Thursday, August 18, 2016

England, 2016, Part 7: Local Trains, Yokel Brains


Friday. The DAY BEFORE I had toured many of the most diabolical devices and schemes that mankind has ever concocted to do harm to itselves. 

And that was, you know, fun and all. 

But now, today, Friday was going to feature perhaps the worst thing that we, as a species, have ever allowed to see the light of day:

Driving on the left side of the road.

There. I said it. I know Angus-Land is a humor blog, and generally does not go in for such sober and horrific topics, but I feel in this case I must make an exception. This low-rung of our time on Earth must be reported and investigated. I cannot varnish or hide the above statement - witness the Truth, gentle-reader. 

Read on, if you DARE!
Before the horror though - the low-comedy. Here was the schedule (SHED-yule) for the day: All I had to do was pack up all of my stuff and take the train back to Gatwick. There I would pick up Admiral Karen, and the rental car, and together we would saunter out to the West Country for a relaxing weekend.
Run fast / down hill / to the fridge?
If you have no feet / bow down / before the obelisk?

On paper it looked so simple.

But on land it all went straight down the toilet to hell (Became all Blobby and Pear-shaped).

Two days ago my record in getting from Gatwick to Waterloo was dismal: It took me almost 3 hours to cover those 30 miles. I could easily have bicycled there faster. But I had almost no sleep on the flight and was deep in the jet-lag Yellow Submarine ride - surely I could do better on the train this time!

And I did! A journey that should have taken me 45 minutes only took me 2 hours this time! Yes there was still jet lag involved, but mostly my delay was in making the mistake of asking the Locals (Yokels) for directions.

Siri said to travel Southwest to Clapham Junction and then straight South to the airport. But every ticket agent, janitor, barista, policeman (Bobbie) and policewoman (also Bobbie) had a GREAT way to get me there faster. And then they took their own sweet time in detailing their fabulous shortcut to me. 
Gotta say: every train was clean, comfortable and
exceedingly quiet. I only saw one person on a
cellphone and they were quick about it.

England is a nation full of characters with too much time on their hands.

“No - No (Nowh-Nowh)” Says the ticket agent, in a voice reminiscent of Eliza Doolittle as a baritone, “Fuggit the overground here - take the tube (Tee-oob) from Waterloo to Feltwell Mincing Ramsbottom and then get on the local overground to Gatwick. TakesyaROIGHTthere.”

At Feltwell Mincing Rams-bottom the barista at the coffee and stew stand (seriously - there are pop-up stalls that sell stew in England) steered me right. “Nowh-Nowh. Go to Little Wallop Church and then take a taxi to Barking Bump Rack and then their train to Gatwick. TakesyaROIGHTthere.”

Okay. Hoist the insistently non-rolly luggage and head to Little Wallop Church. There I met a Policeman who had the inside scoop. “Nowh-Nowh - Barking Bump Rack Station is being refurbished. Take the Express here to Wet Willy Swallow and then transfer to the Wiggy-Waggy Line. TakesyaROIGHTthere.”

At Wet Willy Swallow the Policewoman was not optimistic. “At this point, Love, your better off taking the Northern Line back to the City. Get off at Heathrow and take a commuter flight down to Gatwick.”

Thanks awfully, old shoe.

There! Below the little orange text box! Gatwick!
Eventually on one of these many trains I saw a magical sign that said “Stratford -  Trains to Gatwick”. All I had to do was resist all of these helpful jokers and Stay on the Fookin’ Train, Guvna. It TakesyaROIGHTthere.

I left the hotel at 7am and rolled, no - wait: None of my luggage rolled - into Gatwick at 9am. Karen was right on time (Show-off Norwegians) at 10:15am. 

She was happy, spacey and totally blissed out from 10 days spent with her sisters and ancestors in Vikingland. And the first thing I wanted her to do was get in a rental car and help drive across England. Kind of a let down.

And, oh yeah, they DRIVE ON THE LEFT.

WWWWwwwwHHHHhhhhhhYYYYyyyyyyy?????

Well, let’s look at why:

90% of the worlds traffic travels to the right - these are the countries that meet other countries at things called “borders”. The 10% outliers are literally outliers: Those that pursue the Left Hand Path are Islands

Walk and ride and walk and ride
(and drive?)
And while it is true that England has been pretty equal opportunity about who they will invade (If you are a country, they will invade you), the only regions where their regime and its quirky ways have solidified are islands: Australia, The Bahamas, Indonesia, Ireland, New Guinea, Bermuda. Places where you are safe to just go round-and-round all wiggy-piggy without actually encountering a grown-up country.

Exception: The formerly Britishly owned India - but, geographically speaking, it USED to be an island!

In short, the whole world used to drive on the left, thanks to the Romans, but switched in the early 19th century, thanks to Napoleon. 

One country after another switched to the right so their borders wouldn’t become huge piles of traffic and carnage and soon the whole Euro/Asian landmass was on the right. America, siding with France during our Revolution, swung to their way, merci beaucoup. England, with its usual response to the French, said ‘Sod You’ and kept to the left. 

(Bonus factoid: England had the early lead in rail technology in the early 19th Century, and by exporting her engineers most of the worlds rail systems continue to run on the left to this day. Thanks awfully, old pip.)

None of this History was going to assist us here, though. The Hertz people noted our terrified looks and nicely upgraded us to a Mini-Mercedes. This car was suave, but also almost completely square. So yeah, small, but also indelicately WIDE. 

And they will post 50 consecutive signs
demanding that you 'stand on the right'
on the escalators and moving sidewalks.
Filling the lane - that is going in the wrong direction, right next to the other lane - that is going in the wrong direction. Fuuuuuck…… (Oy Vey!)

I got in the right hand side of the car to be the navigator and was confronted by the steering wheel. Oh. Yeah. I guess I am driving first.

We did NOT ask the characters at Hertz for directions to Stonehenge. 

And this time, we really SHOULD HAVE.

Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com
@AngusMcMahan

P.S. Some of the actual towns I switched trains at (all of them suburbs of Greater London) were ‘Canada Water’, ‘Surrey Quays’ and ‘Denmark Hill’ - fairly quirky in their own right.


1 comment:

  1. Ari is an ace at getting us around London in the tube. I don't think she made one wrong decision when we were there two years ago. She was absolutely terrified though of the "driving on the wrong side of the road thing."

    It's easy enough on the highway (though we never quite figured out what all the highway signs meant), but England has far fewer highways than we do, and getting off the highway rarely leads to another "road" as we think of it. Every exit outside of London simply leads to a bucolic country lane designed for people on horseback, which is why driving there is so frightening.

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