Train Ticket Trials

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Having been immersed in Orhan Pamuk’s writing for a few months now, I was inspired to book for his talk today at the Oxford Literary Festival.

I’m now an expert on speedy flying day trips to Oxford, experienced in collecting traffic enforcement notices and parking fines with wild abandon as I negotiate Oxford’s impenetrably-regulated inner-city byways in the vicinity of two colleges and amass bonus points for not knocking over cyclists.

So the idea of a less frantic visit was rather appealing, and Middle Daughter found a couple of additional enticing talks on the programme and was enthusiastic about joining me to make a day of it and so we were all set to drive down.

Then Himself suggested the train would be a better option. Ah yes, I thought, no need to transport suitcases full of fancy dress, bin bags of bedding, cardboard boxes of crockery and tea caddies. No printer or laptop or music speakers to worry about. With one simple click on the Internet, I would eliminate the possibility of bus lane fines and parking challenges or alternatively, the hassles of remembering the whereabouts of the bus stop for the Park n’ Drive.

There’s no such thing of course as a cheap day return train ticket despite the promises on the web, but I managed to find a not-too-extortionate price for a 3 1/2 hour journey one way via Birmingham and a 4 hour journey back via Manchester. Such is non-London cross-country journeying in the UK.

(One would think it would be far faster to drive, but the entire length of the M1 these days has 50 mph restrictions (naturally I’ve received points for excessive speeding at 56mph on an empty motorway at night on a Saturday last December) and so the 7 1/2 hour round trip on rattling ancient cross country train services has won the day).

And so this morning in the grey fog of early daylight, I stood at the ticket collection machine and watched in awe as the machine vomited out a flood of orange and yellow bits of card. Seat reservations, tickets and a collection receipt for a simple day trip to Oxford for two amounted to thirteen separate bits of card, none of which are valid in the absence of any other bit.

We had a spare 20 minutes before the train, so I took up residence at a spare Cafe Ritazza table, and laid out my cards in the manner of a professional Tarot reader. I began by eliminating the Collection Receipt, and then proceeded to withdraw and stack the return tickets and reservations. Finally I divided outward tickets into Railcard and non-Railcard and swept to one side the reservations, leaving with a flourish on the table top two Leeds-Oxford ticket cards.

With everything neatly filed away in the normally unused compartments of my purse, we passed through the ticket barriers.

Naturally the seat reservation system on the first train of the day is not operating, so that’s at least two redundant bits of card already. Except that in the Fantasyland that is Cross-Country Rail, the ticket inspector still carefully inspected them. After all, they validate our real travel tickets.

I’m stressed already and there’s a LOT of train hours still to go.

And should anyone be wondering, no, there was no print-at-home option. Not today.

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