Transport Chaos

I have just returned from a very pleasant week in Finland, much of
it spent in a little cottage by a lake, miles from civilisation (pics
at bottom). I got to experience the joys of sauna, swimming in lakes,
vowel harmony, et c., et c.. I had a great time, and a much
needed break.

The return journey, however, was abominable. The
flight was delayed because there was an “extra” bag in the hold. A
stewardess began to make an announcement about this, but was
wolf-whistled by some oversexed drunkard, and had to start again once
she’d regained her composure. More delay. Once we landed at Stansted,
a child refused to get out of my way when asked politely. Another ten
minutes lost as we then got trapped behind people who apparently can’t
carry off a plane the luggage they somehow managed to carry
onto it. There was then an hour-long “queue”, or would have
been, had not a group of six utterly self-absorbed teenage girls
decided to remain stationary facing the wrong direction chatting on
their ‘phones, meaning anyone directly behind them couldn’t easily
progress. More delay. I missed the Stansted Express by about an hour
and a half, so waited three hours until the next one (the railway
timetable has not been modified to accommodate the greater duration of
passport checks said to be necessitated by the terrorist threat;
today, 07/07/07, is the second anniversary of the London Tube bombing
atrocity).

I fell asleep on the train and was woken by the ticket
inspector. It turns I didn’t have a valid ticket. I had bought a
return ticket at Liverpool St, but apparently had already used it, as
it had been clearly marked by a ticket
inspector
. So, at some point between buying the ticket at 13:34 on
Saturday 30 June, four hours before I left the country, and 05:45 on
Saturday 7 July, a few hours after arriving back in it, the latter
being hours in which the train was not running, I, or someone possibly
acting in cahoots with me, had used the ticket to return towards
Liverpool St, evaded having it retained by the automatic ticket
barriers, and managed to get it back to me, possibly while I was
abroad. As it happened, the inspector decided that getting his
employer sued by me was not a good career move and let me continue to
travel. He wisely concluded that his colleague had marked the wrong
ticket (my outbound ticket was, curiously, unmarked).

(the photograph
linked above was taken a few seconds before I surrendered the ticket
to the machines at Liverpool St)

What is grotesque about this is that railway companies in the UK
get the benefit of special laws: failure to produce on demand either a
valid ticket or the full fare plus a penalty at the discretion of the
company or one’s name and address is a criminal offence. Whether or
not you’ve committed an offence depends on how big a penalty fare they
choose to impose. If I had the power to choose whether people had
committed criminal offences or not, I’d be sure to use it unfairly in
my own interests. Whether tickets will be bought before or after
boarding is a matter for the convenience of the seller and buyer of
those tickets (yesterday I got on a train in Finland without paying,
and paid a EUR 3.00 surcharge for the convenience of not missing the
train and knowing I was buying the right thing). It’s a flagrant
misuse of the criminal sanction to allow one party to the transaction
to wield it for his own commercial convenience.

This is not even the end of the matter, for there is another
criminal law involved: it’s also criminal to board the train without a
ticket, even if you intend to pay for one plus the penalty fare. I
can’t find the text of this law, but I’ll bet that I broke it, and
that it is not defence that one’s tickets have been invalidly
invalidated by incompetent agents of the beneficiary of this
law. Maybe such defacement of tickets by railway staff should be
criminally punishable too!

Arriving home, I discovered my flat
was partly flooded, slipped, and badly injured my foot. What a great
day.

Pic
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