Polish Ecstasy tend to let a gambler’s attitude pervade most aspects of life, whether this be staying in bed until the last possible moment (and beyond) before being massively late for work or taking death defying risks as we leap through closing doors and speed through red lights on the daily commute.
In the first of these columns, which are gambler’s guides to everyday life we’re going to address travelling on the train and principally the Peterborough to London, East Coast Mainline route.
The leaden poetry inherent as the driver intones “St Neots... Sandy... Biggleswade...Stevenage... Potter’s Bar”; the oceans that would swell and recede season by season on the flood plains between Ely and March, the sense of leaving behind places you’ll never ever know; there is a mundane beauty to travelling between Britain’s big cities by train.
As the carriages wait on the outskirts of forgotten towns and cities or trundle across the fields between, the passenger is left to gaze out into the middle distance somewhere between the scenery and their own reflection. Needless to say, these pleasurable moments of disengagement are all too often interrupted by hair gel slicked provincial teenagers - all Breezers, nasal voices and cheap aftershave; gales of boozy laughter from toxic hen parties, banal conversations conducted at hurricane volume, persistent coughs, roaming stenches, lonely perverts or the silent threat of shark-eyed psychopaths but somehow they abide in the gaps between.
Many other grave assaults on the senses face the travelling man on his way across the country but none inspire greater feelings of helplessness and impotent rage than the dreaded site of the ticket inspector emerging through the doors at the other end of the carriage.
As a child travelling with my parents I‘d always felt a twinge of annoyance when arriving at the end of a journey, unchecked ticket in hand, knowing that we could have got away with it. Later, having begun criss-crossing the country’s railway networks under my own steam during my faltering adolescence, the nebulous morality issues surrounding paying my fare began to crystallise - like the abundance of jelly in a British Rail pork pie - around one thing: the crushing effect it had on my already sparse pocket money. Seeds of resentment were sewn.
The years passed with the haircuts, a brief trist with the Ministry of Sound's 'Ibiza Annual' and various other misguided obsessions and love affairs (Kimberley Stiff, the elusive and ultimately treacherous Carol) came and went and in the autumn off 2002 I left for university. During the fallow weekends I would often find myself travelling home for band practises or to London on the trail of The Libertines. Feelings of overwhelming freedom abounded, all wrapped up in warm beer, blue smoke*, and the songs of ‘Up The Bracket’.
As my visits to the capital became more common the seed of disobedience that had formed in my childish breast began to flower and I would take my ticketless chances with more or less unhindered success on the route operated formerly by WAGN between Peterborough and London, all the time gaining knowledge and expertise. It is with these fond memories in mind (as well as mounting consternation at constantly rising ticket prices and their ever more abstract relation to increases in service quality and reliability) that I hope to give the gift of worry free travel that only an extra thirty quid in your sky rocket or a near failsafe excuse system can bring, with the low down on how to minimise fares along this well worn route.
Disclaimer: Polish Ecstasy does not condone fraudulent or naughty behaviour in any fashion whatsoever.
For those of you unfamiliar with the route in question it is important to remember ticket inspectors travel infrequently up and down the line so it’s always necessary to keep an eye out for them. Anecdotally speaking, the amount of times you bump into one and are forced to part with some cash tends to be a sufficiently low percentage of total trips to recommend a policy of blanket free travelling. The trick is to minimise the damage when you are caught and the best way to do this is to remember the last station you passed so that you can claim to have got on there. It is necessary to know which stations do not use ticket barriers (make a reference to the check-list below) as it is perfectly plausible that you may have had to run to catch the train and not had time to visit the machine.
- Peterborough - Guards on exits at random times
- Huntingdon - Barriers on Northbound platform
- St Neots - No reliable data
- Sandy - No barriers,
- Biggleswade - No barriers
- Arlesey - No barriers
- Hitchin - Barriers
- Welwyn North - No barriers
- Welwyn Garden City -Barriers
- Stevenage -Barriers
- Potters Bar - No reliable data, barriers expected
- Finsbury Park - No barriers
- Kings Cross - No barriers, Guards on exits at random times
* Getting off at Finsbury Park will save you trouble as well as time at the London end more often than not.
* Often Ticket Inspectors seem to swoop at Huntingdon.
* Stevenage is a shit hole.