Sunday, March 05, 2006

Next stop Satori

For some years now I have commuted in to Cape Town by car, after enduring experiences on the train, despite its picturesque route along the coast, that made the Northern Line seem a model of comfort and efficiency. I leave for work around 6am, and was among the first passengers every morning, two stops down from the terminus and rail yards in Simon's Town. I would often be faced with wet seats and floor in winter, on account of the cleaners had left the windows open overnight. Nor, on rainy and chilly mornings, was any heat available. As for efficiency, Mussolini would have had his work cut out here. A problem not usually encountered on British Rail is cable theft, occasioning an unscheduled stop. And then there was "steaming" -- well known to Londoners -- as gangs roamed through trains relieving the passengers of their valuables and occasionally chucking a recaltricant victim off. On one line, drivers found it was more of a trip than a journey, complaining they were getting stoned witless by the clouds of dope fumes from the smoking carriage in front.

But in the end it was missed deadlines on the paper that drove me off. I still see a lot of diehards -- and people with no choice - streaming off the station in the evening. And the rail operator is being sued by passengers (or their relatives) who have fallen from trains with open doors or been assisted to do so. There are signs it is trying to reform the system, with spanking new coaches. This, inevitably, has been met by a fusillade of graffiti. And its deployment of security guards hasn't worked out because they tend to sit together, chatting over a smoke - plain old cancer sticks, we must hope.

Wise commuters who can afford the time wait for the trains that have the privately run dining (boozing) saloon car, which rejoices in the name Biggsy's Restaurant. "I'm sorry sir, you have to check your gun at the door."

My car journey, about 30 miles, is a pleasure: too early for serious traffic, winding over a mountain pass among scenes of breathtaking natural beauty; then on to a freeway that runs straight as an arrow through winefarms, forested land and fields, the central reservation an island of flowering bushes and trees. I'm soon going to have to pay for this motoring idyll: lone drivers are going to be caught on camera and charged a fee for entering the city, like the London one. Given the choices available, this will be money for old rope.


Blogger surly girl said...

i live in an area of the uk that means a car is pretty much essential if i want a ten minute journey to work rather than a ninety-minute, three-bus nightmare. until the government sorts out public transport i'll be sticking to the car, thanks.

if it's any consolation, i disagree with myself on this point!

10:01 PM  

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