I’m on an early train out of Chesham, not the earliest train you understand although I have had occasion to be on the first train out before (chasing locomotive 6201 Princess Elizabeth in the London Suburbs as I recall) but no, this is the 08.04 departure, fast train to Aldgate. Fast train, hmmm… OK, the new S stock is faster than the A60/62 stock used to be but it still seems like a long old journey trundling down the Metropolitan line.
More seats per hour?
When London Underground introduced the S stock I was at first impressed by the exterior design and the wide interconnections between carriages, I was going to say corridor connections but of course, these things don’t have corridors, and then I was dismayed by the lack of, what I would consider to be, proper seating. The A60/62 stock on the Met line had bays of 3 seats facing 3 seats and 2 seats facing 2 seats with a central walkway, (well, a slightly off-set walkway obviously but you get the idea), bench seats to-boot so you could, if you were feeling that way inclined, squeeze more people in. The S stock has occasional groups of 2 seats facing 2 seats and the remainder are longitudinal seats, like the deep-level tubes trains. So the upshot of this is that per train-set (no, not a toy or model train, it’s the set of vehicles which makes-up the train), there are fewer seats than the A60/62 stock. LU fended-off criticism of this by saying that the new trains were faster and, when the signalling had been upgraded, there would be more trains per hour and thus more seats available per hour, which I’m sure was of great comfort to the people standing as the almost full train pulled out of Chesham station. Funny how some people use public transport every working day but still feel unable to sit next to complete strangers.
Just before the train doors closed a young, earnest looking and be-suited man stepped onto the train and sat in the seat opposite me, he reeked of tobacco, I don’t mind people smoking if they want to but sometimes they absolutely pong of the stuff. He probably didn’t even notice it, no doubt he’d had a spray of Paco Rabanne or similar before he left home and then went and ruined it by smoking some evil smelling fags. He produced a copy of Metro and settled down to read it. I shoved my bag a bit further under my seat to give him a little more legroom. Oh yes, another improvement of the S stock is that they don’t have luggage racks, LU, what were you thinking? They’re a lovely design the S stock but they’re not really designed for people, oh, and I know Chesham is somewhat of a special case, being at the end of a single line branch which does put a fairly low limit on the number of trains that can be operated in any given period but there are still only two trains per hour.
Downhill from here…
The line out of Chesham goes downhill from the end of the platform, under a footbridge, over a road bridge and then begins the climb up to the Metropolitan “main line” which it joins to run alongside somewhere between Amersham and Chalfont & Latimer. As we climbed along the edge of the hillside there were wreaths of mist in the valley below giving an otherworldly aspect to the view, all of which smelly-fag bloke was totally oblivious to. As I sat there staring out of the window, everyone else seemed to be stuck in newspapers, smartphones, tablets and laptops; one young woman on the other side of the carriage was even applying the finishing touches to her make-up I idly wondered if there was anyone else at all on this train that was actually looking at the natural beauty outside. Soon we had reached the top of the hill and were running parallel with the lines from to and Amersham and Aylesbury.
As we approached Chalfont & Latimer, I spotted in the car park a chap who was running towards the station entrance. I wondered if he’d make it or not, of course he might have been running for an Amersham or Aylesbury train; he disappeared from sight as the train continued southwards. The train slowed and then snaked off of the Chesham branch onto the Up Main, and drew to a stop at the platform. As chance would have it the window I was sitting at was in-line with the ticket gates. I sat and watched as people who were getting off here filed through and then bounding into the ticket hall was the chap I’d seen running in the car park. He produced his ticket and swept through the opening barrier, running across the short distance to the nearest train door. He’d made it.
We set off again and I fell to thinking about the coming weekend. Today was Thursday and I was off to Stansted Airport to catch a flight to Łódź in Poland. On Friday and Saturday evenings there was to be concerts at Łódzki Dom Kultury; some bands I’d seen before and others that were now to me, either way, it meant meeting-up with friends and having a few beers and a good time. Instead of flying in on the day of the concert, which meant Hotel, bar, concert in short order, I thought I’d get there a day early and have an easy evening just mooching about.
We reached Rickmansworth, people got off and people got on. Pulling away from the platform end we passed the stub of a line which had extended into the southbound platform making the end of it an island platform. To the north of the station accessed from some stabling sidings is a corresponding stub of line. Many years ago the Met line electrification only extended as far north as Rickmansworth and it was here that the change-over from electric locomotive to steam locomotive (or vice-versa depending upon direction you were going) took place. These small sidings were to accommodate the locomotives waiting to take-over. I often think about this when going through “Ricky”, for a railway enthusiast, like myself, it must have been a fun thing to witness.
By now the train really was full and lots of people were standing; a few minutes after leaving Rickmansworth we came to a halt. “There must be” I thought “a train coming off of the Watford branch.” A few moments later the driver made an announcement that we were indeed waiting for a train to cross us and we would be on our way shortly. A northbound train from the Watford branch, one of the very few that there are per day as the majority of trains from Watford go south. The track layout here used to be impressive, a triangular junction allowing northbound and southbound trains access to the Watford branch and vice versa, the Watford branch being a double track affair, unlike Chesham’s single track connection. Midway between the north and south junctions to Watford (not to be confused with Watford Junction station on the main Euston – Birmingham line) there was a third junction where the double tracks to and from Amersham/Aylesbury split to provide four tracks, fast and slow, northbound and southbound. It was the sort of formation (four double turnouts), that you’d dream about making in OO scale if only you had enough bit and pieces. Some years back LU did a bit of rationalisation and now it’s not nearly as impressive, but no doubt much more cost-effective.
We continued south, more people joining the train, a few leaving. After a while we were at Finchley Road where, after stopping at the station, the train lived up to its name by actually going underground and soon we were at Baker Street. Here the Met line turns sharply to the east and joins the Circle Line, rattling along under the Euston Road. Somewhere after the elaborately if truthfully named station of Kings Cross St. Pancras we again rise into the daylight, almost, there are high retaining walls, bridges and short tunnels before going underground once again after Barbican.
Let me off!
I wrested my bag from under the seat and got to my feet, following several people who were also alighting here and trying to get off of the train before the impatient bods on the platform started to push their way on before we had all got off. Following the herd I gained the main station concourse and looked at the train indicator. It was 09.20, the next train to Stansted departed at 09.25. Luckily the gate to the platform was right there so I made for the ticket barrier. Pulling my Stansted Express ticket from my pocket I showed it to a rather disinterested ticket inspector, walked onto the platform, boarded the train, stowed my bag on the overhead luggage rack and took a seat.
I’ve said before how un-expressey I’ve found the Stansted Express, well, this time, as if to prove me wrong we seemed to be fairly flying along. Sorry SE, I take it all back. The day which had started rather grey was brightening, there was even sunshine here and there. I sat back and watched Essex slipping past the window.
I had timed my journey to arrive at Stansted about two hours before my flight left, just like Ryanair tells you to; I really must stop doing this. I arrived with plenty of time to spare, the queues at the bag-drop and security gates were surprisingly minimal and before I knew it I was air-side with time on my hands. I know, I know, next time I’ll leave it later and miss the flight because the airport’s crowded.
Actually, I did that last year flying from Heathrow. I thought I’d fly with the Polish Airline, LOT as their flight was slightly earlier than the BA flight, “It’ll give me more time in Warsaw” I reasoned. Unfortunately the automatic pilot part of my brain took over and convinced me that arriving at Heathrow at about the same time as I would have for the BA flight would be alright. It wasn’t. I got to the bag-drop just as the flight closed. But, this was sort of good because after booking myself onto another flight later that day, I realised that I hadn’t packed the ticket for the concert that I was attending in Inowrocław the next day. I had plenty of time as the next LOT flight wasn’t until about 18:30, so I went all the way back to Chesham to collect the ticked and then back to Heathrow and still had two and a half hours to kill. Then, believe it or not, the later flight was delayed getting into Heathrow. I didn’t get to my hotel in Warsaw until about 21:45, so much for an early arrival.
Fly, eat, drink, snow.
Anyway, back to Stansted.
Queueing in the inevitable, um, queue for passport inspection it was gratifying to see that all four booths (Łódź is only a small airport) were occupied by members of the Straż Graniczna and before long I was through and waiting for my bag to appear, which it did fairly soon.
In the taxi to the hotel the driver asked me what the weather was like in England, I told him that it was pretty much the same as here, only not quite so cold. He nodded then told me that he thought it would probably snow tomorrow. “WooHoo!” I thought, “Snow!”
After checking in to the hotel I donned hat and coat, for it was indeed cold out, and went in search of food. I settled on a little place in OFF Piotrkowska, a small area at the bottom end of the top half of ul. Piotrkowska, if you imagine Piotrkowska being dissected by Piłsudskiego (Aleja Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego to give it its full name). A small area of old cotton mill buildings being reused as boutiques and restaurants. It reminded me a bit of Camden, just a bit. I plumped (do people still “plump” these days?) for an eatery called “MEG MU African Cook” which offered a taste of the Dark Continent. I was greeted upon entering by a young lady who offered me my choice of seats as there were only two other people in there. She handed me the menu with an apology, they only had menus in Polish. Only in Polish I don’t mind, I can usually cope with ‘only in polish’ but ‘only in Polish’ with very small writing on multi-coloured backgrounds in the dim, if romantic, lighting of the place which makes it difficult to read… I was shooting in the dark.
I chose a soup to start and then something called an Afro Burger. The soup was delicious, I have no idea what it was but it looked like pureed butternut squash and tasted like very lightly spiced coconut, absolutely lovely. The burger was a burger, it was big, sandwiched between to circular pitta breads and came with small pieces of fried potato. It tasted OK, even with the large piece of watermelon in it. No, really, it tasted fine and filled a hole, as they say, and so, hunger assuaged I set out to slake my thirst. As I walked up Piotrkowska I chanced to look up at a street light and noticed that there were tiny flakes of snow drifting down out of the sky. It’s snowing! IT’S SNOWING!
I continued along Piotrkowska until I came to Chmielowa Dolina, a little bar I know and I went in and installed myself on a stool at the end of the bar. “This’ll do” I thought, “a few beers and a spot of people watching.”
After a beer and a half, I pulled my phone out and updated my Facebook status, as one does is such situations. Tony Steel at Chmielowa Dolina – “Czas na piwko”. A little while thereafter one of my friends, Marek, who lives in Łódź commented on my post;
“Jump to FREDDY COLE // Łódź – Wytwórnia”
and included a link to a Facebook “event” page.
The Freddy Cole Quartet were playing at Klub Wytwórnia this very evening, Marek was there.
I thought about it, hmmm…, I even replied to Marek with “Hmmm…”
I thought about it some more then ordered another beer.
Then another friend commented with,
“Just go! You’ll not regret it”.
Klub Wytwórnia, the name rang a bell, Klub Wytwórnia…
Then the penny dropped, it was just around the corner from my hotel, I’d seen the sign for it. Finishing my third beer I went back out into the snow, yes, it was still falling, and I made for the hotel. I was wearing a thick jumper under my coat but if I was going to a concert I needed to be in a t-shirt. A flying visit to my room, a change of tops and back out. I walked around the corner to where I’d seen the Wytwórnia sign; I went through the glass and chrome door and asked of the girl at the desk inside if this was the place to see Freddy Cole. I was told, No. I needed to go back out, right then right again and I would see a sign saying “Entrance A”, that’s where I needed to be. I went right then right again and found myself in a dark passage along the side of the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel but, there, a bit further along was indeed a sign saying “Entrance A” and an arrow, I followed the arrow to a pair of inconspicuous and unassuming doors. Hmm… Which one? I opened the right-hand one and walked in. Ah, both doors opened into the same place, some sort of cloakroom by the look of it.
There were two people behind the cloakroom desk, I asked of them if it was possible to buy a ticket to get in to the show. There were frowns and shrugs. “It’s already started”, I was told. I was just getting a sinking feeling when a third person, who I hadn’t seen, stepped out of the shadows and beckoned me towards the door into the auditorium which he was opening with his other hand. Hardly believing my luck I hastily removed my coat and handed it to the woman behind the desk and thanking the guy holding the door I walked into the concert.
Marek was there almost immediately behind the door, we exchanged greetings and then I turned my attention to the stage. Freddy Cole, Nat King Cole’s brother, there on stage. I had missed about half of the concert in my deliberations earlier but I did enjoy just over an hour of rather splendid laid-back jazz. After the concert had finished and the encores had been played, I sought-out and found the guy who had let me in and thanked him again, discretely offering him a 20 zł note, he smiled and shook his head but I insisted and passed it to him in a handshake, all kind of hush-hush and clandestine now I come to think of it but he’d let me in for nothing, he didn’t have to, but he did and I wanted to thank him. I know 20 isn’t much but it could be two beers, in the right bar…
As I was queuing to retrieve my coat Marek found me and informed me that tomorrow he was off to Gdańsk so he wouldn’t be at the two concerts that I was actually planning to be at here in Łódź. We exchanged farewells, I eventually got my coat and walked the short distance back to the hotel. It was still snowing, not heavily but there was a slight precipitation. When I walked into the hotel reception I was greeted by the sight of dozens and dozens of suitcases, bags and back-packs strewn about the place, “Must be a coach party in” I thought as I ambled down the corridor to my room. I had a peek out of the window before I turned in for the night, it was still snowing…