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.