Welcome to crazy town!

It’s the time of year 
Now that Spring is in the air 
When those two wet gits with their girly curly hair 
Make another song for moronic holidays…

I’m sorry, that’s the opening to Spitting Image’s The Chicken Song. I’ll start again.

It’s the time of the year where everybody who enjoys a good game of tennis gathers in one place: Wimbledon, South London, to watch the best of the best thrash each other with their balls with the sounds of grunting and occasional comedic goings-on:

Ah, refreshing!

ALAS!

Most people will be getting to Wimbledon by train. And do you think South Western Railways has thought of putting on extra trains, extra carriages and making the suburban routes that little bit better? Of course not, that would be sensible.

It ha been absolute hell getting to Wimbledon – where I work – for the past week, and we have another week to go. At one point, the trains were so packed that after the next train arrived, a 4 car formation, I just gave up and went and worked from home.

With recent strikes, and a pitiful service that is not helping relieve the pressures of the Wimbledon championships, SWR is not fit to run a train service. I sincerely hope they lose their franchise. If I’m honest, I’m hoping the UK government will make it a public service again – just like the East Coast service.

Yes, South Western Railways and smartcards again. But before I start there, I popped into Woking station’s platform 1 waiting room to check up on the lending library there:

They’ve expanded to VHS and DVDs now?!

Quite surprised to see the entire series eight of Inspector Morse there, along with a VHS copy of Carry on Up the Khyber. Good luck to the person whoever manages to find a portable VHS player (a joke I shamefully nicked off a work colleague).

Smart card. Fart card. Whatever.

My replacement SWR smart card has faired as well as the card it was replacing. Bought another single day return ticket to Wimbledon from Woking and went to check that it was valid on the same machine that issued it at Woking station.

The ticket machine managed to do its job properly this time! Give it a biscuit!

ALAS!

The Computer Says No

Went up to the barriers at Woking and the dreaded “Seek Assistance” popped up. Several attempts. No joy. Went back to the ticket machine to verify – yep, it was readable and the ticket was found. So I showed the image above to the ticket inspector who advised that I tap in on a yellow contactless terminal on the platform. That should do it, he said. So I did. Green tick.

Merry-go-round broken down

Then the train I was to get down had developed a fault and I had to make my way to platform three and endure a delay of stopping at every single stop to Wimbledon – but at least I didn’t have to change at Surbiton.

Got to the barriers at Wimbledon:

SWR’s ticketing systems are a useless pile of toss

So more explaining to the guards at the barriers and I was let out. The same will happen again this evening. I am so utterly fed up with the hassle South Western Railway’s smart card system has brought. It should not go wrong this often. I fully blame their IT department for this. It’s as if the ticketing system cannot communicate with the barriers properly to validate tickets.

Hard to believe it’s the 21st century

I’ll probably end up using paper tickets again. But I find these wasteful and a pain in the arse to have to take out of one’s wallet every time they need to go through a barrier or inspected by a train guard/inspector. Furthermore, by the time I’ve got home, the barriers at Woking are unmanned, leaving me with a useless paper ticket. They tend to build up in my wallet. If I remember, they’re discarded in the bin – but I’m sure that somebody will delve in there and try and find a way of reusing it.

I sincerely hope that with all these problems, the franchise owners, The First Group and MTR Corporation, lose the franchise at the earliest opportunity. Since they took over, the service (at least the suburban service) has been bloody dreadful. The ticket system is still stuck in the 20th century and is unreliable as hell.

Hand-written ticket!

On Monday I tried to buy a ticket on the smartcard at Woking station. Paid for it via contactless, and put my ticket on the reader to update it. Uh-oh, the machine had trouble updating my ticket. Tried again. Still problems. So I went to the counter and ask them what to do. They got a notebook which contains special tickets that are handwritten. So I traveled on that for the day – but encountered some resistance at Wimbledon as the guard was not familiar with the SWR smart card system and insisted that I had to get a return ticket from the ticket office. Nope, the ticket office said, the paper I had was sufficient as they couldn’t deal with SWR smart cards. And indeed, within the London zone, none of the ticket machines can handle smart cards. And none of ticket offices, regardless of location, can deal with smart cards either.

Learn. Improve. Maybe unite?

It’s about time that we started to go down the route of TFL and use contactless credit/debit cards. Whether they be physical cards, or virtual cards stored on our phones or smart watches. I’d much prefer to use my phone to act as my ticket than the current system. Travelling with TFL is almost effortless. It’s not without a few problems, but considerably less than that of SWR.

Why can’t all trains be this empty?

I thought I’d check out SWR’s streaming video service on Friday on my way home from work. You have to be connected to the onboard Wi-Fi and have the SWR app installed on your phone. If you’re using CloudFlare’s 1.1.1.1 app, you’ll need to disable (or at least pause it) during your streaming experience.

There’s a reasonable choice of films including Darkest Hour, but I ask myself how long are you going to be on the train in order to watch a whole film? And can you pause/pick up the film later? Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try.

Free porn too?

Meanwhile, I laughed long and hard (ooer missus) at the news that an SWR guard accidentally broadcast pornography over the tannoy system. That would certainly perk up the weariest of travellers.

Ticket to fail?

After not being about to get through to SWR’s smartcard services by phone and being asked to email them instead, I still have not received any kind of response to my query about replacing my smartcard after nearly a month. Pathetic.

It’s genuinely pleasing to see the local high street make way for the unique restaurant that is not offering the usual fast food stodge. Where I live, the number of restaurants has been reduced to one Indian eat-in (and take-away) followed by kebab houses, chicken houses, fish and chips palaces, pizza take-away shops and multiple Chinese take-aways.

My father took me for an early birthday dinner yesterday at a Portuguese place that’s in the town where I grew up. The high street there is virtually unrecognisable now. But tucked out the way, behind one of the few remaining pubs in the area is a smartly presented restaurant that’s clearly very popular.

Grilled seabass and vegetables

It was a fantastic dinner. I started off with pork pieces and clams and potatoes, with a nice gravy to accompany it. This was followed by grilled seabass and veg. And it was absolutely delicious. My dad had clams for his starter and the same as me for the main course. This was accompanied by a light and fruity red wine which accompanied the fish well. We followed this up with coffee and a Portuguese brandy which was seriously smooth. I had a dessert (a chocolate mousse with Amaretto).

The Joys Of Commuting
(London Underground Edition)

After a great night, it’s a pity, then, that this morning I was greeted by the following scene at Notting Hill Gate in an attempt to see if I could sit down on the tube for as long as possible on the Central line before changing to the District line. Alas, Circle line problems were the cause of the delay. We were standing on the stairs to avoid having to stand with the rest of the crowd. Thankfully a District line train came 4 minutes after this and there was even a seat!

Isn’t commuting fun?

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.