Monday, 28 September 2009

How long is long enough?

I've developed a new habit - after a lifetime of arriving everywhere red-faced and panting with seconds to spare, I keep being early for appointments.  Terrific, you might think, but unfortunately, we're not talking 15 or 20 minutes ahead, the kind of 'early' where you enjoy a mooch around the shops, or sit on a bench if the weather is clement and watch the world go by, until the alloted hour.  No, I've started being really early...

In the last fortnight alone, I've rolled up 24 hours before I was needed to conduct a charity auction at a Mayfair art gallery, and two hours in advance of my annual sexual health check.  Today, however, I recorded a new personal best, arriving precisely one month early for an inquest!  What's more, I hadn't got to sleep until 7am after a presenting stint on BBC Radio London 94.9, and so dragged myself out of bed after three and a half hours' kip for absolutely no reason.

Why is this happening?  Is it symptomatic of turning 50?  Is sitting around dribbling and repeating myself in a care home just around the corner?

Last Friday night, however, I managed not to arrive ludicrously early to catch a train for a weekend break in The Cotswolds, then regretted it. 

Question: how long is it reasonable to expect to queue for a ticket at Paddington?  Hardened commuters may shake their heads and smile indulgently at my optimistism and naivety, but I assumed 15 minute would be ample.  My jaw dropped as queues of at least 20 weary, would-be travellers snaked away from every ticket machine.  17 minutes later, I got my ticket, just as my train gathered speed on its way out of the station.

Whilst the cliché about Brits enjoying a good queue might be pushing it, we certainly behave impeccably under this kind of provocation.  No-one tried to queue-jump, no-one became angry or violent.  There may have been the occasional tut or despairing sigh but, other than that, we merely shuffled docilely forward whilst phoning our loved-ones to tell them we'd be late (an hour late in my case, such is the infrequency of the service to Charlbury).

I have emailed First Great Western (or Last Great Western or Worst Great Western as they are variously known) to ask them:

a) how long it is reasonable to expect to queue for a ticket
b) why they haven't installed twice as many ticket machines at Paddington, and
c) whether I can have some, or all, of my money back

Although you would have thought from the vast swarms of darting, dashing commuters that the entire capital was being evacuated, I understand the Friday night exodus is ever thus, so FGW can't claim they were caught unawares.  Rest assured, I shall tell you what they say....

Other than that, my weekend in The Cotswolds was a delight.  I cooked, dined out, gardened, dog-walked..... and made my debut at Lidl!  I've never gone further downmarket than Asda before and was concerned I might be spotted (I'd foolishly forgotten to pack headscarf and dark glasses, so disguise was impossible) but seemed to get away with it. 

I was astonished, not only by the amazingly low prices and apparently perfectly good quality, but also by the mix of customers: I'd imagined wall-to-wall tracksuited, pot-bellied riffraff loudly berating little Kylie (spelt 'Kie-leigh' or 'Kighlee') in her pushchair.  They were there, sure enough, but mixed with an equal number of posh, country folk (we were in David Cameron's constituency, for goodness sake) saying: "We'll get the basics here, Cynthia, then pop to Waitrose for the fish and meat and some of their heavenly ciabatta."

Mercifully, the check-out queues were in no way reminiscent of those at Paddington the night before...


  1. I used to be late for everything and everyone. Then I came to realize what I was doing was being stingy with my time. Which is a selfish and ungenerous thing to do. So now I tend to be bang on-time. Which my oldest friends find quite amazing...

  2. PS you should buy the ticket from your local BR station. That way you get a through rail-and-tube pass to Paddington and on to your final destination and right back to that local station. And you probably won't have to queue for 356,000 hours ....

  3. It's quite common to 'mix'n'match different grades of supermarket. I'm much like the Cynthia mentioned in your blog, in that I have a weekly Ocado delivery for the good fresh meat and fish, and also do a shop at Lidl for their marvellous continental cheeses, olives and German salamis and preserved meats. I feel I am getting the best of all worlds, and am saving money in the process. Try it!