Saturday, 24 September 2016

Stop whinging about Bake Off!

I'm in Leeds. I'm eating breakfast in a Travelodge, feeing rather chuffed because it's proper food rather than one of those weird breakfast boxes, with the hideous reject Nestlé cereals in little tubs with built in pots of long life milk and manky granola bars which make your heart sink.

This morning an odyssey begins which sees me travelling from Leeds to Manchester, before changing train stations in Manchester and heading to Stoke, where Nathan picks me up and we travel to Shropshire for my mother-in-law's 70th birthday. Confusingly I have arrived at Leeds station to discover that two trains leave for different stations in Manchester at exactly the same time. You couldn't make it up!

I booked my tickets via, who have become my least favourite people as a result. A pre-ordered ticket from Leeds to Stoke ought to have cost £42. This journey involves a change in Manchester. If, however, you have the foresight to book the two journeys separately, the cost plummets to £7.50! Yes, of course I feel a little smug, but the cost of rail travel in this country shouldn't be a lottery which can only be won by the sneaky, and those who happen to book their tickets when some sort of sale is on.

I decided to travel with a "mobile" ticket. Normally with the Trainline, you are given scores of individual tickets including seat reservations and receipts, which tumble out of a machine in the train station and royally clog up your wallet. A mobile ticket, however, sits on your phone and saves your wallet from splitting at the seams. It's a good idea, although I'm not quite sure what happens when your phone gets nicked as you whip it out to go through the barriers! The problem, I discovered yesterday morning, is that the seat reservation information is on a separate screen to the QR code which you present at the barriers. I literally couldn't find the information I needed and got into something of a panic at King's Cross whilst looking for it. Cut to me calling up the company, and instantly being transferred to a call centre in India where the woman asked me repeatedly for different numbers: passenger number, ticket number... all of which she plainly typed in wrongly because she kept telling me the system had nothing which matched. I kept trying to tell her that all I needed to know was where on my Trainline app or mobile ticket I could find the information I needed. "What is your email address?" She asked. I told her. "This email address is not on our system." "Of course it is. I get spam from you guys every week..." She put me on hold. In the meantime, I approached the man on the ticket barriers who instantly showed me where to find my seat reservation and that was that. I hate the fact that the Trainline think it's acceptable to have a call centre in India. Nathan gets very angry with me when I get all aerated about this particular issue, but I feel very strongly that it's easier all round if someone on the end of a travel line has detailed knowledge of the geography of a country, and, indeed, how the peculiarly eccentric British place names are both pronounced and spelt. I waste so much time spelling things out. It's hopeless. Had I been put through to a call centre in the UK, the person I was speaking to would almost certainly have had the app on their own phone and would have been able to answer my question in seconds without the rigmarole of asking for all those ludicrous numbers. My heart sinks when I hear someone with an Indian accent telling me their name is Roger or Belinda or Sharon, because I instantly know they'll have a script in front of them which will ultimately lead to my being forced to ask to speak to their boss, who is only slightly more qualified to answer the question I'm asking!

I was in Leeds all day yesterday for a meeting. I can't be more specific than that. I already suspect it's not going to come to anything, even though I'd really like it to. I do love Leeds. It's an honest, buzzing city. I love wandering around the market and seeing the different stalls selling crazy combinations of items. There's one stall which resembles a jumble sale with piles and piles of seemingly random items of clothing careless strewn across a trestle table. A group of women were picking various items up, giving them a shake and holding them up against themselves. For a moment I felt a little sad for them before realising that they were perfectly happy, and plainly enjoying their search for a bargain.

I had lunch in the market. The man who served me called me "kid". Instant bonus marks. And then The Name of the Game by ABBA came on the radio. I knew I'd chosen well!

One of the things I forgot to mention last night in my blog is that our American adventure next year is costing us 10-15% more than it would have done had we booked before the Brexit vote, which, for a holiday as expensive as this one, is rather a lot of money. I'm not sure what else to say about the matter other than that if you voted Brexit... Thanks...

Speaking of Daily Mail readers, I was appalled to read the headline on that dirty rag as I sat on the train yesterday. "Sweet loyal Mary and a greedy rat." The piece was obviously about the Great British Bake Off and was written by that odious homophobe, Jan Moir. It was plainly admonishing Paul Hollywood for his decision to follow Bake Off across to Channel 4, like Channel are some kind of terrible money-grabbing organisation and working for them is akin to selling your soul to the devil. Channel 4 are a risk-taking, bold, brave and wonderful broadcaster, who I am proud to have worked with on many occasions over the years. So what if Paul Hollywood wants to work for them? The arrogant party in this particular story is the BBC for refusing to pay top dollar to keep one of its programmes and thereby putting its presenters in the dreadful situation where they have to make this sort of choice in a public arena. A message to the BBC: stop resting on your laurels, stop whinging about losing Bake Off and whipping up public opinion against those who dare to show loyalty to the production company rather than the broadcaster, and get out there and focus on making the kind of shows which make the BBC the envy of the world. End of rant.

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