Last Friday, I had to be in Brighton for a speech at 5.30pm.
The 3.30 train would get me there at 5pm.
If I missed it, the next train wouldn’t get me there until 6.30.
Which meant they’d have thousands of people watching an empty stage.
So I booked my ticket online a couple of days early.
At Victoria station they only tell you what platform the train goes from ten minutes before it leaves.
So when my platform came up, I walked over and put my ticket in.
It didn’t work.
The assistant said “The date’s wrong, this is for yesterday”.
Oh no, I need a new ticket.
Now I’ve got 9 minutes before the train leaves.
So I run over to the ticket office.
There are six windows open, but there must be a hundred people in the queue.
That would take half an hour and I’ve now only get 8 minutes until the train leaves.
Then I remember a single ticket machine on the other side of the station.
I run to it and there’s one person using it.
Okay, I stand behind her while she pays for her ticket.
I wait for her to take her ticket.
The display on the screen say she’s paid £33, there’s £2 left to pay.
I now have 7 minutes until my train goes.
Slowly she gets out her purse and starts sorting through the coins.
She puts in a coin.
Da-dunk clonk thunk.
The machine refuses it.
She roots through her purse and carefully chooses another coin.
Da-dunk clonk thunk.
The machine refuses that as well.
I now have 6 minutes left to get my ticket and get on the train.
Slowly she selects another coin.
The machine accepts her coin.
The display says she now has £1 left to pay.
I reach into my pocket about to give her a £1 coin, but she’s already put one of her own in.
Except she hasn’t.
The machine says she now has 90p left to pay.
I can’t believe it: she’s just put a 10p piece in.
I now have 5 minutes until my train leaves, and she’s paying in small change.
Slowly she drops two more coins in.
The machine deigns to accept them and the display now says she has 50p left to pay.
So she just needs a single 50p piece and she’s done.
She drops a coin in but the machine says she now has 30p to pay.
Now she’s paying in 20p pieces?
I’ve got 3 minutes left before my train leaves.
She drops another coin in, the display says she has 10p left to pay.
I want to shout “Quick, put a 10p piece in you silly cow”.
But I don’t I, I quietly stand there while she puts a 10p piece in.
Except she doesn’t.
The machine now says she has 5p left to pay.
She’s now paying in 5p pieces?
I now have 2 minutes until my train leaves.
She carefully sorts through her purse until she finds a 5p piece.
She puts it in because there aren’t any coins smaller than that.
And finally her ticket comes out.
I get to the machine, stick in my credit card, get my ticket.
I have 1 minute to make my train, I run across the station.
And I just do it as they’re shutting the barrier.
And on the train I think: all the online booking, all the cashless payments, all the brand new automated world that new media gurus are telling us will change everything forever.
At the end of it, it’s still about people, not machines.