Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Something that really annoys me about Paddington station.

Every time I get the 10.05 Penzance train from London, I have to join the throng of two hundred or so people hovering anxiously in the concourse (do I mean concourse?) waiting for the platform number to be flashed up, something that rarely happens more than three seconds or so before the train is due to leave.

And don't try and predict it either: they're wise to that. If more than three people start whistling innocently while edging to platform eight, they'll just resticker the train at platform one, leading to a lot of annoyed Welsh people.

Eventually though, they'll pick a number, and all those two hundred or so Cornish passengers, already bothered and bewildered by That London's black soot, and noise and really really shit free newspapers, will try to fit through the ticket barriers.

Now I used to make the data recording heads for ticket barriers, in a small shed in Cornwall. It was an alright job in its way: we were allowed to listen to our little personal stereos, and every now and then the engineers would get into a fight with one of the burlier line workers in the soundproofed, but glass-walled grinding room, as though some kind of holographic, but utterly silent slapstick experience was playing out for our entertainment.

I did learn one thing from my year and a half working for Phi Magnetronics however: ticket barriers are only designed to take the standard, credit-card size of ticket. Most of the tickets used for this particular journey are a completely different shape, which means that instead of filing neatly through the six or so gates, most people have to queue up at one, which is opened and closed one person at a time, by a bored looking railway worker with a single, blue (clearly blue is the colour of Rail Magic) ticket, which he inserts into the side of the barrier, plucks from the top and reinserts in an endless loop, as tired and grumpy Cornish people shuffle past. To make it more fun, every third passenger catches their luggage in the barrier as it closes behind them, leading to an additional swipe of the blue magic card. Then you get on the train, and what's the first thing that happens? Someone checks your ticket.

If aliens (the small curious kind, not the large Cloverfield kind) wanted a useful illustration for their families back home for the grinding stupidity and general pointlessness of those Earth-based twats, a little thirty second video of this process, played over and over again until their eyestalks bled, would do it nicely.

But then today, I remembered something Matt had told me, and my gaze lifted from the hundred and fifty or so sighing, thrusting, blinking stumbling passengers before me, to the open stairway at the far end of the platform.

'The stupid thing is,' Matt had said, 'If you go to the far platform on the right, which doesn't have a ticket barrier, go up the stairs at the end, down the overhead walkway a bit and down the stairs again, you come out at the far end of that platform and can just get on the train. You don't even have to go through the ticket barrier in the first place

I look at the stairs at the end of the platform, then over at the far, ticket-barrier-less platform over at the right. I calculate it will save me about ten seconds if I walk over there, down the platform, over the walkway, down the stairs and get onto the train. On the other hand, I'm already in the queue for the ticket barrier.

I decide to go through the ticket barrier. Somewhere, an alien sighs.


Anonymous said...


Oli said...

"Somewhere, an alien sighs."

... and then DESTROYS NEW YORK!

They'll go off at the slightest provocation, those aliens.

llewtrah said...

I know the Paddington game well. I used to commute regularly between London and Bristol Templemeads.

The train doors will lock 45 seconds before departure .... about 20 seconds after they've announced the platform! I learnt the trick of guessing the platform (usually correctly) by seeing which platform the incoming train was coming into (since it's a 5-10 min turnaround).

Billy said...

I reserve seats on my train so I can saunter smugly over to the train at my own pace.

And then spot someone in my seat.

Fraudulent Little Tart said...

And then, if you're really lucky, when you get off the train at the other end (having put your ticket away) the Nazi ticket police will ask to see it again. Jobsworths!

Boz said...

If you haven't reserved a seat there is always carriage bingo: will you find yourself in the family carriage? The quiet carriage? The vegan carriage? Who can tell.

Oh dear. I think I have dragged this down from the foibles of humankind to the level of Daily Mail.

Lucy Diamond said...

Oh God, it's a nightmare, isn't it? Us Somerset types despair too. Cheers for the tip about the overhead walkway though - I know just where you mean. Aliens, watch out.

Izzy said...

when I was up That London a week or so ago, they had people checking tickets on the walkway as well. Clearly, you have tipped them off by posting this. (a fine theory, if not for the fact I was there the weekend before you wrote it. But still.)