There are days I want to reprogram South Western Railways’ IT systems with a fire axe (metaphorically speaking), because the level of screw-upage is extraordinary. How can a contactless system be such a pain in the arse? This is supposed to make buying train tickets easier, right?

Bought a ticket at Woking today. Added it to my “smartcard” (or as I like to call it “farcecard“) and tapped the ticket machine card reader again to verify it had the right ticket on it. It did.

ALAS!

Woking’s barriers refused to open with “Error 57: Seek Assistance” displaying the barrier screen and beeping at me like a pre-watershed swearfest.

On the train itself (the barrier guard told me that it may be because I’m using the old South West Trains card – but the tech shouldn’t have changed, and I have asked in the past if this would be a problem and was told it would not), the train guard swiped the card which returned a card error. Taking it out of my TfL wallet (which only contains my National Rail photocard and the SWR farcecard) and putting it against the machine allowed it to be read, and validated the ticket.

At Wimbledon, I got the beeping and error code 57 again. And around this time there was a Twitter conversation with a customer service representative with SWR:

SWR are bloody great at social media. I just wish their train service was as good.

So at lunch time at work, I tried giving their smartcard team a call. Kept getting cut off. Tried logging into my SWR account. No options whatsoever to order a replacement. The history of the tickets on the account is terrible – none of the tickets had a purchase date next to them.

As for SWR’s suggestion that the barcode (there isn’t one – there’s a long number across the back of the card), I just don’t think that could be an error unless there is something seriously wrong with their database. How does TfL cope with their systems (with greatly increased numbers travelling on their network)? Yes, occasionally glitches occur with TfL, but usually re-presenting the card works.

It’d be absolutely lovely if I could use my phone as my ticket – whether TfL-style contactless travel which is capped, or as a ticket within my Apple (or if I were to use Android, Android) Pay wallet. I doubt anything like that is going to happen for a substantial amount of time. And in the meantime I have a farcecard that I cannot easily predict whether it will work or not.

Paper tickets it has to be (which is also a PITA because I buy per travel as it works out cheaper for me than a weekly ticket – thanks to working from home one or two days a week).

UPDATE: The barriers at Wimbledon and Woking once again refused me entry. So as soon as I arrived back at Woking, I got the ticket machine to read my ticket. All good. *Screams silently*

The ticket was hiding – too afraid to show itself to the barriers.

Something for everyone..

I’ve donated a few more books to fellow South Western Railway commuters at Woking station’s #Bookswap:

  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  • Milligan’s War by Spike Milligan
  • Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
  • Retromancer by Robert Rankin

I was pleased to see yesterday’s donation were taken, and are now hopefully being enjoyed by somebody.

It brings back the subject of physical media – you can share your DVD or Blu-Ray with other people. You can share your physical book or magazine with other people. But you can’t share a Kindle book or an iTunes movie or an Amazon Prime Video or Netflix TV series. It’s quite maddening.

My name’s not Danno, but I’ll give you some books! As part of an ongoing initiative, #BookSwap allows people to pick up something new to read whilst adding to the collection themselves. I picked up a Tom Holt book from Woking railway station a few months ago, and was meaning to give back. So I have.

The physical turns metaphysical – both now on my Kindle

The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is a wonderful comic tale about Allan Karlsson who decides to climb out the window of his care home and go on a bit of a wander, taking him on a wild and incredulous adventure involving a criminal gang, the police, and an elephant.

But this has nothing on the Karlsson’s backstory in which he meets General Franco in Spain (and is hailed a hero), ends up working on the H-Bomb (as Karlsson is an expert in blowing things up), meets Stalin, Albert Einstein’s (fictional) less intelligent brother Herbert, Mao Tse-tung and Kim Jong-Il. As you do.

The book was eventually turned into a Swedish film which, I think, although is not as good or as detailed as the book, is still very good. It’s available on Amazon Prime Video UK if you want to check it out. It also spawned a sequel which, interestingly, I don’t think is related to the new book, The Accidental Further Adventures Of The Hundred Year-Old Man. The sequel went up Netflix UK for a while but has long since left. I did catch it – by surprise (didn’t know they had filmed a sequel!) – and found it to be pretty good.

I’ve not yet read The Accidental Further Adventures Of The Hundred Year-Old Man, but I have since bought it on my Kindle. So I don’t need the paperbacks anymore. So as of this morning, anybody curious about these stories can pick up the books for free at Woking Railway Station’s platform one waiting room. Just remember to either return them, or submit your own book(s) so that other people can pick up something new to read.

All local train and bus stations should have a #Bookswap library.

I intend to add more books. My Kindle library is outgrowing my physical book collection. In part because my house is rather small and I can only store so much before going completely mad (become a mad hoarder).

I’ll see if I can throw a few Neil Gaiman novels in the station’s direction. And maybe a Terry Pratchett or two. Or, in honour of the Good Omens coming to Amazon Prime Video in May, a mere 9 days after my 43rd birthday, my physical copy of Good Omens.

Last week I spent the week staying with dad in North East London, commuting to work via the Central and District Lines to Wimbledon instead of enduring the torturous South Western Railway journey from Woking to Wimbledon via Surbiton.

It’s amazing that despite it being the 21st century with all this wonderful technology, we still have to suffer a horrible (and expensive) daily commute.

The experience wasn’t bad, though it does take a while to get to Wimbledon when changing at Mile End. I like the District Line trains because you can walk all the way through them, and they’re big beasts. Even when you’re packed in, it’s not entirely awful. The Central Line, on the other hand, is a nightmare when packed. And it was often packed. I remember heading back to my dad’s place where we were about to pull into Leytonstone but had stopped just outside the station. I didn’t know this, and neither did the people that wanted to get off. The carriage was jampacked, and as soon as we started off again to pull into the station, the force sent me flying into a woman. I hadn’t been holding on to anything because I thought we had stopped and the doors were about to open.

Wimbledon is the black hole of the London/suburbs train network.

I will never understand why Tube trains have to be so full, with people happily (or rather, unhappily) invading other people’s personal space so easily. Given how frequent trains run, it really shouldn’t be a problem to wait a couple more minutes or so for the next one. Or the one after that. If a train were to be involved in a major accident, with a train packed to the brim with passengers is going to potentially see a significant loss of life. It’s amazing that despite it being the 21st century with all this wonderful technology, we still have to suffer a horrible (and expensive) daily commute.

Despite all the crowding of the Tube network during rush hour, there were relatively few problems with the network itself. It was around 8 quid less than I’d be paying to commute from my home to Wimbledon each day, including the buses to and from the Underground station. I did manage to find seating for the majority of the time on the District Line, even if it meant having to wait until Embankment or Earl’s Court. I occasionally got an end carriage seat on the Central Line, but not always.

Over the past year and half in my current job, I’ve found Wimbledon to be the black hole of the London/suburbs train network. So many trains run late to or from Wimbledon, plus there are only a handful of direct routes to Wimbledon from Woking that are convenient for working hours. This is in stark contrast to Guildford which ran regularly, and had very few problems. And before that I cycled or took the bus. Or bussed/walked.