Monday, October 15, 2007

CSI - Hackney Wick

The ticket machine at Hackney Wick Station was ‘live’ for approximately one week. It is now most assuredly dead.

I arrived at the station last Monday to the devastating sight of the newly and proudly animated automatic ticketing function smashed to pieces. I didn’t have my camera that day so you are spared the harrowing ordeal of seeing its glass guts splattered across the concrete apron of our besieged little station.

As I reported in the spring – what an innocent time that now seems – the station was undergoing something of a revival. With station master St John dispensing good cheer and a copy of The Metro with every ticket sold, not even the powerful pong of urine coming from the unusable waiting huts or the ‘you just missed the last train ever’ feeling that never entirely leaves you when you’re catching a Silverlink train, could dampen the optimism.

You began to dream that one day there might be little baskets of begonias hanging about the place. You became one of the Railway Children praying for Daddy to come home, or at least the slim change of making it to Stratford in time for the 8.29 to Shenfield. The ticket machine had been there for at least a year but had either never been activated or was permanently broken. I never established which but it did occur to me that it might have been on trial as a decoy to see if it would be a target for vandalism.

I’ve learned how to do an Oyster top-up on line now. It’s not very Pants-like but it’s the most practical solution to my ongoing problem of needing a weekly Travelcard. My preference would be to buy my ticket from St John and have a pleasant conversation about what kinds of leaves railway tracks really like and dislike. The reality is that John is the only ticket seller so if he has to go to the little boys room or is away on honeymoon, then you’ve had it.

For the week that the ticket machine was in operation, Hackney Wick began to look like a real railway station. Money was going in and tickets were coming out. There was a tangible sense that transactions were taking place. A calm descended as it dawned on travellers that they need not run the gauntlet of tens of thousands of ticket inspectors at Stratford waiting to impose a fine. Traveller's tip - being unable to find a place to purchase permission to ride no matter how hard you try is a criminal offence in Britain.

Vandals, for there can be no gentler term for the monsters who stole our peace of mind along with a bundle of used tenners, have put paid to there ever being a Brief Encounter experience for we weary travellers from Hackney Wick. There’ll be no cloche hat for me, no cup of sweet tea and no heartbreaking farewells. We are not just talking about the demise of a machine, this is the death of romance, fuckit. St John is now bunkered in behind the shuttered up ticket box, his spirit expired, a sad pile of Metros left on a bench the only evidence of his ghostly presence.

Once I got over the debilitating crappiness of the whole thing, I thought about what I could do to set the world to rights. I dismissed that quite quickly because there is obviously nothing and I don’t think ticket machines have souls. I was, however, sufficiently motivated to at least make some sort of symbolic gesture so I did the only appropriate thing. I opened a new blog.

Surviving Britain will encompass my vast experience of navigating the challenges that we all face on a daily basis, from working out where the end of the queue in the post office is (Nuneaton – best set off now if you need to post a package tomorrow), to getting seen in casualty (your best bet is to get shot or knifed), to finding out your tax code (allow at least three and a half years, the Government is only solvent because nearly all foreign nationals are permanently on ‘emergency tax’).

Look out for it and take care of you – I guarantee you no one here will do it.


Andrew said...

Can't wait Pants. Nowhere is perfect but Britain seems very difficult at times. I hope you can slip in some nice bits too such as random kindness by a stranger.

That's so pants said...

Hi Andrew

My intention is to help - if I can. After 25 years I STILL have trouble.



Wisewebwoman said...

I love the reference to the Neverland of Brief Encounter, one of my favourite sinful pleasures. Seems hopes are dashed permanently for Hackney Wick to stand up and be a real station.
I've always thought these random acts of vandalism are micro-replicas of the violence of the leaders.

That's so pants said...


Yes. Anti-social behaviour or little prickism as I prefer to call it, does seem to have increased since Phoney Tony came to power back in 97.

I've been to Carnforth Station, where Brief Encounter is set. It does have hanging baskets but, sadly, no longer a cafe.



Reading the Signs said...

Re acts of random kindness: this post is one of those because what it says needs to be expressed - great post, Pants.

That's so pants said...

Hi Signs

Thanks. Amazingly, the machine has been replaced - with a functional one!