Saturday, 25 February 2006

Tram 26 is running 26 hours early - NOT!

Conquering fears to learn anew
Sometimes I wonder if I would ever do a few things that everyone else does, except get married. Like learning to drive, learning to skate or rollerblade without the need for hand brakes and then getting rid of those ankle weights and aqua-phobia and going for a swim.
I never learnt to drive and that for many reasons. As a kid we had servants, housemaids, drivers, gardeners and security men.
My mother being a school teacher, lecturer and principal at various times in her career somehow managed to get us involved in some housework nevertheless like sweeping, cooking and washing up, however, with the mind that we should learn about service before we expect to be served.
I cannot say that served me well in boarding school, but beyond that, I did take away a few good tips and techniques for cooking and well pressed shirts. Ironing those pleated skirts was nothing short of torture, but I endured, whilst it lasted.
Car wash driving school
Well, as I got to my teens, all my age mates jumped at the opportunity to was their parent’s cars, a job the drivers did so well that it did not bother me one bit.
It transpired that the desire to wash was not so much about washing but the opportunity to start the car, look under the bonnet (hood – US English) and then move the car a few centimetres under vehicular power.
A gleaming clean car was enough to obscure parental intuition about the mischief their kids have been up to.
In the process, they all learnt to drive and drive well that their parents were confident enough to let them handle the car and consequently, the driver began to have a life; they had the whole weekend to themselves.
I don’t want to be a driver
As people of my parents’ generation were serious party goers; the children did get their parents to the parties, but the parties were gatherings of adults as the children got consigned to the position of chauffeur, but with a bit of recognition – the host at times deigned to acknowledge the driver-child.
Given my crude prognostication abilities, I probably foresaw this situation so I ended up being an observer of the society around me.
When I eventually considered learning to drive, my father suggested the car was too big for a learner, it was a Peugeot 504 – you tell me.
Well, he seemed to know better, an occasionally annoying accountants’ trait, the number of driving lectures he had given his drivers are innumerable.
Mum’s fast and furious
My mother however has been driving since before 1969, she even taught my uncle to drive as I sat in the back seat of the car we brought back from the UK that almost ended up in a paddock  as it hit a tree with my mum in it – scary stuff – she survived but the car was a complete wreak.
I remember once, as we drove towards Lagos one afternoon, we were overtaken by a driver who then had his head sticking out looking backwards for minutes as my mother drove with indifference.
She never had road rage, but she was a deft hand at the steering, why would I want to drive, everyone seemed to a good at it, and I literally slept off in anything that moved – probably a birth defect.
So, it was no surprise that I was not a witness to an accident I was involved in, at least my father knew he could not rely on me to help the driver out of his predicament.
A technical taxi driver
When I moved to the UK, most of the Field Engineer jobs were like glorified taxi-driver duties which just involved computer board-swapping on client sites; you were not paid to deduce just switch; power on and leave – not a job for me.
In Nigeria then, we never had the luxury of swapping boards, rather, you found out what the faulty component was through troubleshooting and warmed up your soldering iron to replace that part.
At least that was possible with IBM PC computers and Apple II computers till those got too sophisticated for user serviceable parts.
In London, the essential thing was living near the tube, the choice of several tube lines meant you eventually got where you were going.
Tardy city transport
When I died in Ipswich (well, you cannot live there) for 2 years, I only had to walk to work and after my job returned to London, commuting straight into the City meant I got to work earlier than those who lived in London even though I was 75 miles out of London. Such is the beauty of public transport.
So here in Amsterdam, just as they were about to launch Tram 26 to the Central Station in May 2005 all buses that served the Central Station from just outside my block were withdrawn from December 2004 – 5 in all.
This service must have affected up to 5,000 people but, not one protest did I hear from anyone – boy! They do get away with a lot when it comes to atrocious customer service.
Then Tram 26 was launched the newest trams service in Amsterdam and you could not correlate the timetables with the electronic sign which were out of phase with arriving trains.
The public address system just parrots the falsehood on the signs.  What frustration!
How could there be 12 minutes between trains and the electronic signs indicate 26 minutes only for the train to arrive 19 minutes later?
The other day, I indicator was on 4 minutes for 20 minutes, I would have better vented my spleen with a brisk walk to the station.
So imagine my amazement when that unreliable timetable panel was replaced with a cut-price advertisement to London in your car on the ferry.
Public transport can only get better.

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