Category Archives: Trains

The Joy of Travel

No. 3  Greater Anglia Trains – the elusive plug

I don’t know what’s so great about them. They have trains, I suppose. They move, I guess. We left on time.  There were seats.  That’s the good bit. Another good bit is that, unlike South West Trains, they did have Wi-Fi but then I was in First Class and I’d have thought them pretty rubbish if they didn’t. * The seats were comfortable. A bit slopey, so probably not brilliant if you had a bad back, but you can’t have everything. We got free coffee – big deal.  But still. I’d paid a pittance for my ticket – non-peak in railway language – but I would have not been a happy bunny if I’d paid the £100 + that’s the price on some journeys.

So, given that there were some good things, quite a lot of good things in fact, what’s my beef? Well it’s this. If you’ve read my first Joy of Travel post, about South West trains you’ll have seen that, since I was restricted to only a handful of carriages and it was a Friday, I had reserved a seat. Only to arrive and be told that South West Trains ‘don’t do reservations.’ Ye God’s and little fishes. Why then did you ask on the booking form not only did I want to reserve but go into great detail as to where I wanted to face, whether I wanted to sit by a window and if I wanted a table?

Exactly the same thing has happened with the glorious Greater Anglia. Do I want to reserve? Yes. Do I want a table? Yes. Do I want to be near a window and a plug? Yes. So I arrive. Yes, the seat is facing. Yes it’s by a window. No it’s not the big table I wanted. No there’s no reserved sticker on it. And …. where’s the plug? The whole point of booking first class and bringing the computer is that I want to work. It’s a two-hour journey. My battery won’t last the full two hours, and even if I manage to eek it out, there’s the journey back.

It wasn’t just me. A bunch of us had been hunting under tables, pulling back curtains, feeling behind seats in a strange parody of ‘hunt the thimble’. All in search of the elusive plugs. No plugs. When the ticket collector came round I asked him why they were missing. You can guess the answer, can’t you? Yes indeed. ‘Greater Anglia Trains don’t do plugs.’  It seems it’s not really their fault (oh really!)  It’s the fault of The Trainline for not differentiating between the different train companies.  I don’t know whether or not it’s up to them to ferret around asking who has plugs and who hasn’t. Or who does Wi-Fi and who doesn’t ? Who ‘does reservations’ and who doesn’t?

Whoever it is, someone needs to get their act together. It’s not rocket science. Nearly everyone will have some form of electronic device on a train these days, whether it’s a tablet, computer or phone. Some people more sophisticated than me may have some thingy or other that charges the battery without the need of a plug. But there are thousands of us who haven’t. When I am asked if I want a plug, I assume there will be a plug. It’s like going into the bank and being asked if you want twenties or tens and then being told ‘we don’t do twenties and tens’. Or asking for cod at the Fish Counter at Sainsburys and finding the ‘we don’t do fish.’ Well I’m on the train now, and it’s moving so perhaps I should count my blessings and at least be thankful that while GEA don’t do plugs, they do at least do trains.

* I spoke too soon. Halfway into the journey the Wi-Fi gave up the ghost. And now I’m on the way back – no Wi-Fi.  Bummer. Imagine if I’d paid full price for my ticket. I really would be steaming. But I didn’t. So I’m just mildly annoyed.

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The Joy of Travel

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No 1.  Trains.

Time was I loved to travel by train. I wrote on trains. I read books on trains. With the advent of computers, I typed on trains. Then came Wi-Fi and joy of joys, I could write and research on trains. Since a great deal of my blog and article writing relies on the Internet, this was indeed bliss. Until delays, mobile phones in supposedly ‘quiet’ carriages, over-crowded trains and that very English phenomenon ‘engineering works’ drove me off the tracks and onto the road.

So, last week, it was with some trepidation that I set off to take a train to Exeter via Waterloo. I was at the station in good time – which was a waste of time – the train was delayed. I’d wanted to be early to be sure of getting a seat because, after I’d gone through the whole booking palaver, including choosing my ‘preferred seat’, I was informed that ‘South West Trains don’t do reservations.’ Ye Gods!

I paid the, admittedly small, amount extra to travel first class. Not knowing that on South West Trains the first class provision is woefully inadequate. For Exeter you must travel in the first six coaches – with just two half-carriages between them. However, I was going to Whimple and for Whimple, you travel in the first three coaches with just half a carriage available.

Half an hour into the journey I discovered, by chance, that contrary to what I’d been told I was not in the first section of the train. Moving involved an obstacle course as I and others fought our way through packed coaches stuffed with cocky sub-teens, past sticky-out legs, great piles of luggage – and the refreshments trolley.

It was our ill fortune to get stuck behind this purveyor of over priced ‘fayre’ as it began its slow journey past the aforementioned sub-teens. Every single one of whom wanted some complicated combination of junk – and not one of whom had change. Nothing smaller than a tenner was proffered.  A snail could make it round Silverstone quicker than that trolley.

Our good fortune was to discover that said trolley was being operated by a charming, if somewhat slow, gentleman who finally agreed to move down the aisle, let us through and then go back and purvey that which he was purveying. This he achieved with some difficulty, hampered as he was by the cries and clutching hands of people a-feared of losing the trolley altogether.

He stuck to his guns, or in this case his trajectory. We were able to get through. In a manner of speaking. Several more coachloads of glassy-eyed adolescents, sticky-out limbs and thoughtlessly placed suitcases further impeded our progress until at last we reached the promised land.  Except that once there it was, metaphorically speaking, distinctly lacking in milk and honey.

Having, somewhat late in the journey, reached what we’d hoped would be a tiny oasis of space we were disappointed. Where people were not strewn across the seats, luggage was.  In one case a very tiny lady sat in a four-person table area with two extremely large suitcases on the two facing seats and all manner of objects piled on the one beside her.

As we struggled to find somewhere to sit, further chaos ensued when the majority of those in the oasis discovered that now it was they who were in the wrong part of the train.  And they who faced the momentous struggle back through the sullen sub-teens and the sticky out legs and indeed the refreshment trolley.

Finally, some forty minutes or so into the journey I was able to settle down. Only to discover another feature of travel on South West Trains. No Wi-Fi. So no Internet. So no possible chance of doing the work I needed to do.  Bummer, bummer and thrice bummer. To all those eager visitors preparing to visit Britain this summer for the Olympics, and hoping perhaps to enjoy a side-trip to our famed West Country, my advice is – don’t. Or if you do, go by car.  I wish I had.

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