Posted in Railways on Friday 7th September 2012 at 9:09pm

I used to refer to these strange interludes when something went wrong with the plan as "Lost Weekends". They've mercifully been rare over the years - save for the bad patch in 2007 and last year's "Lost Week" which oddly enough coincided with the riots - a strangely distracted and depressing week indeed. It's a little late to claim this as some sort of anniversary of those events, but it's oddly close. So, we face an uncertain Autumn, and sad to say I have a rather worrying sense that for some of the tour organisers, this is now terminal. ASLEF's dispute is about rest day working, and the fact that TOCs should take on more drivers rather than stretch the existing workforce. I think that's unrealistic. They key to success in straightened times is flexibility - and a whole host of new drivers during uncertain financial events just puts a lot of people at risk of redundancy. Some might claim that it suits the unions, as it provides a buffer between their members and the bleeding edge of cuts. But the fact remains that a healthy company is more likely to retain staff, so attacking customers isn't a good strategy. Sadly of course this little niche market is just a fragment of the rest day working done so the lobby is powerless. We're at the mercy of the unions in an uncomfortable way and one of my prized hobbies is dying as a result.

And its exactly because of this that I find myself in Basingstoke.

Last weekend I complained bitterly all over social networks about Doncaster. It was certainly deserved - despite its good shopping opportunities and its excellent position on the ECML, its a grim and occasionally lawless spot. The fact was I had a fairly neutral experience despite the dullness of the time there - I could have been doing other things elsewhere and felt a bit trapped. That was the key to my dismay. But this week, after a fairly good week at a new job I ended up taking a train to Basingstoke. It was planned that this would let me pick up the Charity Railtours trip to East Anglia. This had already taken a battering - banned from the GEML because it fell during the Paralympic period, redated once, and finally cancelled to be run later.

I arrived in Basingstoke late, in evening sunshine. It is, in my experience, the best way to see a town. I'd been here before - the useful station facilities are good and I recall being taxied here from Southampton once too. I'd even waited for a late-running Voyager to arrive in a little more style than a Networker. But once out of the station I was plunged into a mall - a long, insulated stretch of covered shopping space. Having consulted my maps before travelling, I couldn't see any other way to get across town except taking a very long route around. The first mall, a spacious, ominously empty affair gave way to a short stretch of daylight before the doors of another mall reared up. There was no escape or alternative route - except for access to a car park. This second, older mall was white, tiled, shiny - probably of 90s vintage. It was largely empty too - I'd wondered if these routes would even be open in the evening, but it seems that they are so fundamental to getting around town that they have to be. One consequence of the accretion of building projects is that the signage and wayfinding is inconsistent. It's impossible to plot a route without instinct. I pitched it just about right - emerging in a car park at the end of the mall. To my right, an old town street curved up a hill - even that was pedestrianised and made part of the sweep of retail. I veered left, across the empty expanse of parking spaces.

The Red Lion Hotel is a strange, red brick 1970s extension to an old pub. Like many independent hotels of it's vintage it feels a little tired, a little unkempt and weirdly cold inside - but it was pretty good. Clean, safe and staffed by some really good people. A bright, open smile and an unexpected conversation awaited me. It felt like the first human experience I'd had since I left the train and as such was very, very welcome. My room - home for the next two days - was fine too. I had nothing to complain about, yet I was still finding Basingstoke difficult to understand. I didn't want to be here, hated the way the Town Centre space had been privatised and didn't have the planned trip to fall back on as a reason for this. It was a difficult, dull night I faced...

Tomorrow, I'll predictably go to London again. It's still the midst of the Paralympics of course, and I wonder what I'm going to find - I'm also acutely aware how much time I seem to be spending there lately. But it feels like the only reasonable escape from here just now.

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I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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