next bus turned up so quickly because I was really worried what those malevolent eyes might do to me as he drove past.

Luckily the rest of the journey was completely normal, or my poor ol' heart probably wouldn't have coped with the excitement!

Day 3 - Thursday, 8th July 2010

Totally uneventful! The morning journey is becoming routine, which is good as I seem now to be losing the panicy temptation to jump on the first train I see. Very good, that, because usually the first train I see is going to Aachen. Now, I really like Aachen, it's up there with my favourite German cities (Hamburg and Köln for anyone who is taking notes) but I don't work there. I work, by public transport, at least 2-and-a-half hours in the other direction.

Where was i? (not Aachen - haha)

Oh yes. As the journey is becoming routine I'm able to relax a little more during the journey and surrepticiously observe my fellow commuters. Here's where the (non-existant) spy-training comes in useful. The only one of note so far, that I've seen every day is a chappie who wears black trousers with a very chunky key-chain depending from the waistband, a very thick-looking blouson jacket and one of those winter-fleecy headbands. His is black and he wears it over his eyes rather like Top Cat's sleep mask. (that reference is only for those of you old enough to remember the rather fabulous Top Cat. Truly, they don't make 'em like that any more).

Back to the strange chappie. His clothing seems unseasonal, but that's not what is odd about him. Also what isn't odd about him is the fact that he appears to be fast asleep. He's already on the train when I get on and is still there when I get off. No. The strange thing is that he sits in one seat and has a newspaper spread on the seat and part-way up the seat back of the seet opposite him. Becuase he has his feet up.

I can't help but feel that he can only enjoy this level of commutery comfort on a provincial commuter train. I fear that were he to try it in, say, Düsseldorf - which is not the friendliest city in these parts, it has to be said - he would soon find half a dozen youths perched on his outstretched legs.

OH! Here's a thought. I haven't actually seen him move. Maybe he died some while ago and nobody, because if you thought the British were reserved you really ought to get over here, has tried to wake him...

Tomorrow morning I'm going to see if I can check the date on his newspaper. At least we'll be able to establish an approximate date of death.

For the second day in a row I'd taken a skirt to work and this time some spiffy high-heeled sandles, which all fit rather nicely into my very handsome clip-on basket.

Homeward bound - the afternoon found me leaving early to take #1 Gruesome and myself off to the doctor for some jabs (both of us) and an annual check-up (me). Oh am I going to have a regular day of go to work, come home from work with nothing in between? Probably. But not today.

This time I went for the number 56 bus (same bus stop, rather boringly) which leaves at 47 minutes past the hour. Having hastily changed back into my (literally) pedal-pushers I sprinted (ambled - you'd be mad to sprint in this weather) to the stop and - lo! - the bus was on time. This one took me to Schloß Neersen where I jumped off and waited for the number 36 to take me to Mönchengladbach main station.

Unfortunately this version of the journey lasts a good 20 minutes longer than the ones I've used up to now and that 20 minutes is spent at the bus stop. But with the lovely weather and the bus stop being in the shade, it was an opportunity to read more of my current book. (50 Great Short Stories edited by Milton Crane)

Boringly the 36 arrived on time and wasn't overflowing so I managed to get a nice set of seats on the shady side of the bus. And off we meandered to Mönchengladbach which isn't a particularly nice town to look at but the countryside on the way is quite nice. The bus filled up slowly and for the last few stops I had both bags on my knee which isn't exactly uncomfortable but it is hot.

I gave up reading because one of the passengers was entertaining the whole bus. First she was a rather large young lady who had at least 3 bags with her. She plumped herself down on one of those groups of 4 seats (2 facing 2) and put her handbag on the seat next to her then filled the two seats opposite with her feet and her other two bags. If I were a little old lady I'd have done that shoulder tapping, pointed comment making thing but I'm not old enough... my time will come, however, so look out all future transgressors of the Unwritten Laws of Commuting.

That doesn't sound particularly entertaining. Annoying, definitely, but entertaining? No. The next thing, though, had the rest of the passengers entranced as she took out her phone and proceeded to hold a long, loud and very indiscrete conversation with (as it turned out) her mother. It concerned her (the large passenger) health, a possible pregnancy with a question about paternity and some other feminine-stylee medical issues. Yeurch.

The conversation ended with the words "now, mum, don't breathe a word of that to anyone, I don't want people to know" at which there was first a stunned slience. Then the 4 teenage girls sitting behind me let out such a huge screech of laughter that the rest of the passengers had no option but to join in.

Why oh why do they do it?

The rest of the journey, bus and spiffy double-decker train departing from Platform 5 at 16:49 was uneventful. I have high hopes for Friday, for Fridays are renowned for being the day that the nutters come out.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Day 2 - Wednesday, 7th July 2010

I'd wised up a bit by Wednesday morning. That meant that instead of running around like a mad thing making packed lunches I merely took the pre-prepared ones out of the fridge.

But somehow I seemed to leave 5 minutes later than the planned 06:45 and so there was another session of mad pedalling but it all went well and this time the wised-up me got on the right train, grabbed a seat and settled into my book as though I'd been doing this for years.

In order to keep to the meticulous schedule that I'd downloaded from those kind people at Deutsche Bahn, I walked over to the correct bus stop (to do it in 3 minutes I'd have had to walk on my hands or something). After 5 minutes of waiting I was starting to get cros, and a little worried that I'd miss my connection. This particular bus only runs once an hour so it would make me seriously late. To add to my annoyance my mobile phone was out of juice, so there was nothing for itt but to wait. And then, of course, the bus turned up and I made my connection and everything seemed to be running like clockwork.

The return trip went well, which meant that all the buses arived on time, and I got my trains as scheduled. The return trip is 2 buses and 2 trains and the bike. The 2nd train was one of those funky double deckers but it was really full and I had to stand. It's a bit of a trial because my stop is the 2nd one, but for the first stop the platform is on the other side and the only place to stand is by the door... there was a lot of shuffling and pushing but as the train pulled out of the station I carried out a surrepticious limb check and I appeared to have everything still.

This time instead of heading home I had to stop at Aldi to pick up some groceries. Only having the two baskets, both full of my daily necessaries, really concentrated my mind, shopping wise which was good. I'm hoping that the grocery bills will come down while we slowly eat our way through our store cupboard and chest freezer. In the latter I am pretty sure there is some frozen beetroot that our neighbour gave us. The problem being that the neighbour was at our old place, and we've lived in this one for more than ten years. Hmmmm.

Luckily there was football on TV (Germany getting knocked out of the World Cup by Spain in the semi-final) and so it wasn't a toil getting the next day's lunches ready.

Collapsed in a heap in bed about 30 seconds after the Gruesome Twosome went to bed. I'm also going to be saving money on electricity since I'm not going to be watching TV or messing around on the 'net.

The Yorkshirewoman in me approves of all this money saving!

Day One - Tuesday, 6th July 2010

Monday had been fairly warm and what with the heat and the excitement of getting the SNB coupled with the absolute fear of being stuck in the middle of nowhere with no transport meant that I didn't sleep very much. But nevermind! The sun shone, the Gruesome Twosome were playing along and not arguing with each other over breakfast.

But, as usual, the morning started to run away from me and after a round of packed lunch making and stuffing things into a bag, and 42 admonitions to the Gruesomes not to miss their bus I jumped on my bike and commenced mad pedalling.

Suddenly, I was at the station, out of breath and looking for somewhere safe to put my bike. A week or two ago Chef, who parks his in the bike racks, had his panniers stolen, and I don't want anything untoward happening to my own bike. So I found one of Telekom's funky public phones and chained the bike to that.

As I came up onto the platform the train was there so I hopped on it. It was only at the next stop that I realised that I was, in fact, on the wrong train. I live in such a one horse town that I'd stupidly assumed that there was only one train in the morning. In fact I managed to get off two stops down the line, trying to look as though I meant it and waited for my train to happen along.

A quick word about the trains. They are not the newest things in the world but they're not bad and they are clean. Luckily for people like me who forget to check all the stops between where I get on and off, they have automated announcements and also usually a display showing the next stop. A good thing was that the train was fairly full but not crowded enough that people had to stand (but several did - it turns out that many of them only ride on the train for a stop or two)

After half an hour on the train it was time to switch to the bus. My information, downloaded from the Deutsche Bahn website, told me that I had to walk for 3 minutes to the bus stop then take the number 87 (fast bus) for 3 minutes to the stop at Anrath Kirche where I was to wait for 8 minutes then take the number 71 to my destination in Willich.

As I got off the train a bus pulled in. It was a number 38 but I asked anyway and, lo, it was going to where I wanted to be. It even stopped at the stop that my next bus would come to. 8 or so minutes later my bus turned up, I got on and off we toodled.

Result: I was at work. And I wasn't late or anything.

But then I had to get home again. At 17:17 I presented myself at my bus-stop to get the 71 back to the church to get the 87 back to the station. But the first bus was late and as it pulled up to the stop, I saw my other bus pulling out. Not good, as my train was due to leave ten minutes later.

I found the correct stop to get the 87 to the station, to find that the 38, which I'd taken that morning, was due to leave at 17:41. Probably too late for my train, but what the heck, there would be another - I'd only have to wait an hour at most. But that bus was also late - and when I asked the driver so that I could be sure I was on the right bus to the right place, he got all stroppy. Hmmmm.

As it happened I got to the station at 17:55 to find out that there was a direct train home at 18:08, so I took that. My bike was still where I'd left it which was a bit of a bonus.

25 minutes later I made my triumphant entrance at home and promptly collapsed on the sofa in a heap.

Preparing the ground (or: know your enemy)

Trying to play catch-up with the blogging here - it's my first week and i'm already 2 days in arrears...

On Monday I had to take another spontaneous day off work (oh the hardship, in the beautiful sunshine) to add to the one from the Day The Punto Died. That one, Friday, was spent mostly cleaning things, cutting grass and digging weeds. But it left the weekend free. Monday was a whole other proposition.

First I had to get on my old boneshaker and cycle the 5kms into town (note to self: measure that soon) to the station ticket office to purchase a monthly season ticket. Silly idea since I was also after a new bike, so I took the bus instead.

The individual return train-fare per day is around EUR 19 so I was expecting it to be hugely expensive. As it turned out at EUR 151 it's much cheaper than a month's worth of petrol. The second task was more expensive, but a lot of fun. The bike shop had some offers on so I got a Shiny New Bike (SNB) with a funky clip-on front basket. The SNB has 21 gears which seems rather over-the-top for these parts. We are very close to The Netherlands, in fact we used to be The Netherlands at various points of history and so it's not surprising to find out that it is as flat as the proverbial pancake (of which plenty are consumed in The Netherlands). It's not uncommon to see people whizzing around town on their trekking-bikes with their feet going nineteen-to-the-dozen because they're in the wrong gear. I try hard not to point and laugh.

But 21 gears! As I pedalled the SNB away from the shop I was busting to try one of them but there is nothing remotely resembling an incline on my way home, except the tiny hump-backed bridge which even my old legs could manage on the mono-geared boneshaker. But still, as I approached the bridge I clicked around with the gears until suddenly I was in mad-pedalling mode and heading down the other side of the bridge with my legs a blur to any passing pedestrians. That's when I realised the other funky thing about the SNB: the brakes are both on the handlebars and no amount of back-pedalling was going to slow me down. But wooooo. Gears. Great!

After that it remained only for me to affix the large, flat basket to the rear of the SNB and I was ready to go. Of course that short sentence doesn't convey the hours of fun to be had with tiny wing-nuts, bolts which are not quite long enough and one of those stupidly fiddly IKEA-Stylee screw-tightening-thingys.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

I declare this blog open...

And finally. I join the world of the blogger.

But after having resisted it for so long - and indeed blogging (after a fashion) elsewhere, why the sudden interest?

This story has its beginning in a small German town near the border with Holland. There I live with my other half (Chef) and the world famous Gruesome Twosome. We have relatively good public transport links between our town and the rest of the universe (by bus and train), and between the village where we live and the town (by bus) but in general it is necessary to have one, preferably two cars. Because, for instance, our bus service does not operate after 6pm or at weekends or on public holidays.

A few months ago Chef, who works in Düsseldorf, announced that his car was Kaput and would be to expensive to fix. Moreover he wanted to start going to work on the train as it would save money and the environment and - more importantly - he would be able to listen to music. Since he has to leave the house before the buses start the plan was for him to take the opportunity to get fit and go to the station on his bike.

Mother nature didn't really like this plan, and certainly didn't like the idea of me festering in bed until 6am and so it snowed. With a vengence. We haven't had that much snow here since who knows when. But eventually the snow went, and life settled down to normal. Chef pronounced himself more than satisfied with the train service, and cycling was working out well.

My car then started to show signs of reaching the end of a long and dusty road. I'd had to call out the breakdown service a few times and just recently they have taken to shaking their heads and double checking when I mention that it's done over 350,000 kms.

Friday, the 2nd of July was Punto's last journey. It made it into town to drop Gruesome #2 at school, then it made it to just outside town before it started to shake, rattle and roll in a most alarming fashion. To cut a long story short: the car is no more and an alternative way of travelling the 35kms to Willich, where I work, had to be found.

It's flat here so everyone has a pushbike. I'm no exception, and so in a moment of reckless enthusiasm I decided that I'd let the train take the strain. Chef had a bit of a chuckle, and we scratched our heads a little, and the result was that on Monday 5th July I became the proud owner of a shiny new bike with - gasp! - 21 gears and a rather groovy clip on basket.

This blog, then, will be a record of my journey to work. How I get on with my one-month trial season ticket. How often the German trains didn't live up to their reputation for a fearsome punctuality. And, probably, a record of what I read on those journeys. Because, let's face it, this is me. As much as I like riding my shiny new bike, and as much as I hate driving: reading is the stuff of life.

In fact, I rather suspect that Chef thinks that I sabotaged the car in order to get in some quality time with my books!