Tag Archives: trains

My top 5 albums to listen to whilst travelling

I am on a train, reading WG Sebald. His writing never ceases to amaze me:

‘There is something illusionistic and illusory about the relationship of time and space as we experience it in travelling, which is why whenever we come home from elsewhere we never feel quite sure if we really have been abroad.’

Anyway, I recently heard (at a presentation given by @LadyLele) about theta waves. (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theta_rhythm) These aren’t well understood but they are apparently brainwaves you get when you’re not sleeping but zoning out. They’re associated with learning and memory. Daydreaming. They might even help you get good ideas.

I think I get these when I’m in the shower or on a long walk or bike ride, but also on a long train journey. I zone in and out, not really conscious of what I am thinking about, but thinking all the time.

This state is often enhanced by what I am listening to on my iPod at the time, so here are my top 5 theta-wave-enhancing travelling albums.

1. The Orb: U.F. Orb

I first took this album on a long journey when I visited friends in Wales around the time of my 16th birthday. I was delighted to discover that they didn’t do much there except listen to dub, smoke weed and go to parties, and I associate this album with being at parties in barns and squats, sleeping in cars, and being present at the world record attempt for rolling the longest joint of all time.

2. The Happy Mondays: Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches

School trip to the Vendee in 1990 = nearly a whole day in a coach full of 14 year olds singing The Bangles’ ‘Eternal Flame’ and being bus-sick. I had a copy of this on one side of a C90 and The Stone Roses on the other, ran my batteries down rewinding the cassette over and over again. This side of the tape wore out I loved it so much. It was excellent for plotting my revenge on mediocre pop music. (Which was never carried out.)

3. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavillion

I got this album in the winter of 2009-10 and played it a lot, when I was doing the daily commute from Glasgow to Edinburgh. It was cold and dark all the time and snowy a lot of it, and I was always tired and a bit depressed. This album gave me optimism, made me think of summer. Now it reminds me of winter.

4. Bonnie Prince Billie: The Letting Go

I had a client in Inverness and the regular train journey was beautiful and romantic. And long. Made me wistful. And bored. And a bit train sick.

5. Radiohead: OK Computer

This album was released the summer before I re-started university. Like everyone else, I went crazy for this album and played it non-stop. If you listen to it end to end, it’s like reading a long article about the state of the world except it’s up to you to decide what the key points are.

So, that’s my list. What are your favourite meditative travelling tunes? Or do you prefer to move in silence?

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I’m not talking about longbows or live animals here, people

I have had a bad day.  It is largely due to Eurostar and SNCF‘s inability to join their service up properly, but also just general computer-says-no-jobsworthness, bad British customer service, and cyclist-hating.

Let’s start with the problem.  I booked a return ticket on the Eurostar website from London to Bordeaux.  You go Eurostar from London to Paris and then SNCF TGV to Bordeaux.  Fab.  I’ve been on the train to southern France before and it is magical.  I loathe flying anyway, but another reason for doing this on the train was that I could take my bike, whole, rather than dismantling it and carrying it with me.

Or so I thought…

Nowhere on the Eurostar site does it say you cannot carry a bike on the TGV leg of your journey.  It does say that you have to contact Eurodespatch to book your bike on, which I did in person this week whilst visiting London.  It doesn’t say that you can’t take your bike further than Paris.  They charged me £140 (rather than the £30 each way stated on the site) for the privilege of taking my bike (and my partner’s) on the train both ways and told me that it would only get me as far as Paris, but no problem, call SNCF and it costs 10 Euros each way.  They gave me the phone number and sent me merrily on my way.

Great.  Back in Glasgow I phoned SNCF and they said no.  Eurostar are responsible for the booking.  You can only get your bike on if you book your ticket through SNCF, which you can only do if you are French or if you split your tickets and make it twice as expensive.  Not only that, but everyone I spoke to, from Eurostar, to Eurodespatch, to Rail Europe, to SNCF, were extremely unhelpful (with one potential exception) and were at pains to make it clear that it was my fault for buying a ticket in the first place, for not doing lots of internet research beforehand.

Some choice examples of what these people said:

‘Only one percent of our customers are cyclists.’

‘You shouldn’t have bought a ticket.’

‘Leave your bike at home.’

‘You should have read [this site], [that brochure] and [this small print].’

‘Buy a bike bag.’

‘Buy your ticket from SNCF.’

Eventually I did speak to a fairly sympathetic human being who is going to try and get me a refund for the Eurodespatch thing, so I can spend the money on a bike bag instead.  But this will not solve the problem.

Booking my bike whole onto the TGV would solve the problem, but apparently this is impossible.  Why, I don’t know, because there are spaces for bikes on the TGV.  No one can tell me why I can’t tell SNCF I am going to be on that train, and book a place on it.

I was prepared for it to be a hassle.  I was prepared to speak separately to Virgin, Eurostar and SNCF to get my bike on the train.  I was prepared to pay extra.  I just wasn’t prepared for this absolute nonsense.

Perhaps it is easier to take a crossbow, sword or a speargun all the way to Bordeaux than it is to take a bike.  I’m not sure how easy it is to transport live animals…  You can certainly take your car on the Chunnel.

It just feels like being a cyclist is much harder work than it should be.  Certainly, when I take my bike on the train closer to home on Scotrail trains I always have to ask permission to share the cycling spaces with people’s suitcases and buggies and what have you.  However, they do at least try and are putting more cycle spaces on their new trains.

Likewise, Virgin won’t charge you to take your bike along, you just have to book ahead, take your ticket to the station or phone up the phoneline and sort it out.  That’s absolutely reasonable.

As a cyclist, I’m used to having to wear a helmet so that I would be seen as less responsible in an accident, I am used to being cut up by impatient cars, by being wolf-whistled, by getting wet in the weather that hates me…  And I love it all…  I’m unlikely to learn to drive, I have never owned a car, I don’t see the point in driving when all it would do that I can’t currently do is get me to IKEA quicker…

I’m doing my bit for the environment, and for car drivers, by not using fuel and space on the roads up.  Why aren’t people nicer to me?  Or at least, why aren’t train companies nicer to me?  I am the future.  That ‘one percent of passengers’ I belong to is going to grow and grow as fuel prices grow and grow.

Get it right, Eurostar.  Oh, and please add a search function to your site whilst you’re at it.

But also, where is the ‘cycling lobby’?  We can’t have much power if nothing’s getting much better.  Or did it all use to be much worse?


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