Pet hates no. 2: “There is good service on the Northern Line”

Last night, after 7pm, I was travelling home from Embankment on the West End branch of the Northern Line.  As I boarded I heard a routine announcement that “there is a good service on the Northern Line”.  I thought no more about it: the wait for the train had not been too long, and there was space on the train when it arrived, though not spare seats.  The problem arose once the train reached Kennington, where it terminates, and I changed onto the City branch for the rest of the journey.

There was quite a crowd already on the platform for the City branch.  The wait for the next train took a good three minutes (though I did not check the indicated), so the overall gap with the train before must have been about 5 minutes.  Unsurprisingly, for that time of night, the train was very crowded when it arrived.  I stood no chance of boarding it.  As it left, I looked at the train indicator, and it said that the next train was 5 minutes.  Oh dear; it was going to be very crowded too, and there might well not be enough room on that!  The came an announcement: “This is the Kennington control Room.  There is a good service on the Northern Line.”  The passengers took this surprisingly stoically; if there had been a riot going, I would have joined it.  When the train came, I did manage to board, just, and was jammed against the doors.  When the train reached Stockwell there was another massive crowd on the platform, which the train could not clear.  And it took quite a while for passenger wanting to leave to get off, the train was so packed.

I utterly fail to see how this service can be described as “good”, and how the Kennington announcement was anything other than a calculated insult to the travelling public that London Underground’s management so clearly despise.  The trains were not frequent enough to clear the platforms, and the overcrowding was both uncomfortable for passengers and causing further delays to boarding and getting off.  In fact they use the term “good” to refer to the best of three status levels: the others being “minor delays” and “major delays”.  And this seems to depend on departures from the timetable across the whole line.  I can happily accept that the delays last night (the service normally has something like a 3 minute interval at that time of day) did not reach the point of qualifying for as “minor delays”, a category, incidentally, that is almost totally useless to the travelling public (What are you to do with it?  It’s not sufficient to take alternative routes; it’s often cleared by the time you reach the platform with trains bunched up to provide rather a good service).  But this does not make it “good”.  To call it such is a misuse of the English language and an insult.  They need a more neutral word, such as “normal”.

Why aren’t people more angry about such abuses?  I can see this sort of thing spreading to hospitals and other public services, as the petty officials that run them try to fool themselves that what they are doing is enough to make their users happy.  It should be stopped.


Pet hates No. 1: “suitable for all coffee makers”

A decent cup of coffee.  For me it’s one of life’s top little pleasures.  You can overdo it, of course.  My usual ration is one large one with caffeine in the morning, followed by a smaller decaff at lunch, and again in the evening.   More than that I tend to get a bit hyper, followed by a late afternoon low.  If you are restricted as to quantity, quality is sacred, and especially for that first cup (mug) of the day.

So seeking out good coffee is a bit of an obsession.  As a student (in the late 1970s) I soon tired of instant, being given an electric percolator by my parents…though I still find a good instant OK for a late evening decaff.  But how to make the real stuff?  Percolators are long gone.  Filtering used to be my favourite – but the flavour lacks a certain something.  Then came the cafetiere; I dislike its messiness, and the you can’t get rid of all the grounds, which interfere with the pleasure of drinking and subtract from the flavour; besides it takes a lot of coffee to get up to a decent strength.  I briefly experimented with the stove top espresso pot – but apart from being fiddly I always found a nasty edge to the flavour.  Besides, they can be a bit dangerous.  My hairdresser’s exploded recently, trashing his kitchen and nearly causing injury.  You simply can’t beat and espresso machine.  I have been using one (or rather a succession of them) for years.

But one thing you have to get right with an espresso machine is the fineness of the grind.  Too coarse and liquid comes through too quickly and it’s a bit watery.  Too fine and the machine clogs.  I started by grinding my own – and I still do at weekends – using a grinder where you can calibrate the fineness.  But this adds to the hassle, so I want a more convenient option: using ground coffee straight from the packet.  Also the variety of choice at the local supermarkets for plain beans is steadily diminishing.  My local Tesco has just the one type, if you are lucky.  The (rather bigger) local Sainsbury’s is a bit better, but still limited.

If the choice of beans is limited, that for ground coffee is wonderful.  All manner of appetising flavours are on offer, and I’m itching to try them.  But it’s no use.  Because most of them are ground “suitable for all coffee makers”.  This is a downright lie; what they actually mean is “too coarse for espresso machines”.  The supermarket executives that allow these designations should sacked and debarred from working anywhere near food or drink for the rest of their lives.

What works?  No surprise that Italian stuff is fine.  Lavazza’s Gold is a regular standby, and their decaff is my normal for that lunchtime cup.  The Illy stuff is just as good, by recollection, though it is some years since I have bought any, because it comes in expensive metal tins, though these are useful for storage.  Filter ground coffee is fine too.  Sainsbury’s used to stock a couple of types, but they’d gone on my last visit.  Waitrose do a decent range of filter ground coffee, alongside a full range of beans, making this easily the best supermarket to shop at – but sadly my local stores are just over the edge of the inconvenience threshold.  What doesn’t work is Starbucks own brand, surprisingly enough, given how much they have promoted espresso coffee.

And so my blood pressure will always rise a little when I reach the Sainsbury’s coffee aisle.  And as for Tesco, I have given up even looking; another reason not to go to that horrible place.