Author Topic: The RANT thread (often contains fruity language) (03/05)  (Read 1820 times)

librarian

  • Quiet please
The RANT thread (often contains fruity language) (03/05)
« on: May 03, 2011, 10:29:08 pm »
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It is VERY challenging to find routes to any of the places in South London unless you already know them. TFL's first attempt at getting me to Bromely (any flavour) involved FOUR changes and a half hour wait in Brixton. Erm...no thanks. I left the body armour at home.


Well, transport connections in south London are tenuous. I’ve given in asking at my local station. The man behind the counter appears to have banged his head heard and then awoken in alternate reality. “London, uh?” If there’s any London in the universe he came from, Brixton is next to Hendon, and Paddington is in Croydon. He’s surprised and fearful. People here have two eyes and speak the language of devils.

Instead, I try the machines. Fast ticket. That’s what it says on them. They’re not. The screens are thump sensitive and they cogitate like a proto-Babbage engine filled with jam. If you successfully awaken one, you’ll be prompted with a variety of identical tickets to popular destinations. Well, you’ll get six hundred vaguely different varieties of tickets to London. Off-peak, sort-of-off-peak, that bit between 11 and 12 on Wednesday, and really HOW much; along with single, return, daily, monthly, via London, and I might be lost. And all possible random combinations of all of the above. You may try clicking the ‘info’ button to try and figure out which type of ticket may apply to your particular travel scenario. It’ll will declaim all knowledge of the nature of the ticket for which you have requested information and will instead direct you to the man behind the counter who’s still trying to figure out why Ealing is now in west London and what happened to people’s faces. Oh, god the eyes! Yes, you can ask him. Be wary though, if it gets too much for him (which it will, did I mention the eyes?), he’ll disappear unprompted into the back office. You can wait from him to reappear, while you unwittingly act as the start of uncomfortable conga of waiting passengers, but he won’t come back. His brief stay in this reality is over – he’s awoken from his coma and is back in his own reality and the two eyed freaks are just a bad, bad dream. Those queuing behind you will start to grow angrier and angrier, until you physically feel their rage burning behind you like a poorly cooled local nuclear reactor. By the time you dare glance over your shoulder, they’ll have missed their trains, and you’ll find yourself locking eyes with a man who’s genetic heritage includes both bull terriers and that poorly cooled nuclear reactor. In the time it takes to turn back, someone will have yanked down the blind at your ticket counter, thus closing it. This will give you plenty of time to explain to the man behind you in the queue both why he’s now about the miss the Millwall kickoff and why he should put you down.

So, yes, back to the machine, and the ticket selection. Best really to guess – bear in mind that no one anywhere on the network is likely to know more than you do, so really it’s just game of bluff. Also, the ticket gates operate on the same logic (the rumour is that they just have small TfL staff inside, like little spitting homunculi of Bob Crow). They’ll generally let you through or stop you on a whim. It’s best to charge them in full Light Brigade style (it’s worth getting a horse if you can). There are three outcomes to any encounter with a ticket gate in London. Firstly, glorious success (this will be attenuated later when you realise – as you painfully crumple into the next gate – that the machine has given you someone else’s ticket); secondly, the cruel winding of failure as the gate remains resolutely closed, any pain will be sextupled by the six ticketless people trying to slip through the gate so closely behind you that they'd be counted as sex partners in any survey; thirdly, you’ll get halfway through and the gate will chomp shut like the jaws of a hungry crocodile – this because you have just selflessly sacrificed your leg to let through the person with an expired travelcard in front. Fear not though, all gates are manned by a helpful TfL operative. After a statutory period of abuse, you’ll be made to buy a ticket so expensive it's disappointing to find is not embossed solid gold while being publicly humiliated like you’ve been forced into joining an Alabama chain gang. In the time it takes to be issued with your penalty fare (any complaint about the unreasonableness of this will mean they’ll get the station announcer to request the attention on any British Transport Police on the station, though fortunately like any station announcement this request will be garbled into unintelligibility). Whilst waiting for the paperwork (which takes the same amount of time it took humanity to discover language and invent writing), you can fill the time by counting the hundred and six ticketless teenagers shimmying through the gates opposite.

This all assumes that you want a popular destination. Which is a bit like asking for a popular disease. Less popular destinations involve a game of Fast Ticket whack-a-keyboard. If you are lucky, you’ll get a QWERTY keyboard, though otherwise you’ll get the alphabetical keyboard, and have to unlearn years of conditioning and be left bereft, staring dumbly at the new keyboard like you’ve just staggered into civilisation after being brought up in the woods by wild animals. The machine will helpfully try and guess what you are trying to thump, though the suggestions and generally only helpful if you want to get somewhere other than where you intended. Christopher Columbus actually used a prototype Fast Ticket machine to buy his ticket to the Indies back in the day. You may be less lucky than him and not discover a new continent to plunder but instead find yourself in marooned in Thamesmead at 2am without any of the benefits of superior firepower.

Those savvy to the capital’s ways will have an Oyster card. Simply tap it on the gate and you’ll get one of the three ticket gate outcomes described above, and you’ll get charged a random unrelated fee. You can call them to question the randomness of the fee, but they’ll keep repeating the question you asked. Anyone who had an annoying sibling will be familiar with the rules of this game. These people are professionals and tangle with them at your peril. They can keep repeating long after you snap and slam down the phone. Believe me, the Oyster call centre is staffed by people who have driven their families and friends over the edge into suicide with their relentless mimicry. It's in their job description.

And finally, the cryptic geography. Anyone can save money by taking an implausible not-via-London option on a variety of destinations, provided you are willing to run several hundred metres and climb several dozen platform steps. There’s little in life that is as potentially delightful as a gentle run down a closed-up and graffitied High Street as you follow your suggested change between Nowhere West and East Nowhere, while the theme from Chariots of Fire plays in your head, and track-suited locals offer to help you keep up the pace. In the more helpful suburbs they’ll even offer to carry your valuables, so you can sprint unencumbered to your undoubtedly cancelled connection.