Friday, 19 October 2007
Silly me. There I was standing in front of the ticket machine at Gloucester Road Underground station clutching a £2 coin and staring inanely. I wanted a ticket to go just three stops on the Circle Line. The button for the cheapest ticket was marked £4, twice what I had in my hand.
FOUR POUNDS for three stops for heaven’s sake. My first thought was that I had come to the wrong machine; the one selling season tickets or all-zone travelcards or annual passes to the Outer Hebrides. For a nano-second I considered asking a member of London Transport staff if this was a mistake. I did not. Firstly, I could not find anyone to ask and I did not want to lose my place at the machine. Secondly, the queue at the nearby ticket window shuffled out onto the street. In the end there was no point. The square button was clearly marked: Single ticket £4.
Since when did it cost £4 to make one journey on the London Underground; how did I miss this spectacular public transport price inflation? Had I known it was going to cost me £4 to go three stops on the London Underground I would have taken a taxi. It would have been cheaper. I could travel the length and breadth of the Paris Metro six times for the same amount.
I paid up, as one does if one can and wants to get anywhere in a hurry, convinced that for this extortionate price the Tube must have undergone remarkable improvements since I last took it. Silly, silly me. The platform was heaving and the next train was not due for several minutes. Parisians rarely run for a Metro because a) it is simply not cool and they have a horror of looking ridiculous and b) because there is almost always another train along in a minute. With the Underground it is imperative you run for the train, ridiculous or not, because the next one will be ages. Then again you cannot run because it is too crowded.
Back in Paris at a party, a friend of a friend who claims his brother drives a London black cab, tells me Londoners have started taking taxis to make short journeys. This makes a nonsense of attempts to reduce road traffic by encouraging people to use public transport. Another friend of a friend says it is entirely my own fault for not buying an Oyster Card, then disappears before I can find out what this is and what it can do for me. I promise you, I have never heard of an Oyster Card.
One guest, overhearing our conversation, suggests dark forces are at work trying to get rid of London’s black cabs. He claims to know this for a fact because someone "high-up's bird’s bruvva” owns a mini-cab firm. It all sounds a conspiracy theory too far and I would have taken issue with him, particularly over the “bird” word, but I notice he has several front teeth missing and he has admitted to being a Stamford Bridge “hooligan” in a former life. I decide, for once, to shut up.
Back home from the party, I wake up my husband to ask how he would pronounced Gloucester Road. I have to spell it out. He says sleepily: “Glue-says-stair Rod”. I feel better already.