National Express, or Swings and Roundabouts

Well, that didn’t last long, did it?

Don’t worry, It’s only a one-off. We’re celebrating my freedom with a short trip to Scotland which meant we finally got to try out the newly enfranchised National Express trains on the old GNER East Coast Main line route. On the whole, apart from some hastily repainted livery, not much has changed. The prices seem to have gone up (£157 EACH for an open return – that’s worse than TfL) and the restaurant car has either disappeared or is kept as a guilty secret between the first class passengers and the train crew. But then on the other hand, the toilets remained unblocked at least as far as Newcastle (something of a record) and the standard of passengers’ comedic Geordie banter has improved immeasurably (sample dialogue: ‘Did you gerrim something nice for Christmas?’ ‘Aye, I did’ ‘What did you gerrim?’ ‘Bottle of whiskey’ ‘That’s not a nice present that’s just alcohol’ ‘Wha’s wrong wi gerring him alcohol for Christmas?’ ‘Well there’s no thought in it, alcohol, is there?’ ‘Yes there is, there was plenty of thought in it, he shared half the bottle wi me!’). And – in pitiful compensation for the loss of the restaurant car – we did get 20p off our cheese and ham toasties at the buffet ‘because you look like happy people.’

But it was on our way back from the buffet with our hot bargain toasties that we met what almost turned out to be our nemesis: the National Express One-Way Trolley of Doom. The trolley (‘Any hot drinks, sandwiches, refreshments?’) was at one end of the carriage, parked beside the table seats, so there was no way of slipping past. I stood patiently and waited for the girl to finish serving her customer, expecting her to pull the trolley forward or back a couple of feet so I could squeeze into one of the many empty seats but she resolutely ignored me and called out her siren song again. Did any passengers want any hot drinks, sandwiches, refreshments? They did. First she served the Japanese gentleman a coffee and then got into a tangled conversation with him over whether he owed her any more money (he, having clearly been in London too long, was trying to pay her an extra two pounds for his coffee). Then the chap opposite him wanted to buy his colleague a drink and needed a receipt. At this point, with our hot toasties now more like warm toasties, I cracked. Could she just move the trolley for a second to let us slip by? No, she couldn’t, because the trolley only went one way. More passengers proffered notes with more and more complicated requests. The other half was getting restless. Finally, she relented. She started to shift the trolley in its one singular direction so we could escape, at which point the chap on the other side of the trolley, who I thought had been waiting to pass as well, grabbed it by the handle. He wanted hot drinks, sandwiches AND refreshments and he wanted them now.

Fortunately the trolley girl, possibly alerted to the fact that she was about to be annointed with two now cooling cheese and ham toasties, stood firm, or rather, backed up firmly. She yanked her trolley out of his grasp, explaining once more it only went one way, and suggested her follow her and her siren call down the aisle. We escaped with a sound like a cork popping out of a bottle to enjoy our cheese and ham toasties. And the only mystery now is how she managed to be seen coming back up the aisle with her siren call (Any hot drinks, sandwiches, refreshments?’) and her One Way Trolley of Doom.

We’re guessing they have to wheel it out of the train at the stations and pick it up bodily and turn it around. I am SURE that never happened on GNER.


9 responses to “National Express, or Swings and Roundabouts

  1. I knew you would miss it too much to disappear for ever but… didn’t expect you back quite so soon.

    My this writing thing must be paying well already – how much to go to the land of the midnight t-shirt? £157 – wow – think I’ll give up the poorly paid IT consultancy lark and become a struggling writer….. x

  2. And what did they taste like, eventually? Have they started serving food on trains now that NE run the show?

    You are to be commended for your cool head. I think I’d have lost mine.

    Oh, and – her trolley is hollow. Once it’s empty, she can crawl through it. It’s like something off Paul Daniels.
    (I bet Hans Moretti had one of those trolleys).

  3. I seem to vaguely remember something on the local news about them getting rid of the restaurant car.

    Is this woman with the one-way trolley the one mentioned in the Divine Comedy song?

  4. thickmike – I wasn’t going to post, but this was blog gold and unignorable. And the tickets were paid for when I still had a job…

    Mike – food? Not exactly. They tasted like the usual railway buffet food-substance. When we all start eating out of tubes and pills like astronauts, I imagine it will all taste like a NE cheese and ham toastie that’s been left too long before eating

    Yorks – I am not familiar with that song, but if you hum it, I will play it…

  5. I’ve got so sick to death with GNER, NXEC or whatever they are called now, that on my weekend trips to Peterborough I go via Ipswich and use One trains instead of via London. It has the added advantage of being free and although the return journey on Sunday is timetabled to take 5 hours (engineering works) it actually takes 5 hours, rather than being timetabled for 2.5 hours and taking 5 hours due to no trains comming down from Leeds, or a problem in London, or a complete lack or arsedness over running trains.

  6. I am afraid that this is a bad habit faithfully copied from GNER-the same trolley people are now rebranded. Better go by Virgin which has a shop but no mobile traffic jam

  7. I was once the girl behind the trolly. It is true they only go one way. There’s a brake mechanism so you can’t push it forward, only pull it backward. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to be serving customers and having people lined up behind your trolly impatiently waiting to get by. It’s the worst job on the train, just wait for her to finish.

  8. Sounds like a serious design flaw to me.

  9. Also, she was doing you a favour. Don’t eat those toasties if you value your health.

    From the condition of the griddles, so very lax refridgeration practices… the only thing I’d touch on a train is canned beverages.

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