OFF THE RAILS
The middle-aged Southampton supporter said it all, 'This is the first and last time you'll persuade me to come by train, next time I'm driving.' I'd just met up at Clapham Common with Old Windsor Rebel, Merton Rebel, and 'who we playing this week, I seem to have gone to their old ground' (now a Tesco's) - let's call him Clueless Rebel.
The platform was already packed with Southampton fans going to Northampton in the FA Cup. But just as we were about to board, we were told there was a signal failure and the train was cancelled. We decided to get the tube to Euston, but it being the weekend half the tube lines were closed and the Victoria line was so busy we had to queue just to get near the platform. When we got to Euston, train after train was cancelled. Oh this was fun, and bloody expensive fun at that. Eventually we got to Leighton but instead of an amble through the town and a sample of their pubs, we jumped in a cab to their clubhouse.
With the news dominated by the climate change talks in Copenhagen, you sometimes wonder why we can't get the simple things sorted that would make a big difference. Like a decent train service. Because there's no other way of putting it, but ours is crap.
Before every game, I walk from my estate on the outskirts of Brighton to my nearest rural-esque station. With no queues and a friendly guard, who informs me that today the Lewes to Victoria line is shut. Great. Lewes is one of those towns that is in a delightful time warp. I wouldn't want to live there, but I'm glad it exists. The other week i tried to buy a sandwich at the stations cafe but only had loose change for a coffee, and a credit card they wouldn't accept. The man singing opera behind the counter told us to pay the next time I was at the station! This is the family run v the corporate. No Tesco employee is ever going to offer that, for fear of decapitation followed by the sack.
As for the trains, despite getting a public subsidy the companies prime motive is profit for their shareholders. It's a bloody disaster; from expensive fares, to confusing tickets, to packed trains while first class carriages go empty, and the underground is no better. God knows, what it will be like for the Olympics.
It's not bloody rocket science, but if you are only going to get people out of their cars you have to be able a decent, cheap, reliable public transport system. Instead it's cheaper to fly to Newcastle than get the train. Here in Brighton the buses are brilliant if a little over priced. A lot of stops have an electronic board telling you how long you have to wait or you can text a number to find out. Compare that to Slough. And as for Slough train station, the whole place could do with sprucing up and employ a few more ticket sellers. Instead there are hundreds of bouncer like creatures ready to pounce on anyone daring to chance a free ride. Still, plans for a new station in Chalvey are a step in the right direction.
The thing is when it works, I like getting the train. An away trip with a load of Slough supporters is a good laugh. I can read my book, stare out of the window, and I like bumping into different football supporters. We even spotted two MK Don's fans. I was ready to give them a Franchise rant but they looked like they were on day release. Mind you, any more train journeys like that, and they will be making room for one more in their special home.