WEEKLY CAR DIARY & HOW TO OCCUPY YOURSELF ON A LONG TRAIN JOURNEY

I had jobs on three days this week:-

Thursday: BMW X5 Xdrive 40e M Sport plug-in hybrid, Leicester to Kettering, Northants; second BMW X5 Xdrive 40e M Sport plug-in hybrid, Kettering to Leicester

Friday: Jaguar XF S (3 litre) Portfolio D Sportbrake and Range Rover 4.4 SDV8 Autobiography, Leicester to Rutland County Showground, Oakham, Rutland

Yes, that’s only two days. I had another job on Wednesday but ended up not driving a car or van. A group of us went by minibus to collect some cars and deliver them to somewhere nearer the equator (in Hampshire). However, my allocated car had damaged paintwork and wasn’t going anywhere so I had to head for home by train. Annoyingly, I hadn’t bothered to bring a book with me because on group jobs, when we are taken to and from a job by chase vehicle, there is always entertainment in the form of endless witty banter and heckling the driver of the chase car or minibus. It is amazing how we all still laugh at highly original quips such as “I wouldn’t have come this way” (when stuck in a traffic jam), “Are we nearly there yet?” (five minutes after starting the journey) and “So the brakes work then” (after coming to a standstill in overly sharpish fashion).

But on my unexpected three and a half hour train journey home on Wednesday there would be no verbal entertainment and I had no book (I love reading and it’s a good thing to do on trains).  However, I did have my other two favourite train journey pastimes to fall back on. These are: 1) enjoying the beautiful British countryside (and occasional interesting man-made landmark) from the vantage point of the train window and 2) applying my mind to the consideration of life’s important issues. The latter may be my version of mindfulness although I don’t really know what mindfulness is but it seems popular these days. The good thing with these two activities is that they can be enjoyed at the same time. Despite my gender disadvantage, even I can manage this bit of multi-tasking and, incredibly, I am also capable of simultaneously consuming sandwiches. So, as I gaze out of the train window munching a carefully crafted (by my own hand) tuna salad sarnie, I ponder such weighty questions as:-

  • How many words do the Inuit have for pesto?
  • Does Ray Mears have a house?
  • Why does the BBC’s One Show always start 2 minutes before its scheduled start time? (It does – always. Not that I actually care).
  • What is an Experian credit score and do I really need one?
  • What on earth is mindfulness?
  • How often does Ray Mears have a wash?
  • Did I close the front door properly?
  • Why do celebrities feel it imperative to give their kids stupid names?
  • Does anyone think that Marmite is, well, just sort of OK?
  • Will self-driving cars get road rage?
  • Has Ray Mears ever had a Big Mac and fries?
  • Is Judith Chalmers still orange?
  • Why do blondes dye their roots a darker colour?
  • Are we nearly there yet?
  • If you put Ray Mears and Bear Grylls together in the same room (or tent) would they scratch each other’s eyes out?
  • If you drink orange squash and milk will you really die? (This was a commonly held belief when I was a kid. I’m 53 and still haven’t dared to try it. I think about it a lot though.)
  • What does go through the mind of middle lane hoggers on the motorway?? Why do they think it’s the correct way to drive? Are they completely oblivious to the chaos they are causing as they bumble along in their own little world? They are probably pondering one or more of the questions above. But please, there is a time and a place – the place being a train, not the middle lane of the M1.

So you see, there is plenty to do in order to occupy yourself when on a train. And no, I don’t have an obsession with well-known TV wilderness expert, Ray Mears but when you’re staring at all that countryside, outdoorsy stuff sort of springs to mind.

For those missing more car content from this and my last post, here are a couple of blatantly gratuitous photos from my motoring week. One from a small classic car meet I went to on Tuesday evening in the sleepy town of Market Bosworth (of King Richard III infamy). The other from the Rutland County Showground where I took the Jaguar XF and Range Rover in preparation for this Sunday’s county show. Guess which one’s which.

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“Luke, I am your father”. Too good a photo opportunity to miss! My MKIV Sprite meets a long-lost relative which could be its dad. The MK1 “Frogeye” Sprite is cuddlier than Darth Vader though.

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What a beast! This would have Top Gear’s Matt LeBlanc salivating. I’m not a tractor fanatic but I wouldn’t mind having a go in one of  these. In a large field. Well away from any other vehicle.
Colin

“YOU CAN’T GO TO THE TICKET OFFICE, YOU NEED A TICKET”

“You can’t go to the ticket office, you need a ticket.” ??!! Yes, a member of staff at Leeds railway station actually said that to me a couple of weeks ago. I had entered the station by the smaller south entrance to be confronted by a row of automatic ticket barriers and no obvious route to the ticket office. However, it seemed that I needed a ticket to get to the ticket office. Whatever next? Will we soon be needing a passport before we can go to the passport office to apply for a passport?

I thought about asking how much a ticket to the ticket office was and when was the next train to the ticket office due to leave. Was it a direct service or would it be stopping at the toilets, WH Smith and/or the Pumpkin Cafe? Where does the train leave from? Does Leeds have its very own platform nine and three quarters for this mystery train service?

I thought better of it but my mind raced on – imagine the announcements on this unique service:

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the 12.35 express service from Leeds station south entrance to the ticket office where we are due to arrive at 12.35 and 40 seconds. Bonjour mesdames et messieurs …….”

“As the train will not actually be leaving the station, we ask that passengers refrain from using the on board toilets for the entirety of the journey. If you are that desperate, you really should have gone before.”

“Due to the short platform length, would passengers wishing to alight at the passport photo booth please make their way to the door furthest to the front in the first carriage.”

Once I had got my runaway imagination in check, I just feebly and rather plaintively said: “But I need to go to the ticket office to buy a ticket.”

“Sorry, you can’t come through without a ticket.”

“How am I meant to buy a ticket?”

He adopted a smile and a look that shouted how stupid are you (if only he knew I was stupid enough to have once deep-fried my hand. I didn’t let on). Then he replied: “Over there,” nodding at the ticket machines behind me. Now I had noticed these machines when I first walked in but I had a particular reason for wanting to go to the ticket office.

“Can I buy a ticket from Chesterfield to Leicester over there?”. Ha! Got him. I knew the answer to this one. That wiped the smile from his face.

“Er, no….. But you still can’t come through. You’ll have to walk round to the main entrance.”

So off I traipsed round to the main entrance to find a very long queue at the ticket office and only two out of eight windows open. I waited for a bit but the queue moved painfully slowly and I knew I would miss the next train. The extra wait would virtually wipe out any benefit of using the ticket office. So why was this so important? Well, delivering cars and vans as a job entails frequent use of public transport and, since starting this work, I have been inducted into the inner circle of “split ticketers”. If you are already a black belt in tiramisu and a high priest or priestess of pilates, then learning the mystic art of splitting tickets is the next stage on your spiritual journey to a higher plane.

So what is it? Put simply, if you are going from A to C via B, then it may be cheaper to buy one ticket from A to B and another from B to C, rather than one through ticket from A to C. There is one rule to remember – the train must pass through AND stop at B but you do not have to get off or change trains at B (unless, of course, you can only get to C by changing at B). Here’s a real life example from my trip to Kent last week:

Ashford International to Leicester, standard single fare £106.70. Instead, buy a single from Ashford to Bedford (£46.50) and a ticket from Bedford to Leicester (£30.60) saving almost £30. To get from Ashford to Leicester you need to change at London St Pancras, ensuring that the St Pancras to Leicester train actually stops at Bedford.

The trick is knowing at which station (or stations!) on your journey to “split” your ticket and whether or not it is worthwhile at all.  There are websites (e.g. splitticketing.co.uk and trainsplit.com) that purport to work it out for you but I have found them pretty useless. In my experience, they just tell you to buy one advance ticket for the whole journey. The Tickety Split tool in the Travel section of MoneySavingExpert.com seemed better. It does actually provide a split but in my Ashford to Leicester example, it advises that you split at St Pancras to save about £7. I split tickets based on tips from my driving colleagues and my own research, playing with the National Rail website or app.

Of course, you can save money by buying a ticket in advance but those tickets are for specific trains so you have to be sure you will catch that particular train at the given time. When I’m delivering cars, there are too many potential delays to risk buying an advance ticket. If you really want to go for it, then you may be able to combine advance tickets and the concept of splitting. If you are successful in this, then you will have achieved the status of supreme master splitter. Your training will be complete, Grasshopper, and you can move on to conquer new heights of mysticism in life’s journey to spiritual enlightenment (tantric knitting or learning to put the wheelie bin out on Tuesdays without fail).

Back to my situation in Leeds. I finally gave up on the ticket office and reluctantly went over to the ticket machines where happily (so I initially thought), there was a different type of machine that allowed you to change the starting point for your journey. So, I duly requested a single ticket from Leeds to Chesterfield, a single from Chesterfield to Leicester, hit “Pay Now” and …. “Sorry we are unable to proceed with your request”. Grrrr. With time pressing I admitted defeat and just bought one through ticket from Leeds to Leicester. Train companies 1, Colin 0. Is this all an elaborate plot to hinder and frustrate people splitting tickets? Requiring people to have a ticket to get to the ticket office, manning the ticket office with a skeleton crew, installing new ticket machines that give you the false hope that you can buy a ticket for journey starting at another station?Just so you know, I get my travel expenses reimbursed when I’m doing my driving work so I do all this for the benefit of the company I drive for but it’s an interesting little challenge!

Colin

P.S. I have since found out that if you split at the Pumpkin Cafe, you can save 8 pence on the normal fare from Leeds station south entrance to the ticket office.