Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Things on Trains...

...and things with pains.

This story takes place over 24 hours in London. They were by no means the most exciting of my life, but it was an unexpected turn of events that I was able to laugh at immediately afterwards.

My best bud Ellie and I were in need of transportation from London to Southampton. We were staying with a friend and asked his advice on the best way to get there. He suggested booking tickets through a site called Mega Bus. Tickets were only a few pounds each, and naturally we booked them there and then. I received a text with my ticket number and instructions for departure from Waterloo station. I was a little confused, however. Where, exactly, do the buses leave from Waterloo station? I puzzled over it for a few minutes before trying my luck at the old "calling up" tactic. Unfortunately, the lady I reached on the Mega Bus information line seemed just as confused as I was. Conversation proceeded somewhat as follows:

Me: "Hi, I've just booked two tickets for the journey from London to Southampton at [time] tomorrow. My reservation number is [this]. Could you tell me where we actually leave from?"
Her: "Yes, you'll be leaving from Waterloo station."
Me: "Yes, but where exactly?"
Her: "...Waterloo station."
Me: "Yes, but which side? Where do we find the bus stops?"
Her: "...The platform will be announced shortly before departure."
Me: "Platform?"
Her: "Yes. It's a train..."
Me: "Oh! But we booked through Mega Bus!"
Her: "Yes, it's affiliated with Mega Train. Just make sure you get to Waterloo station at least ten minutes before your TRAIN leaves."
Me: "kthxbye"

Well that cleared that up! Lucky I called rather than running with my usual "she'll be right" strategy. Anyway anyway anyway, a little wary after our shaky start, Ellie and I made sure to get to Waterloo half an hour before the train to ensure no further mishaps. I saw a ticket machine with a sign saying if I had my reservation number, I could print off my tickets. It took about four goes before I realised I wasn't doing it right. I called over a member of staff, who took a look at my reservation number and told me it was sufficient to get me through the barriers and onto the train. Hooray, a simple instruction! Ellie and I twiddled our thumbs until the platform was announced, giving us just under ten minutes to make our train. But alas, on reaching the barriers we were confronted with another problem. The horribly mean ticket lady told us we would need to go to the information centre, across the other side of the station, to print off our tickets. But what?! That chap over there said the reservation number was enough! Bollocks to that!

I left Ellie with our bags and sprinted across the station, my Doc Martens causing a disproportionately loud noise for how light I felt on my feet. On reaching the information centre, I was stopped in my tracks by a long line of people, and realised I may as well have crawled my way over for all the good running did me. The line moved far too slowly for my cause. Didn't these people know I had a train to catch? Presumably these other people had trains to catch as well, so why were they taking so long asking such silly questions? I finally reached the front of the line and hurriedly explained I needed these tickets printed "NOW!!! Please". The lady at the counter took a look at my reservation number and informed me I didn't need a ticket and the number alone was enough. Well deja vu, deja vu! I bolted back to where Ellie was standing and damn near yelled at the ticket lady "THELADYATINFORMATIONSAIDWEDIDN'TNEEDTICKETSANDTHERESERVATIONNUMBERSAREENOUGH!!!" *pant pant pant*. I watched forlornly as our train steamed away on the other side of the barrier. She tried to send me back to the information centre, which I refused to do. At this point I was thinking we might as well walk to Southampton; at least we would get closer than if we were just running between the platform and the information desk. I adopted my coolest, most business-like demeanour (though I don't think I fooled her), and said calmly "look, we booked these tickets yesterday through Mega Train (bus? train? whatever) and have been told twice now that our reservation numbers will serve as tickets. You have held us up and caused us to miss our train. Now will you please let us through the barriers, and we'll wait for the next one."

Ellie did an invisible jig at how firm I was. Bitch-lady looked at me for a second or two before exclaiming, "OH you booked them through MEGA TRAIN, why didn't you say so?!"

I was livid. I felt it now the time for replacing my Doc Martens with my Bossy Boots. Boy was I going to give her a talking to!
"Look, I mistakenly assumed you knew how to do your job. I shouldn't have to tell you how we purchased our tickets. Obviously we're not getting to our destination on time now, thanks to you. We have our tickets on us, and would appreciate if you would let us through. We'll get the next train and forget about your incompetence."
In actual fact, I doubt I was that eloquent, but my words were to that effect. I guess this lady must get this a lot, what with being so woefully poor at performing her duties. The look she gave me suggested as much.

"Look, these tickets are for a train that has left..."
"Thanks to you!"
"...and you'll have to go back to the information centre to get tickets for the next one."
"OK but we're not paying for them!"

Ellie rolled her eyes and promised to guard our bags from this dishonest and clearly not-to-be-trusted woman. My bossy boots took me back to the information centre, where there was now, typically, no queue. I was served by the same person as before, who gave me a "not you again" look. I explained our quandary, going into great detail about the many shortcomings of their staff. She then asked me the stupidest question of the day: "So it was the staff member's fault you missed the train?", which I answered with a resounding YES. She gave me a form to fill out which would serve as our new tickets (I was doubtful), which included, to my joy, a section where I could detail how and why we missed our train. Words such as "RUDENESS" and "INCOMPETENCE" littered the page, with caps locks for emphasis. With a smug expression I left the information centre for the last time (I hoped) and ran back to Ellie waving our new tickets high above my head. She nearly did a tap dance as I showed her my detailed description of our poor treatment at the hands of this awful employee of British Rail.

This next bit I probably should have seen coming. I had to show this same woman (the one I had just verbally desecrated on official documentation) the piece of paper exhibiting my insinuations that she should be fired. I trembled in whatever boots I was now wearing, worried she might beat me with a stick for writing such defaming (albeit true) things about her then shoving it in her face. With supreme nonchalance, she finally let us through the barrier, and I made the assumption that such a vile specimen of humanity probably couldn't read.

In the end, the train we finally got on got us to Southampton faster than the original would have. The bloke who checked our tickets on board chuckled when he read my "ticket" and wished us a better day from that point on. He restored my faith in the quality of people employed by British Rail, but even more so begged the question "was that so hard?"

In the end, I did more running around Waterloo station than I had done for months. We probably should have expected as much from tickets that only cost three pounds, and swore off Mega Train forever.

Funnily enough, our Mega Bus trip (actually on a bus this time) to Glasgow a month later (we forgot our boycott in favour of cheap tickets) went off without a hitch. Go figure.

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