Susan Morrison: Train travel gets my goat

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ON the face of it, even I could manage this challenge – Edinburgh to the north of England on the train. All I had to do was buy a ticket.

There was a time when you strolled into any railway station and, upon approaching the glass window, asked the chap for a ticket to your destination. The good fellow trapped in the ticket office would wipe the crumbs of the sausage roll away from his jacket and snap a price at you then hand over a ticket, accompanied with the stern instructions that the 13.10 was leaving from platform two, change at Wigan and don’t buy the tea.

He did all this without checking bits of paper or the big board where the destinations used to be slotted in. A railway lived in that man’s head. No wonder he had little spare capacity for the niceties of social interaction – like smiling.

Now, of course, buying that ticket is far more efficient, with no need at all to speak to the peasantry. You can go online, and good luck with that. Edinburgh to somewhere in northern England, you say? Certainly – that’ll be £932.56 unless you can travel between 5.15am and 5.23am, leaving from Haymarket on a Tuesday carrying a golden duck.

And that’s just one website. There’s about half a dozen of them, offering different prices, Nectar points or the chance to make a donation to buy a goat for a family in the developing world.

I just wanted a ticket. But even when I got one, I discovered it was an off-peak. One of my connecting trains was at peak times. Could I use this ticket, or would I be stranded in the north of England, doomed forever to hoax an accent from Coronation Street and pretend to be worried about “our kid”? I gave up on the worldwide web and found a man trapped in a ticket office. Can I use this ticket? Well, it transpires that the peak time fare on this route is £12. The off-peak is £12. The fare is always £12.

So, I said, stupidly, why is there a thing called peak time? Ah, said the man, we need to call it peak time because its busiest then. But the price is the same, I said. Yes, he said, but it’s busy. I reeled away under the weight of my overnight bag with the vague feeling that I had lost an argument.

Grief encounter set teeth on edge

AH, the romance of train travel. I recall when you used to settle yourself in and prepared to cough loudly at anyone who dared to light up a fag in the non-smoking carriage.

Tutting and snorting was a sort of Scottish non-contact martial art back then. Well, people no longer light up illicit ciggies on trains, but believe me, eating crisps loudly – to be fair, incredibly loudly – in the quiet coach can result in a veritable operatic aria of clicks, hisses and tuts. A noisy ringtone triggered the man in front of me. His false teeth were ill fitting. His loose wallies unleashed clattering castanets of disapproval that made me think an epileptic flamenco dancer had boarded at Lancaster.

Zombie cones = dead stop

LAST week, I had a meeting out at Fred’s Folly at Gogarburn.

Like an eejit, I thought I’d be quicker if I took the car. Ferry Road was a car park. Taking a swift left through Warriston, I thought that would take me onto the Approach Road in order to sail past Gorgie.

Not so fast . . . roadworks at Sainsbury’s with temporary traffic lights that are set to change slower than my teen lad changes socks.

Matters were not helped by another set of roadworks at Straiton. Well, I say roadworks. There are cones. Millions of them. I’m not sure what they are doing, but I suspect some sort of zombie cone attack when no-one is looking. Should anywhere in the UK require an entire city-wide lockdown, can I recommend the services of our transport/travel/traffic planning department? They’ll gridlock your city in seconds.

Accent is on the positive

IT was Liverpool I was off to, and that right gladly. I worked there in the 80s and, to me, it feels like a sort of Glasgow-on-the-Mersey. Like Scotland’s own mighty post-industrial city, it boasts an accent of such ferocity that posh boys pale at 50 paces, and nothing wrong with that. As I made my way through the city, I was tickled pink to pass a huge sign that read The Liverpool School Of English. The jury is out on whether it’s Scousers teaching English to overseas visitors or brave souls teaching Scousers English as a foreign language.