If you contrive to lose your reading glasses in a particular place – and you’d be an idiot to plan to do that, admittedly – then I recommend you don’t leave them on a train, as I did last night. They’re easily, though expensively, replaced and even though I was seething last night, I worked out by this morning that the fault was all mine. But before arranging an appointment with Specsavers to acquire a replacement pair, I made the mistake of contacting Great Western Railway (it is anything but great, trust me) to see if they had turned up. What kind of fool am I?
Thanks to that idiot John Major who flogged off the railways to the private sector – even Thatcher thought that this was a privatisation too bonkers to even contemplate – and ‘New’ Labour for not renationalising them, we are left with a mess, as I found out today.
My first check was on the internet where I found that GWR have flogged off their lost luggage facility to another private company who charge you for having a quick look. I then rang GWR where I was put through to a man in – you know what’s coming – an Indian call centre. The chap who dealt with my query at least sounded vaguely interested but not particularly, how do I put this, competent. But can you imagine trying to explain to an Indian gentleman with, shall we say, a dubious understanding of English where Patchway is and how you spell it? “I got off at Patchway?” “How you spell that, Sir?” “Don’t you have a map or a timetable?” “No Sir.” I was polite, I hasten to add, because it was not his fault that shysters who run the railways have preferred to employ some cheap foreign labour rather than go to the trouble of paying some English workers the minimum wage. “We will get back to you in up to 10 days if we find anything,” he said. “What, are you coming over to look for the glasses yourself?” I didn’t say, but wish I had. It got worse.
The Indian voice told me that it would also be a good idea to contact Arriva trains and South West trains. “Why?” was my perfectly serious reply. Because, he explained patiently, it could be that the train was cleaned in Cardiff by contract cleaners used by Arriva or it might have been cleaned in Southampton by contract cleaners used by South West Trains. “Since when was Southampton in the south west?” I also didn’t say.
As well as sending email confirmations to the three railway companies and wasting around an hour of my not particularly valuable time, two things had occurred to me: 1) There was no chance of me ever seeing those glasses again. 2) How much easier would it have been if we had just the one railway company employing – and here’s a novelty – British staff? 3) I had lost the will to live.
Better still, at least two of these companies guarantee they won’t bother to contact you if they don’t find lost items of luggage, so I know I’ll be waiting until the end of next week for nothing now.
The sheer insanity of having so many companies running the railways is bewildering. We now spend more as taxpayers on the railways than we did when we owned them. Three different companies, who operate on publicly owned tracks (because tracks don’t make money we, the mug punter public have to pay for the tracks), who contract out every single bloody aspect of their operations to other companies who make their slice of profit by paying staff as little as they can get away with. And guess what? The generic and geriatric rolling stock is, as we rail enthusiasts call it, shit.
I have certainly learned my lesson well, at least until the next time. Don’t lose your glasses on a train. You may get them back on day but don’t bank on it. I’ve already booked a Specsavers appointment specifically on the basis of what I went through today. Piss ups and breweries spring to mind.