Saturday, August 14, 2004

How well do you know your own country? I'm ashamed to say for me, not very well. I know London, Brighton, most of the north, north Wales, bits of Scotland and that's about it. I don't know anything about the "Home Counties", Middle England, the Scottish Highlands or South Wales. So this year I made a vow to visit as many cities in the UK that I have never been to before. So far I've made it to Bournemouth, Bristol, Birmingham and Oxford. I still have to get to Nottingham, Stirling, Cardiff and Coventry. However, my journeys this year have made me realise how rubbish our train system is. Long delays, missed connections, problems with reservations, ovedrcrowded compartments, crap expensive food, locked toilets. Travelling on the train is no fun any more.

The only pleasure I get is listening to tough Scottish mothers argue with ticket inspectors (and always succeed in getting to sit in 1st class when there is no available seating elsewhere). My favourite train journey ever involved being in a compartment with a very elegant male-to-female transexual person who carried a ghetto blaster and filled the whole carriage with old-time music. I also enjoy seeing people lose their tempers on the train. Last week a man, furious at missing his connection, resplendent with bulging neck veins screamed at a BR employee across hundreds of people "You couldn't run a toy train!"

And it is interesting how ticket inspectors and train announcers all suddenly vanish when there is a delay. Or they lie to keep you quiet. "There'll be a delay of about 10 minutes here. You won't miss your connection." Thirty minutes later, the train crawls into the station, you've missed your connection and there's no-one in sight to complain to. I've noticed that certain hotel companies have starting lying as well. I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to check into a hotel (usually one of the big chains), only to be told "Our computer broke down, we've lost all our reservations - I'm sorry but we'll have to give you a smoking room with a view of two tramps having sex." They just overbook rooms, banking on the fact that people sometimes don't show up (so the hotel gets to keep their deposit). But when everyone does show up - they suddenly have a computer crash. Very convenient. Travel is fun - but also quite wearing on your nerves.

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