Penultimate Panoply

(No, I’m not sure what that means, either, but I was struggling for a title for today’s missive. So, like any good tabloid editor; when in doubt, alliterate…)

A variation from what has almost become a routine, tonight. Instead of typing on my MacBook, this is being crafted on my iPad, so I’m not sure how it will turn out. Not as many photos to hand, for one thing. In fact, no photos at all. The Flickr page has been updated though, so you’ll work it out. [Added some now…]

Paddington

I’m typing this in a window seat of the Flying Pig, Cambridge – another great ‘find’ thanks to the GBG, and only quarter of a mile or so from where I’m staying. More about that below the fold….

My final verdict on the Pen Mill Hotel is that it gives the Mason’s Arms a very close run for title of best digs of the trip (that’s assuming tonight’s won’t be a contender). Very close. In the end, all that really let it down was the noise from the road outside. that’s very unfair, given the hotel can hardly do anything about that (other than double glazing, which they’ve already done) and it is the A30, when all is said and done! Good beer, friendly staff landlord & staff, very good evening food and even better breakfast, really well presented room, comfy bed, power shower…. All boxes ticked and then some. Highly recommended.

Pen Mill Hotel

I was on my own for breakfast, though as I was leaving, another couple of guests appeared. I went out for the 07:50 South West Coaches service 68 bus and ended up getting the 07:20. However, thanks to the most convoluted route and timetable imaginable, it was also the 07:50 and I found myself back at Pen Mill, following a meander around several housing estates – during which no passengers were picked up. My tour of Yeovil was only just getting started though, as a circuit around the town centre followed. It has a Starbucks, but I’m afraid that’s the nearest I can get to anything truly positive to say about Yeovil town centre on that showing. (In case anyone from the town should ever read this; I fully acknowledge there’s likely much, much more beneath the surface – it just needs more than a 68 bus to find it).

I was dropped off at the Junction station, about two miles away, 40 minutes after I was picked up. However, at £3.20 for the adventure, and still being in plenty of time for the train, I can’t complain.

I was on the platform in time to see Yeovil’s brightest lights turning up for the 08:29 to Town. Everyone seemed to be wearing a suit – bar me! (In fact, I seemed to have failed to re-pack my shaver after my visit home, so I presented with designer stubble). The train arrived in the form of a brace of South West Trains’ three car 158s. The journey along this chunk of “the Withered Arm” (*) was quite sad in that even though it nominally remains a main line between Exeter and Waterloo, its infrastructure has been slashed to the bone. Still, it got me to Salisbury in comfort, and SWT even provided a trolley service – though even sitting in First Class I had to stump up £2.20 for my paper cup of Nescafé.

(* – I tried to find a website which would explain this term to those who didn’t get the reference. I have now learned that it originates from a Thomas Hardy novel, evidently favoured by exam setters. In the context I have used the name, it means the former Southern Railway main line to Exeter and – once upon a time – beyond, forming a route duplicating the Great Western. And therein lies its destiny. Duplication has been considered very, very bad to the various railway authorities of Britain since the 1960s. Unfortunately, I can’t immediately find a straightforward explanation, so the foregoing will have to do.)

On arrival at Salisbury I changed platforms and waited for the Portsmouth Harbour to Cardiff service provided by First Great Western. In the interim, a minor commotion was caused by the appearance of a lady on the other platform, evidently bound for Royal Ascot, wearing THE most ridiculous “hat”.

Salisbury scene

An engineer’s “Multi-Purpose Vehicle” trundled through the station five minutes in front of the Bristol train that I joined. Surprisingly in the circumstances, it was evidently given a run to Westbury in front of the Cardiff. As a consequence of the “defensive driving” demanded these days, we slowed to a crawl at every yellow signal the driver encountered in its wake, and racked-up an eight minute delay in the process.

I had David Brent in my ear all the way, seated directly behind me. I was forced to learn an awful lot about him in the hour I shared in his presence. Clearly a man with no indoor voice, he is a middle-manager with [company name redacted to avoid identifying the guilty], a refugee when they took over [another company, also redacted]. He and his colleague were on their way to give a presentation about [their product, which I’m afraid I need to redact again] for BBC Bristol. His travelling companion was, it seems, a contractor who actually knew the product, and was the brains of the outfit, but he hardly got a word in edge ways. David whined about his boss (“he was off last week and his out-of-office redirected to Fred & Mary and not me” – to which the other guy gently pointed out that Fred and Mary have more experience of the boss’s activities and are much more senior than David anyway). Then he proceeded to whine about his underlings and bragged about how he chided them when they had the temerity to ‘decline’ his meeting requests. Neither his co-workers nor his customers escaped his whining. His wife is expecting and he bragged at length about how he confronted a nurse at the hospital who asked him not to video his wife’s sonogram. “I’ve not been told what to do since I was at school and I didn’t take kindly to it then”. Knob.

A brief pause at Bristol Temple Meads and onto a Cross Country Voyager bound for Paignton, as far as Taunton in my case. Just me and one other passenger in the comfy bit, but an attentive lady steward insisted I be re-caffeinated. We had a stop at Weston Super Mare, which is served by a single track line looping off the main line and back, which meant we were held there for a late-running Cardiff train coming the other way. Not a big issue, but it caused a railwayman who had found a comfy spot at the back of the carriage to Chunter loudly about it to the Train Manager.

Taunton interlude

On arrival at Taunton it was a short but pleasant wait in the weak sunshine for a First Great Western HST to Paddington to appear. I hadn’t realised it when I planned this bit, but this service stops at every one horse town in Berkshire. As most of these stations have four coach-length platforms and it was an eight car train, those of us at the front were in splendid isolation at most stops.

It was interesting to see the redevelopment of Reading station completed and the ongoing electrification work. It is evident the regular users of this line have endured a lot of disruption – and will continue to do so for a long time to come. Hopefully it will be worth it in the end, but it must provoke doubt in the short-term. Again, my agenda in respect of Midland Mainline electrification may be surfacing….?

I had a brief linger around the concourse on arrival at Paddington, taking in the ambience. This isn’t a station I am familiar with at all – I think this is only the second time I’ve set foot in the place. Like every London terminus, there is so much going on, it pays to pause and take it all in for a while.

It was as well I didn’t hang around too long as the transfer on the Tube to Liverpool Street turned out to be a little more arduous than it should have been. Nothing went wrong, it was just that the Circle Line, or as it turned out, the Hammersmith & City, took ages to turn up and was rammed. It meant I only had 15 minutes to spare at Liverpool Street.

It was on the Tube that I had a terrible realisation. My house keys were no longer in my pocket. I remembered taking them out last night when I freshened up on arrival at The Pen Mill, thinking there was no point in keeping the, in my pocket. I could see myself putting them down, and I knew exactly where I put them, but I couldn’t picture picking them up this morning. All sort of scenarios played through my mind involving phone calls, Jiffy bags, first class mail, Chappers’ address, locksmiths…. Bearing in mind this was all in the crush of the early rush-hour Tube train, I had to wait until the relative space and tranquility of Liverpool Street to do anything practical about it. It was a real flash-back to the first All Line trip when I left a camera on the train at Lancaster. I found myself frantically turning out pockets and the contents of my bag in the certain knowledge that they were in reality still in Room 7 of the Pen Mill Hotel in Yeovil. To my astonishment, it turned out I had indeed put them “somewhere safe” – in the laptop compartment of my bag. Pillock.

The Pen Mill breakfast had worn off by now so I grabbed some stodge from the good people from Burger King (“Which bit of ‘regular, please’ was insufficiently clear that you’re now asking me if I want to Go Large?”)

Liverpool Street

On to the 16:00 to Norwich, as far as Ipswich. As you’d expect, it was busy, and was the closest I’ve come to actually having to stand in First Class! I did find a seat though and settled in. I quickly came to the conclusion that Abellio Greater Anglia Mk III stock is starting to need a bit of a refurb. There is no At Seat Power (though there is WiFi) and the seats are very BR standard, with a fixed rake. OK, not exactly a cattle truck, I know, but if they want to stay competitive, then surely… No, er, hang on. Competition… From Norwich?

At Ipswich the Cambridge train was waiting on the other side of the island platform, formed of Abellio Greater Anglia three car 178 “Turbostar” (built in Derby!). As an unexpected bonus, given the very rural nature of the service, it has a small – and otherwise empty throughout the journey – First Class compartment. It made me laugh that that the First Class seats of the Turbostar do at least recline… All of about two inches!

On arrival at Cambridge I had to stand and gawp like a yokel for a few moments. So Many People! So Many Bicycles! Such Short Skirts!

The Earl of Derby is my home for the night and is barely a hundred steps from the station. No real ale and otherwise quite reminiscent of a Wetherspoons. I checked in and was shown to my room, with a positive first impression. I’m not anticipating a peaceful night though. [I apologise to the proprietors of the Earl of Derby, there are actually four real ales on the bar, all Greene King brews, and they are Cask Marque accredited. My pallet is shot, so it would be unfair for me to express a view in respect of quality….]

As I type, still in the Flying Pig, there’s a half decent blues band performing (gen-you-ine Americans to boot). Beer choice is substantial, so far I’ve tried Adnams Mosaic and Moonshine Hog Hopper (brewed specially for this place, I assume).

Mmmmm....

While checking this for typos (yes, I have checked!) I’m enjoying a (someone’s) Brewer’s Gold and the pub is packed. I’m still guarding my window seat ferociously though. Not sure I can hold on much longer before I have to, er, Go, however….

PS – that (Someone’s Brewer’s Gold) is Crouch Vale – even though I can no longer get near the bar to read the pump clip, I’ve just noticed the beer mats on the table!

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