I wasn’t going to head out on Good Friday night, having been out the previous night and suffered the after-effects the following day. But listening to 6 Music’s revival of Radio 1’s Evening Session saw the years fall off me. So off out to capture the spirit of 1996 I went. Well, alright, having failed to secure a crack troupe of 30something nostalgia enthusiasts at short notice to storm the New Cross Venue, I went to the pub instead.
The quickest way to the pub? By train from Charlton to Maze Hill, of course. At £1.30 with an Oyster card, it’s only 10p more than a bus. Not that anyone will check your ticket, mind. I’d looked at the next train departures before leaving, so knew it was a depleted Sunday service and my next train would be only a couple of minutes late.
Those who just rocked up to the station weren’t so lucky, with the departure boards not working.
Worse was to come when the six-car train pulled in (cue mass sprint up the platform). Walking up the train and preparing to get off at Maze Hill, a pissed bloke appeared. “‘Allo bruv, how’re you doing…” He cut the crap soon enough. “Have you got 90p so I can get off at London Bridge…”
“Sorry, I haven’t, mate – you don’t need a ticket, anyway,” I told him. Which is true – travel on Southeastern’s effectively free because the company doesn’t check tickets in the evening, especially on bank holidays.
“Don’t take the piss out of me, bruv…”
Oh, shit. Luckily, there were enough handy-looking lads sat nearby whose heads swivelled around at the first sign of a confrontation. They clocked him, he clocked them, it bought me a moment to get out of the situation and hop off at Maze Hill as planned. On the platform, I realised he’d only do it to someone else, so I thought I’d do something.
Southeastern doesn’t staff its stations at night, nor do its trains have guards. Security staff are as rare as hen’s teeth. So I thought I’d let the help point know. Since it wasn’t an emergency, I hit the green “information” button. It was answered quickly and I explained what happened. I was told I should press the “emergency” button. Right-o.
So I pressed the emergency button. It rang, rang, and rang again. And then rang off. I walked away in disbelief… then thought I should try again.
I returned and tried the emergency button again. It rang off again, without answer. I tried a third time… and again, nobody was there to answer an emergency call.
The bloke on the green button ended up getting my story. I only wanted to call ahead because it was nigh-on certain that this joker would try it on with someone else and would probably cause trouble at London Bridge, if he was off there. I gave my name and phone number, and heard nothing back. Heaven knows what would have happened if I or anyone else had been attacked, because nobody at Southeastern would have been there to take the call. But hey, while the shareholders are making a profit, why should customer safety matter, eh?
My vein-popping fury at political parties who endorse the false economy of privatised rail aside, this is why initiatives like the Charlton station users’ group are so important. Because while we’re stuck with a rail network that works for shareholders’ benefit, at least it’s a chance to go direct to people at the companies concerned instead of dealing with dead-brained call centres or e-mail helpdesks.
A few weeks ago, I got off a train at the outpost which is Walthamstow Queen’s Road station. It was about 10.30pm on a Saturday night. Even though there was only a couple of trains each hour passing through the station, there was a security guard on the platform employed by London Overground. He gave me directions to my friend’s place off Hoe Street – in fact, he seemed delighted to be able to help me get my bearings.
That experience, and my moment at Maze Hill last night, reminded me that we have a long way to go, stuck here with south-east London’s crappy networks.