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Friday, 7 August 2015

Brighton Rock

Aren't railways great. You can get on a train and as if by magic you can find yourself in an alien landscape: like Liverpool or Cardiff or Cornwell.

They do some great offers. If you book far enough in advance it works out that they end up paying you to travel on their lovely tilting trains.

August 6th, beside being the anniversary of the first atomic bomb to be dropped on a city, is our wedding anniversary. 21 years this year. We had to do something special - a day trip to Brighton, a walk on the pier a trip down the Lanes and fish and chips at one of Brighton's famously over-priced fish restaurants.

I booked us a first class fare - there...and back for £64.The arrangement fee, early booking fee, life insurance and airport tax added another 10%. The tickets arrived in good time. all 12 of them. There was the travel tickets there and back and the seat reservation tickets along with the payment ticket and assorted tickets recording the various additional costs.

We live in north east London, Victoria the station at which we'll board our train is in south west London. That geographical disconnection is, however, not a problem normally as the Victoria Line goes from Walthamstow directly to Victoria. Normally, it's a doddle. Except when the trains aren't running.

I booked the journey and tickets so far in advance that the RMT union hadn't even thought of holding a one day strike which would close the whole of the underground network including our Victoria Line. By the time they'd decided to come out it was too late to change our tickets. The 24 hour strike was called from Wednesday 5th August at 6 pm to Thursday 6th August at 6 pm.

The trouble with booking cheap tickets in advance is that you have to catch specified trains. If not you pay the full on the day fare. Instead of £32 for the two it would cost us £162 one way. So we had to ensure we arrived at Victoria on time.

And this is where the RMT shoved their huge, clunky spoke in our wheel. Their strike closed our line. We couldn't go by bus, it would take too long and we'd have to change, going by taxi would be exorbitant and in any case the roads were so jammed up that there was no guarantee of getting to the station on time.

So we took an overground train at 9 am to Liverpool Street station and planned to get a bus to take us from there to Victoria. We had set aside nearly 3 hours to do the journey which would normally take 30 -40 minutes. The train journey was surprisingly painless and we arrived at Liverpool Street confident that we could get on a bus and complete our journey in good time.

And then we saw the queue...stretching around the station to catch one bus. And then we saw the traffic, nose to tail. It was going so slowly that people were ordering pizzas and coffee and eating them before they moved past the cafe.

All we could do was walk, along with half of London in a south westerly direction. I have never seen so many lost tourists. They were either looking intently at their smart phones, trying to fold a map into a controllable format or crying. It is over 3 miles from where we were to where we wanted to get to. As we walked we passed buses bursting at the seams packed with red faced, sweaty commuters who were trying to get to the office to do a day's work! We passed masses of humanity strung out next to bus stops despairing as one after another of sardine packed buses slowly creeped by, without stopping.

On we walked, passed the Bank of England, passed St Paul's, down Ludgate Hill - images of the scaffold there with RMT members dangling passed across my mind. Along Fleet Street, into the Strand, over Trafalgar Square, down the Mall, into St James Park across Birdcage Walk, passed a closed St James's station, along Victoria Street and into the miss our train by a couple of minute.

For a moment we didn't know what to do. We decided to go to the ticket office and throw ourselves on the mercy of the little Hitlers behind the counter. The queues stretched for miles. Then we saw that another train to Brighton was about to leave. Slotting our tickets into the barrier they opened and we boarded the train. Not a First Class carriage but a carriage which seemed inviting. I phoned with whom I booked the tickets. I explained our situation. By the time the girl got back to me to say I had to talk to the station staff, we were on our way.

It was comforting to receive an e-mail almost straight after from asking for feedback on how Natasha had helped with my enquiry.

I had our story all worked out if we were approached by a ticket inspector.

I'd hand him our tickets and when he'd point out they weren't valid for that journey I'd explain our plight...a tube strike which we hadn't foreseen, a 3 mile walk from Liverpool Street and us at the barrier just in time to see our train puff its way out of the terminus. And it was our 21st wedding anniversary, and it was a nostalgic trip and we were pensioners which is why we bought the tickets so far in advance because that was all we could afford.

I was sure I'd covered all the bases and I couldn't imagine any ticket collector, had he an ounce of humanity in his body, not melting on hearing of our plight.

Nothing...not a sniff of any sort of railway official entered our carriage.

By the time we got to Brighton I was incensed. What were they playing at not having inspectors on the train. Letting ne'er do wells get away with travelling free on our expensive trains. A letter is in the post.

Brighton was Brighton. Sea, stones, Pier, fish restaurants and loads of expensive shops in the Lanes. We spent much of our time looking at sea-gulls. Brighton breeds a certain type of sea-gull. Huge, intelligent and rather too tame - at least completely at ease with humans. While we were having a pint on the Palace Pier looking at them, they were on the table with us looking at us and wondering whether to peck our noses or ears, if we didn't give them a packet of crisps or 20 Rothmans - apparently they love a good smoke.

We were determined not to miss the train back. That was made relatively straightforward since as far as we could work out RMT's writ didn't stretch to the south coast and we were able to get on our train in an empty First Class carriage and luxuriate all the way back to London.

We had been told by a friend that they'd heard on the radio that the strike would be over by 6:30 pm and the underground would be running after that. Not a bit of it. The gates to all the stations were well and truly closed. And where were the hundreds of extra buses that Boris was to make available to cart us commuters home wards? No where to be seen.

Foolishly we waited for a bus: that's 30 minutes I won't get back; and started walking. We did manage to catch a bus, which went slower than walking pace. Got off the bus and continued to walk...all the way back to Liverpool Street station. At that point my spirit broke and we decided that as it was our anniversary we could treat ourselves to a taxi - the traffic having thinned out by then.

We hailed one and were just about to climb in when this women of a certain age asked if we were going to Liverpool Street, and if so could she share the cab with us. It turned out she was from Walthamstow, living a few streets from us.

We chatted and chatted. Well actually she talked and talked about her two nervous breakdowns, her mum's 70th birthday, her varied career in banking, cigarettes and the BBC and her schooling in Switzerland. By the time we got to Walthamstow we felt we knew her quite well.

We said our fond farewells and headed home.

It was quite a day.


Steve said...

I daresay the inspectors never made it into work having been caught up in the strike...

Mr and Mrs said...

We also enjoy a day out. We do not book on the internet as we can never find the BR website.

Barry Coidan said...

Dear Steve, if we can make it to the station so can they!

Dear Mr & Mrs, I blame Dr Beeching

Jack the Hat said...

Haven't been back there since the days of steam rains. Too many dodgy geezers for the likes of us London boys

Taxi Brighton said...

Brighton is nice place to visit....

Barry Coidan said...

Thank you for commenting.

I used to know Brighton well as I lived there (well Hove, actually) for many years.