Tuesday, May 22, 2007

St John at Hackney Wick

From time to time you hear that old piece of dog-eared doggerel ‘one person can make a difference’, and you think – in Quasimodo’s dreams. If you try to apply this to the North London Line, that fabled clogged artery especially designed to make misery the lives of anyone unfortunate enough to have no alternate means of getting from grim A to grubby B you enter the realms of science fiction. This line is so appalling, even Boxcar Willie refuses to ride it. It makes the Tube look like the TGV. But, standing like a beacon of hope in this twilight gloom of commuter despair is one man who truly has made a difference on the NLL. I speak of John, the Station Manager at Hackney Wick.

For years, Hackney Wick was a ghost station. The office was closed. You could get on and off the train there but couldn’t buy a ticket and you would have felt safer in Gaza, especially on dark winter nights. I would go all the way into Liverpool Street and out again if I wanted to go to Camden or Kilburn, even though the journey took three times as long. If your intention is to go west anytime between 6 am and 9am you don’t even attempt the NLL because you almost certainly won’t get on. But if flinging school children to the ground and trampling them to death doesn’t bother you, you’ll then have some hod carrier’s crotch in your face all the way from Hackney to Hampstead. You can’t use pre paid Oyster Card on the NLL either. It’s like someone set out to purposefully create the worst possible rail experience that doesn’t contravene UN regulations, which are actually stricter for the transport of livestock. Consequently, I hadn’t used it in yonks.

Last year I had to make regular journeys into deepest Essex for work. The easiest way to get to Essex is to take the NNL to Stratford. At least the trains are fairly empty going east. Bracing myself for the urine stench of the waiting pen and persistent announcements of late running trains, I marched to Hackney Wick on a cold February morning to find the office open and a cheery smile awaiting. John travels to Hackney Wick from Willesden at the ungodliest of hours every weekday morning and even picks up a pile of Metro newspapers which he hands out to customers with their train tickets. After a week of buying individual tickets to various Essex destinations, I arrived at the office one morning to find that John had done a little research on how I might get better value for money and written his findings out for me. That’s what I call service – and the thing is, John enjoys offering this level of service. This is a genuine win/win.

As of tomorrow, I will be travelling into Ilford for work for the next month or so. The thought of starting my day with a little chat with John instead of running the gauntlet of scowls at some impersonal tube station fills me with so much cheer I won’t even mind being in Ilford. That’s how much difference one person can make. I was given a questionnaire to fill out about the NLL last year during a week of chronic delays - you’d think they could have timed that better. I scrawled across the questionnaire in my best nutter’s script ‘Your service is rubbish. The only good think about your whole company is John, the Station Manager at Hackney Wick.’

This morning I popped down to the station to discuss my commuting options with John. We agreed that a three zone travel card is my best bet. I can always use it on the weekend should the desire to go up to Upney prove too great a temptation to resist. I would say that I will be blogging less now that I will be back in the land of the suited and booted but that hardly seems possible as I only do about two posts a week as it is. Perhaps I’ll be inspired by the good burghers of Ilford to post some touching vignettes…


Liz said...

You certainly don't find that level of service very often. I marvel at people who are able to be relentless pleasant and helpful to their customers. It's a shame we can't clone good customer service people.

That's so pants said...

Hi Liz

Almost everyone in a 'service' position in Britain gives you the impression that they'd rather be somewhere else. Perhaps they would but it actually isn't my problem and, if they have to be there, they would find it a whole lot more bearable if they just relaxed and got on with people.

Ms Baroque said...

He sounds nothing like the lamebrain jobsworth at Hackney Central. Don't know his name. If I see him I just go get on the platform, I'm not missing another train because of him.

Ohhhh, post the vignettes about Ilford, please! I miss working out east.

That's so pants said...

Hi Ms B

I think John is actually a special kind of guy. I don't know that I would have such good humour working for Silverlink.

Quink said...

One of the guys at Stoke Newington station was great - used to look as though he'd just got out of bed, always reading the Grauniad when you turned up, but a kind and considerate bloke. I think he's still there, but I don't travel to Bethnal Green any more.

I remember getting off at Hackney Wick station in about 1999, shortly after I moved to London. The surrounding area was a dumping ground for charred and piss-soaked sofas, car tyres and dented oil cans.

That's so pants said...

Hi Quinkie

As you can see - Hackney Wick hasn't changed.

Reading the Signs said...

These special people make the difference. But hang on, hang on a minute - I thought you'd given up "work" work for good, taken the rest of your life off. Someone made you an offer you couldn't refuse?

Kris said...

ahhh, the memories!

I used to take the NLL from The Gates of Hell (Dalston) to North Woolwich (No Man's Land), then the panic attack foot-tunnel under the river to beautiful, down-town Woolwich.

Happy days!

That's so pants said...

Hi Signs

Actually it was a bit like that. As you know I really should have been out of here months ago so the money bin has fallen below the low water mark. I did try to get out of it because I am incredibly work shy now after reminding myself of how great it can be to just sit and play with ideas all day that are your own and not some demented civil servant's. I even went to the interview fully intending to find the first excuse to say 'no, this really isn't for me.' The fact of the matter is that the people were so GENIAL and NORMAL that it was a case of oh well, If you going to be NICE to me, then I WILL come and work here. It's only a month or so. I very much doubt I'll get the taste for it in that time.

Hi Kris

It's all quite different now with the Stratford to Woolwich section suspended. No more Polish builders.