Wednesday, 28 September 2016

In Scunthorpe... it's a bit like In Bruges, but not as good...

I wouldn't say Virgin Trains were tasty...
You know what? Jeremy Corbyn is right and I reckon he's there for the man in the street. Alright, if you're Richard fucking Branson, pretending to be the friendly face of capitalism, Corbyn's not for you; for heaven's sake, if Corbyn has his way, the trains will be nationalised and why not? The other day when everybody was having a go at Jezza for his ride on one of Branson's Virgin Trains, I for one, stood up for the Jezzmeister. Why? Because I've experienced exactly what he experienced on Virgin Trains. In fact, it's happened many times. Once I remember taking a Virgin train to Liverpool. It cost me over £200 (and this was a long time ago) and I had to stand all the way.

Today, similar, but let's talk first about the fare. Can you believe that it costs something like £150 to go to Doncaster? It does. I was issued a ticket by a dopey cow on my local station – a Super Off Peak Return – and, later, when I was standing in the aisle of a Virgin train carriage on King's Cross station looking, like Jezza must have, at all the little white tickets sticking out of the seats before me, I knew that I'd be 'doing a Jezza' and sitting on the floor somewhere. Already people were settling in for a long journey on the floor, put it that way.

My ticket cost £90, but it was while aboard the 1535 Glasgow train that I heard the conductor say that Super Off Peak Return tickets were not being accepted – until AFTER 7pm. I couldn't wait that long so I jumped off, at the very last minute, having discovered that it was going to cost me an additional £60. I had to check out whether this was true or not and I was not surprised to discover that it was true. The other day I flew easyJet to Vienna (and back) for £179 and I'm being expected to pay £150 to go to Doncaster. It's beardy's fault. He's so greedy he has to fleece the public. My view: nationalise the railways.

It all got a bit depressing on the Doncaster to Scunthorpe train...
I jumped off through the guard's door, which had yet to be closed. All the other doors had shut automatically and while the guard said I couldn't get off, I did. I then stood around on the concourse for a while and considered my options. Yes, I could sit around in assorted coffee shops for the rest of the day, awaiting the 1903 train that would eventually take me to sunny Doncaster (and then a local train to Scunthorpe) or I could just jump on the 1608 Leeds train, pay the extra money (which was looking inevitable) and get to my destination at a civilised hour. This I did and then I was pleasantly surprised to note that nobody checked my ticket. Yes, they said it would cost me more money over the intercom, but nobody bothered checking so I hopped off at Doncaster having paid an off-peak fare for what I'm guessing was an on-peak journey. Since when has the peak fare period started at 3pm? It's beardy again being greedy.

Not that I was bothered, I'd managed not to give him any extra cash, but then I found myself on Doncaster station faced with a criminal's dilemma. If I boarded (as I was intending to do) the 1830hrs train to Scunthorpe, perhaps the guard would notice that it was not yet 1900hrs and I was travelling with a Super Saver Off Peak Return – don't forget, folks, all I'd asked for when I bought the ticket was a return to Scunthorpe. So I thought I'd play 'the man' at his own game. I'd buy a single to Scunthorpe and not show my ticket from London. No problem. Now all I've got to do is make sure I get on a train to London before 3pm tomorrow afternoon, although I could always hide in the toilet if I see the guard coming my way.

The local train to Scunthorpe weaved its way towards its final destination and I was feeling distinctly depressed. Even up north, I noticed, pubs are being turned into restaurants. My train passed The Shapla, an Indian restaurant in a building that was clearly once a pub close to Thorne South station.

My fellow passengers looked as pissed off as I was, their faces either pensive, apprehensive or fretful. We stopped at Crowle, pronounced 'Croll' and then on toward Althorpe and over the River Trent.

Room 301, Premier Inn, Scunthorpe, UK...
By the time we reached Scunthorpe it was dark. I took a taxi to my hotel and after checking in went straight down for dinner. I found myself in a Beefeater restaurant and, well, it wasn't brilliant. For a start I was alone and bored – not their fault, to be fair – then there was the food, which was the usual pubby grubby affair. I ordered a prawn cocktail, which consisted of about six small prawns on a bed of salad smothered in a Mary Celeste sauce. There was more salad than prawns, but the sauce, oddly enough, made the bland lettuce just about edible. I forced myself to eat the salad out of sheer boredom. Oh, for a newspaper!

For main course, I ordered sea bass, 'gently steamed in a paper pouch' – they couldn't bring themselves to state 'en papillote' –  easily the best dish on the menu, as I felt there was no way it could be mass-produced. I supposed they might have employed cloning, who knows? But it was a fish and I figured it had to be just that, an individual fish. Everything else, almost everything else, might well have been manufactured in Basingstoke and shipped around Beefeater's national estate in frozen food lorries.

A glass of red wine and a bottle of still mineral water...
I ordered a large glass of red wine (Campo Viejo Tempranillo Rioja) and a small bottle of still mineral water and spent the entire meal time messing around with my phone. There was little else to do, other than people watch, but with some of the clientele, including the waitress, sporting tattoos, I thought it best not to stare too much. Perhaps they should ban people with visible tattoos from restaurants, that's what they were discussing on LBC the other day. Stick them outside with the smokers and 'vapers' and those with body piercings. Vaping is even worse than smoking in my opinion, that awful sweet stench exhaled from people's mouths is enough to make any sane person vomit. Mind you, I'm amazed that Branson hasn't cashed in on it.

In the end boredom beat me so I skipped dessert and asked for the bill. That said, why would I even dream of having dessert? Everything seemed incredibly unhealthy: not just a nice apple crumble and custard, which I would have ordered, but a "Salted Toffee Apple Crumble". How awful! Or a warm chocolate brownie or a baked cheesecake or a Banoffee Pie, a Mississippi Mud Pie, a Trio of Sponges (not just one, but a trio), Black Forest Gateau and, one nod towards healthy eating, a fruit salad with lemon curd sorbet. And let's not forget the range of heart-stopping sundaes. 'Nil by mouth' I thought as I waltzed back to my room. Alright, I skulked back.

View from Room 301, Premier Inn Scunthorpe.
Now I'm in my rather dreary hotel room, with its purple curtains, its 'tea and coffee-making facilities' – but no biscuits – and it's unruly coathangers, not forgetting the black Samsung television, the cheesy hotel art and the extra pillow stuffed at the top of the 'wardrobe' without doors. I almost forgot the bible 'placed by the Gideons' no doubt. I would love to enter a hotel room and catch a Gideon in the act of placing a bible in the bedside cabinet. Equally, it might be a worthy excuse for a criminal if caught in the act of trying to steal valuables from hotel guests.

"Oi! Who are you?"
"Me? Why, I'm a Gideon and I've just placed a bible in your bedside cabinet."
"Yeah, right! I'm calling the police."
"God bless you, son."

At least there's WiFi, but I can't be bothered with it, I'm THAT bored!

I'm looking forward to breakfast, though, as I know that this particular hotel chain excels with the most important meal of the day. I think the best Premier Inns are the ones not attached to a Whitbread pub brand. I prefer an integral restaurant, which, like most hotels, doubles as the breakfast room in the morning. Tomorrow morning, however, I'll have to nip outside, cross the road and make my way around to the Beefeater before I'll see any Coco Pops or buttered toast.

It goes without saying that there's no minibar here – perhaps they don't trust their guests – and, worse still, I can't really go for a walk as there's nowhere to go. The hotel is part of a complex of garages, fast food joints, a Morrisons supermarket and residential housing. Yes, housing, it's like being in the middle of a northern housing estate. No quaint little squares, no shop windows, nothing of merit, and the last thing I want is to be accosted by a tattooed, hooded 'youth' with a knife asking me for money, which I don't have. It happens, believe me.

So it's a night in front of the box, perhaps a bit of reading and then a bit of shut-eye. I'm reading Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a great book, it has to be said.

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