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9:27am on Tuesday, 4th March, 2008:



On Thursday, my elder daughter is off on another one of her jaunts to look at universities. This time, it's Bristol, but she's going alone because the journey is identical to the one to Bath except for the last 15 minutes, and I have teaching on Thursday so can't go with her anyway.

I'm off being an external examiner today in Portsmouth, and for a change am going by train (my wife needs the car tomorrow). Therefore, when I bought my ticket to Portsmouth yesterday, I thought I'd get my daughter her Bristol ticket, too.

Colchester to Bristol, one day return with the underground, setting off before 9am: £184. This, Prime Minister, is why we prefer to use cars when we can.

After expressing signs of anxiety at the cost of a ticket, the ticket clerk told me it might be cheaper if I specified the exact trains I wanted. This, I reported, I couldn't do as the tickets were for my daughter and neither I nor she knew exactly when she'd be travelling back. "Does she have a Young Person's Railcard?" asked the clerk. No, she doesn't. What do I need to get her one?

I was told I needed a photograph and proof of her date of birth. I didn't need my actual daughter. With a railcard, the cost of a ticket would drop to £121.

So, I went home, persuaded my daughter to hand over her driving licence and a spare passport photograph, and went back. I was served by the same ticket clerk.

"Here you are", she said, handing me a form. "Fill this in in your daughter's name."

I filled it in, until I got to the part where it asked for a signature.

Now, see, if she'd said there was a signature requirement, I could have taken the form with me and got my daughter to sign it at home. However, I was told I only needed a photograph and proof of date of birth. I explicitly asked if I needed anything else, specifically my daughter, and was told that no, I didn't. Yet here I was, looking at a place expecting her signature.

Amazingly, I won the resulting altercation. Normally, arguing with any minor functionary in the UK is like arguing with a tape recording, however this one seemed unusually susceptible to appeals to natural justice (if not logic), and really, really wanted to get back to her sudoku. She capitulated surprisingly quickly.

I paid the £145 (she had mentioned before that railcards cost £24 to buy, but hadn't mentioned that this wasn't included in the £121 figure she gave me) and my daughter is now the proud possessor of her own, personal discount on rail travel in the UK.

Now all I need to know is how come when, a couple of weeks before Christmas, two of us did the same journey (bar the last 15 minutes) at the same time of day, it only cost £124 in total.

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).