A Day In The Life

Last Saturday, December 9th, my best friend and I took our annual Christmas jaunt to London. It’s become something of a tradition, even though we’re now getting to the age where a city of over 9 million people is more of a chore than an enjoyment. On this occasion, we decided to avoid Central London with its hebdomadal orgy of anti-Semitism, and try somewhere a little more recognisably British. My mate came up with the idea of visiting the grave of acting legend Sir John Mills, in the tiny village of Denham, Buckinghamshire. ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ is one of his favourite flicks, and I rank ‘Tunes of Glory’ among my Top Twenty most loved films of all-time. So it was agreed: We’d journey from from Yorkshire to the capital, and thence from Marylebone station to the opulent wilds of South Bucks.

Upon arrival at Halifax railway station at 06:30, the first thing I noticed was that the toilet was locked and out of order. My call of nature would have to wait until the London train arrived at 07:12. It’s never a good look to be cross-legged on a winter’s morning. However, having not needed a potty since about 1974, I figured I was adult enough to cope with the discomfort. But it did occur to me that having just one toilet for a station that literally handles hundreds of passengers a day is not really the level of provision one would expect in the Britain of 2023.

When the train arrived, I darted straight in to the nearest convenience. Upon completion of bladder emptying, I smothered my hands in liquid soap and placed then under the tap awaiting the expected plume of water. Nothing happened. You see, the wash basin was also ‘out of order’. It’s just that it hadn’t been checked or reported prior to the train leaving the depot in Bradford. I made my way down the carriage towards the toilet at the other end, hands dripping with pink soap, in the hope all would be well. Thankfully, it was. Hands sanitised, I returned to the seat opposite the one my mate had bagged.

We were sat in the one First Class carriage that each Grand Central train provides. What we’ve always been able to do on our journey southwards for the last 13 years is purchase a Standard Class ticket in Halifax, and then spend an extra £15 each on the train to buy what the company calls a ‘Weekend Upgrade’. It’s been as simple as paying cash or card to the guard as he checks our tickets, so we can then enjoy the comfort of First Class all the way to King’s Cross. Not this year. The ‘Weekend Upgrade’ was no more. Suddenly the only way to upgrade your journey was to……yes, you’ve got it……”download the app”. In this case it was a new app called ‘Seat Frog’. We pointed out to the guard that we don’t generally use our phones other than for communication and checking the news online a few times day. “Had we seen any adverts for Seat Frog?”, we were asked. “Don’t be silly”, I retorted. “The only adverts they show today concern various ways in which you can have your body disposed of after death. You can’t expect commercials to show things more relevant to everyday living”. Despite saying we had the money or the cards to pay the total of £30, we were instructed to move to Standard Class where we spent the 3-hour journey huddled up on the vestibule floor due to overcrowding.

Our remaining journey to Denham station went pretty much without a hitch. For some inexplicable historical reason, the village is almost a mile away from the station along the busy A412. We deduced that the quickest way to get there would be to walk along the path at the side of the aforementioned road. Unfortunately it was flooded to a succession of blocked drains. Actually, this was out entire experience during the four hours we were in the village: drains blocked with fallen leaves and rubbish, large puddles on the road we had to run from as cars ploughed through them, and increasing astonishment at the atrociously inadequate state of road cleanliness and drainage in one of the wealthiest local authorities in the UK.

Returning to London from Denham I, yet again, had to answer a call of nature whilst waiting on the platform. As with the situation in Halifax, the toilets on the station were closed for repair. Worse still, the onboard train toilet looked as if it hadn’t had a proper clean in weeks. On the final leg of our journey home, I was thankful the toilets were in a reasonable condition – even though there was no soap in one, and a broken hand dryer in the other. However, that was the least of our worries. We ground to a halt just south of Peterborough, having been told the East Coast Main Line was closed due to damaged overhead wires (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-67679231). As Grand Central’s entire fleet is diesel stock we were to be ‘luckily’ rerouted via Lincoln, which would add another 90 minutes to the journey. Adversity did not relent, sadly, and a fallen tree on the line between Metheringham and Lincoln meant we eventually arrived at Halifax at 2am – six hours and three minutes after leaving King’s Cross!!

Why have I told you all my tale of weekend woe? It’s very straightforward really. I’m convinced we now live in a country where nothing works properly. A lack of investment over decades; a massive absence of any degree of pride in a good day’s labour from large sectors of the working public; a disgraceful and uncaring attitude to the state of the public realm……these three toxic ingredients have led to situations where I (and I’m sure many others) just find day-to-day living in Britain an inefficient and emotionally-taxing Tartarean nightmare (https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/hs2-travel-national-decline-b1110091.html). How did we end up like this? Why is one of the world’s wealthiest societies dripping with decadence? I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to come up with your own suggestions. For me, the easiest solution is just to have a little weep in a corner once a day and reminisce on how things used to be.

Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I will return the weekend commencing 6th January.

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