Sunday, 12 June 2016


It's a steep drop from the efficient, nationalised public services in days of yore to the unreliable, privatised businesses of today's rip-off Britain.

Come back, Blakey, all is forgiven. (Image copyright: ITV)

I know the UK wasn’t exactly a socialist utopia in the 1970s, but as far as the public services went, when they were nationalised they were generally efficient, and if something went wrong it was usually fixed the same day. You didn’t get a load of attitude or, worse, dishonesty.

In broken Britain it’s a different story. Here’s just a few incidents of public service breakdowns that have happened to me recently.

1.    Myself and Dawn caught the number 89 bus to Bexleyheath on Tuesday. She got on ahead, bleeped her Oyster card and was about to go upstairs when mine bleeped I was out of funds and so I had to get off. Dawn asked for credit – i.e. a ticket so she could get on a later bus – and the bus driver said no. The conversation then went something like this: 

Dawn: I’ve had one before.

The bus driver ignores her.

Dawn: I said I’ve had one before.

Bus Driver: I was talking to [me].

Dawn: No you weren’t. You said I couldn’t have one.

He ignores her, prints out a credit ticket and grudgingly hands it over without saying anything.

Me: Thank you very little.

OK, I didn’t say that, but I wish I had done. A few weeks ago I got on another bus and the driver didn’t know if it called at a stop that was on his route. He was entirely dependent on his satnav.

2.    We got a black cab from Lewisham to Welling last Saturday. Instead of taking the direct route, the driver turned off into an estate and went along the side roads to clock the fare up to £25. He could tell we’d had a few and thought that we wouldn’t notice and just pay up as we wanted to get home quickly. When he dropped us off, I told him I was only paying £15 as that’s what the journey should have cost. The driver gave me some verbal about it being more expensive because it was ‘that time of night’; it was 20 to 11, hardly late for a taxi. Dawn used her phone to take a picture of his cab number and we politely told him were going to report him. He roared off, tyres squealing, and gave me the finger.

3.    A couple of weeks ago on my birthday, we took a cab from Welling to the pub in Lewisham where we were meeting friends. Dawn was rather surprised at the quote of £16 when, in the past, the same journey had cost 8. Soon after me and the girls got in the mini cab, things took a bizarre turn. Again, instead of taking the main road, the driver followed the questionable, repetitive instructions to ‘turn left, turn right’ from his satnav which put us somewhere in Kidbrooke village, miles out of the way. Unable to ‘turn left’ into a road as it was blocked by an oncoming van waiting to exit, he actually turned off the engine and sat waiting. I politely pointed out that it might be better to drive on and take another turning. The driver reacted as if this common sense idea had never occurred to him.

It took 50 minutes to get to Lewisham when it should have been a 15-20 minute journey. We paid the guy off as, by now, we just wanted to get to the pub as people had been waiting for us for over half an hour. Dawn was rightly incensed, but when she phoned the cab company, at first the controller at the other end wouldn’t pick up. When he finally did because she persisted, he said, ‘I know what you’re going to say Dawn, and you’ll have to ring after 10 tomorrow morning to complain.’ He was clearly in cahoots with the driver in trying to sting us for double the money. Dawn didn’t phone after 10 the next day. She went on every mini cab review site she could find and told the truth about what had happened.

4.    I was in Welling library and wanted to print something out from my laptop. The girl behind the counter immediately looked rather flustered, rummaged through piles of paper and assured me the information I needed ‘was here somewhere.’ I told her not to worry, but if she did find the info to let me know. She didn’t.

5.    I was in there this morning and I asked if there was anything wrong with the computers as they were all turned off. Saturday’s librarian truculently informed me that she hadn’t time to turn them on yet, in a tone of voice that clearly suggested it was my fault.

And so it goes on. Were things better years ago? I was a kid in the ‘70s, but I don’t remember my parents complaining a lot about the buses, trains or the services provided by our county council. Stuff worked and there wasn’t the unpleasant attitude of insulting people’s intelligence by ripping them off for as much money as possible, or so called customer service advisors being plain rude or ineffectual.

I’d like to think they’re in a minority, but some people clearly are Thatcher’s children.

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