Saturday 31 December 2011

The Finish Line

2011 was a bit rubbish all round, wasn't it?  Lots of insurrections and rioting and people dying in a multitude of horrible ways.  It's a relief to reach the 31st December and still be in one piece, frankly.

I shall be celebrating the change of a digit on my calendar in my usual way - sitting on my sofa at home with a glass of wine.  Going out?  Are you mad?  I am not going to pay twenty quid so I can stand far too close to a woman in a tight frock drunkenly forcing herself on her best friend's husband while everyone sings the first verse of Auld Lang Syne then gives up because no-one knows any more lyrics.  Then you manage to extricate yourself from holding the clammy hand of a man with personal freshness problems to get to the bar where you find out it's a fiver a pint and they're only serving Carling because everything else has run out, so you get a taxi home and pay eight hundred pounds for the trip because you have the temerity to live at the wrong end of the Mersey Tunnel.  My only sadness is that New Year's telly is rubbish - the days when you got Clive James (CBE) being absolutely brilliant, like here, are long gone.  (Miss!  Yasmin!  Arafat!)

However, it does seem an appropriate time to look back over the year.  I've done more blog posts than ever before, with some of them even being on topic, so thank you for reading them and commenting and correcting my grammatical errors.  I really LOVE it when that happens.

As a finale to 2011 I thought I'd do a quick list of my five favourite blog posts.  Perhaps this will give you something to read tomorrow when you're lying in bed with a pounding skull and vomit encrusted fingernails.

5.  24 Hour Party Person (28th January)

In which I first experienced the high life of being an extremely low grade celebrity.  My trip to the Merseyrail Christmas do was a lot of things - terrifying, drunken, unexpectedly good, embarrassing - but it was an experience to remember.  And I finally got to meet Bart Schmeink!

4.  Cross Country (28th September)

There is a part of me that gauges a blog post's success by how many comments it gets.  It's very shallow, I know, but I can't help it.  Sometimes though, a post doesn't get any comments at all and I still love it.  This post, about my journey between Berlin and Prague, was a favourite for me just because it was writerly.  It was more of a mood piece than anything else, and I liked just doing something a bit different.

3.  Och Aye! (15th - 20th August)

I take the Sleeper train north of the border, have an unfortunate trouser experience, fall in love with the Glasgow Subway and wish that I was a Scot in more than just name.  I'm already itching to get back up there to follow the circle again.  Maybe doing that pub crawl this time.

Part One -
Part Two -
Part Three -
Part Four -
Part Five -

2.  End of the Line (4th October)

It was nice to ride Merseyrail again.  To do some proper, old-fashioned, Tarting.  No Northern Rail or Pacers or Cheshire Day Rangers or TfGM signs: just me and Merseyrail.  And it coincided with a lovely day out on the coast with a friend and her adorable baby.

Still wish Southport had an ALF, though.

1.  Wales: A Train Odyssey (20th May - 1st June)

It couldn't be anything else.  My four day trek across North Wales is one of the most fun experiences in my life, ever (which probably says a lot about my life but there you go).  One minute I was crossing clifftops on Anglesey, next I was walking in the sun in Conwy.  I fell, hard, for Llanfairfechan and its gossipy old ladies.  I played with arcade machines in Rhyl and took in the beautiful Menai Straits from the centre of the bridge.  I loved it, loved the places, the people, the walking.  Taking in these beautiful bits of our country.  I've been looking at other lines to see if I could replicate the experience next year, but I haven't found one yet that I think will match up.  I don't want to be disappointed.

Day One - Wales: A Train Odyssey and Westernmost Point
Day Two - Coasting and Thirsty Work
Day Three - Problems... and Love Profusion and Underworld
Day Four - Down and Out

And that was 2011.  Once again, thank you for reading.  I promise 2012 will be the year I finish the Merseyrail map - in fact, it has to be: if I don't collect Liverpool Central before April I'll have to wait months for another go.  It's a ticking clock...

Tuesday 6 December 2011

The Walrus and the Tart

I did something unusual on Sunday night: I got a bus.  I'd been out for a couple of pints in town and instead of getting the train back I took the 437 to West Kirby home.

I don't normally take buses for a few reasons.  I like trains, obviously, and Merseyrail provide a good regular service.  I've never been really comfortable on buses, and they seem to attract a disproportionate amount of insane people.  I like the certainty of railway stations and train lines.  Finding out where a bus goes to and from is a hassle, especially if you're going somewhere unfamiliar, and it's not always easy to find out where to go (Merseytravel's bus timetable site is a nightmare in this regard).

However, it was a wet, miserable night, I didn't fancy the walk home, and I had access to wi-fi in the pub so I was able to do a few internet searches to find out where I was going and where my nearest stop was.  I had a bit of a panic when I asked for a single to Claughton, and the driver said "where?"; it was on the route but it seemed he didn't understand me for some reason.

The 437 was comfortable and quiet.  There were a smattering of people, and none of them seemed to be particularly mad.  The last time I got the bus under the river was a Saturday night Tunnel Bus, fifteen years ago, with a (cough) gentleman friend; it was like being trapped inside a vomit soaked sex club for ten minutes, with all sorts of drunken, debauched behaviour surrounding me.  This was much more civilised and pleasant.

I got off the bus and walked the five minutes or so home.  I wondered why I didn't take the bus more often.  I realised it was the little things - the uncertainties about fares and bus stops and routes, the timetables being a bit odd.  Just niggly points that mean I'd rather walk to a Merseyrail station than head for the bus stop at the end of my street.

And that's why we need Walrus: for people like me.  An all in one smart card that is the key to Merseyside's entire network.  Because I'd be quite happy to swipe onto the first bus I saw and see where it went.  I'd be more confident at risking an unknown bus that was going in vaguely the right direction if I knew my Walrus card had all the cost covered.  It'd also mean I wouldn't have wasted the return portion of my train ticket - I wouldn't have been charged for it in the first place.  It's something I've done before in London, with my Oyster card - nipped onto a double decker rather than walk to the South Bank, or take an Overground train for a change instead of the Underground.

The Walrus would open up the bus and train network for people who don't use public transport often.  Stick one in your wallet with twenty quid stored on it, and then just hop aboard a bus when it's raining, or the ferry when you fancy a change from Merseyrail, or a train into town because you can't face the idea of parking.  It takes away the worry of how much and where you go and what you do.  Walk in - waft your Walrus - walk out.  Simple.

I know this isn't brain surgery.  The Oyster's done all the ground work for us.  It just came home to me on Sunday what a great thing the Walrus card will be.  I can't wait.