Sunday, June 12
Sheffield train station, 12:30
Imagine inventing a game that involves a hotel desk, a station ticket office, and a film festival. Imagine playing one round of this game and losing twenty five pounds. That is how I spent my morning.
Realising that my plans to see Jack, Denise and Casey and / or Mark had come to nothing, I decided to take advantage of Doc Fest and stay in Sheffield an extra night – but only if I could do this at a reasonable price. First stop, the hotel desk: this plan is okay with the. Second stop, the train station: this plan is possible but complex and involves exchanging my ticket for today for £25 and a ticket for tomorrow. Or rather it doesn’t.
It actually involves paying an excess charge of £25 and receiving two additional tickets and a piece of paper explaining what they are. I get today’s ticket back and receive a lengthy explanation to the effect that I will have to show all four pieces of paper at the same time to qualify for a place on tomorrow morning’s train.
I returned to the hotel to confirm my additional night’s stay to be told that they now have no room. Thanks to the very Doc Fest I wanted to attend, my room has been sold while I was out rebooking my train ticket.
I bought 24 hours wifi and booked a room for tonight at the Euro Lodge in Clapham. Mildly irritated and equally mildly amused, I packed and checked out of the hot and sweaty Travelodge, and now I am at the station.
I decide to ask if I can get a refund but apparently refunds over the counter are only available for thirty minutes after booking. Given the state of the rail service in England this makes perfect sense. It makes even more sense when I am given a form and told that requests for refunds made more than thirty minutes after payment need to be made by post. Of course they do. How else would the system work?
I am sitting on a seat by Platform 8 looking at the trains coming and going. My train is apparently composed of two trains joined together. Passengers are being advised that you cannot walk between them. Depending on which station you are leaving the train you may not be able to use the seat you have reserved because it may be in the wrong train. In that case you should attempt to find a seat that is not reserved.
When I get on the train I will realise that there are no unreserved seats.
I will disembark at St Pancras fully aware that there is no conceivable reason to live in England. It reminds me of Brendan’s tales of Belarus in that it is all faintly unbelievable, even while you are experiencing it.