4 March 2010 (Thursday) - Fun on the Trains

Part of my job is overseeing the efforts that trainees make towards becoming state registered biomedical scientists. On a day to day basis it can be rather hard work sometimes (for all concerned). My favourite bit is that every so often I get to go to another hospital to formally assess how their trainees are doing, and to see if they are competent to become state registered. Today I’d volunteered to assess one such trainee who worked at a hospital in Brighton.

I always plan to get to these assessments promptly: - it’s nerve-wracking enough for the poor candidates without having to wait all day for me to show up. So to be at the Royal Sussex County Hospital for 9am, I needed to take the 6.15am train from Ashford. Easy enough, I’m always up early. Just as I was about to buy my ticket at the station I realised I’d left all the paperwork at home. So I walked to the taxi rank to get a taxi home to save time. For all this talk of credit crunch and recession, none of the three taxis wanted my money. Each looked at me, muttered about another job and drove off. So I walked home. It’s not that far, really. But far enough that I missed the 6.15am train. Ironically the thing was delayed anyway, but I missed it by two minutes.

According to the Internet there was another train to Brighton at 6.45am. According to all the information at the station there wasn’t. According to their information the next train was at 7.30am. Ignoring the nutter singing along to the strange noises in his head, I explained to the nice man at the station the discrepancy with the times of trains to Brighton. He didn’t seem in the slightest bit fazed by this, and he had a look on his machine. His machine suggested I took the next train to Tonbridge (which left at 7.21am), and then went to Brighton via Redhill.

As his machine was disgorging this information at 6.35am, a train pulled into the station, and the announcement said that this train was going to Tonbridge. The nice man looked at his machine, looked at the loudspeaker and then looked at the train. He scratched his head and suggested I took this train to Tonbridge. I made a snap decision that (at worst) it couldn’t take any longer and so I set off to Tonbridge.

At Tonbridge, the Redhill train was waiting and I was soon in Redhill waiting for the 8.21am to Brighton. On this train I amused myself by watching the nutter who kept waking up and looking out the window, before checking his watch, swearing and going back to sleep. He eventually got off at Preston Park. I have no idea if that was his destination – I hope it was, for his sake.

I arrived at Brighton railway station shortly after 9am feeling quite exhausted. I know the train line along the coast, having been on it so many times. But this morning I’d taken a route through unexplored territory, changing trains in the middle of nowhere. It had been quite an adventure.

Continuing the adventure, I took the bus to the hospital. For less than four quid you can go all round Brighton by bus. I sat at the front on the top floor of a double decker, and watched the world go by. The only way to travel(!). I arrived at the hospital only twenty minutes later than I originally planned, did my thing, smiles all round, and I was out and on the bus back to the station by 11.30am.

From my student days it’s been traditional to bring ‘er indoors TM presents from Brighton. Specifically a pineapple. I can’t remember why – but it’s one of those things. If I go to Brighton, I buy her a pineapple. But disaster. No one had any. She’s had to make do with a back-up pressie.

And then to the real business of the day. I’d volunteered to do today’s assessment because it was in Brighton, which has several advantages over other destinations. Firstly (usually) it’s dead simple to get to on the train, but mainly because the Evening Star is thirty seconds walk from the station.

I was there for opening time, but restricted myself to just the one pint (American Pale Ale – oh yes!) because I didn’t want a repeat performance of the morning’s train fun. Still, I picked up a couple of bottle of Expresso for later. That should get me into her good books, even if the saucy undercrackers doesn’t.

During the day there are two trains from Brighton to Ashford. But they leave within two minutes of each other, so I wasn’t taking any chances. I got onto the 12.32 which eventually left Brighton at 12.45. I felt rather miffed that I could have had a pint of HopHead after all.

The guard on the train apologised for the late departure of the train, and boasted that they would make up the time and not be late on arrival at Ashford. He lied. We spent most of the journey at a standstill at various points along the coast listening to said guard apologising for red lights at all the signal boxes.

And then home to write up my formal report of the day, and to claim my expenses. Regular reader of this drivel may recall I made a similar journey to Brighton to assess another trainee last year (July 27, 2009). From my records I see the train fare that day was £20.40. The same ticket today was £59.00. I see the official rate of inflation in the UK is billed as being 2.9%. I’m no expert, but I calculate it to be 289.2%...

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