Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Bristol diary - part 1. It could be sweet

So I'm heading for Bristol!

I know that little of what I'm going to do over the next few days is out of the ordinary to most people. But, right now, it is to me! (I'm out of practice.)

I have a piece of paper with an online booking reference on it but there's no office at my local railway station.  The guard says I can get my physical ticket issued at the connecting one and she reckons the four minutes I have between arrival and departure should be enough.  Should be.

...Two stops later I run up what feels like a hundred deep concrete steps to cross the bridge over the tracks, down the other side, more steps up to the ticket office, wait to be served.  Hand my paper to a surly-looking girl behind a greasy glass window.

“I've only got four minutes...” I say (not demandingly... more sort of desperately) and by now I've probably already lost three of them.

"It will take as much time as the machine takes to issue it and no faster,” she replies in monotone without smile or understanding and I have to press my face up to the pane to hear, making me feel disadvantaged, like a small child.

“I know...I just meant...”

She says nothing.  Maybe she's just having a shit day.

At the same time, the rumble... the elongated squeal of metal brakes... look over my shoulder... aargh, no minutes now, no time to wait for a machine.

“Oh! My train's here!"

Surly girl shrugs, hands me back my papers; I race back down jarring steps and make it into the carriage a split second before the doors close, without a ticket.

I'll spare you more detail but of course it's not straightforward. After much hassle I have to buy a whole new ticket when I get to London, even though I've paid for one online already and have all the proof.  Fuck it.  Because of this delay I only just catch my Bristol train and I'm flustered as well as out of pocket, so it kind of gets me off to a bad start.

But for now, never mind!  My frustrations drop away as we accelerate out of Paddington. I'm on my way now, on my way West, where there are hills! And warm accents where they pronounce all the 'r's!  Through Didcot Parkway and Reading stations where huge red kites (the bird, I mean!) circle above the tracks.  Onward through Chippenham and then Bath Spa, where the memory of once sleeping in a condemned squat by the railway line resurfaces vividly as we pass boarded up cottages behind overgrown buddleia (I'm sure it's the very same terrace). I disembark at Temple Meads late afternoon.  Excited!


  1. Customer service like that,unique to the British transport system and hospitality services,takes years of training and practice

    1. Yep, certainly seems like it!
      Having said that, the two female staff who tried to help me out at Liverpool Street couldn't have been nicer. But the 'system' apparently showed my ticket as already being issued by Surly Girl even though she didn't get to that stage.
      I've made all the requisite phone calls since my return to try and get a refund... (and she was still just as surly!)

  2. You had to buy another ticket? I admire your persistence. I'd have just turned back. Thinking of your journey, out of Bath and on into Bristol, just as you begin to enter the city you will have gone through one long tunnel and then a shorter one, followed by a brief 'canyon' looking bit - that whole stretch was a scene of many a teenage crime by yours truly and chums. Oh the memories. The Railway Children? Well, something like that.

    1. There was no way I was turning back... I had my toothbrush and everything!
      Yes, the tunnels... one seemed to go on for a long time. I'm sure I could hear the laughter of a gang of small boys echoing off the walls...

  3. May not have been the best start C, but I have a feeling this little trip is going to get better as the story unfolds. There is nothing to beat a good train journey. My ultimate would be the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff.

    1. Thanks Scott, the rest was fine, thankfully. Nothing very exciting to anyone but me I'm sure, but it's a good while since I've travelled much at all and now I find myself getting quite wistful about the really ordinary!
      Your ultimate train journey sounds very special - wow! - have you written about it?!

  4. These sour pusses seem to be the same all over...trying to ruin people's day is there vocation.
    The ride sounds so intriguing to me. I loved the names...can't wait to hear and see more.

    1. It seems to me - I base this on my past wider overseas travels too - that there are just two types: the officious, unsmiling ones who treat all customers as if we're an irritating inconvenience , and then there's the ones who go right out of their way to be so helpful and lovely that you could hug them! Nothing in between.

      Ah yes I guess the names must sound intriguing to you... just as yours always do to me :-) Not much to report really but I'll write about it anyway!

  5. What a horrible start to your adventure C. Hopefully things got a lot better.
    Much of the final paragraph (...through Didcot Parkway and Reading stations......onward through Chippenham and then Bath Spa...) reminded me of a TV programme I saw once, featuring Sir John Betjeman. Did he do something on railways of Great Britain or am I making it up?

    1. Yes... Sir John Betjeman and railways... I don;'t think I ever saw a whole programme but there were clips of it included in a series I watched a couple of years ago about London and the commuter belt, etc. - forget what it was now but very enjoyable and informative. I'm also thinking now of some lines he wrote about Slough which Ricky Gervais quotes in The Office, he certainly had a way with words ;-)

      It got better - several phone calls later I also now have rail vouchers to the value of the ticket I never got - so I could use them to go back some time!


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