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Written on January 8, 2006, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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The first Friday in January, suffering from a two day headache which had me worrying about brain tumours, aneurisms and carbon-monoxide poisoning, I upped and offed to the beautiful coastal city of Brighton, travelling by train on what we always used to call the Away Gay Express. These modern trains are neat, temperature-controlled and clean, a million miles away from the old rattling draughty slam-door rolling stock which has at last been mostly replaced.

The journey from London Victoria is a fifty-five minute idyll as the train chucks through all the parts of South London that I know and recognise – Vauxhall, where GGF used to live and IG used to take his sixteen-year-old tender horny self for Friday night satisfaction; Clapham Junction, once the busiest train station in the world, the place where I learnt the basics of audio production and how to get on with temperamental drunks; Norbury, whence came several of my best schoolboy friends; Thornton Heath (pronounced Fort Neef) where my grandfather and grandmother lived before elevating the family up the hill to fresh air and safer streets; Selhurst, station of Crystal Palace Football Club and my peculiar old ex-Grammar School; East Croydon, station of misery for thousands of would-be immigrants, sufferers of institutional ridicule and sexual baksheesh; Purley, where my grandfather stepped out of his class, challenged the posh man who refused to show his ticket, and lost his job; Coulsdon, green belt commuterland on the edge of London, where I lived from age fourteen to nineteen as I finished my school education and began college; Gatwick, whose most recent claim to fame was that it has the longest delays of any UK airport.

Musing on the Brighton Express is my favourite travelling pastime, people watching my second, and writing my third. I wrote the first chapter of Ozzie Rozzie on this train, but more frequently I use the enforced stillness to ponder. It is a meditation, watching the land peel past at speed through a train window, akin to staring at moving water, or watching clouds passing overhead, or gazing at the flickering flames of fire. It seems to offer balance to the endless chattering monkey of the mind and facilitate release and flights of extraordinary perception and realisation. Or perhaps, it just feels nice to be in transit with nothing more expected of me than to arrive.

In any case, I had arranged to meet GGF at Victoria to travel to Brighton, meet up with my until-recently-estranged father, his wife, and my old friend International Bicycle Thief, and attend a gig at the Sussex Arts Club by my godfather, jazz saxophonist Don Weller, and despite my cranial pain I was determined to do so. However I first had to negotiate the purchasing of tickets, and despite my arriving fifteen minutes before the train departed and there being only a small queue, number thirteen was not my lucky window.

I produced my Network Rail Card – all the more important since the fares rose 9% – and my Oyster pre-pay card, and asked for two single tickets to Brighton. “Where’s the other card?” asked the enormous and stroppy man the other side of the customer-proof glass. “What other card?” I asked. “I just have these.” “I can’t give you a discount on two tickets unless you have two cards.” “Well, whatever discount I can have, please just give me that. I have to catch my train in five minutes.” Without replying, he paused and squinted at the ticket dispensing machine. He didn’t press any buttons, he just stared at the machine and said nothing. I waited.

A minute later, I said, “Sorry, is there a problem?” He didn’t reply. Neither did he give me a ticket. I suspected he was just delaying for no reason other than he wanted to make me miss my train, when he started on a long explanation as to why he couldn’t give me two discounted tickets on one card. In fact, he could, but rather than argue with a throbbing head and a train to catch, I repeated my request, louder this time. “Look. Please just give me whatever tickets I need to get me to Brighton. I want two singles. Please.”

He was annoying me now, and detecting the glimmer of a sneer on his curmudgeonly face, I realised that this was what he wanted, which annoyed me more. He was blatantly prevaricating, in order to cause me delay. My only hope was to turn the tables. I decided to use the weapon of exposure. Pulling out my camera phone, I took a picture of him through the glass. He was making such a good pretense of searching for the exact discount, that he didn’t notice, so I took another. At this point, the loud Sony Ericsson KER-LACK made him look up and realise what I was doing, and he started to shout, “Are you taking a picture of me? You aren’t allowed to do that! You can’t take a picture of me, it’s not allowed!”

“What are you on about?” I raised my voice in protest now, so that the people around me could hear. “I have shown you my cards, I asked for two singles to Brighton, what more do you want? Are you just making a fuss so that I miss my train? Just give me the tickets will you?” A well-dressed man to my left flashed me a glance of sympathy. I felt I had a chance. The big guy opposite me on the other side of the window was now flapping his arms and sputtering with ill-contained rage, which I had not caused, after all, but merely revealed. I continued, voice still several decibels louder, adding a touch of exasperation for effect, “Look mate, I don’t know who wound you up, but it wasn’t me, and if you won’t sell me the tickets, perhaps one of your less obstructive colleagues will do.”

I kept silent and watched as a trim and tidy woman approached from the nether reaches of the ticket office, ushered him away, and took his place at window thirteen. “May I help?” she asked politely. “Yes please. I would like two singles to Brighton. I have these two cards,” I explained. She issued the tickets. Thirty seconds later, I left the the ticket office window, clutching my hard-won prizes.

Head still thumping, I walked across the busy station concourse towards the rendezvous point where GGF was waiting smiling. I scowled and told her that I had been hassled by an idiot bully. We checked the trains departure time – five minutes. Feeling the beginnings of relief, we went to the automated barrier. I gave GGF her ticket and she passed through, but when I attempted to follow, the barrier remained closed, and flashed up: SEEK ASSISTANCE

Realising I was still not out of the chaotic moment which had kept me at the ticket office so long, I walked over to one of the two men working there, explained that I had just spent a VERY LONG TIME buying these tickets, that THEY WERE SOLD TO ME BY A SUPERVISOR and that I WANTED TO GET ON MY TRAIN NOW. I was calm, but I was mad. The strong, implacable brown face took in my controlled rant without alarm, looked at my ticket, and said, “You’ll have to buy another ticket.” “I’ll miss my train,” I replied.

Not wanting to wait any longer, I decided that there was no way I was going back to the ticket office. GGF was waiting nervously on the other side of the barrier. I decided to take matters into my own hands, and in classic student style, while the ticket-barrier-man was alerting his superior to my situation, I followed immediately behind somebody whose ticket was functional and found myself with nothing between me and the trains. Then, to everyone’s surprise, I doubled back, and went to talk to the supervisor. I showed them the ticket, my cards, and explained that I had spent twenty minutes attempting to buy the correct ticket, and that I wasn’t going to miss meeting my aged father at the other end since it really wasn’t my fault if after all that I had been sold the wrong one. “It’s the same price anyway,” observed the supervisor. “So I can get on the train now?” I asked. He nodded. We got on the train. I had no sense of victory, just relief that I was shot of the whole frustrating episode.

We got to Brighton. We had a pizza. My headache diminished. We met the old folk, and saw the gig. It was great.

Here’s Don, sitting and chatting with us before the gig.

…and playing with his quartet.

Don and his band were great. Father #1 told me that when he played with Don, he was twenty and Don was fifteen. Nice to have reintroduced them fifty-odd years later.

Don has a funk band also, he told me, an eight piece. I might just see if I can get them a gig.

I was relieved and happy later on, and had a great day in Brighton yesterday with GGF. I am so lucky to have met her. But since then, recalling this episode, I realise I have some moral accounting to do.

It’s ironic that I sat down to write a review of the historic meeting with my godfather, legendary jazz player Don Weller, father #1 and myself, and ended up writing the story of the bastard ticket seller. So it blogging well goes. The reason this episode was still with me today was that my strategy didn’t really work, did it, me bullying the ticket man in order to get to the train? Using the camera as a weapon just caused another problem for me later on, as they passed me on down the line to get rid of me.

Pain made me selfish. I was panicked by his obstruction, and I pressurised the guy. He did have a degree of slowness and he wasn’t that pleasant and he probably did have some inner rage, but I was being pushy and loud. Then I completely wound him up, violated his personal right not to photographed, waltzed across his boundaries, made him seem incompetent in front of his colleagues and the public, whilst denying that I had done anything wrong in order to get my tickets. I could have just got back into the queue, gone to another window. I didn’t need to do give that poor bastard such a hard time, and I was being disengenuous to blame him for the entire thing. I could have said, “Sorry, how much was that?”

I hate running into my ego, especially when I am stuck in a queue with a headache.

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This thing has 6 Comments

  1. dave bones
    Posted 9 January, 2006 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    Thats not your ego. thats HIS ego!
    Good for you- and great photo of the guy.

    I’ve got it!

    He looks like a fucking vogon!

    and he is exactly the sort of character they were based on no?

    I’m doing a Galloway watch on my blog. What a boring fuck!

  2. Lagowski
    Posted 9 January, 2006 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Your experience is but a daily occurence to the Victoria-bound traveller. Tail-gaters abound, inspectors guffaw at weary passengers and fine them anyway, and some of us who stare at their shoes after dismebarking marvel as to why the train toilets are emptied of their contents onto the tracks at Victoria. “It’s a shit business”.

  3. Lagowski
    Posted 9 January, 2006 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    of course I meant ‘disembarking’ ….bloody ‘ell!!

  4. Chandira
    Posted 9 January, 2006 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    LOL.. Oh how I miss English customer service since emmigrating.. 😉

    I do miss Brifhton though.

  5. Wolfie
    Posted 30 January, 2006 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Its not your fault, its his. They have been like that for years, when I was a small boy the guy at ticket office used to be insufferably rude and serve people behind me even though I was painfully polite and patient. I think it was my plumy accent that he hated so much. One day my mother came into the ticket office wondering what was taking so long and saw what was going on. She ripped into him with such intensity that he nearly wet himself (she’s a veritable Pygmalion transformation from an east-end lass and wow can she swear). Nowadays I buy tickets in full faux east-end accent, works every time.

  6. bigblue
    Posted 15 April, 2007 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    He tried to f you over and nearly did, but you negotiated your way around him quite adroitly. Today he’s still in his boring dead-end job fighting petty battles with commuters while your encounter with him is an interesting experience and cause for reflection.

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