I travelled back from Birmingham First Class the other day, a complimentary First Class ticket offered by Cross Country Trains, the complimentary bit being the upgrade to First, I don’t know why but you don’t refuse things like that do you ?
So what does going First Class on a Cross Country train entail, what extra bits do you get in First that you don’t get in Standard class ?
Well for one thing you can’t open the fucking doors to get off at your destination thats what, I nearly pulled a groin injury trying to get the bloody door open after it stopped in Leeds and had visions of me being trapped on the train until it reached York (or further) and having to pay to come back – a situation not helped by the bloody doors not having any bloody handles on them.
It had all started so well too albeit that the train was 30 minutes late leaving Birmingham, a crime for which Cross Country Trains were eager not to accept any blame for whatsoever for 30 minutes late on any train service now is serious stuff indeed, probably punishable by death, “We apologise profusely for the delay on this service” spoke the train manager on the train intercom every ten minutes for the next two hours, “its not our fault but this train was delayed on its journey to Plymouth this morning and it has had a knock-on effect all day, we do apologise and please don’t tell the rail operators and especially not your local MP because we will be in deep shit if anyone official finds out…”
I stepped aboard Coach A, the First Class coach right at the very end of the train and instantly the hustle and bustle and general crapyness of the dirty underground station that is New Street was left behind on the platform, here inside Coach A everything was muted, muted lighting, muted pastel pinks and purples, wider seats than in standard class, everyone has a proper table, its properly air conditioned, there are curtains at the windows, its quiet, people speak in whispers and those that do speak have refined accents and say “please” and “thank you my man”, its like travelling as a Regency Dandy.
It was quiet on Coach A because there was only eight other people on it so for a change I managed to find the seat number marked on my ticket and found it with no-one already sitting in it, for once I could sit down on the two hour journey from Birmingham to Leeds, I was starting to like First Class.
I liked it even more when a uniformed lackey came around with the tea trolley serving tea from a proper teapot and coffee from a proper coffee pot and fresh orange from a Del Monte carton, well you can’t win them all can you, I watched carefully as he served two other people further up the coach, no he didn’t seem to be taking cash from them, this must be the fabled “complimentary” tea and coffee that I had heard about rather than the “Jesus Christ” expensive tea and coffee that you get charged for in standard class, I partook of a very nice Starbucks coffee and he gave me some free shortbread biscuits too, no cake though, I asked for cake but he had none, “there has to be cake” I protested, “not on this train” he observed with the air of a man who knows his shortbread biscuits but not cake.
The old man and his wife sat on the other side of the aisle to me had the cheek to ask if he was serving any complimentary wine, I suppose when you get to their age you don’t give a shit about offending anyone or appearing to be cheapskates and to my surprise the uniformed lackey advised that yes, he had an extensive cellar of wine in the next coach, it was red or white he said, they asked for red and he went and fetched a bottle for them and some plastic goblets, was there no end to the ostentatiousness in First Class ?
It was a very pleasant journey, I read a book, it was very quiet, very subdued, apart from the old couple across the aisle who wittered away to each other like a pair of love struck teenagers, honestly they must have easily been in their eighties and yet were so excited about travelling all the way from Birmingham to Edinburgh, they had very little luggage, had rented an apartment in Edinburgh and had their luggage sent on in front of them, they were looking forward to their seat at the theatre tomorrow night, honest, I wasn’t ear-wigging on purpose but I know them better than I know my own family now, she was the most excited of the two, she searched the internet on her Blackberry, its come to something when eighty year olds have Blackberry’s these days, Jesus wept in my day your average eighty year old stayed in bed all day waiting to die, now they surf the web on Blackberry’s and travel First Class on trains, somewhere between Derby and Chesterfield she booked them another First Class seat on a train from Edinburgh to Inverness, “It will be so beautiful my dear” she told her doddery old husband, “it goes right through the Highlands” I hadn’t the heart to tell her that it doesn’t, it goes up the coast and travels through shit holes like Arbroath and a hundred other coastal council estate towns, still, it might be raining so they can’t see out of the windows.
And then finally Leeds, I gathered my bags as the huge long train swept around the final bend on the approach into City Station and as it drew to a halt I reached for the door to exit onto the platform with a flourish as if to pronounce to all of the plebs alighting further down the train “Look at me, exiting from First Class, I’ve had free coffee you know” but there was something wrong, for there was no button to press.
Theres usually a button you see, the train stops, the electric locks unlock, a light comes on and beckons you to press the button with the sign above that says “Press Button When Lit To Open Door”, its foolproof, its a foolproof system, what could be more foolproof, a button that says “Press Button When Lit To Open Door”, even an imbecile that can’t read very well could work that one out for himself, but in First Class, nothing.
A woman approached, she too was alighting, “Theres no button” I said, a note of panic entering my throat for these trains don’t wait for long, oh no, just long enough for everyone to get off and then on and they’re off and as they keep warning you the doors may lock up to a minute before departure so you can knock a minute off the time they wait for starters, no button, couldn’t open door, pushed at the bar on the door but it wouldn’t move, “NO BUTTON!” I told the woman, she went to the door next to mine, “NO BUTTON!” she said, oh bugger, we were locked in First Class with no means of escape and the next stop York with no guarantee that we’d have worked out how to open the frigging door by the time we got there, I may end up in Edinburgh with the old couple at this rate.
Then I saw it, the instructions on how to open the door, written on the door, how obvious, but I didn’t have my glasses on and it was all blurred, it showed a diagram of someone doing something to the door and it swinging freely open, but I couldn’t read it, it may as well have been written in Swahili and for all I know it was.
I looked at the woman, “RUN!” I shouted and we both dashed out of Coach A and into Coach B to see if anyone smarter than us had worked out how to open the doors but Coach B was First Class too and there was only one man in there and he wasn’t getting off, he looked rather baffled as I ran past holding both my bags in the air shouting “NO BUTTON!” and “KEEP RUNNING!” until we reached Coach C and there was an open door “HERE!” I shouted at the woman who was many yards behind and I leaped from the train with a cry of “FREEDOM!” in true WIlliam Wallace style and not a moment too soon as mere seconds later there was a loud beeping noise and then the doors hissed shut ready for departure.
That was no way to exit First Class and if I’d had more baggage, why, my butler may still be riding that train …