The Journey North

Monday night finds me sat in a hotel in the far north of England, after close to 6 hours doing battle with the railways. I would like to say the journey was fairly uneventful, but that wouldn’t exactly be the truth.

It all started when I got on the train in my home town - deliberately choosing the railway coach where the ticket guy starts from - to ensure I got my ticket early, and didn’t have to think about it. While listening to music, I half heard a muffled train announcement, and ripped the earbuds from my ears. I didn’t hear an entire sentence, but a nagging feeling told me that an announcement was being made about the absence of anybody selling tickets.

There’s a back story here. You can’t buy tickets at my home station, because it’s not big enough to warrant a ticket office. It’s amazing really that the town warrants a station at all - I imagine when the railways were chopped to pieces 60 or so years ago, money talked in the decision of which small stations would close. Instead of a ticket office, we get a single person selling tickets on the three or four mile journey to the nearest town with a proper station (a smaller town, quite bizarrely, but the beginning of the line that reaches London).

Anyway - I arrive at Maidenhead for my connecting train, and think “do I go and buy the ticket - and miss my connecting train on the other side of London”, or “do I just jump on this train that rolled in right in front of me?”. I jumped on the train, and resigned myself to paying a fine.

Only I didn’t have to pay a fine, because there was nobody checking tickets on the line into London either. I travelled over a hundred miles without a ticket, and could have got off anywhere at a smaller station, and wandered away… of course I didn’t, but still. I finally arrived in London and walked up to the electronic gates, ready to face the music.

A polish ticket inspector lady looked at me.

“Please put your ticket in the machines on the barriers”

“I don’t have a ticket - I haven’t been able to buy one since I got on the train - I need to buy one!”

“Where do you travel from?”

“Marlow - there is no station there”

She looks me up and down, thinks for a second, and then opens the gate.

“Buy a ticket in the station”

I couldn’t believe it. Of course I didn’t buy a ticket for the journey I didn’t make, and now feel guilty about it, but hey-ho. The railway network got it’s own back on me when I bought my return ticket to the north at Kings Cross. I couldn’t quite believe the price - but I guess that’s the penalty for not buying it in advance (and will be a shot across the sales people’s bows when I return to the office).

The rest of the journey was fantastic. I got on a new train at Kings Cross, and was kept company by a wonderful friend from the other side of the planet on my mobile while watching a movie on the Nexus 7. Friends continually joke about me having bought the Nexus 7, but it’s becoming the most useful computing device I’ve ever bought. Yes, it’s not as good as a laptop (I’m writing this on my work laptop), but then it fits in my coat pocket…

I arrived at the hotel after a short walk through Harrogate, and was pretty taken aback by the beauty of the town. Actually, Leeds was beautiful too - arriving by train. The track circles the town, looking down on it, and on this frosty, clear, dark night, it sparkled. After following Google Maps for a few minutes, I turned a corner, and found the hotel that had appeared in Street View last week - looking mysteriously just the same.

So here I am. I found a local supermarket, and bought a ready-meal, and a bottle of cheap wine. I’m not a great fan of eating on my own while away (or with others actually), so this is perfect. Me, the wine, the laptop, and an internet connection. The room is clean, tidy, and warm.

Roll on tomorrow, and meeting the client.