I’ve just had a run-in with a machine

I’ve just had a run-in with a machine. The machine won, naturally. How could anything human beat a mindless contraption of tin and electronics programmed to take our money and give us as little as it can in return?

But to begin at the beginning. I had planned a two day trip to London, the first day to visit my sister who was throwing a party to celebrate her 51st wedding anniversary, the second to join the renowned Ken Titmuss (@oldmapman) on an escorted walk in Mayfair. I had my bag packed, my notebook in my pocket, I’d driven to the station and parked the car, what could possibly go wrong?

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The station was full of passengers, but rather ominously short on staff, and the ticket office was closed. I was directed to the first of the tin monsters, where a long queue of would be passengers were standing patiently in line and where I was told I could buy the ticket I needed. Wrong! This was a machine with a tin will of its own. Apparently it had no means of selling me any sort of ticket except a day return, a two day return seemed to be completely beyond it. In the end, I succumbed to its bullying and bought a day return hoping I might be able to do something about the ticket when I got to London. By now it was growing a little late to argue any further with a tin monster, my train was already standing in the station and there was still the matter of buying a parking ticket for the day. I went back to the car-park and met monster number two, standing blackly and implacably in front of the cars. If I thought the first machine was bad, this one was impossible. The front of it was covered with gobble-de-gook instructions, none of which applied to me and none of which were helpful. There were various buttons to push but no labels beside them to tell you what they actually did. Eventually I admitted defeat and went back into the station to see if I could find somebody there to help me. By this time my train was straining at the leash and I was beginning to feel anxious but a young porter hoped he would know how to find out how to make the monster work and he came back to the car-park with me. He didn’t have much more luck than I did, except to discover that I had to pay for the ticket with cash and the machine wouldn’t give change. I didn’t have enough spare cash to buy a ticket even for a day. After all, I’d expected to buy it with a cash-card. I went back to the station where the train was ready to depart and had a rapid consultation with the only other porter there who was Welsh and helpful and told me he’d keep an eye on the car and make sure I didn’t get a parking ticket, if I gave him the registration number.

How very much easier and more pleasant it is to deal with a human being instead of a machine. I got into my train thoroughly out of breath and feeling I knew exactly how the Luddites felt. Oh if only I’d had a hatchet!

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