The Journey – Stansted to Southampton
Ryanair, for all their faults, delivered an excellent service: departing 4 minutes early and depositing me at London Stansted 40 minutes ahead of schedule. This turned out to be a blessing, since it allowed me to get a coach to Victoria 30 minutes earlier than I’d planned.
Spending 3 months in Sweden has given me quite high expectations of public transport, and has also allowed me to forget my prejudices towards coach travel in particular. My experience of using Swebus between Linköping and Stockholm, and the Flygbussarna between Linköping and Skavsta has spoiled me somewhat. The fact of the matter is that in order for coach travel to make any sense at all, there must be fewer cars on the road. So you can imagine my shock when I found myself in stationary traffic on the North Circular which had been reduced to one lane for “maintenance”. Of course, since this is British highway “maintenance” there were no workmen to be seen!
This meant that I arrived at London Victoria at 0032. Only two minutes later than I had planned originally, however I had taken a coach that left half an hour earlier than the one I had planned… The result: a quick dash across the station to catch the train to Clapham Junction. I was in such a rush that I couldn’t take a picture of the station to put here. You’ll have to settle for Clapham instead.
At this point in my journey it was about 0045 on Wednesday morning. I hadn’t eaten a lot for fear of Ryanair in-flight prices, and had hoped that getting an earlier bus from Stansted would allow me to grab something at Victoria. And yet, I now found myself at Clapham Junction where the only food outlet open was “Gourmet Hotdogs”… Desperate times call for desperate measures and so I resigned myself to a belated dinner of factory floor meat.
One of the two men behind the counter informed me (to my dismay) that they were out of hotdogs, and that they only had crisps and drink left to sell. I explained that I had just arrived from Sweden and hadn’t eaten properly since lunchtime, and that I supposed that a couple of packets of crisps would just have to do.
Both of the men seemed to sympathise, and I was surprise to then hear them say: “Well, do you like tuna melt paninis?” They then produced a Caffe Nero paper bag containing two paninis that their friend who worked at Caffe Nero had given them. Apparently they didn’t like tuna! I was left speechless and had hardly recovered myself before they said: “You’ll need dessert as well won’t you” as they handed me another paper bag containing chocolate croissant-type pastries. “And a drink, I can’t sell this but it’s good, I promise.” Over the counter came a battered bottle of sparkling water, still sealed but unfit for retail.
“You didn’t expect that in London, did you?” they said.
And I didn’t. I would never have imagined that two guys on the graveyard shift at Clapham Junction would be so kind. I would have had a much more unpleasant journey otherwise!
I ate well on the train down to Southampton while reading the London Evening Standard (my favourite thing to do when taking the train out of the capital) and arrived at St Deny’s on time at 0251 on Wednesday morning. About 11 hours after I’d set off from Linköping.
So, what’s the damage?
£5.00 for the coach to Victoria, which should cost £10.00 if it weren’t for my military discount, and another £24.70 for the train (With a young person’s railcard)…
£29.70? For a late coach and a slow train in the middle of the night?
Even if it was the best travel experience of my life, it is not worth that much money, surely?
At least the Swedish transport network gives reasonable discounts to students and young people!
Maybe I’m being a little too judgmental; but I do really think that Britain needs to get its act together in terms of public transport. How else are we going to start lowering the number of cars on the road?
The Return Journey
I decided to take the train. Better that and arrive at Stansted early than late!
As a result, I’m sat in the airport posting this two and a half hours before my flight. The weather has gone an English grey, as if to send me off in a typical Autumn shower.
Sweden and Linköping await!