I’m sitting here on the train from Norwich to London Liverpool Street after a lovely long weekend with my sister and her family. Alas, I was awakened from my peaceful reverie by an Unfortunate Incident. When I boarded my carriage, there was someone sitting in my pre-booked seat (no, that’s not the incident). She showed me that she did, in fact, have a valid ticket for that seat, so I thought to myself how annoying it was that the train company had double booked, and moved to another seat that was free. When the ticket inspector came by, I mentioned “en passant” that in fact two of us had the same seat. It was then he noticed that my ticket was for yesterday. The shock! The horror!
I was genuinely surprised and explained that I had always planned to travel today, I had paid the full price ticket, and I had simply got the day wrong for the return journey. “I’m afraid that leaves you without a valid ticket for today,” he said. I couldn’t argue with that, though I stared silently at him with Puss-in-Boots eyes in the hope that he would show understanding for my predicament. He gave me an unpaid fare ticket, and said that I could appeal online. This I have already done, with an explanation of my honest mistake, and now I must await my sentence that will be communicated to me in the next ten days.*
I’m reminded of another occasion in Geneva where I found myself in a similar position. I was taking the train from Geneva to my rehearsal at the Collège du Léman. My annual bus pass covered this region, so there was no need to buy a ticket. I missed my usual train, though, so I took another to Versoix, a bit further along, to then change and go back to Pont Céard, where the school was. A ticket inspector came on and pointed out that to go all the way to Versoix I needed a supplement of 2sfr. As I hadn’t paid that supplement, I had to pay a fine of 80sfr. Mais bien sûr! The logic is incontrovertible! (I can’t help but sympathise with the frustration that Jean Valjean experienced when he stole just a loaf of bread for his starving family and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.) In the end, I appealed, and my fine was exceptionally halved to just 40sfr. Thank you, Oh Great Ones.
I should, for some balance, inject a positive story at this point: Once, I had forgotten my annual train pass at home. Usually this would mean filling out a form and then going to the ticket office to pay 5sfr. Not a lot of money, but what a hassle, and totally unnecessary. This time, the ticket inspector and I had a lovely chat about how women are so silly with their different handbags (I had left the card in my wallet when I chose a smaller handbag for the day trip to Nyon). Then we were arriving at my station so he let me off! So they’re not all bad.
Digging even deeper through the traumatic memories stored in my scattered brain, I can recall another trip, in England again, travelling with a friend to Woking to go shopping. I bought my ticket, got on the train in Weybridge, and she got on in West Byfleet. When the ticket inspector came on, he checked my friend’s ticket, no problem. When he checked mine, it turned out it was just from Weybridge to West Byfleet. So he wanted to charge me for the remaining stop from West Byfleet to Woking. But not only that, he wanted to charge me an adult fare – I was under 16 at the time – as my initial ticket had been an adult fare. Being in a rush at the station, I hadn’t noticed that I had been given, and charged for, an adult ticket. So I ended up having to pay again, for an adult fare, for a total sum that was significantly higher than the cost of my actual journey and that gouged a hole in my pocket money. And now for the clincher: my friend had a completely outdated and therefore invalid ticket, which the inspector hadn’t noticed!! Grrr.
Now I know that each of these examples is evidence of the fallibility of my brain. And I also know that train companies are profit-driven corporations with rules that must be followed. However, as an innocent, law-abiding citizen who seeks to do right to the best of my ability, this type of incident reduces me to the little school girl who was shouted out at in class and made to stand on her chair for accidentally breaking my ruler in Form 2.
I’ll let you know when I hear back about my Norwich journey – I’m sure you can barely breathe for the excitement.
*Update 7th March: I’ve received a lovely letter from IRCAS (the Independent Revenue Collection and Support) telling me that my appeal has not been taken into consideration because they must follow The Code. (Haven’t they seen Pirates of the Caribbean? Don’t they know that these are more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules?) So a penalty fare of £64.10 will be my curse. Ho hum. I hope you put my money to good use, Greater Anglia.