Subject: ...and Merry Christmas to everyone (but not to British Railways)
From: Alex Kemp
Date: Tuesday, 25 December 2001 00:00:00 +0000
To: All

Note before: This is an old “Diary Entry” from the Modem-Help site, re-jigged into the etmg format. The original site is now long gone.

This site is currently done in my spare time. A strange concept that — “Spare Time”. About the only thing that we actually have in a life is Time, and some b*stard somewhere has arranged things so that we give large chunks of this most precious asset to someone else & in return they give us small pieces of paper. What a weird concept. Most of the rest of our Time is spent arranging our affairs as to be free to get to work, and the bits left over we call our Spare Time. Very, very strange.

All my holidays this year were used up going to America for my son’s wedding (see 27 Aug) but, since the call-centre that generously supplies me with bits of paper is 24/7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), I work every Bank Holiday; it is Christmas Day today, and I’m setting off for work shortly. The Government insists that we are given a day off (and bless whoever managed to push that legislation through) so the company grudgingly gives a day back on another occasion. I gathered all of these together & used them to visit my parents in Hull (Kingston Upon Hull), the forgotten 8th largest city in England lost in the wilds of East Yorkshire.

After briefly considering hiring a car I bought a return-ticket for the railways. What a mistake. Arriving at the Nottingham Midlands Rail station I went to the booking window (armoured glass, microphone and speaker) and asked for a return ticket to Hull. The woman said, “where’s that?”. I knew, at this moment, that I was going to have trouble.

By the time the woman had discovered the existence of one of this country’s largest cities & supplied my ticket, the train, and connection via Sheffield, had gone (my fault — cutting it fine, again). An hour to the next train, so investigated with the Station-master an alternative route via Grantham & Doncaster. He said yes, this was possible — surprisingly enough, I knew this — but did not want to work out all the timings for me. His computer management system is text-only, presumably a mainframe connection and, with the privatisation of the railways, has reverted several decades to multiple train operators, probably all with incompatible systems. I asked him if he had an Internet connection, as we could easily discover the information I wanted from Railtrack. This dented his pride, and several minutes later had the timings for me — but did not give me the vital info that the final company had run out of train drivers, so the final “Train” was a 50 mile coach journey from Doncaster to Hull. Mussolini, all is forgiven, please come back.

The mobile phone appears to have become ubiquitous on trains now, and laptops common on the mainline Express trains. The journey from Grantham to Doncaster is upon the Eastern mainline (London to Edinburgh), electrified via overhead wires, fast, and solid with business types in their business suits and business mobile conversations (“I’m on the train...”).

Travelling home after almost a week with my parents turned out to be yet another Omnibus between Hull & Doncaster. A station employee was not amused when I pointed at the ’bus & asked if this was the train to Doncaster (“That is not a Train, it is a bus”). The coach turned out to have a leaky exhaust, and I had a fine headache by the time we reached Doncaster — a sure sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. In Doncaster, the Train to Sheffield was also cancelled due to a lack of drivers, as was the next train to Sheffield after that. The train to Scunthorpe, run by the same company as all the other trains (“Arriviste” if I remember correctly) was also cancelled for the same reason & the Stationmaster — who worked for a completely different company — was going crazy trying to find platforms for the other trains. My sympathy for him was tempered by an experience with his colleague on my inward journey. He had promised to relay a message to the Hull stationmaster so that my parents would be informed of my delay. This promise was given one minute before my train was due to arrive at Hull but not fulfilled until 35 minutes later, by which time my parents had gone home.

I reckon that I’m old but my parents are ancient. Father — Mr David Kemp — is 80 in May and my mother — née Ruth Motschiunig — is only a few years younger (I’m ever so pleased to get her maiden name on to the web; when I searched I could find just one reference, and that was a author credit). My parents, and particularly my mother, have some excellent stories to tell, but they will have to wait until another time.

They both seemed well, and brought me up to date with their latest health scares. Unfortunately I’m bored by TV, which is most of their entertainment.

On Sunday, 23 Dec my son Davin & his wife Liisa visited. Liisa is nicely pregnant now (constant trips to the loo) and expecting her baby in a few weeks. On the evening the 3 of us went to the cinema to see Lord of the Rings. This film is 3 hours long and, apart from the bum-ache afterwards, does not seem like it at the time. I thoroughly recommend it, it is very true to the spirit (if not the letter) of the book.

I first read Lord of the Rings in my first year at Newcastle University. The book was bought at Ultima Thulé bookshop — all 3 volumes in a single hardback book. I started reading it on the evening then, for about a week, did nothing else until I got to the end. Just a little food & a few hours sleep each day.

Go and see the film — it is astonishingly good.

Alex Kemp