Sunday, 26 August 2012

Mind the gap

Traveling in Europe is fun. And easy. London - Dublin 1h.

Traveling in England is fun when you have a sense of humour and very complicated. London Gatwick- Canterbury 4 hours 15 minutes ( actual distance is 51 miles)

And that was just the train journey.

I usually go straight to Brighton. Because in England all roads lead to Brighton but this time, I decided to be daring and go ''straight'' to Canterbury.

Buying a train ticket in England requires a lot of cultural knowledge. What do you need to know? That there are shitloads of fares . You've got Family fares. You need to be 3 people. Yes, you can just grab 2 strangers randomly and go buy tickets together, it works too.

Day returns. You need to return before 2am the same day ( ie sober enough to watch the time) The off peak ticket : You need to sleep on a bench until 9 am , when you can finally get on the train or the ''Not via London ticket''

All you have to do is Always ask for the cheapest ticket.

The cheapeast ticket is usually to oh so famous '' not via london route'' . Unless you want to go to london of course . I'm sure they still have a not via London for London tough. Like you get off before and you walk the rest of the way or something.

The Question is : Where does London start? Usually Clapham Junction is still acceptable. Beyond that, it's game over. You need a new ticket.
Of course as a cheap almost Brit I booked my ''not via London'' ticket and I decided to trust the over worked ladies at the counter to guide me through the '' not via London '' game.

That's probably why I ended up in London Victoria. Anyway. It's a story worth telling so I'm not going to complain that the Brits give me more work as a travel writer.

'' Excuse me I 've got a ''not via London'' ticket and I want to go to..... '' I say to the lady
'' Platform 1 change twice and you 'll get to Clapham Junction You can go from there. NEXT . ''

I like this game. Riddles and that.

I should have noticed that she did not even listen to my destination but I was too happy to actually understand someone speaking ''proper'' English. ( I just got back from Dublin where all I did for 2 days was staring and smiling to people speaking a weird language to me)

So, the lady is programmed to re direct anyone to clapham junction ( the closest to London not via London) . Anyone as in ANYONE. Even people who are headed to the other side of the country.

Even stupid French who are on their way Home to Canterbury.

So I'm on the train. 2 stops later I'm at Clapham Junction , happily looking for my train to Canterbury.

I see a train lady who's politely answering all stupid questions with a smile that only the Brits can have.

Stupid questions like :
'' Where is Clapham junction?''
She would answer :
'' That is here , madam , you have reached your destination''

In France the answer would have probably been :

'' Stop taking the piss out of me , or I call the cops''

So I go to this lady and ask her what platform I should go to.

'' What zone is Canterbury in  ? '' she asks me.


Me, my french accent and my not via London ticket answered:

'' Canterbury is in Kent , not in London''

'' You have to go through London to get there from here then''

'' But I have a not via London ticket''


We both look at the map.


'' So how do you get to Canterbury from here without going through London then?''

'' I'M ASKING YOU'' I tell her

I had to go North and then South plus East and West. Then change at Redhill ( is that even a name of a place?)

'' Keep the map, have a good evening '' she tells me, defeated. ( but polite)

I look at my watch. 2 hours of travelling ''not via London'' already. SO what did I do? I jumped on a train to London Victoria. .

Just for the thrill of it.

I get there, smile my way through the gates . My clivage and my french accent have been my best partners throughout the years.
I text my friend/boss :
'' Shall I play french or pay the ''via london fee''
'' Play french'' he answers

Sounds good. I should have listened to him. He's a Brit, he knows.

Then , there it was. The guilt. My British side.

I surrendered ( my French side) and went to the ticket office.

'' I ended up here by mistake.'' I say

'' But you have a not via london ticket madam''

Thank you I realize that.

'' That'll be a lot more expensive madam''

Naughty girl who went through London for 2 minutes 30 seconds

'' 12 pounds 30 please'' he asks me.

'' Me francaise no English. Not know London good''

Too late to play French. I just swore in perfect English anyway. DAMN.

'' Can I just not go via London then?'' I ask him.

No reaction. Some Brits do not take British Humour.

I got on , the conductor looked at my clivage more than my '' any route'' ticket but at least , I was on the right part of the train. It divides on route. And who knows where you can end up. Somewhere like Herne Bay or something. ( of course I had done it before)

I got home with the feeling that the adventurous bit of my week end was in my own country ( as in England of course)
Travelling is like that. Would it be funny if it was just a straight line? If anything would always go according to plan , what would we have left to discover about the world and ourselves?

Thank you British railway....

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