I used to own a car but now I don’t. Apart from the cost of running a car, there is nowhere convenient to park it: we live on a main road and you need a resident’s permit to park in nearby side streets. Whenever we travel any distance, then, Tigger and I use public transport. In town we tend to use Tigger’s preferred mode of transport, the bus, and for longer journeys we take the train.
Whenever we go away for more than a couple of days, I put Freya in the cattery. I don’t mind leaving her at home for two nights but I suspect she eats all the food on the first day and starves the rest of the time. I am in any case a worrier and would feel unhappy knowing Freya is alone and unsupervised. So off to the cattery she must go.
Our usual cattery is in Chingford which is quite a step from the Angel. There are catteries nearer home but this one was recommended by the vet and as we have been using them for a while now and Freya seems happy with them it seems best not to change. So every holiday starts with the ritual of taking Freya to Chingford.
Getting to Chingford is not difficult in commuting terms: I take the 205 or 214 bus to Liverpool Street station and the train from there. Doing this while carrying a cat basket containing one ever so slightly overweight moggy adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the proceedings, however.
I undertook the first such expedition with some trepidation. Freya, you may recall, is a “rescue cat”, rescued, that is, by a cat charity from an owner who neglected her and possibly allowed her to be ill treated. When she came to me, she was extremely nervous. She would run away and hide at the least movement or noise. Although she has recovered remarkably well, I thought that taking her on a bus and train journey might be problematic. However, we have now done the journey in both directions many times. I can’t say Freya enjoys the experience but she has got used to it and copes very well.
The system is that on the way to Chingford I phone the cattery and they drive to the station to meet me. When I took Freya to the cattery before Christmas, I got all the way to Liverpool Street before realizing I had left my phone at home. As I had no means of contacting them (their address and phone number are stored in my phone) there was nothing for it but to go back home, pick up my phone and start again. Freya was unimpressed, to say the least, at having to put up with a double journey.
As soon as we got back home from Margate on December 27th, I went off to fetch her. Everything went swimmingly. The bus got me to the station a comfortable 10 minutes before the 10:30 a.m. train. The train executed the 25 minute journey without a hitch. On arrival at 10:55 I noticed there was a train leaving for Liverpool Street at 11:12 and hoped I could catch it. The cattery people brought Freya, I paid the bill, chatted for a few minutes and went aboard the train. Everything was going perfectly.
The train trundled along until we were almost at Clapton, then stopped at a red light. OK, no problem, these things happen on a busy line. We would soon be moving along.
We in fact sat waiting at that red light for the best part of an hour. The train must have been parked in a siding over Christmas and was cold. Very cold. Despite being dressed in my outdoor clothes, I could feel the cold penetrating. After a while, there came an announcement from the driver. He informed us that there was a defective train ahead and that we would be stuck until they managed to move it. In a thoroughly professional manner, he assured us that we would be on our way in “a few minutes”.
It didn’t happen. We went on sitting there, hearing occasional announcements and apologies from the driver to the effect that the operation of moving the train was “taking a little longer than expected”. He explained that a second train was being brought in to “attend” the broken-down one but assured us we would “soon” be on our way. So we waited.
Then came one of those announcements you should hear only in comedy films. “The signal box informs me that the second train has been brought and has been coupled to the defective train.” Pause for dramatic effect. “Unfortunately, the problem affecting the first train has been transferred to the second train.” Incredulous laughter and chatter among the passengers. “We will have to wait here until engineers have reached the train.”
I won’t bore you with details of the long wait. Freya expressed her displeasure in a fairly genteel manner but I was unable to explain the problem to her. Eventually, we moved off and, with a couple of further details, fortunately no more than 5 minutes each, we reached Liverpool Street. The time was 12:35. We should have arrived at 11:37.
The bus journey proceeded without a hitch and Freya, once home, gave every sign of satisfaction. I was able to go off to meet Tigger from work as usual. All’s well that ends well, to quote an amenable cliché.
Why do governments break up a perfectly good transport system and sell it in pieces to people who have no interest in public service, only in making money? Why, when these people fail to maintain their trains and track adequately and fail to have backup systems in place to care for passengers when things go wrong, does government allow them to continue operating? I would rather not think about it because if I do it makes me very sad and very angry. I would rather be happy at Freya’s homecoming.