Avoid a great train robbery
I'd just been to a meeting in Nottingham which had gone very well, but I had another one in London in the mid-afternoon, so I had to take the train back at two minutes past one.
I don't know about you, but I need my lunch. There was a time when I could survive on adrenalin alone, but not any more. These days, if I don't pay attention to the pangs of hunger, I get a bit giddy.
The normal train buffet bar is a bit sordid and unpredictable. So, knowing that my Senior Railcard puts first-class travel, which includes complimentary refreshments, within fairly easy reach, I decided to splurge an extra £17.
The train, run by East Midlands Trains, left Nottingham on time, and I settled into my seat and started to read the menu. Then came an announcement: with fulsome apologies, a man told us that our 'first-class host' would not be present on this trip. But I wasn't too upset as it was announced there would be a trolley service instead.
The trolley came, and I heard a ferocious conversation a few seats behind me. One of the City gents in the same carriage wanted a bun and was very upset to be charged for it.
The lady with the trolley eventually reached me, and I decided not to be too ambitious. She offered me complimentary tea or coffee. I said: "No thank you, but I would like some water." She started to fill a cup with hot water. I said, no, cold water please, and she took a bottle from the trolley. "That will be £1.30," she said. "Stop right there," I said.
While £1.30 is not a fortune these days, and normally would slip under my radar, that's not the case when I have just been offered free hot water but then have been charged for cold. Isn't cold drinking water a basic human right in Britain? I argued.
The trolley lady stood her ground. She couldn't give me cold water free. She was not, she said, working for East Midlands Trains but for Rail Gourmet, the company that handles the catering in standard class but not the catering in first class. It charges for water.
This was its trolley, so she would charge for water. I went waterless.
Company tricks of the trade
Two things stuck in my craw - especially with no water to wash them down. First, I hate it when companies have you captive and then rip you off. Train companies are not the only culprits.
Take cinemas, for example. They tempt you in with wonderful ticket deals, like buy-one-get-one-free offers on Wednesday afternoons, or OAP special offers, but then mug you if you are thirsty or want a snack. To charge, as my local multiscreen does, £10.45 for two bottles of water and a carton of popcorn is an outrage.
Secondly, I hate jobsworths. Perhaps you remember the Jobsworth Award handed out by That's Life! to any official who stuck to a daft rule well beyond the limits of common sense. The trolley lady would have won our Jobsworth Award easily.
When I rang East Midlands Trains it told me that even without the presence of the train's first-class host, it keeps stacks of complimentary bottles of water in the kitchen, and the trolley lady could easily have given me one.
The train company said it was sorry to hear of my experience, which it thinks must have been due to a misunderstanding. To which I said, it's basically a matter of training (no pun intended), and the trolley lady should have been encouraged to make life easier for passengers who had in any case been deprived of their host, and were wrestling with the pangs of unsatisfied stomach juices.
Shall we reinstate the Jobsworth Award? I'd be happy to receive nominations from Moneywise readers.
Meanwhile, from now on when I travel by train I'm taking my own water.