This morning, I’m travelling from London to Brighton. That shouldn’t be too hard. Go to Victoria, buy a ticket, get on train.
I get to Victoria station and try to use a ticket machine to buy a ticket. I just want a standard open return to Brighton. The ticket machine doesn’t list Brighton as a destination, so I have to type the destination in using the ‘Stations A-Z’ panel. One letter at a time.
The touchscreen sits and waits about 15 seconds before it registers any touch event. And thus someone who writes both code and natural language for a living is now rendered unable to type text in. The screen misregisters the tap on the wrong letter, then misregisters the backspace command. Eventually, I get to ‘BR’. It is filtering a list of every train station in the country. I’m standing at a ticket machine at the entrance to a platform where there is a train waiting to go to Brighton and it is prioritising tickets to Bracknell and Bradford and Brampton and Brentford and Bridgend over the train to Brighton that’s right in front of me.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Eventually, I pluck out ‘BRIGH’ on Satan’s very own touchscreen keyboard and finally ‘Brighton’ appears. Success, right?
I tap on Brighton. Now I just need to select the ticket type. Up come about 100 different variants of ‘day single’ and ‘day return’. I don’t want a day single or a day return, I want an open return. Where the fuck is the open return?
I give it up as a bad job and go over to the lady at the ticket counter.
“Open return to Brighton with a railcard—fumble fumble—yep, Network Railcard.”
“We don’t sell returns to Brighton.”
Apparently, you can’t buy a return ticket to Brighton. Because it’s too early in the morning to buy a return ticket to Brighton. Apparently, nobody seems to have ever planned for the eventuality that someone might want to leave London before 7am to go to Brighton and then want to come back the next day.
I asked if there was any particular reason I couldn’t just buy a normal return ticket. The attendant repeated to me the fact that you couldn’t buy a return ticket.
I’m sure there’s a reason one cannot buy a return ticket to Brighton. It’s probably written in some dead language and lost in some remote village in Palestine, a cross between the Dead Sea Scrolls and a Franz Kafka novel. The train was going in four minutes. Enquiry has practical limitations, and the current practical limitation was the desire to plop my posterior down on a train seat and get the fuck out of London ASAP.
“So, Brighton. Now. Coming back tomorrow. How?”
The answer: two single tickets. One to Brighton, one coming back.
Receipt printed 06:44, train departed 06:45. Just made it.
Why the fuck is such a simple thing like buying a railway ticket from one city to another at a mainline railway station so unbelievably complicated and terrible?