In the London wilderness


How an episode of the worst in London’s transport gave me a traditional Jewish Passover experience.

On Monday my daughter and I were invited for to the first Passover Night at friends who live near Crofton Park, which for us requires a journey from the North of London to the South.

I have everything checked and planned. Take the 17.22 Thameslink on Platform A at St. Pancras, ride 8 stops arrive at Crofton Park at 17.53. I do not do trips with my daughter on trains frequent, all I get to experience with her is at best the  Overground system, which is owned by TfL. So to my great surprise, I am held at the ticket entrance after holding my Oyster against the scanner by a station operator.

 

“Sorry Sir, have you got a ticket for the child?”

“She is 8, she does not need one, she never needed one before!,” I reply

“No this is not a TFL train, you need to get a ticket for her!”

I surrender and go to the ticket office, the queue is gigantic, in front of the machine is but one man. I take my daughter’s hand and we march on to the machine.

The man in front of us types S…t….Al.. then deletes it, types again. He has a few options. Then he starts pulling his mobile out. He searches for his destination. It takes a minute or so and it is St. Alban City. He pays with coins but one of the coins falls through and requires some reinserting. Finally our turn. I type in Crofton Park, Single. There is no option for child fare. I think, “oh the option might come up later”, it doesn’t, I backtrack, start again. Nothing, main menu maybe there is a discount option or something, but it is not to be seen. I ask my daughter to start queuing again for the ticket clerk, whilst I try again with the machine but fail. There are still three people in front, but eventually, we get served.

The clerk confirms, yes I do need a ticket for the child and it costs £2.20.

Finally, we get through the ticket barriers with my child’s ticket, a triumph, but the train we needed has left about five minutes ago.

I try to check for the next train, but there is no mobile phone signal down here. However, there is Wifi. I get connected, but my smart phone tells me that “I am connected, but there is no signal!”

I decide to take any train that goes to Blackfriars, an interjunction and do the mobile phone checking there as it is outdoors. We board and do that without problems. It is 18.40 by now.

 

When we arrive I check for the next train to Crofton Park and departs in 24 minutes. OK, enough time to buy flowers outside. Will my daughter be able to get back in with her ticket? No, but the man at the gate says it is OK as long as I come back to him. I smile, somebody human at last. On the wayout, my daughter spots a Beauty and the Beast Magazine at a newsagent and asks me if she can have it. We agree to buy it after the flowers, which we find at a Sainsbury’s Mini Supermarket opposite the Station. Paying is slightly complicated because it is a machine, and it does not recognise the flowers on the loading area, but we manage in the end, rush back to the station, buy the magazine, find the operator who let us out, who is enticed at the sight of the flowers and allows us back into the station platform area.

 

We then wait for the 18.04 to Sevenoaks, whilst I text my friends that we will be late. When the train  arrives there are business people who already wait strategically to rush in and gather a seat when the train arrives. I tell my daughter to hurry and get a seat for herself. She fails as grown ups oversee her and push her to the side in their own hope for a seat. Being polite she holds back, only to have three people take the seats she chose. She turns to the other side and there is but one seat left, I tell my daughter to take it, and she does, eager to read her magazine. I end up standing.

 

I check for directions​ on my phone again and it tells me to take a later train. Ah, surely it is unable to figure, that I am on the right train already, I think. With the train full to the brink I have no sight of the announcement board inside and just hear each individual station being individually announced.

There is no Crofton Park coming up… My daughter finishes reading the entire magazine. Thank goodness we bought that, I think.

 

The Train eventually stops in Beckenham Junction. “Dad, everyone is getting off, are we getting off?” I answer her no, as I  realise,  she is right. “OK, looks like we need to get off after all, but I do not know what is wrong with the train!?”

 

What now? Why did the train stop and where are we? I consult my phone again for the route to Crofton Park  and it comes up with a disappointingly complicated plan that involves two more trains. I ask a station operator, he confirms, we should take the next train to Shortlands, and then make our way back from there on another train to Crofton Park.

There is a train coming now on platform three. We rush to platform three, and are in Shortlands 5 minutes later, and looking at the time, we are now very late, I decide it is time for a taxi.

 

We leave the station and I look for a minicab station. There is none in sight on either side. So I think, not to worry, I order one from the phone, which however informs me now that, my battery has 15% charge left. Got to be quick now before the battery empties.

 

I try the service Gett first, which finds and orders black cabs, because I have a discount voucher. But after I typed in the destination no one picks up the job, and I can not see schema participating cabs in the area on the phone’s monitor. It seems this is an area where you do not want to hang out for business as a cabbie. 


Never mind, I figure, let’s try Uber instead. I type the destination in and get to payment. Unfortunately, the credit card details are old, so I try to update them, typing in my card details and all, but after typing in my post code it refuses to accept the card. After trying trice more, checking every detail, I give up. “Let’s take that train back to Crofton Park.” I tell my daughter, who is by now understandably somewhat anxious and holds my hand firmly.

 

I text my friends what’s happening and we take the train back to London that stops at Crofton Park at about 19.15 and we arrive in another ten minutes at my friends.

 

I am still not quite sure how we ended up in Beckenham Junction. It seems though that when we were at Blackfriars, thinking we board the correct train, we failed to realise that we actually boarded a late arriving train that was sandwiched in before the train actually wanted. Maybe though, I was by that time just bewildered and got it wrong? I am not too sure, and I won’t go and call the train operators, nor Gett and Uber (how long would that take?) to find out what the problem was in each case. I am sure however, I will ask others next time, to confirm to me, if this train goes where I wish to go and before boarding it, rather than just relying on what I think it is. For sure, there were problems also with the taxi Apps, and TfL could negotiate the London-wide free child travel also to be applied with national train operators like Southern Rail who cruise through London. But annoying though it was, somebody allowed me with a passing comment at the dinner to make sense of it all.

At the traditional Jewish Passover seder we remember the exodus from Egypt. One of my friends there joked on hearing our arrival story, that it took the Israelites 40 years of bewilderment in the desert toreach the Promised Land, so our journey was evidently our special little seder treat. I drank an extra glass to that! 

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