scribbles tagged ‘train’

Dinner with strangers

Thursday, October 15th, 2015 | tags: , , , , ,  |

Chicago trip (15)You have to book a table in the dining car on the Amtrak “Empire Builder”. You wait at the carriage door to be seated and the waiter places you with 3 other passengers, who embarked and will disembark at different stations. Forced socialness.  I was placed at a table with Betty and John, a couple with silvering hair, and Glenn. A fat, balding  realtor with 5 daughters.

Glenn: I detect an accent, what bought you to America, what’s his name

Wendy: (named my employing Fortune 100 company and it’s male CEO)

John nearly spat out his food, and barely managed to subdue the smile. As the meal progressed Glenn changed from domineering, leading the conversation to quiet. I felt a bit mean, but such overt sexism tends to quell my ability to empathise with a person.

Also, Betty and John’s story was very interesting. Glenn’s story was also interesting… but…

Dinner with strangers
1 vote rating 5

1 wonderful musing »

Autumn Amtrak

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 | tags: , , , ,  |

Riding the “Empire Builder” from Minneapolis to Chicago and back. Over 7hrs each way. Big seats, even bigger luggage allowance.

By accident of fate the retired gentleman that sat next to me on the first journey was a real gem, great company. The time flew by. As he left, he thanked me for being a “great conversationalist”. A compliment I really value, especially now that I spend so little time with people in conversation on anything other than work. What a treat to talk of politics, buildings, the education system, family, climate, anything and many things. In-between our conversations I photographed the fantastic Minnesota and Wisconsin emerging autumn colours.

Chicago trip Chicago trip
Chicago trip Chicago trip (13)

Chicago trip (12)

Autumn Amtrak
1 vote rating 5

1 wonderful musing »

symptoms of design failure

Friday, June 21st, 2013 | tags: , , , ,  |

Architectural design fix

The fancy new Reading town Grimshaw designed train station is not quite finished. It’s already showing some fundamental design flaws. It’s good looking, if you like big open spaces and an airport foyer feel. But they’ve already had to put in blue plastic barriers to direct the pedestrian traffic boarding and disembarking from the escalators – to avoid too many clashes.  I followed the signs for the washrooms up onto the bridge concourse, but the signs stop there. A temporary design fix (information booth) was placed in the centre of the airport style open bridge concourse. I asked where the nearest washrooms were, On platform 12b.

On platform 12b?!

Almost all the pedestrian traffic goes through the bridge concourse and they didn’t put any washrooms there? How bizarre. The architect doesn’t appear to have thought of the station as a place where humans move in predictable patterns with predictable needs. The retrospective design fixes interrupt the ‘beautiful’ lines of the building.

Design Fail

symptoms of design failure
2 votes rating 5

3 bits of fabulous banter »

4 hour detour

Thursday, April 18th, 2013 | tags: , ,  |

20 minutes out of Crewe, the train doesn’t stop as scheduled:

Crewe Station "A"wendy: I think I’ve gotten on the wrong train (gotten = US english)

train manager: where do you want to go?

wendy: Wilmslow

train manager: (laughs out loud, covers face with hand) yes, you’re on the wrong train

wendy: when’s the next stop?

train manager: (still giggling) London, Euston, in 2 hours

Silently absorbing that I wont be able to present to the 20 people who’ve travelled to Wilmslow to hear me. Trying, successfully, not to cry. I  call my colleague who’s travelling separately. My call is cut off as it’s connected, by a tunnel.  The train manager is fiddling with his ticket machine.

train manager: you can get on a return train immediately, it will get you to Wilmslow by 1.37pm. 

That’s 3 hours after I’m due to start! URGH.  I leave a garbled message on my colleagues answer-service as the train manager fiddles with his ticket machine.  A 2hr each way fast train to London, that’s probably a £200 ticket he’s printing-out. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry….

train manager: no-one else has got on this train by mistake (giggle)

He’s just told me I’m a complete numpty. Don’t cry, don’t cry….   I phoned my host, apologised and explained, asked if we could reschedule to 2pm. They agreed to try for this.  The train manager gave me a FREE return ticket to Euston, at least this ‘error’ hasn’t cost me £200.  I thanked the train manager and sheepishly snuck back to my seat, trying again to call my colleague. 10 minutes later the train manager found me.

train manager: there’re a few people on the train like you, one lady is very upset, she hasn’t stopped crying

wendy: I’m not crying, but I sure as hell feel like crying. (sure as hell = US English)

train manager: could you sit with her? I think it would help

wendy: sure  (sure = US English for ‘of course’)

The train manager lead me to the last, almost empty, first class carriage where a lady with immaculate hair and make-up, wrapped in a shawl, was elegantly dabbing her water filled eyes with a well-ironed handkerchief. We exchanged similar stories. I reassured her that she wasn’t dipsy. The Crewe service announcements and signs were less than adequate. How kind of the train manager to give us free return tickets and treat us to the quiet comfort of first-class seats. Rachel was charming and entertaining. But

Crewe train station is not forgiven, I may have to send them suggested improvements for their signage…

4 hour detour
1 vote rating 5

3 bits of fabulous banter »


Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 | tags: , ,  |

antiqueTaking notes with a basic blue BIC Biro on a pad of A4 paper.

Using post-its notes as individually labeled bookmarks on pages in a binder.


Demonstrating his skills applying the antique technologies of my youth.

Not a banker.



1 vote rating 3

2 bits of fabulous banter »

fate all at tea

Sunday, November 11th, 2012 | tags: , , ,  |

FatalityTrains are running 30 minutes late due to a fatality on the line.

The other commuters hasten their weaving around each other as-if the delay urgencifies their platform dash.

As a nation we give 2 minutes still, silence,  to the people who lost their lives in wars. Fatalities, deaths. Like this one they have an unattributed cause – Suicide or accident?

Was this fatality a person who’s life was

  • so very painful that the thought of being smashed-into by a speeding train was a release from the pain of their life.  Suicide.
  • ended unexpectedly. did they slip and fall? Accident.

I watch the faces of the commuters pushing me aside in their platform rush. Coats rustling and mumbling.

I’m alone in my stillness.  Taking a moments silence to mourn the fatality, person’s death,  is not part of the behavioural script ‘what we do’ for commuters and station staff.

It seems like it should be a time when we should be hugging each other, wiping away each others tears, expressing our helplessness and then slowly moving on. I hug myself, wipe away a tear and turn towards the platforms.

That evening I tried to find out about the 2 people who’d died in train fatalities that day. The news reported the delays to the trains, the things that affected most people’s everyday lives. Nothing about the people who died, not even a name. Sending condolences to strangers isn’t a part of the what we do nowadays. Kay’s recent blog post had a quote from John Donne which seemed most apt:

No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee….”

fate all at tea
4 votes rating 4.75

4 bits of fabulous banter »

view from the floor of commuter carriage D

Friday, October 26th, 2012 | tags: , , , ,  |

commutersThe seats next to us are full of men in suits, young men and old men. Men with eyes locked on their kindles. From our perch on the carriage floor we can see body-fat overflowing their shirt collars while they focus on their devices.

Maybe they are doing something very valuable. They work for Oxfam, Cancer Research, the NHS or something where the luxury of a seat on an unfeasibly busy First Great Western (FGW) train service from London Paddington is a just reward.

Alas, I can’t convince myself that all the seated people are contributing to something socially valuable.

Elbowing and shoving to get seats is what happens at commuter time. I normally stand back and board the train last or let the flow carry me forward.  Unsuprisingly, I rarely get a seat. On this tiring day I had chosen to sit. Chosen the carriage isle floor. I used the handle on the side of a seat to gently lower myself. The man in the behandled seat ‘tutted’ without turning his head towards me. A coincidence?

The beautiful boy with the ginger beard watched me, then followed my lead. I wonder what he was thinking as he scrutinised the seated ‘people-who-never-look-at-those-around-them’.  He raised my spirits because he had the courage to see the people around him, chose to steps away from conformity, and harassed noone to get a place on the carriage floor.

I don’t think he’s a banker. I considered proposing.

view from the floor of commuter carriage D
3 votes rating 4.67

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waiting for a train

Sunday, July 29th, 2012 | tags: , , ,  |

white people #1 white people #2white people #3 Friday 16.36hrs on Sheffield train station waiting for the arrival of the delayed 16.29

It was no accident that Celeste looked up from her cell phone at precisely the moment Tim and Rachel broke their embrace to take a breath. Celeste knows where they’re going.  Celeste isn’t impressed by their public displays of affection, Rachel’s unatural haircolour and trashy skirt.  Celeste smiles to herself as she anticiaptes the inevitable landslide on the Mumbles.

Susan will not forgive Jem, not this time. It’s once too often. He can get his own ipod if he wants to get his rocks off with Primal Scream.

waiting for a train
3 votes rating 3.33

3 bits of fabulous banter »

data retention policy

Sunday, May 20th, 2012 | tags: , , ,  |

On a Friday evening commuter train riding home from Paddington toward Reading town I watch the scenery roll past while listening to the American in the seat behnd me talk on the phone about the data retention policies of an international organisation

I’m drowned in the chatter of half-conversations around me. Everyone is travelling alone, most people are talking to someone on the phone.

A lady two rows back is having an arguement about her ex-husband and her medication. I suspect that nearly everyone in the carriage heard, no-one comments, it’s not our business.

Private in public, privates on parade…

data retention policy
1 vote rating 4

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when there’s no audience in the room – I’m an extrovert

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 | tags: , , , , , ,  |

Circle LineDuring commuter time, even in London, it is possible to be alone in public

When I stepped into this empty circle line carriage at 08.45am I felt like singing. So I did! No-one smirked, No-one shook their head, no-one asked me to stop screeching.

No-one joined in. I did’t feel embarrassed because  I’m not a talented or even accurate vocalist

When there’s no audience in the room – I’m an extrovert

I normally choose to be in a place with few, or no, people present – does that make me an introvert?

If I tell my friends that I’m an introvert they disagree.  They describe things I do that are typical of an extrovert. Things that I don’t actually enjoy or find easy. I’m an introvert who can do extrovert things when the occasion requires. Happily living alone, spending many nights in, is probably the biggest indicator that I’m an introvert at heart

when there’s no audience in the room – I’m an extrovert
3 votes rating 4.67

3 bits of fabulous banter »

who’s on the train today?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 | tags: , , ,  |

Circle line 5.15pm Westbourne ParkSometimes I get to ride on the trains. It’s expensive and fascinating. I like to guess who the other passengers are and why they are there. To wonder why other people aren’t there. Sometimes I get to talk to Robots or passengers who aren’t indulged in the social norm of trying to maintain their privacy in this very public space

On this 5.15pm midweek circle line train approaching Paddington from the west, there was:

  • 1 person (other than me) who looked like a woman – where are the other women?
  • 1 person (other than me) who looked over 45 years – where are the 50+ people?
  • 1 person (other than me) wearing brightly coloured clothes – where are the people who adore wearing brightly coloured clothes?
  • 1 person (other than me) standing-up
  • 1 person who looks under 18 years – where are the other children?
  • 1 person looks non-caucasian
  • no-one (other than me) wearing a hat

On this train I was definitiely a ‘different’ passenger….


who’s on the train today?
1 vote rating 4

8 bits of fabulous banter »

Our GPS doesn’t work down here

Monday, February 6th, 2012 | tags: , , , ,  |

Robots on the tubeA weekend trip on the London Underground (Tube) is definitiely a different experience from midweek commuter journeys. Much nicer. The travellers are wearing their weekend clothes, more colourful and varied than the business black and gray

As this circle line (yellow branding) train pulled into Paddington I could see most of the carriages were tightly packed with travellers – except one. I made my way to the half-empty carriage where I met these two Robots. Instant smiles all around. They were discussing how they didn’t know where they were because their GPS wasn’t working…

can I take your photograph?

After I’d photographed them the carriage turned into a paparazzi-style frenzy. It seemed that everyone in the carriage had a camera phone and they all wanted a picture, the best picture. They got out of their seats and vied fopositions to get the best shot. They gave the robots instructions on how to poise

point at the map, up a bit, down a bit, that’s it!”

We helped the robots to read the map so they knew where to get off the train. One man who couldn’t speak English helped the robots keep their arm-protection from falling off.

It was a wonderful experience of strangers laughing and helping each other. I like the tube at the weekend



Our GPS doesn’t work down here
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Train car cough any of children

Thursday, January 5th, 2012 | tags: , , ,  |

are you the princess?” the 67 year old lady asks the 7 year old girl, adding  “I’m a dinosaur

“no you’re not” even though the girl is already displaying advanced gender conformity, she hasn’t yet refined her agism prejudices…  …she can still spot the difference between dinosaurs and old ladies

No, not really, but it’s what old people call themselves”  The child makes an accurate observation about aging  “when I grow up my hair wont be blonde anymore” The old bint espouses the popular psuedo-feminist position of  ‘choice freedom’ within the boundaries of legitimate girly behaviours “you can dye your hair any colour that you want”. The mother sighs and adds “she’s a very girlie girl, she’ll only wear dresses and loves pink and purple

I press my face against the train window watching the beautiful English, Dorset, countryside fly-by – but I can’t escape the conversations of popularist female conformity…

Train ride to St Ives

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3 bits of fabulous banter »


Thursday, December 29th, 2011 | tags: ,  |

As we approach Camborne train station the announcer says:

Coaches A and B will not be platformed, passengers in coaches A and B will have to move along the train to alight at Camborne

The platform at Camborne is shorter than the length of the train, so the last 2 train coaches are not ‘platformed’

Train ride to St Ives

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the i-pack lite version

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 | tags: , ,  |

wendy: I’d like a return rail-airbus ticket to Heathrow Terminal 3
Rail ticketing agent (RTA): Returning today?

Maybe he hasn’t noticed the suitcase I wheeled to the desk!

Wendy: No….
RTA: Tomorrow?

Does he think this case and shoulder bag add up to an overnight bag? If so, I have achieved my goal of travelling light!

Wendy: Returning 7 days from now. Can I use my network rail card for discount on that?
RTA: No, we don’t accept Network Rail cards….

I’m sold an off-peak ticket that looks exactly like a train ticket and wonder why the service provider who supplies the network rail card doesn’t allow it’s use on a Network rail service….

the i-pack lite version
1 vote rating 3

3 bits of fabulous banter »

Peak travel times are not defined by times

Saturday, October 15th, 2011 | tags: , , , , ,  |

The Italian tourist on Paddington station asked me

“what times are off-peak travel times?”

Gradually realising the sysem craziness I reply

“That depends which direction you are travelling, peak time applies to trains into London in the morning and out of London in the evening, so if you are travelling into London in the evening – there is no peak time

but I’m not sure”

Then I asked my Londoner friend for clarification

“Are there peak time restrictions on the tube?”

My friend didn’t know about ‘peak times’ so we assumed that tube trains within London didn’t have travel restrictions based on time of travel. How could this Italian distinguish between tube trains and other trains when they use the same stations?  Should we say ‘you can travel on the grubby looking trains  that are travelling around London, sort of, at any time”?  I felt daunted. Such a simple question, such a complex answer.

Then, to make matters worse, I remembered that at peak times you can catch some trains which are not covered by the peak time travel restrictions, so added

“You can travel at peak time with a non-peak time ticket on some trains, normally the slower trains, but some of the fast trains”

The Italian looked suitably baffled. We hadn’t really helped her. I had a passing thought of Franz Kafka, imagining him stuck on a train station trying to get out of London at 5pm.  No matter how good your grasp of the English language, this explanation, this system is

  • fundamentally confusing
  • really difficult to remember even if you can work it out in the first place.

it’s not designed to make ticket purchase and use easy, its evolved to satisfy diverse organisations that lack customer perspective. The best pracitcal suggestion that we could give the Italian was

“Find the train you want to travel on and ask one of the rail staff if it works, and what’s their best suggestion,  it’s the only way to be sure”

When I asked a train station employee at Reading main station he whipped out a PAPER leaflet that listed trains that travel at peak times but accept off-peak time tickets. This work-around suggest that the service providers recognise the problem. The cute, archaic, work-around made me smile. But why not make it easier for the traveller in the first place (or time)!

Currently peak travel times are defined by a mixture of train

  • time
  • service provider (not applied on the tube)
  • direction (relative to London, and maybe other citiies?)
  • train speed (sometimes)

I know what name I’d like to give the ticket pricing and travel system, but that’s unpublishable …..

Your’s huiffily, wendy x

PS here are the peak travel time trains from Paddington that accept off-peak time tickets:

peak time travel allowed with off-peak tickets

Peak travel times are not defined by times
1 vote rating 5

1 wonderful musing »

trading life times

Sunday, June 26th, 2011 | tags: , , , , ,  |

Window & wrought metal workAs we walk through the underground to the main Paddington station an announcers loudly fills the tube with a mumbled message. Jan covers her ears. The announcers voice was too painful to listen to

wendy: all trains to Reading are delayed

Concourse displays specify Delay, Delay, Delay….  Hundreds of people stand with their eyes held by the display. Murmurring rises. Jan pulls out her HTC Desire

Jan: Delays until 6.30pm, why don’t they tell me that at the station, why do I have to go to the web to find out

Wendy: can you send me that link for my phone

Jan: Um, err, probably, I’ll try

Our shoulders drop. What shall we do with this time at Paddington? Vicky looks near to tears

Vicky: I’ve got a softball game at 6.45pm

Jan notices  a slow, stops everytwhere, train to Banbury, a 90 mins rather than 25mins journey to Reading. We run, weaving through bewildered would-be passsengers, to platform 11.  Crushed against the train waiting for the doors to open, carried by the crowd onto the train. Midsummer heat, commuter sweat crammed into a carriage designed for half this load. People wearing black and grey.  I manage to climb onto the luggage rack, a seat! Jan and Vicky are swept apart into the standing-only isles. Two ladies near me don’t look like commuters, one wearing a cheerful pink dress, another wearing a jade outfit. Pinky bends down and peers into the lower level luggage rack

Pinky: there’s a child under there…

Jade: It’s a BOY

Synchronised smiling, the childs boyness explains his desire to climb into the luggage rack.  I ask the colourful duo

wendy: does anyone know what caused the delays?

pinky: A suicide on the line

wendy: how do you know?

Clock on Paddington StationPinky waves her Blackberry phone, She uses the Blackberry for the whole 2hr journey, raising her eyes only to answer my occassional question then say goodbye as she leaves the train. There are few conversations on the train. Most people appear deeply engrossed in bright phone screens. From my perch I can see 4 i-phone  screens – text conversations, games, reading the news

I make several attempts to start conversations with the people near me. They moan about how inconsiderate the suicide was, interrupting rush hour travel. Then they sink back into their hypnotic phones. Suicide on the line, one person traded the life they had left to give todays commuters some unanticipated travel time

I feel the need to use this precious time, someone-elses life time, wisely

trading life times
1 vote rating 5

2 bits of fabulous banter »

worx disco

Sunday, March 6th, 2011 | tags: , , , ,  |

Captain Howey Hotel PubThe entrance guarded by portly middle-aged men, avoiding the wind while they dragged on their cigarettes

hello love
a cheerful greeting as I wove between them in search of the hotel reception. The hotel reception was the bar. Two women sat on a sofa Half a dozen toddlers cahorted around and over them. Several men lacking in cranial hair perched on bar stools watching the largescreen 6 nations play. Not an enticing first impression. A blackboard by the bar announced tonight’s Worx disco. The Worx? Dungeness power station workers, these people were dependent of the power station for their livelihood

The Romney and Hythe steam train trundled under my bedroom window. Heaven! It toot-tooted as it trundled by. I went to stand by the track and the driver smiled and waved and tooted when he drove by. At that moment I wanted to be part of a well practiced cheerleading team waving pompoms, synchronised high-kicking and singing the praise of the train line.

Over breakfast the  landlady whispered her concerns. These guys drank so much the night before a full days work at a Nuclear plant. We watched one stumble through the dining area on his way out of the building for his first fag of the day.  He grunted at the Landlady’s cheery greeting. After he’d gone

See what I mean?


worx disco
1 vote rating 4

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mobilising immobilisation

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 | tags: , ,  |

My journey to Paris today was all a bit exciting

electronic checkin:  we cannot check you in please go to an Air France Desk

Air France desk: are you on one of the plane’s that’s been cancelled?

Apparantly I was. Luckily they got me on another flight in the emergency exit seat with more leg room than I could reasonably justify even when waggling my skinny legs around enthusiastically.

only big trains from now onAt Charles De Gaulle airport the first train wasn’t going exactly where I wanted to go.  What the heck,  I got on with the intention of changing when the routes differed. This tactic got me where I needed to be in time.

I did notice the signs on some platform,  information signs, saying no trains….   …I managed to get where I needed to be without realising that Paris had been immobilised by industrial action

mobilising immobilisation
1 vote rating 4

2 bits of fabulous banter »

ex terminate!

Friday, September 3rd, 2010 | tags: , , ,  |

only big trains from now onThis is the end of short trains,

they will be terminated,

only long trains from now on.

Those French are both assertive and sizist.

rate wendys scribble

1 wonderful musing »


Friday, May 8th, 2009 | tags: ,  |

Eros6pm in Leicester Square, Westminster, London

England feels crowded compared to the NW US,   even compared to New York.   People brush against you as you pass them on the pavements,   the tube staircases,   mounting and dismounting the trains.   The tube stations are warm and muggy laced with the stench of sweat,   and its only April.

Sidewalk person-to-person collision avoidance weaving is required, not optional.     Here in Leicester square,  Alfred Gilbert’s statue of Eros has his own space above the crowds  on the originally much maligned  Shafetsbury memorial fountain from where he threatens passers-by with a dose of love, intended as a representation of christian charity.

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5 bits of fabulous banter »

miniscule train robbery

Friday, November 28th, 2008 | tags: , , , ,  |

while waiting for a train

wendy: a medium sized mocha please

cashier: £2.45

Wendy Hands over the cash and waits

barista:   medium Latte

Wendy:   is that for me?   I ordered a mocha,   are you making a mocha next?

barista: I don’t have an order for a mocha

man in queue behind me:   actually, you ordered a Latte

Wendy:   checks receipt,   it clearly states Mocha £2.45, shows receipt to man in the queue behind me to verify that I remembered correctly, checks cost of Latte ( £2.35)

cashier:   she did order a mocha

train pulls into station

Wendy:   I’ll take the Latte, keep the tip  

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scum scum scum

Monday, November 24th, 2008 | tags: ,  |

Satruday night train from LeedsApproaching Peterborough train station.

A  small lady with fake-blond hair drawn tightly against her head by a short pontytail mutters ‘scum scum scum’ under her breath as she rises.   I can barely hear the chink of her three large, gold, hooped earings dancing together over the sound of flirting and empty high spirits from passengers further down the carriage.  ‘We love Leeds’  

They all alight at Peterborough.

A sleeping passenger on the other side of the isle  wakes,   pukes half digested  pringles  on the seat next to him,   places a newspaper over the puke then goes back to sleep.   Another passenger pulls his scarf up over his nose and buries his head deeper in his book while hugging a guitar case.


rate wendys scribble

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borrowing clothes

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006 | tags: , , ,  |

twenty-first  post in  a  pg-13-rated Wednesday series  of “why wendy’s single“.    

Reason # 21: borrowing clothes

Due to an unfortunate accident aged 17 (1981),   with  a track (into you like a train) on the second  Psychedelic Furs album,  I like to wear other people’s clothes.   This raises a number of challenges which may, or may not, be publishable in subsequent posts.   Luckily,   quite a few English chaps* have found it rather amusing when they discover that I literally want to get into their trousers etc. and have been indulgent of my little proclivity.   Since arriving in the US there have been a few minor  outbreaks of Wendy in  street camoflauge,  but nothing too PG.

* male gender specific usage

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subversive creative translations

Saturday, December 10th, 2005 | tags: , , ,  |
The WhitePrince is earning his crust by translating documents.
He wrote:
"Do you know anything about train control circuits ?   Me neither. making it up as I go along"
Hmmmm… ….translators have the power to make stuff up.   Who knows what cheeky little subversive things they are sneaking into formal documents.  
Origins of the idiom ‘Earning a crust’?
bread = money. From cockney rhyming slang, bread and honey = money. Bread also has associations with the expression ‘earning a crust’, or having enough money to pay for one’s daily bread.

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