Thursday, 25 March 2010

A Gambler's Guide to the East Coast Mainline

Polish Ecstasy tend to let a gambler’s attitude pervade most aspects of life, whether this be staying in bed until the last possible moment (and beyond) before being massively late for work or taking death defying risks as we leap through closing doors and speed through red lights on the daily commute.

In the first of these columns, which are gambler’s guides to everyday life we’re going to address travelling on the train and principally the Peterborough to London, East Coast Mainline route.


The leaden poetry inherent as the driver intones “St Neots... Sandy... Biggleswade...Stevenage... Potter’s Bar”; the oceans that would swell and recede season by season on the flood plains between Ely and March, the sense of leaving behind places you’ll never ever know; there is a mundane beauty to travelling between Britain’s big cities by train.

As the carriages wait on the outskirts of forgotten towns and cities or trundle across the fields between, the passenger is left to gaze out into the middle distance somewhere between the scenery and their own reflection. Needless to say, these pleasurable moments of disengagement are all too often interrupted by hair gel slicked provincial teenagers - all Breezers, nasal voices and cheap aftershave; gales of boozy laughter from toxic hen parties, banal conversations conducted at hurricane volume, persistent coughs, roaming stenches, lonely perverts or the silent threat of shark-eyed psychopaths but somehow they abide in the gaps between.

Many other grave assaults on the senses face the travelling man on his way across the country but none inspire greater feelings of helplessness and impotent rage than the dreaded site of the ticket inspector emerging through the doors at the other end of the carriage.

As a child travelling with my parents I‘d always felt a twinge of annoyance when arriving at the end of a journey, unchecked ticket in hand, knowing that we could have got away with it. Later, having begun criss-crossing the country’s railway networks under my own steam during my faltering adolescence, the nebulous morality issues surrounding paying my fare began to crystallise - like the abundance of jelly in a British Rail pork pie - around one thing: the crushing effect it had on my already sparse pocket money. Seeds of resentment were sewn.

The years passed with the haircuts, a brief trist with the Ministry of Sound's 'Ibiza Annual' and various other misguided obsessions and love affairs (Kimberley Stiff, the elusive and ultimately treacherous Carol) came and went and in the autumn off 2002 I left for university. During the fallow weekends I would often find myself travelling home for band practises or to London on the trail of The Libertines. Feelings of overwhelming freedom abounded, all wrapped up in warm beer, blue smoke*, and the songs of ‘Up The Bracket’.

As my visits to the capital became more common the seed of disobedience that had formed in my childish breast began to flower and I would take my ticketless chances with more or less unhindered success on the route operated formerly by WAGN between Peterborough and London, all the time gaining knowledge and expertise. It is with these fond memories in mind (as well as mounting consternation at constantly rising ticket prices and their ever more abstract relation to increases in service quality and reliability) that I hope to give the gift of worry free travel that only an extra thirty quid in your sky rocket or a near failsafe excuse system can bring, with the low down on how to minimise fares along this well worn route.

*Not Crack.

Disclaimer: Polish Ecstasy does not condone fraudulent or naughty behaviour in any fashion whatsoever.


For those of you unfamiliar with the route in question it is important to remember ticket inspectors travel infrequently up and down the line so it’s always necessary to keep an eye out for them. Anecdotally speaking, the amount of times you bump into one and are forced to part with some cash tends to be a sufficiently low percentage of total trips to recommend a policy of blanket free travelling. The trick is to minimise the damage when you are caught and the best way to do this is to remember the last station you passed so that you can claim to have got on there. It is necessary to know which stations do not use ticket barriers (make a reference to the check-list below) as it is perfectly plausible that you may have had to run to catch the train and not had time to visit the machine.


Check List

  • Peterborough - Guards on exits at random times

  • Huntingdon - Barriers on Northbound platform

  • St Neots - No reliable data

  • Sandy - No barriers,

  • Biggleswade - No barriers

  • Arlesey - No barriers

  • Hitchin - Barriers

  • Welwyn North - No barriers

  • Welwyn Garden City -Barriers

  • Stevenage -Barriers

  • Potters Bar - No reliable data, barriers expected

  • Finsbury Park - No barriers

  • Kings Cross - No barriers, Guards on exits at random times


* Getting off at Finsbury Park will save you trouble as well as time at the London end more often than not.

* Often Ticket Inspectors seem to swoop at Huntingdon.

* Stevenage is a shit hole.

Good Luck.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Postcards from the Provinces: #2 Lovers' Ruin

Have you ever been listening to a song and have had to turn it off because it evokes a memory or an emotion which turns your stomach, gets stuck in your throat or kicks you in the balls, leaving you either wanting to cry, or hold your head in embarrassed shame. I have, and it's almost always related to a girl.

It dawned on me that this would an interesting subject to write about. So many songs have been ruined for me by the women I've know, loved and still love. This article is going to look at songs which have been desecrated by the memory attached to them, etched by ghosts of girlfriends past and present.

1. 'I’m Like a Bird' by Nelly Furtado:

I’m like a bird isn’t a song that I listen to by choice, I’d say it is just one of those songs you occasionally hear on the radio, or see the video on a music channel now and then. However without fail, each time I hear Miss Futardo’s smash hit ode to commitment issues I can’t help thinking about the night I lost my virginity. I’m not even sure to this day whether I lost it or, quite literally, misplaced it. ‘It’ being my penis.

I was a late starter in life; everything I did was prolonged or put off, usually because I was scared to face challenges thrown at me. I’m the person who’s going to do the job tomorrow rather than today and like everything else, girls were no exception. However there always comes the day when you have to get the job done, even when you’re desperate to do anything thing else other than what you have to face. My first kiss was one of these occasions, I’d attempted everything to get out of it even sabotage.By stopping off at MacDonald’s and loading up on double cheese burgers, I was convinced that the overwhelming stench of onions and fear would send the girl packing, but no. When I arrived on the date, I found to my horror that Denise was keener than ever. As we walked through the park Denise would sporadically squeeze my arse, I couldn’t help but blush. She was a crafty one, I thought, as she guided me round a corner into a pretty sunken garden full of ornate foliage. We stopped and without warning she'd clamped onto my face, it was horrible-her tongue whirled around in my head like fish in its final death throws. 'When will it stop' is all I could think, and then like the eye of a storm it was calm again. I never saw Denise after that day. Thank god.

Soon after Denise I started dating a girl called Pia, and happily for me we made it through our first kiss unscathed, no dead fish moments, but the relationship was starting to move forward, we were heading for unchartered territory, our love was about to get physical and frankly I was shitting myself over the prospect of getting my portions. There was clearly so much that could go wrong, she could see my penis and laugh at it. I could discover that I don’t like sex and realise that I was in fact a repressed homosexual. I could just cum down my leg before I got it anywhere near the Holy Grail. The anticipation was staring to take its toll on me.

The much planned night was upon us. I had managed to get my mum out of the house by telling her that the two of us wanted to celebrate our three week anniversary, this was true, but what we really wanted was to unshackle ourselves from the oppressive constraint of our virginity. So at sevenish Pia knocked at the front door we looked at each other like we were complete strangers and I suppose that's what we were...tonight was all about the sex and neither of us had a clue.

We started kissing as soon as she came in the door, she was of the let's get this out of the way school of thought, while I being a serial procrastinator decided to slow it down and watch some telly first. We watched MTV for a while, well I say watched, it was actually listening-we were kissing in that manic manner that teenagers do, as if you were to stop the other person would disappear.She grabbed my hand, as 'It Wasn’t Me' by Shaggy started to play on the telly, I can remember the unbelievable sense of impending doom as she dragged me up from the settee and said “Let’s go upstairs.”

We got to the bedroom and all I can remember is Pia lying there naked while I left the room to put on a condom, god knows what she thought I was doing, I didn’t. I returned to the room and it started. We rolled around like two worms wrestling, and I was pretty happy up with the way it was going, I felt like I was passing the ‘he’s definitely not a virgin test’. Then The moment that seemed to trigger my downfall occurred, Furtado started to pollute the house as Pia asked if this was my first time. ‘How does she know?’ I asked myself, but I later realised I was probably humping her leg.Of course I didn’t think this was the time to admit to being a virgin, I don’t know where it came from but I started listing mythical women I’d slept with they all had ridiculous names like Tallulah, Witney and Trixie, I might as well have told her that she was fucking Slim Goody Peterborough's finest pimp. Why couldn't I say Sarah, Helen anything but Trixie.

I’ve learnt now that it's never a good idea to mention other women while in the throes of sexual passion with another lady. It isn’t a common foreplay technique, and there's a reason for that. Girls are touchy. In an attempt to shut me up she grabbed my penis, it was happening.

‘Your faith in me brings me to tears/Even after all these years.’

The fear took hold of me, it was happening. I was waving goodbye to the age of innocence I WAS BECOMING A MAN! but as the song swelled into to another chorus my solider lay down and died. 'God no, why now? This has never happened to me when I was practicing.' I thought as I attempted to give him a helping hand.

Pia was quite comforting over the whole situation trying to get the old boy to have one last fight at it, but her efforts were to no avail. She even suggested taking the dog out for a walk and that's not even a dick based euphemism. I think once you start discussing dog walking the moment has passed, consigned to the history books as a failure.

It's not all doom and gloom because later that week I finally got the job done, but that night will always be known as ‘Flop and Fear’. A term first coined by young Thomas Reynolds to explain similar lonely travails. I drove Pia home that night with a complete sense of humiliation; we didn't really talk much on the way to her house. 'I'm Like a Bird' started to play on the radio and I wanted to kill myself. Luckily I can laugh about it now, but whenever I hear that song I just cringe...

I still don't know if I lost my virginity that night.

* (Joke originally attributed to unknown comedian, Norwich, 2004 - editor)

Oliver Jakeman.