I love going to the hairdresser. They remember your name, wash your hair, cut it to the prevailing fashion, ask you to pay in cash (cheques 50p extra), write down your next appointment in a big book and give you a card. Just like they always did. An example par excellence of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Yesterday, I went to London with an old friend. We were reflecting that we had first taken this journey together in our early teens and on how much and how little it had changed.
In sociology, it’s called “continuity and change”. In daily life, it’s called “How much?!”, “It didn’t used to be this complicated” and, occasionally, “It’s better than it used to be”.
We used to go by coach. This is still the cheapest and easiest way. You can buy a through ticket on the first local bus you catch (if the driver knows how to do it), there is a virtually non-stop service, the coaches are air-conditioned and, more importantly, have on-board toilets. On the down side, there’s no longer a waiting room at the London end which means hanging around at Marble Arch or outside Victoria Coach Station.
Yesterday we went by train.
Has anyone worked out the cost to the NHS caused by the stress of buying rail tickets?
In the old days, you went to a ticket office and bought a ticket (or, even easier, you avoided queuing by popping into Carfax Travel Agency during week). You got an off-peak day return (including London Underground) which you presented at various points to be scrutinized and punched.
I checked two websites and came up with three prices for the same return journey. On Trainline, it cost £10 more than the standard off-peak fare with a railcard than without one. GWR was £10 cheaper, this time with a railcard, than the standard fare. Having consulted my fellow traveller about train times – would 16:30 be too early? – I booked the tickets and, since it was free, reserved seats. I declined Plusbus.
To collect your tickets, you have to present your credit card to a machine and type in a booking code. There is a short, nerve-wracking pause whilst it chunters and prints out the tickets. Sorry, “vouchers”. All seven of them. Well, I say “vouchers” – actually four vouchers – one per person out and one per person back. There was also one seat reservation ticket/ voucher per person plus a collection receipt for the other six “coupons”.
As there was no seat number on the seat reservation ticket/voucher/ coupon, I checked with the customer service desk. Customer service, on the railways and elsewhere, is one of the things that has improved out of all recognition in my lifetime – the exception being my local post office which perseveres with a 1950s British Customer Service tribute act – they should go on tour.
Customer service advised me that (bad news) there weren’t any reservable seats, but (good news) you could travel on any train. You just had to answer all those questions on the website. <<Sigh>>
I have yet to venture into the exotic world of ticket-splitting, but have discovered that you can link your Railcard to your Oyster Card and get a 30% discount on London Transport . But you have to do this in person at an Underground Station. <<double sigh>>