Tuesday 23 September 2008

It's only called a train station in America

No idea; 8.7 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,231; England. Definitely not Wales.

Last night I got through three and half pints of draught Bass in the boozer with my friends. Checking its ABV on the internet, to make my usual daily calculation of the number of alcohol units I had consumed, I happened upon a beer lovers’ website which was overrun with vitriolic comments about what a dreadful, tasteless, degraded product it has become. Perhaps. But to look on the bright side, chaps, they also seem to have taken out the secret ingredient that always used to make me fart like a drayhorse, filling the bedroom with the sort of miasma one otherwise associated only with old-fashioned, coal fuelled gasworks. I regard this as a significant improvement, and it probably also has important, positive implications for the rate of global warming.

I listened to Today, as I usually do, and was not quite quick enough in turning off the wireless as the aptly named Michael Buerk came on air with The Choice. This raised a smile as the sacked football manager he was interviewing said “Growing up where I did, in Liverpool, every kid would have given their right arm to play professional football.” Though it would admittedly have been considerably funnier if he had said “right leg”.

I then spent a satisfactory morning updating my diary. I dread to think how much time I might devote to that if I ever actually did anything. I wonder how many hours there were in Alistair Campbell’s days when he was spinning for Tony Blair and churning out his multi-million word journal at the same time.

I had a rather nasty turn just before lunch, when a revolting, feral kid on a bike shot past me and the dog as we were taking our daily constitutional, missing me by about an inch and nearly occasioning a seizure. Then I had another nasty turn when I went to buy a newspaper and a soft drink, and noted that my usual credit card was no longer in my wallet. After a slightly panic-stricken search, I concluded that it could only be because I had left it at the railway station last night, which made a sort of sense because the noise of building work had been so intense that anyone might have been forgiven for fleeing the booking hall without making all the usual precautionary checks. I repeat this excuse, which I offered to myself because it seemed more palatable than the alternative of confessing that I am evidently suffering from senile dementia. I confess, though, that I am still not entirely convinced by it.

I then started to investigate how I might get in touch with Chester station to check whether my card was still there. Of course I knew that this would be damn nigh impossible, just as it is no longer possible to ring one’s own branch of most high street banks. I was reminded of the story of the old lady who rang the usual number for her local bank and found herself talking to a call centre in Hyderabad. She snorted that this was no earthly use to her, and the Indian gentleman at the other end, no doubt bridling under the suspicion that he was dealing with a racist, asserted with all the dignity and authority at his command that there was absolutely nothing her branch could help her with that he could not tell her from there.

“All right then,” she said. “Have I left my gloves on the counter?”

Because of the same sort of cringing deference towards our over-indulged Celtic minorities that has subjected the entirely English River Till in Northumberland to regulation by the Scottish Executive, Chester Station turned out to be managed by Arriva Trains Wales. I found their number on the internet and a recorded voice immediately started burbling at me in Welsh. God help us. But then it switched to Welsh-accented English and I was soon cheerfully pressing 4 on my keypad to be connected to their Lost Property service. The recorded voice here told me that they could only deal with enquiries about property lost more than ten days ago, look you isn’t it. If your property was lost less than ten days ago … I sat with my pen poised, ready to write down the all-the important urgent action line number … then you should wait until the ten days were up and then call again, indeed to goodness.

Well, that might be acceptable advice if you had left something unimportant on a train, like a computer disk containing details of every child benefit claimant in the country, or a memory stick listing the security codes for the UK’s Trident nuclear missiles. But it struck me as being considerably less than sod all use to someone attempting to track down a lost credit card before it was used to buy a shed load of pornography and drugs. So I tried the “all other enquiries” option on my keypad and, in fairness to Arriva Trains Wales, a very nice bloke in Cardiff kindly picked up the internal phone to Chester station and confirmed that they did indeed have my card waiting for me in the booking office.

Of course I had to collect it in person so that they could check my ID, so we all got a terrible dose of déjà-vu as I performed one of those step-by-step re-enactments that the police so love staging in the wake of major crimes. I, the dog, the LTCB and the bloke in the booking office all played our parts to perfection. But I feel that I must give a special mention to the dog, who again enjoyed a pleasant walk across Chester and then perfectly re-created the truly appalling panic attack he had suffered at the prospect of getting into the LTCB’s car for the journey home. Fortunately, just like yesterday, she did not crash it. Not even a little bit.

Which was nice.

It put us all into a good mood until we got indoors and the LTCB opened her mail and found a letter from British Gas announcing a vast increase in their monthly charges. The resulting annual cost seemed absolutely astronomic for heating a relatively small terraced house, so I used my initiative and went onto one of those money-saving websites, which duly promised that she could save hundreds of pounds if she switched to the best value provider in her area: British Gas.

Not one of my greater triumphs, I must confess.

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