Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I have been conspicuous by my absence these last few days and I suspect you've all been absolutely gasping for news as to my exploits.
Sharon's dad died on Saturday morning. It wasn't wholly unexpected, he'd been very ill for three years or so and had had no life to speak of for the past two so in a way it was a relief all round, not least for him. It's still a shock when somebody goes though and arrangements have to be made. Sharon decided she needed to be in that London with her Mum, and Paul, her son, who has been helping his Nanny out with Grandad for a while now.
Followers of our two blogs will doubtless know that our recent histories are somewhat intertwined and although we are now no-longer what is termed in the popular parlance "an item" we have, despite these recent difficulties, managed to stay friends. It is probably for the best, injuries are best avoided. I'm crap at most things but unlike some I'm incredibly tempted to mention but won't, fairly reliable in a crisis and, getting Sharon down to London at short notice, with all her attendant medical needs could be classed a bit of an operation. I was only too happy to help her in any way I could.
As she's just coming out of a long illness herself and not up to the 200 mile drive it was decided on Saturday morning that I would drive her to London on Monday in her mobility car - I'm still her listed second driver after all - and catch a train back to Crewe in the evening. As I was actually beneath one of the stands at Aintree racecourse on Saturday helping friend Christopher out at a Mind Body and Spirit fair, Sharon set to and tried to book a ticket. She found a cheap single from London to Crewe, leaving Euston at 22.00 on Monday and costing only £8 and attempted to book it via one of the sub-continentally based call-centres. No joy. Card holder had to pick it up. They couldn't get their heads round Sharon's requirements and physical limitations and had no concept of customer service whatsoever and couldn't see that all Sharon needed to do was pay for it on her card, give me the card and allow me to collect it from the pre-pay machine. Poor Sharon didn't have a clue how to buy a ticket and these morons weren't going to make it easy for her and explain it. For the ignorant, all you need to do is insert the card you used to buy the ticket with into any pre-payment machine in any one of the country's railway stations and out pops your ticket in about 5 seconds. That part of the system is brilliant, in direct contrast to the staff paid slave wages to work it. So she called me and asked me to phone them myself. Luckily I have bought train tickets this way fairly recently but it still didn't excuse the fact that I had to tell the same details to two separate people who were almost inaudible and were obviously not English over a dodgy mobile line. How to win customer loyalty. No, I do not want to go on your poxy mailing list, either. Please do not ask me if I am in anyway happy with your service. Anyway, did you get that? £8 one way London to Crewe with two days' notice. Rail travel in this country can be incredibly cheap. If you ask, you get. However, there was a slight catch:
The Slight Catch*
She arranged some accomodation and for her medical supplies to be delivered there and I got her packed on Saturday and Sunday, made her a couple of decent meals, took her to the hairdressers and went shopping with her on Monday morning and drove her down to the capital of this great nation. It went pretty well but we were both fairly knackered come the evening.
After saying my hellos, a taxi was ordered for the short hop to Stratford station where I'd get the tube to Euston Square. £6. The tube cost £4. Now, let me see. Stratford to Euston...Mmm...no more than about 8 miles at best, if that. total cost £10. OK, I didn't really need to get a taxi but they insisted. Euston to Crewe, about 180 miles. £8. Londoners, you are being conned. Crewe - cup of tea about 60p. London - £1.45 and it tastes like piss. No, you are being robbed blind. And it's made you the rudest most arrogant and ignorant bunch of people it's ever been my displeasure to encounter. The only person who spoke to me politely was the beggar on Euston Road. Up here shop assistants smile and laugh with you. People will stop and talk to you in the street, call you "love" without sounding patronising or threatening and like to be on the receiving end of similar endearments themselves. OK, there are arrogant self-regarding idiots up here like anywhere but it's not aspirational like it is down there. Grim oop north? Yeravinalarffincha? By the way, I'm a born Londoner and after growing up in the oasis of calm, cricket and common sense that was East Kent, lived and worked in the capital for over 20 years. Nothing on earth would drag me back there. I hope your oyster cards give you food posoning. Thank goodness the bloody place is sinking.
*The slight catch. I got to Stafford on time, somewhere around 11.45. There was no bus. There were only three of us wanting to get to Crewe and two were train crew. A taxi eventually drew up. It was from Crewe. She was dropping off a railman. She recognised the other two and asked permission to take them back with her. She apologised to me and said unfortunately she couldn't etc... I understood. It was nearly 1am in Stafford. It was raining. It was cold. I was thirsty and hungry and tired. The station manager had been on the phone for ages trying to find where the bus was. Nobody knew. He eventually sought authorisation to order a taxi for me. Now, that took ages. Why? Because he works for Railtrack or whatever and my contract was with Virgin. So he couldn't just hail one of the dozen or so taxis that had been outside earlier and ask the driver to bill BR. Oh no. Because of deregulation and the commercial hell that the railways now are thanks to the one true bitch (burn in painful hell for ever) and her cronies, one had to be summoned with a warrant. At 1.20 am he arrived. He'd driven from Stoke, the same distance north from Stafford as Crewe. He'd been asleep in bed. He wasn't best pleased but he was a decent bloke. I got in at 1.50. Sir Beardy, for whom I usually have a great deal of time as he does at least try and aim to please, will be getting a letter. As will the incompetent in charge of the railways.