Traveling at Christmas is hell.

Trains are packed full of people who never get trains, all confused and lost, looking dazed as they shove their massive suit cases in the corridor whilst some people play their rubbish music full blast. It’s vicious and ugly and there is only winner- Mr. Fat Controller resting his corpulent, liquid buttocks into his Rolls Royce and laughing all the way to the bank. It’s times like this I read this blog on the site about how not to pay on a train and think, if only…

Often it seems like the trains in the UK are set up to baffle you then rip you off whilst insulting you with the fixed grin of corporate rip off Britain, where robbing you is fine as long as there is a soundtrack of shoddy versions of dusty old xmas carols to make you feel, comfy.

If things don’t work properly it’s your fault and you will be charged and if the train is late that’s your problem dear customer. Today has been another example of the mixture of Mr. Fat Controller’s incompetence and arrogance to the so called ‘customer’.


I arrived at Piccadilly station in Manchester full of the dread of Xmas travel. This is the time of year of maximum disruption and endlessly late trains. A time of year that’s expensive and with a really shoddy service, where you pay a fortune to either stand up or sit on a freezing cold bus where the driver has to keep asking passengers where the destination is as he gets lost. It’s the last few weeks before they put the fares up again, laughing all the way to the bank.


Today there was a whole new problem. A big queue at the ticket counter meant having to go to the machine to get a ticket- a £39 return from Manchester to Birmingham which is already expensive for the 80 mile journey and typical of the highest in Europe for train travel. Where does this money go? surely not to the fat cats at the top who are sat their laughing at the public?

With 7 minutes to train time, speed was of the essence but the machine was not having it and was jammed not accepting my card when I tried to pay. I tried again and it came out with a different message and still would not accept my money. This took five minutes and all the other machines were busy.


I had to run to catch the train and grab a seat, trying to guess which one could be sat in because the reserved seat system was probably broken as usual. There was the usual confusion over reserved seats and then everyone finally sat down, crammed into the tiny seats enjoying their lovely money’s worth.


Thirty minutes into the journey the ticket inspector came and I tried to buy a ticket and he attempted to charge me £71 for the same ticket! Whats this? a uniformed mugging? an argument broke out, I pointed out that £39 was taking the piss- let alone £71 and that it was hardly my fault that the ticket machine was broken. He replied in that voice reserved for patronising the public, that primary school voice so loved by little Hitlers, that it was my fault I didn’t use another machine, I pointed out that there were queues everywhere and I couldn’t and he said ‘all the other passengers got a ticket…’ now speaking like a pantomime dame. The sheep on the carriage buried there heads in shame, in Rip Off Britain it’s best to smile as they steal your money.


I had to get off in Macclesfield and buy a ticket. When I complained that the ticket machine was broken at Piccadilly as I bought my ticket I was told it was my fault for getting there late! no attempt was made to report their shoddy ticket machine. The faceless corporate announcer wished every customer a happy Xmas over the PA and played a distorted broken down version of some shoddy Xmas carol.


Welcome to the future where they rob you and try to get you down on your knees to thank them for it.


Happy Xmas to you Mr. Fat Controller.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Try National Express . It may take slightly longer , but it is cheaper , you get a seat and staff are friendlier . The British train system is just one big rip off nowadays .

  2. I’ve had a similar experience when I used to live right next to a train station, if it doesn’t except your card, I was informed you can put as little 20p into a machine and pay outstanding balance at other end. I had to pay more that time. I got my own back I just put minimum fare in and nine times out of ten no one was on other barriers at other end. Wouldn’t get away with it now with the automated barriers they’d stop you in your tracks!


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