Saturday, 28 August 2010

Yes. There really is no general speed limit on the autobahn.

With my super duper 1.9litre engine it is very easy to suddenly find myself zooming along the Autobahn at around 170 kilometres per hour. Which isn't too bad as long it's on the stretch close to where I live which isn't encumbered with anything as crass as a speed limit. It's also a nice stretch with a smooth surface and no bends.

Of course, it only has two lanes which means I have to be sure to be in the outside lane so that I don't have to slalom between the Puntos and the lorries.

A couple of kilometres along the A46 I have to change over to the A61 and that has a 120kph speed limit on it, so I do have to slow down and pay attention. It's prtty much the same until I get to work, but since that's where the traffic starts to build up. Actually I'm lucky if I get as fast as 100kph for the rest of the journey.

So much for my route to work. Now let me take you back nearly forty years. Imagine the scene: it's the small housing estate in Windsor which joined on to the Army camp where my father worked. It was late summer and I was eight or nine. (See: nearly forty years...) There we all were, my friends and I, playing outside skating up and down the (hardly used) road on our roller skates.

It had been a good summer - for insects. Specifically Crane Flies. Back then I had long hair, and since I was already home from school my bunches were a thing of the past. Anyone ahead of me here? So there we were, skating up and down, hair flying around in the middle of Crane Fly season.

Crane Flies are harmless. They don't bite. They don't sting. They just sit on walls or clamber in a most ungainly manner in the long grass. Or they fly around and get caught in your hair and dangle their long legs in your face.

Remember. Nearly forty years ago. But even writing this, nearly forty years later, the hair on th eback of my neck is standing up and I have goosebumps on my arms. In fact, the hair all over my head is standing up and I'm typing more slowly than usual since I am constantly checking the room for long legged beasties. It's the season for them and it's been a hot, then wet, summer. Perfect for the horrible creatures.


So why am I relating this now? You might well ask. In fact, I'm so caught up in my memories that I have nearly forgotten. Nearly, but not quite.

Now I've rejoined the car-owning classes I'm back to doing the family grocery shopping during my lunch-breaks. On Wednesday I'd been shopping, and when I got home my Chef helped me get the boxes out of the boot. I noticed something fly into the boot, don't forget it's an estate (station wagon, combi) so it's a big, open interior. I looked around but didn't see anything. Not to worry, I thought, I'll make sure to drive with the windows open. I don't want bluebottles in my new car.

On Thursdays the gym near my office opens at 7am. That means that if I don't have to put the Gruesome Twosome on the school bus at 7:30, I can leave early, get to the gym at opening time and get a bit of exercise before work. That leaves my lunchtime free for reading and coffee. So, raring to go and wondering if I was up to a jog or just the cross-trainer, I hit the autobahn and put my foot down. There wasn't much traffic and I was just thinking that I might as well enjoy it while I can - school starts again next week and the autobahn will fill up again.

And what flew into my face? Oh yes. My old friend a Crane Fly. Now, most people who know me can tell you that I'm not actually a very girly girl. Apparently I drive like a man, I used to be in the army and for fun I like to mess around with power tools.

The only thing that stopped me screaming was the fear that the Big Beast would go into my mouth. But there I was, whizzing along the autobahn at 6:45am trying to fend off my Nemesis. I managed to get the window wound down (giving silent, closed mouth, thanks to whoever invented electric windows) in the vague hope that I could use my hand to flap it out. The stupid thing didn't comply with my wishes and thus met it's untimely end squished to jelly by my own fair hand against the driver's door.

But it was a very shakey Sheona who pulled into the car park, took four attempts to park the jalopy and staggered into the gym to use the cross-trainer. It's amazing, given that I was driving quite fast at the time, that I didn't end up wrapped around the central reservation.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Four wheels on my wagon...

The second day of commuting by car has come and gone and I have to say - much as I love and adore my Shiny New Bike - this really is the way to get to work.

In the past I've taken the B-roads to Mönchengladbach where I've joined the Autobahn (the A61, then the A52 then the A44) to Willich. It takes around 45 minutes - but this has stretched to more than 2 hours on one or two occasions. Most notably when it has snowed and I was young and keen (I won't be doing that again) and when the Autobahn exchange was being improved (improved no end but what a pain in the neck while it was being built).

But now I have a car that has a better engine and runs on diesel, I've decided to join the autobahn which runs close to my village, and cut my journey time. And what a cut! It took 30 minutes yesterday and today, although I expect that to increase next week when the school holidays finish.

Car-driver's laziness set in on the first day, sadly. The plan was to get up at 6am and get to Willich as early as possible because there were some jackets on offer in Aldi (not very nice, as it turned out so I didn't get one). But I watched the clock click round to 06:45 before I actually managed to schlepp my sorry bones out of bed. Since I got some shopping done before work, lunchtime was coffee and my book.


The drive home was also around 30 minutes but that could have been because I didn't leave work until 19:30 - although today I left at 17:30 and despite a bit of traffic early on, I still managed the journey in 35 minutes.

None of that 2-and-a-half-hour journey with missed buses!


Although - I do feel vaguely guilty about my carbon footprint.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Panic over: the radio is tuned!

So now I have a car it's easy to fall into the trap of: but I don't like the seat covers/radio/colour...

Actually, I'm still in love with the shiny "new" Octavia but was worried because it has a free-range radio that has no instruction book and doesn't actually do anything except spew white-noise, sometimes at full volume. The radio doesn't appear to have an off switch.

But today I was in a "multi" story car park. (what passes for multi-story in these parts: it has 2 levels) Suddenly we realised that there was some kind of display on the radio that works, and that we could see which wavelength we were trying to tune. Easy peasy.

And on the offchance that saving the stations is pretty much the same on all of these types of thing I started tuning and pressing like a mad tuning and pressing thing.


We now have the ability to select, at the press of a(n unlabelled) button: BFBS2 and WDR2. They don't set the radio universe alight but they do have:

a) the Radio4 Today programme
2) the actual traffic news
iii) local news.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

333,333 reasons that the Punto is prefixed with "Super"

Here it is. Evidence, if you will, that I need:

a) to get out more
b) to photograph all my sets of wheels if I'm going to blog about them in future.

As I don't have any photos of SuperPunto, here's one I took earlier. It is the milometer and it speaks for itself. Indeed, explains the whole "super" part of the SuperPunto epithet.

Technical details: I could see, of course, that this was coming up, and did hugely complicated feats of maths (yes, I didn't do well in my maths A-level, alebit back when they were difficult) to make sure that I wouldn't be on the Autobhan with no chance of stopping when it came round.

The day dawned. I arrived at the car park at work with around 20kms to go. At lunchtime I drove to the rather fabby and marvy (and, indeed, spiffy) RealFuturestore - The Best Supermarket In The Whole Of Germany. Close, but no cigar.

That meant, slow driving around the less populated areas of the car park still didn't get the result I wanted. A trip down the small road to Aldi was necessary. I got very very close, so I drove around a small sliproad a few times.

By now I was absolutely sure that anyone around (and there were quite a few) would be calling the police by now. And then, LO! and BEHOLD! I saw the numbers turning, pulled sharply into one of those parking spaces that you get at the sides of some roads and this photograph is the result.

Make sure you are sitting down for this...

So, do you think I should have tried to sell this to the FIAT museum rather than send the car to the crusher?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Car. It's here.

I just thought I'd mention that now I've got a car there definitely won't be any more blogging about my woeful experiences on German Public Transport.

However, since I've enjoyed the blogging exponentially more than I enjoyed the travelling (except for the fact that it offered a fantastic opportunity to Read More Books) I've decided to carry on.

But first, let's have a respectful silence for SuperPunto.

*the brass band plays Abide With Me in the background*

ALAS AND ALACK! (ha, there they are again!)

I don't have one single photo of the Super Punto. Not one.
Really, it is true: you don't always know what you've got 'till it's gone. There is a photo of the speeedo/milometer when it did 333,333kms and maybe one day I'll find that and post it.

But anyway.

That is the past.

We will move into the future. But before we do that, here's my favourite bike. Yes, indeed. Finally, here it is.

The Shiny New Bike

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for. Some of us more anxiously than others...

The Skoda Octavia Combi/Estate/Station Wagon

I don't know any details apart from the fact that it has a massive boot. Four doors. It runs on Diesel. And I'll be checking the oil a lot more often than I have in the past.


Tempting fate - tempting, isn't it?

A car in the offing

So, this is probably tempting fate, but we're so far along the process I really don't see what harm it could do.

We live in a village, and if there is one thing village people (note lack of capitalisation there - we are not that 70s singing group) are good at it's networking. Obviously being newbies to the village (having only just embarked on our second decade here) we don't actually get spoken to by anyone, or indeed referred to as anything apart from 'The English Family'. But we do use the local car repair guy who has built up a very good business over the last ten years or so.

It started as a kind of small workshop, and he sometimes sold the odd second hand car or two. Now it's a pretty much fully-fledged business taking on things like windscreen repairs and a breakdown service. Anyway, to cut the long, boring story short, he has a car for us and, because he's really working at his business, will register it for me.

In the meantime he has loaned me a cute little Citroen thing - it's tiny but it works, which is more than I can say for the late, lamented Super Punto. This has meant that I haven't been cycling much (it's horribly rainy at the moment) and since my chef is back at work this week we haven't used the trains much either.

So - hopefully, the car will be registered this week which means the blog will be (with any luck) redundant from next week when I go back to work.

Before I hang up my Commuter Blog Hat forever, though, I'll try to post a picture of Super Punto, the tiny Citroen, the new car and - of course - the star of the blog: my Shiny New Bike.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Day 24 - Friday, 6th August 2010

We're all going on a summer holday...

Well, I don't know about you, but this was my last day at work for two whole weeks. During which it was hoped that we'd be able to get a car, which would have made this my last day of commuting by public transport.

Alas and alack, it's not to be as the chap who is selling us the car is away on his hols. Oh well, I can manage a week or two more on the train/bus combo as long as I have an end in sight.

As Friday dawned bright and clear, I decided not to be fooled by appearances and zipped on my fleece before leaving the house. I also abandoned the idea of the early train and went for the usual one at 07:18. And again, yaay, it didn't let me down and everything went swimmingly.

This afternoon I abandoned the idea of the bus and took the offered lift from my colleague who dropped me at Mönchengladbach station and I got the train home from there. It was bright sunshine and very warm, which meant the fleece went into the basket and I cycled home in the lovely weather.

Ready for two weeks jollies.

Now, we'll be using public transport during this time so I may come back and leave a blog entry or two detailing delays and groovy seat covers along the way.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Day 23 - Thusday, 5th August 2010

Train whistle blowing...

Well. Blog-wise today wasn't much cop at all. Sorry about that. I went for the early train (06:18 this morning) because I'm a bit soft in the head. But I also had a workshop this morning starting at 08:30 which meant that leaving at my normal time would have left me huffing and puffing to get there on time.

One thing I haven't mention is that the driver of the 87B which stops leaves Anrath station at 06:55 is very good looking indeedy.

Ohhh, errr!

This afternoon I went for the 16:17, which turned up two minutes late then went like the clappers to make up for it. I swear we took a left hand turn, at a traffic lights, at 70kmh on two wheels! So I used my new tactic of getting off at the earlier stop and then walking, not so briskly today for some reson, to the next stop. That bus, the 87B, was on time and i got the train to Mönchengladbach with no problems.

When I got to my bike I realised that I'd not chained it up this morning. By some miracle it was still there, as was my bicycle lock which was just sitting in the basket. That was a lucky escape.

I even got home without getting wet or anything.

Tomorrow is my last day at work before my annual summer holiday. I'll report periodically on how we get on without a car.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Day 22 - Wednesday, 4th August 2010

Bus heaven

Yawn. Morning - everything like clockwork. I took the 07:18 train today as I knew I'd be a bit later in the office, but I think - all in all - I prefer the earlier train.

It was quite chilly this morning and I was glad of my cardigan.

This afternoon I took the regular bus at 17:17 - it was very nearly on time. Instead of fainting and having to wait another 30 minutes for the next bus, I got on and perched on the edge of my seat, ready to jump off - one stop early - and power-walk to the next stop.

Which I duly did. It was a bit of a strain really, I've been reading a Dick Francis (Even Money - the latest paperback from him and Felix and I was itching to get back to it but I was worried I'd miss my stop). The next bus was on time. This was all getting to be a bit much for me and I again perched on my seat ready to jump off and sprint for the train.

In the event there was no need - but there wasn't long to wait before the train arrived - 2 minutes early. This was looking promising. At Mönchengladbach I fairly flew off the train, down the stairs, along the passage, up the stairs and my feet barely touched the platform as I hurtled towards the train. But, alas, I was within feet of my goal when it pulled off and started its merry journey to Aachen.


It wasn't all bad though - now I had ten minutes reading time and got through a particularly exciting bit of my book while I waited for the next train. It was drizzling as I cycled home but I didn't care, it was warm, my book was safely packaged up in a plastic bag and for once all my connections had worked (taking the 17:59 from Mönchengladbach doesn't feature in the planning on the Deutsche Bahn's website - so in theory I was actually 12 minutes ahead of schedule! I'm beginning to wonder, in fact, if the 17:59 is a ghost train.)

Having anticipated another boring blogging day, I decided this morning to take the precaution of photographing buses and trains.

So, make a cup of tea while I get my anorak on, and then come back and gaze, lovingly, at Germany's finest!

Departure point - Erkelenz station

My train! (when I say 'my' what I mean is - I have to share it with a lot of other people, but it's my train)

Endstation - Willich-Anrath Really, it's what a one-horse-town would look like, if it actually had a horse.

And the first bus... The notoriously late number 71

The notoriously "disappearing from view" number 87

Actually, I lied. I don't have an anorak. But I think, judging by those photos that I need to get one pronto. Preferably with a drawstring around the hood. Oh and while I'm at it, I'll get a Thermos flask for my tea.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Day 21 - Tuesday, 3rd August 2010


I made it out of the office on time and the 16:17 bus was nearly on time. This time I was fired up and ready to go so when I got to the stop before the one I usually got off, I jumped off the bus in a sprightly manner and walked very briskly to the next stop.

There was another woman walking briskly, but not as briskly as me so I got to the next stop first. When we got there I asked her if she usually went for the 87 from the 71 and she told me that one of the bus drivers had suggested it.

So all was going swimmingly but the 87 was a little late. So that left me on the platform at Anrath at 16:45 with the 16:38 train apparently gone. The next one due that I could take would be at 17:08, which is the one I'd get if I'd missed my bus and had to wait for the next.


When, suddenly, a train appeared. Yaayy, the 16:38 was late. But then, that meant I'd miss the 16:49 from Mönchengladbach.* Luckily at that time of day there is a train approximately every 10 minutes - so I caught the 17:11 from Mönchengladbach, got into Erkelenz just after 17:30 and was home before 18:00.


It's probably surplus to requirements to mention that my early train catching deal worked out very well again this morning. And there was a large coffee on the way to the station.

*having consulted the interweb this evening I discover that the 16:38 gets to Mönchengladbach at 16:50 and the train I caught was the one I was supposed to catch anyway.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The woman on the Willich omnibus

I want to be a bus seat cover designer. Really. When you see these you will wonder what the qualification for that particular job is. I can only assume that, actually, the designers of bus seat covers are really employed by the automobile industry in a bid to drive people off public-transport and into car-ownership. (see what I did there?)

I'll ease you in gently with something pretty calm. The front is slightly jazzy, and the back is plain grey. They are made of a different fabric than the train-seat covers, very coarse and itchy. This was the 87B from Anrath station to Anrath church one morning.

The next one defies description, but I'll give it a go. The theme is transport, possibly holidays since, although it looks like something from the fevered imagination of a Jackson Pollock admirer, it is possible to discern an aeroplane and something that could possibly be a beach-ball. Actually, even the bastard lovechild of Stephen Fry and Clive James could not do this seat-cover justice. Prepare to be astounded - and my apologies, probably the general awfulness of this seatcover put me off a little and it's slightly out of focus.

This one could possibly have been inspired by Picasso. Or maybe not.

The next one has too much blue. And possibly too much red. Definitely the overall effect is too much. And didn't really help my bad temper - this bus was ten minutes late and the seat covers contributed to the light raising of my blood pressure. If you look very carefully at the bottom left of the picture you can see a little lad's bike. He was so funny talking to his mum about how he was going to ride round the park that evening that even I managed to have my mind taken off the sheer awfulness of those horrible seat covers.

For the next one all I can say is this: someone got PAID to make this? Really, there is a reason that the bus company name is shown in this design - in mirror image but who on Earth could possibly imagine what it is?

And finally. My favourites. Not only does this mad bus have seats in the front half that can accommodate one person and one extra buttock (because, obviously, there are a lot of people here with three-buttocked bottoms) but the seat cover design is like little planets. Or Smarties. Or M&Ms. Or maybe it's just a load of balls.

(That's quite enough seat covers, now. - Ed.)

Those train seat covers in full!

So, here they are then. Those seat covers you've all been waiting for! And if you look carefully you'll see that the only one I've described in detail is described totally badly and incorrectly.

Let's look at that one then, and get it over with. It's a jazzy, modern design which seems to be on the newer trains. Usually I see them on the Aachen-Duisburg train in the morning.

The next one is one of the older versions, green is a much more relaxing colour to look at, and the headrest parts are a faux-leather (or horrible plastic) kind of thing.

Finally the seat covers on the spiffy double-decker trains are a relaxing but horribly bland and boring grey/green affair.

I suppose I should be glad that there are a) seats and that b) they are not all slashed up.

The bus seat covers are way more jazzy and therefore get their own blog post.

Day 20 - Monday, 2nd August 2010

I woke up this morning... got out of bed...

This week the Gruesome Twosome are at home with their dad who has a week off, so I decided to take advantage of our new hours at work (7am~4pm) in the hope of getting home an hour earlier.

Which meant that 05:00 ("what does the '0' stand for?" - yep "Oh my god it's early!") saw me falling out of bed and into the shower in the vain hope of waking myself up enough to cycle to the station. Actually, it wasn't as hard as I'd anticipated and at 05:45 I was on the Shiny New Bike, with my Shiny New Lights working away, zipped into my fleece and pedalling away.

The first thing that struck me is that it was very very quiet, but that as I cycled down the endless road to the next village I was overtaken by six cars - usually when I go an hour later it's a maximum of two. The next thing I noticed was that there were an awful lot of crows around, but almost no other birds. I think the herons have gone since I haven't seen them for a while, but there was a huge buzzard in that field today so that might have something to do with their absence.

The other thing I noticed, sitting on the steps to the door of the flat behind the Greek restaurant in town, was what looked like the owner, rather the worse for wear. He waved as I cycled past and I couldn't help but wonder how long he'd been there.

I had time to stop for a coffee from a kiosk opposite the station, and the rest of the journey went like clockwork. Just the same as every day but with fewer people - presumably because it was so early. The journey home, typically, was messed up by the 71 bus being very late, too late for me to even think about walking to the next stop in the hope of catching the 87. So I waited at the stop for the 38 and read a goodly chunk of my Jeeves and Wooster book.

And now to the exciting part of the blog.

I've been assiduously photographing the seat covers on bus and train, usually to the bemusement of my fellow passengers. If I can work out how to upload them, they will be in a blog post all of their own especially for the poster to my previous blog entry who called me an anorak. Indeed.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Day 19 - Friday, 30th July 2010

Friday on my mind

Today could have been a challenge but in the even it went very smoothly. In the mornings I've been getting on the train at the back so there isn't so far to walk when I get to Anrath. Lazy, I know. It was chilly this morning which meant that I got my fleece out for the first time since winter.

I also, for the first time since I started cycling, I called in at the bakery for a coffee on my way to the station. Feeling like a real commuter, well a commuter from film or TV, I sipped at the coffee and waited for the train. Which was punctual. In the name of research I started photographing the seat covers today - which seemed to amuse my fellow travellers.

They were, in fact, an amusing bunch today. One chappie was trying to engage people in conversation and offering them winegums. Typically, everyone refused and tried not to meet his eye.

Coming home arranged to get a lift with my colleague again as it was month-end and I wasn't sure what time I'd get out of the office. As it happened we got out of the office early. 'Early' for month-end, that is. For a Friday, gone 6pm is pretty yukky.

For the record I also photographed the bus seat-covers and during next week there will be enlightenment.