Complaint: Where Is My Refund – 1

You can apply for a refund for your journey from TFL if your underground train is delayed by 15 minutes or more. There used to be an app that would do it for you automatically – but strangely enough TFL stopped it from working before the disastrous Met line signalling “upgrade” in September.

Anyway, sometimes TFL reject the refund requests. This does not always amuse me.

Oh and they had promised us automatic refunds once the disaster unfolded. Which not one single customer reported receiving. Strange that. I wonder how many people are not as persistent as me, and just didn’t bother applying – expecting their promised automated refunds?

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Dear Sir/Madam

I’m not sure if you are aware, but recently TFL decided to launch new signalling on the Metropolitan line.

Great!

Except you didn’t bother to train the drivers to use them.

This is not my complaint about that utter shambles – that is coming – this is a complaint about something which is almost as offensive as Boris Johnson, namely the rejection of 3 of my delay claims:

02/09/2019 Rayners Lane to Paddington at 08:21.
03/09/2019 Rayners Lane to Paddington at 08:18
08/09/2019 Kentish Town to North Harrow at 15:12

So on 2nd, I went to Rayners Lane – there was an announcement that the Met line train was full, so I had no option but to get the slower Piccadilly line.  This journey, including extra walking, took much longer than it should have done.

Likewise on 3rd – this time there was no Met line train at Rayners Lane due for 30 minutes.  30 minutes!  So no choice but to get the slow Piccadilly line.

Then on 8th, this journey was again ridiculously slow, and well over the advised time by circa 20 minutes.

Please can you ensure all these are reconsidered for refund.  Given the appalling service all month, all commuters should really be getting full refunds for the month’s travel.  At least give us what we were promised.

Regards
James Winfield

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Dear Mr Winfield

Thank you for contacting us on 26 September about regarding the delays on the Metropolitan line.

I would like to apologise for the issues you experienced when attempting to use the Metropolitan line and I also thank you for your patience around this.

I have investigated your service delay refund request and I can see that you received refunds on; 24 September for £26.60, 25 September £4.70 and 11 September £12.30.

This appears to have covered all your service delay refunds request however if you feel there are any still outstanding feel free to get in touch with us and we will be happy to investigate this further.

I trust this has answered your query and would like to thank you again for taking the time out to contact us.

I’ve also attached a copy of our frequently asked questions to help with any questions you may have.

Kind regards

Customer Service Adviser
Transport for London Customer Services

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Hi

I’m afraid that this does not resolve the issue – and I still have not had all the refunds expected.

What is particularly offensive is having refunds rejected from that total disaster week when new signalling was launched which doesn’t work – the ones that customers were supposed to be getting automated refunds from, yet no customers seem to have had what was promised to them.

Please can you look into why the following journeys have not been refunded – I believe that they are all due a refund:

01/09/2019 16:36
02/09/2019 08:21
03/09/2019 08:18
04/09/2019 08:30
08/09/2019 15:12
16/09/2019 08:19
Please refer to my original e-mail if required, regarding the refunds for 02/09/2019 to 04/09/2019.

Kind regards
James

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10 days later…

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Have you received my e-mail?

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Dear Mr Infield

Thank you for your email of 15 October 2019 enquiring if we have received your email.

I’m sorry for the delays on the metropolitan line and I appreciate you taking the time to contact us about this matter.

I am pleased to confirm that I have processed a refund of £50 which will be credited back to your bank account. It will take within 3 to 5 working days for the refund to show on your account.

Please check your payment history to see the refund I have processed.

You can apply for incomplete journey and service delays refunds yourself. You can also check the status of refunds that have already been processed by signing in to your TfL Online account.

I trust this information is helpful and resolves this matter.

Thanks again for contacting us. If there is anything else we can help you with, please reply to this email.

Kind regards

Customer Service Adviser
Transport for London Customer Services

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Moral of the story? Never give up. Episode 2 coming soon.

Metropolitan Line – FOI Request

Dear Sir/Madam

I would like to find out more about why there was such a disastrous launch of the new signalling equipment between Finchley Road and Euston Square stations, on the Metropolitan line on w/c 2nd September.

  1. Who took the decision to launch the new signalling on Monday 2nd September?
  2. When was this decision made?
  3. When did management realise that not enough drivers had been trained to use the new signalling equipment?
  4. Would there have been a financial cost to TFL had the launch been delayed, to allow more time to train drivers to use the new signalling equipment? If so, can you quantify it – I appreciate that exact figures may not be available. A ballpark figure would be sufficient.
  5. Are any bonuses paid to any members of TFL management based on the on-time delivery of the signalling modernisation of the Metropolitan line? If so, are you able to release details of potential bonus amounts and to whom?

Kind regards
James Winfield – a long-suffering Metropolitan line customer.

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Dear Mr Winfield

TfL Ref: FOI-1790-1920

Thank you for your email received by Transport for London (TfL) on 14 September 2019, asking about the Metropolitan line signalling modernisation.

Your request has been considered in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act and our information access policy. I can confirm we do hold the information you require. You asked:

  1. Who took the decision to launch the new signalling on Monday 2nd September?

The decision was made by the London Underground directors based on recommendations from the project team. The programme has been working towards this commissioning for a number months but in particular there were two weekend closures over the summer where the signalling was tested and drivers were familiarised on the 20th / 21st of July and 10th / 11th August. In summary the recommendation to proceed with the launch was based on the culmination of the completion of the testing and commissioning programmes underpinned by the results from the operational proving weekends.

  1. When was this decision made?

The final decision to proceed with the launch was made on 28 August 2019.

  1. When did management realise that not enough drivers had been trained to use the new signalling equipment?

All train operators were fully trained and certified to operate the new signalling system prior to its introduction. However, in addition and as part of our commitment to safety, all train operators had to be accompanied through the new section by an Instructor Operator the first few times they went through the new commissioned signalling area. We refer to this as ‘familiarisation’. The need to familiarise train operators is why we had to operate a reduced service.

It should also be noted that we expected that there would be some delays to the Metropolitan line services once the new signalling system was live, so ahead of the launch, we rolled out a programme of communications to inform our customers and stakeholders of the anticipated disruption.

An unexpected challenge we faced on the Monday following introduction was that a number of train operators weren’t able to complete familiarisation due to a defective train at Finchley Road preventing trains getting through the area. This, as well as other minor operational incidents unrelated to the signalling, had a knock on impact on the availability of train operators and delayed the broader familiarisation plan. This all meant that the rate at which drivers could be fully familiarised during the first week was slower than anticipated

  1. Would there have been a financial cost to TFL had the launch been delayed, to allow more time to train drivers to use the new signalling equipment? If so, can you quantify it – I appreciate that exact figures may not be available. A ballpark figure would be sufficient.

Had the launch been delayed to accommodate ‘driver familiarisation’ then we would have had to accommodate additional line closure/closures in the overall Four Line Modernisation Programme. This would carry a cost of around £300,000/closure to the programme but is entirely dependent on the volume of closures required and the associated impact on the Four Line Modernisation programme in its entirety.

  1. Are any bonuses paid to any members of TFL management based on the on-time delivery of the signalling modernisation of the Metropolitan line? If so, are you able to release details of potential bonus amounts and to whom?

No bonuses are paid to any TfL management as a direct consequence of the delivery of the signalling modernisation of the Metropolitan line.

If this is not the information you are looking for, or if you are unable to access it for some reason, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Please see the attached information sheet for details of your right to appeal as well as information on copyright and what to do if you would like to re-use any of the information we have disclosed.

Yours sincerely

FOI Case Officer

FOI Case Management Team

General Counsel

Transport for London

Moments of 2019

I know I should have written this back in December when people do those whole “look back” kind of things but maybe it would have got lost with everyone else posting pictures of themselves 10 years between.

I did write some notes, vaguely, and it was astonishing as to just how much fun and enjoyment I had in 2019.

There is so much that I am missing out here – holidays to Madrid and Corfu/Albania, two days at the cricket in The Ashes, the wonderful RA Summer Exhibition which I love so much, my leaving do at Lovespace, adventures to places like Canterbury and, erm, Croydon – not to mention dozens of roast dinner missions. And probably some great things that I’ve just totally forgotten about.

10. Canary Wharf Lights

There are many things I did in 2019 that would have a better argument for being in my top 10, but this deserves a place due to the context – it was at the end of January, it was cold, I was well into my detox and there wasn’t much happening.

Summer is so much more fun than winter, so this stands out compared to what else I was doing (or not doing) around that time. Just walking around and visiting various light exhibitions. Although I was disappointed not to get “Brexit” on the random newspaper headline words made into drops of water…which is so fucking clever.

9. Brexit March

Have I ever been on a political march before? Possibly not, but nothing has angered me as much as Brexit has.

I didn’t expect to change anything, I didn’t want the “will of the people” to be over-turned or ignored – but I very much wanted to show my anger about just what a bad decision I believe this to be.

It became easy to feel shame about Britain and the backwards, intolerant, illiberal direction that I feel it is taking – but this march was probably a step back towards having pride in my country, with the full reflection of the eccentricity and welcoming wonder of British people on display – even welcoming those dressed as Donald Trump.

8. BOA Reunion

What is a BOA, I hear some of you saying. Well, back in 2006, “Back Once Again” was the name of a group on the now-defunct clubbing social media website, Don’t Stay In.

It was the start of the most extraordinary fun (and occasionally painful) period of my life, with so many wonderful new friends and just a ridiculous amount of unprintable stories.

Many of us have kept in touch, despite having spread out across the world from our initial meeting point of Reading, and in October a good chunk of us met up for a few beers in Reading. Ahhh I love all those friends soooo much. And I nearly missed the last train back to London – note to self, get hotel room in 2020.

7. Met Office Tour

At the end of February, my dearest sister and my dearest friend took me for a secret birthday weekend away, which ended being in Exeter.

Not only did we have a tour of the Met Office, which was pretty interesting and not too dumbed-down, we had a little tour of under Exeter and a pleasant evening in a cute cottage in the middle of nowhere.

It was that ridiculously warm and sunny weekend too, not that we were outside in the sun for much of it. A pretty crap roast dinner to finish though.

6. M&S

At the beginning of 2019, I realised that I needed to move on from Lovespace to be able to progress – and have a decent-paying job.

I’d had a few interviews – one was a disaster, others reasonable – various phone interviews that I never heard back from and plenty of my time being wasted.

Which all meant I had a good bit of practice, but also some skepticism when I went for my 3 hour interview at M&S. I knew I did well, but still wasn’t convinced that I’d be offered it – I knew it was a fair jump.

But I did get offered the job, and I am smashing it. So happy to be working there.

5. Birthday Roast

Of course there is a roast dinner in the list! I always get nervous about organising my birthday – in particular as to whether anyone will actually turn up.

I didn’t make it easy for people – arranging a roast at the Little Blue Door, which just has a blue door at the front – at least a couple of people walked by.

Not only was it an excellent roast dinner – proper thick gravy too for my birthday, but it also had pornographic art in the toilets, a real quirky feel inside and I had some wonderful attendees. My sister is arranging my 40th. She has quite some effort to beat this.

4. The Museum of What The Fuck in Portugal

I had a super delightful weekend in Portugal visiting two favourites in November. Good food, good chat, walking the dogs and a bit of adventuring.

However, the real highlight was the “What The Fuck Is This” museum (I’m not sure it has a name) in one of the local villages. It is quite something.

3. Storm in Serbia

My short holiday to Serbia was a whole bucket of fun. Loads of cheap beer, some museum stuff, lots of nonsense chat.

However the most amusing part of the trip was just arriving back to a local bar before it absolutely hammered down – at my insistence on walking fast. Cue drinking shots of “liquid cocaine” (blue coloured water with baking soda on top…don’t get too excited), watching the rain hammer down, followed by a gorgeous meal in the restaurant opposite and a fun evening.

I loved Belgrade – it had that early Berlin feel about it, and is very much a party city too – if disorganised and allegedly ridden by corruption…though not for me to say.

2. Blacklock

I’d been wanting to go to Blacklock for ages – pretty much ever since I moved to London, but was afraid that it might not live up to expectations. I think I managed a good 100 or so roast dinners before I finally cracked and booked it – several weeks in advance, of course.

It didn’t disappoint – amazing meat, gorgeous gravy, excellent service. So much so that I need to find an excuse to go back again. Ooooh like my birthday – though that is on Wednesday night, so no roast dinner.

The best news is that they are opening up another restaurant in Covent Garden – and there is no reason why I cannot review that too, is there?

1. London Zoo. With my Mum.

We all applied for tickets for The Ashes at Lords. I won two tickets and my sister won two tickets. Alas, I had Saturday tickets and my sister had Friday tickets.

My parents now visit London a few times a year and all are very enjoyable occasions – I’m tempted to suggest 4 visits last year. We had a random draw to see who would go with my sister on the Friday – my Dad was picked, so myself and my mother had to find something in London to do.

My mother suggested going to London Zoo, which I was well up for. I often spend time with my sister, and quite often with just my Dad – it is much more rare that just me and my mother go somewhere.

I enjoyed walking around and seeing the animals – though the food in the restaurant was probably some of the worst food I’ve had all year. Highlight by a long way was the sloth – which was carrying its baby, and came right up to us and over us in the rainforest enclosure. Mesmorising.

Gosh that took longer to write than I planned – no wonder I waited until my detox to write it up properly.

Thanks for being a part of it, or just enjoying my dribblings. See you during 2020.

Review Of 2019 Goals

I used to write full lists of goals for every year, forget about them and then review them at the end of the year.

Though over the last few years, I’ve put much less effort into writing goals, and much more effort into achieving.

So much so, that I never got around to writing goals for 2019 – but I did have a few in my head.

1. Get a significant pay rise or a new job

I failed to get any form of pay-rise – only a “we’ll look at it at the end of the year”, and yes, Brexit was partly to blame. So I started to look for a new job and ended up in the perfect job at M&S. At my level, I probably couldn’t have got a better job – in every way so far it has been perfect to me.

Can I give myself 200%?

2. Go to 4 new countries

Close. I went to Spain and Portugal, but I’d already been to those.

New countries were Serbia, Albania and Greece – yeah I’d never been to Greece. It was only the second (and third) time that I’d left the EU.

Butrint National Park

3. Replace all my socks

I replaced a few – but I still have old socks with holes in, or that are just very tired-looking. This wasn’t helped by Happy Socks putting their prices up to £11.99 a pair.

4. Three month Detox

Smashed it – though I did have a 0.5% alcohol beer near the end. And promptly went back onto apple juice for the rest of the evening – yuck.

5. Lose weight

I put on 1kg over the year. Which is the best I have done for years – though clearly still a failure. Yes, I will be having the same target in 2020.

I’m hoping to write more specific goals for 2020 – there was a reason why I wrote them in the first place, and I have actually achieved some of the more important ones.

I have proven the benefit of setting goals, and hopefully I will do so this next year.

M&S Complaint – Sausage Drought

A complaint from 2018 – I think my final unposted one! And last ever complaint to M&S.

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Dear M&S

I went to M&S for breakfast this morning, in Moorgate, for the first time in around a month.

It reminded me that I was due to complain to you – it has been on my to-do list for a few weeks. The reason it reminded me, was that I had gone in for a bacon and sausage sandwich. Alas, there was no bacon. But a sausage sandwich was sufficient.

My real problem is an earlier sausage drought. A few weeks ago I was desperate for a sausage and bacon sandwich, like I really needed one to be able to justify my existence. I turned up at the Moorgate store just before 9pm, waited over 10 minutes in the queue at the hot desk, before getting close enough to realise that there were no sausages.

Artists impression of what a sausage sandwich looks like

However, I was invested now. I was already late for work and had no other options. So I bought a bacon sandwich, which was utterly underwhelming – two miserable slices of fairly dry bacon, in two overwhelmingly large slices of bread. It was just like eating plain bread for breakfast.

I also bought a packet of sausage rolls, to comfort myself with my disappointment. Which were nice, but I shouldn’t have had to.

Thankfully I at least managed to break my sausage drought this morning with my return appearance.

Regards

James

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Dear James,

Thank you for taking the time to get in touch with us. I’m so sorry to hear of the issues you’ve been having ta breakfast in Moorgate. You wouldn’t expect a sausage shortage from us – or to have a poor quality bacon sandwich either! These are normally my go to option in the café as there’s normally a few rashers on there – but clearly we didn’t get this right on your visit.

The information you’ve given us about what was wrong has been very useful. I’ve let my colleagues in our store know, as well as the supplier, and they’ll be keeping a close eye on our Bacon sandwiches, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I’ve also let the food availability team know of the recent sausage drought too, and they’ll check if there’s anything we can do to improve this going forward.

As an extra apology from us, I’ve also arranged for a £4 gift card to be sent to your home address to enjoy a breakfast on us for next time! Or you can spend it however you wish.

This will arrive in the next 3-5 working days on your doorstep.

Thanks again for letting us know about this and we look forward to welcoming you back into store soon.

Have a lovely weekend ahead, James.

Best Wishes

Retail Customer Services
Your M&S Customer Service

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Clearly they were just looking after the health of their future employee.

James Went To Ksamil, Albania

Why Albania? Good question.

I wanted some sunshine and I wanted to be near the coast. It had to be a country that I had never visited before and also had to be fairly affordable – I had not long since started at M&S so though it didn’t need to be mega-cheap, there certainly were some constraints – Caribbean destinations definitely weren’t on the cards.

Also I was going by myself. Which makes hotels and stuff much less affordable, given that I couldn’t share the cost. And I wanted something nice.

I considered Malta and Montenegro, before almost accidentally discovering that Albania had a coastline – and it was called the Albanian Riviera. My assumption was that I’d fly into Tirana, have a couple of nights there then head to the coast.

Durres was one place I looked at, but Ksamil in the far south of Albania stood out the most. Alas, my idea of flying into Tirana then getting the train south was scuppered when I discovered that there were no train lines within 100km of Ksamil. So there was a choice of a 6 hour bus journey from Tirana – or catch the ferry from Corfu.

I caught the ferry from Corfu.

I had a bit of a rude awakening when I arrived in the port of Saranda – several increasingly desperate people trying to sell me a taxi journey to my end destination, one of them looked especially wired on drugs.

They wouldn’t leave me alone as I walked along – I insisted that I was going to a bar for a beer and started looking for one to escape. What kind of fucking country was I visiting?

I saw a bus, then someone asked me where it went to. There was a board on the front saying Ksamil so myself and my very temporary American friend got on board – I didn’t have much other option, I had no taxi company numbers and was loathe to use my phone or data at international rates. I possibly could have planned this better. Oh and I had no Albanian currency yet was sat on a bus without a ticket.

Thankfully the world’s most attractive bus conductor appeared and let me pay in Euros. After I guess 30 minutes I arrived in Ksamil – to see a cow casually crossing the road into an abandoned building. There didn’t seem to be any official bus stops, so I took a guess at where to get off (I think it was the last stop in Ksamil as far as I worked out afterwards – would have ended up at Butrint had I stayed on…I think).

A 20 minute walk – and it was still around 28’C, I had a hangover too so it was a bit of a sweaty walk towards my hotel – going off a saved map from Google Maps and hoping that I was in the right direction – not helped by various hills or my small suitcase which has one wheel which seems to be square.

I arrived. At a hill which was a calf-tearing 45′ angle (maybe even 60′) to my hotel – Hotel Mira Mare. I arrived to the reception desk profusely sweaty – the receptionist asked if I wanted a bottle of water and gave me a minute to catch my breath. “You’ll get used to it”, she advised. I pointed at my belly.

Apart from the hill, the hotel was perfect. A gorgeous, simple apartment, cleaned every day – the kind of place I wish I could live in London, and only around £120 for 4 nights – though I was at the end of the season.

I think I booked it because of the swinging chair on the balcony – but I dared not sit on it fully, being rather obese.

I de-sweated and headed to the nearest beach bar for a £2 Albanian beer and to listen to the sea. And then decided that I should get some provisions – bottled water as advised, chocolate, fruit (which never ripened enough to eat) and beer. Then discovered that shops don’t take cards. I still had no Albanian money, and no idea where the ATM was.

Eventually I found one, got some provisions, walked back then up that insane hill. That hill would be illegal in the UK – you’d have to do like a winding slope, left then right, then left. Less rules in Albania.

During the evening I realised the pitfalls of coming at the beginning of October. I was supposed to go the week before, but there was a British Airways strike for my way home. I managed to change my hotel booking, my holiday time at work and then eventually my flights – before the strike was then called off. Grrr. Fucking socialists.

Anyway, before I step into politics, Ksamil was really quiet by the first week of October. Apparently in the middle of the summer the beaches can be really crowded – I was starting to see how everywhere was now closing for the winter, with my first choice of restaurant closed on my first night. And every day it got even quieter.

I ate at a place next to the sea called Guvat Bar Restaurant. I tried the Dorada as per the waiter’s recommendation – it was fresh and tasted nice, though not especially my kind of thing. I enjoyed the garlic butter which came with the slightly stale bread more.

That was enough for the day.

The next day I decided to do a tour of the beaches. I started off at a fairly desolate and unkempt beach just south of my hotel – out into the sticks.

There wasn’t much happening.

I then headed north to where there were buildings and stuff, to the next beach – by which point I realised that each cove or section of beach was run by the adjacent bar/restaurant. The next beach had a great view, cheap beer and run by someone who insisted that he was Scottish (he was Albanian) – though I didn’t fancy it enough to eat there.

I was too hungry to get to the next beach so I settled for Bar Luna – and had the octopus salad. The octopus itself was gorgeous – alas it was totally drowned in vinegar. The salad barely existed, and yes, was drowned in vinegar. The 5 slices of slightly stale bread with no dip was odd. I wasn’t exactly feeling Ksamil as a foodie destination at this point.

I spent a good hour in Restaurant Panorama in the afternoon, having a chilled out pint of Paulaner – the only place I remember selling a beer more interesting than the common Albanian beer.

Then I wandered around and eventually settled in Restaurant Apollonia for a view of the sunset – and a stunning view it was too.

Alas, I left then it got even better.

Just how gorgeous is that?

I was charmed enough to head back to Restorant Apollonia for dinner – where I again took the advice of the waiter and ordered the seafood stew kind of thing. Gorgeous prawns, nice fish – wasn’t keen on the squid or whatever it was. Bread too. There is a theme there – oh and weird apple juice. I went back to red wine after, which was much nicer.

Wednesday was my second-last day there, and I decided to catch up with some e-mails and stuff in the morning. Alas, the electricity went out around 11am and there was no sign of it returning, so I hastened my plan of going to Butrint National Park.

As a Unesco World Heritage site, this place is flooded with history – and not many tourists – at least not in early October. It is a microcosm of European history, from Romans through Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans. I’m not going to shame myself with my poor history knowledge here – this was just a glorious way to spend time admiring ancient ruins with a spectacular view. There is a thing called the internet if you want to find out about the history of Butrint.

I thought I’d left myself enough time for a beer at the summit, alas I seemed to have time-travelled inside and had arranged to meet my Albanian taxi driver at a certain time, so I left.

I waited in the hot sunshine with minimal water before eventually relenting and calling my ever-helpful hotel reception at almost a higher rate for a two minute call than a return taxi. “Oh you want to come home early?”.

Somehow my phone had gone forward in time around 45 minutes. I regret not having longer there, or confidence in my Albanian taxi driver to pick me up on time.

In the evening I set off for the place that I was most looking forward to eating in. It was closed. As were two of the restaurants that I had been to previously.

I settled for Rilindja Beach and Restaurant – I was only the second customer in there, and the only place where I saw people in traditional Muslim dress – for Albania is a Muslim country – the first majority Muslim country that I’ve visited…I think. Though Albania is also a fiercely pro-Western country.

I even found some vegetables, though I wasn’t massively keen on them, and had a sizeable steak – though I forgot that eastern Europe tend to cook meat one way, and that is medium-well – there is no such thing as rare meat. My waiter was superb and the steak was fine – but I’d had many better.

Yes there was bread too.

Then the thunderstorm. If you know me, you’ll know that I love thunderstorms. However, some of the weather models that I use were suggesting up to 500mm of rain was possible, including the Met Office who had the most extreme projections.

That’s half a metre of rain. In Albania. And I had a ferry home to catch the day after. I was slightly concerned about the idea of getting stuck in Albania.

Then again, other weather models had the rain at around 50mm – plenty but kind of normal for a thunderstorm – and this was closer to the case.

The thunder, however, was immense. I did briefly manage to get to sleep before the bright white emergency lights came on after an almighty bang – it sounded like a bomb had gone off nearby. I wondered what I should do – did I need to get out?

After a few minutes, the light went out – and I went back to sleep against the backdrop of thunder and lightning, which faded for a while before coming back – with a bang. And with the hotel’s emergency lights back on – bright white light that was impossible to close your eyes to.

I looked outside and saw that the whole town’s power was off. I wondered whether I was the only person still staying in the hotel, on a hill, on the outside of this increasingly-desolated town in Albania – thunder booming, lightning flashing, rain pouring down, wind howling. At 3am. I was tired. Oh and no electricity meant that there was no wi-fi. Aaaarrgggh!

After an hour or so, the electric came back on in the town. The thunderstorm continued on and off all night. I got some sleep on and off – not that it mattered, I was on holiday and becoming well-rested.

The thundery rain unexpectedly kind of cleared by midday so I ventured out for a beer. I even found another holiday-maker – the town was rather deserted by this point.

More thundery showers seemed on the cards, so I made it back to my hotel just in time (no I didn’t get used to the steep hill). Pondering my options, I took a risk in the evening and headed to an Italian restaurant which had been full the last few nights – and was empty by time I arrived.

The guy didn’t speak much English and he didn’t understand my very limited Italian either, though he claimed to be from Italy.

I ordered what appeared “meat with green pepper sauce”, which I hoped would be steak with peppercorn sauce.

First came a starter of bruschetta.

The the main, which was, I think, veal. With a salad leaf and bread. Yes – no vegetables, no potatoes, no proper salad – but bread.

With a side of bread.

I cannot remember the name of the restaurant and Google Maps doesn’t seem to have spied on me either that evening – the peppercorn sauce was fantastic though.

Overall

Ksamil certainly wasn’t a foodie destination – or if it was, then it wasn’t in the first week of October. I was under the impression that Albanian cuisine was impressive, so maybe I need to go to Tirana instead.

I was craving vegetables by the end of my holiday. And what was this obsession with bread?

Good fish throughout, as you’d expect, and everywhere seemed to offer pizza – yet when you were seated tell you that there was no pizza.

Ksamil itself was quite quaint and basic, some of the roads were just potholed tarmac, it was rustic in places and had a fair scattering of broken dreams – the building next to my hotel was started without planning permission, and destroyed by the council, so I was advised.

The people were lovely and welcoming throughout. You know when you go to popular tourist places like Barcelona and you get that occasional push-back, like “get out my city” – Albanian people all actively wanted more tourists, at least from what I met.

Not everyone spoke good English, but many did, and those that didn’t spoke enough to get by. By the end of my holiday I even managed to work out how to say thank you – “falemenderit”. I praise all those who can speak foreign languages!

Albania was cheap – perhaps not quite as ridiculously cheap as I’d hoped, but it was way cheaper than western Europe. Maybe I paid around £2 for a beer, or between £8 and £15 for a meal with wine. I cannot say that I was really counting.

Downsides? Too many wasps – but where doesn’t at that time of year. A few mosquito bites but again, same for any European place in the summer. Some places selling craft beer, even if it was expensively imported would have been nice – only so much local lager I can handle, and that wasn’t much.

I left Albania fully charmed. I hope I make it back to the country one day – but I have so many other places to see. Maybe you might consider it next time?

Metropolitan Line Complaint: Autumn 2018

You know how you can tell it is autumn? When the Metropolitan line starts going into regular meltdown, and what an autumnal week it has been.

I suspect that this is going to be a bit of a long rant, so lets start on a positive note, or what should be a positive note – donuts.

On Saturday 8th September, I had quite a hangover, but had to head into central London to pick up a suit. During my short spell on Oxford Street, a bird poo’d on me for the first time in my life, I found out the world was going to end and then my suit wasn’t ready after all.

So I got the tube home, and decided to pop out at Baker Street station to buy a Krispy Kreme donut. Strawberries and cream. My favourite. Do you have a favourite?

However I have noticed that I have been charged for two journeys, one to buy the donut, and one to take the donut home. Am I not allowed to do this? I am sure that I’ve done this many times in the past without being charged…maybe I need to go through my statement in full…though I’m not sure I can be bothered.

This donut cost me £4.30 in the end, including the extra £2.40 journey. Which is too much to pay for the donut, even if the world is going to end. Not sure there is an Overpriced Donut Experience refund option I can select.

I guess we should now get onto the Metropolitan line’s performance. I accept events happen – we all know that your signalling equipment is ancient and finding spare parts for something made in the 1880’s (ish) isn’t easy. You really should spend some more time explaining to frustrated customers that you are actually in the process of replacing the signals (albeit over a long period of time, but hey).

I don’t know what has annoyed me more this week. Tuesday was pretty frustrating – missed a tube at Harrow by 10 seconds and then had to wait 10 minutes for the next fast one to Aldgate, when they should be every 4 minutes (roughly). Which of course was overcrowded and slow when it finally arrived.

Part 1 of 2…sorry

…Part 2 of probably 2.

What bothers me more, is that even though events happen, your disaster recovery plan seems absolutely shambolic. I managed to avoid the worst of the catastrophes this week – but I read on Twitter various accounts of a complete lack of information for passengers, people being stuck outside stations for 30+ minutes, line controllers not being available, no staff to run trains, etc.

You have lots of practice to deal with this. I cannot remember which evening it was, but there was a signal failure at Farringdon, I was delayed but not by too much. Yet 2 hours after it was resolved, the delays were far, far worse. Again last night – it seemed that the disaster just got worse.

You owe it to your customers to explain your disaster recovery process and what you are doing to improve it. I’m sure I’ll get a bland response, and maybe if I’m lucky a £2.40 refund for my overpriced donut journey, but I what I really really want is a full written explanation of what you are doing to improve disaster recovery (pretty sure the Spice Girls sung about that). I don’t care about an apology – we all get things wrong, thing happen – but you seriously need to improve this.

Please sort it out.

Kind regards
James

ps Some of your drivers and staff are bang on the money – some great people work for TFL and do make us smile.

Oh and your website is getting much slower.

******

Dear Mr Winfield

Thank you for your feedback forms of 22 September 2018 about the Metropolitan line and Krispy Kreme donuts.

I’m sorry for the issues you’ve been experiencing with our Metropolitan line service and I understand the signal failures have been far too frequent.

With regards to your charging issue at Baker Street, we will always charge a new fare if you exit station premises and have not reached the daily cap for the zones you’re travelling in. At ‘out of station interchange’ stations such as Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush, we allow 20 minutes to touch in at the station before you will be charged again. This may explain why you have been charged differently on previous donut excursions.

When signal failures and other issues occur on the line, our Emergency Response Unit will immediately attend the affected area. The Response Unit will then need to locate the exact point of failure, establish what has caused the failure and implement the quickest possible fix. This is why delays can sometimes last for several hours at a time. In terms of a lack of communication about these issues, we expect our Service Controllers to communicate as much information as possible to station staff, who will then relay this information to you. If you could let me know of any specific dates and times where you feel the communication has been below par, I will pass this over to Service Control.

If you wanted to obtain a full and detailed account of our response procedure to these events, it may be best to make a Freedom of Information request. I can assure you that every signal failure and our response is analysed the day after the event by those in charge of operations and any possible improvements before the implementation of our 4 Lines Modernisation project (which will significantly reduce these issues) will be made.

Thanks again for contacting us. If there is anything else we can help you with, please reply to this email. Alternatively, you can call us on 0343 222 1234 and we’ll be happy to help you.

Kind regards

Customer Service Adviser
Transport for London Customer Services

******

So, no refund and the Metropolitan line has got far, far worse this autumn, thanks to the 4 Lines Modernisation project.

More complaints on this topic to come soon. I’m sure you cannot wait.

Oh and the world never ended. Dumb sign.

Not Enough Friends? Or Too Many Friends?

I started writing this back in summer, when I’d had a few too many roast dinners by myself and was also struggling to find someone to go on holiday with me.

Like the majority of my blog posts nowadays, by time I get around to publishing my thoughts, my thoughts have changed…or perhaps more realistically my reality has changed.

It isn’t so much that I don’t have enough friends, but that they are all dispersed around the world doing their own thing. Which is exactly what I have done by moving to London.

The dream is to travel back 10-12 years when there was a huge group of us going out every single weekend. That is what my heart wants – but I couldn’t go back to that lifestyle anyway. I have great friends, plenty, but they are scattered all over the place and through the nature of life – the lack of time to travel, mostly, I don’t get to see them often as my heart would desire.

So I do need some more friends in London.

I am working on this. My sister living in London has been absolutely invaluable – I would have been pretty lonely at times without her over the last 3 years.

I do have two tentative small groups of new friends. Believe it or not, people that I have met through writing the linguistic vomit of Roast Dinners In London.

This is kind of negating the need for my plan to use City Socializer to find some new friends – I do just about have enough people in my life now. Maybe I won’t have anyone for my short break plans next year, maybe I’ll have to go to weird random countries by myself again – maybe not.

I do also have to make further lifestyle changes away from going out drinking so often next year, and I do find it much easier to find people to go out for a drink with – than people to go for a walk or to a gallery with. Plus I do hermit myself a bit whilst on detox…I do want to use that time next year to upskill my JavaScript further.

Maybe I will find myself having to target making specific types of friends next year, but for now, I’m in a good place.

Of course, I’d love all my favourites to be close to hand but that isn’t reality – I’ve done the same and moved away to London – if Corbyn gets in then I’m fucking off to Spain. You what? Communists are in government in Spain? OK, I’m going to Albania then.

Yes, my new friends are actually mannequins.

One Night In Corfu, One Night In Corfu

I’ve always lumped Corfu in with the likes of Magaluf and Faliraki.

It is an island that I would likely never have visited were it not for the requirement to get the ferry to my end destination, Ksamil in Albania, from Corfu. Whilst I could have arrived early and gone straight to the ferry to go to Albania, I decided to be a bit more leisurely and have an evening in Corfu Town itself.

My Airbnb was top notch, in terms of affordability, location and charm. I could quite happily have stayed there longer, and even more important, it was just a few minutes walk to the nearest M&S. Who knew my employer had a store in Corfu? Apparently we have stores in Kuwait too.

One of my main desires for this holiday was to see the sea, so I headed straight for the nearest coastline – there wasn’t much in the way of bars but I found one just in time for sunset, and had a pretty crap beer – Mythos. Alas, my sunset photo seems to have disappeared from my phone memory – or maybe my memory has a hole instead. Another hole. Yet another hole.

After another crap beer – Mythos again, I assume, I took to Google to search for “craft beer”. I didn’t expect much, but I found a place called Firi Firi, nestled on the side of a stepped hill. They had a fair selection of interesting beers, IPAs, craft lagers – I cannot remember what I had, but it was a very tasty IPA. At pretty much London prices, but you get what you pay for.

Then after some deliberation I decided upon where to eat, a highly-recommended restaurant called Abakas Mezedopoleio. I fell in love with the charm of the Greek waitresses, the food, the wine and the stray cats – apparently they don’t go near people unless they trust them. I guess my lack of scruffy blonde hair helps.

Apart from the odd cat foot landing on my willy, they were rather charming. Though possibly only after one thing.

The food and wine – especially the wine, was top notch too. I think I over-ordered, it was a struggle to finish it all, and perhaps I could have had something more imaginative than pork skewers, but from memory it was either the waitress’ recommendation or someone else’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Somehow I was there 3 hours. Despite being by myself.

The next morning I didn’t have that much time, but enough for a wander and some brunch. I had a fairly early morning beer – super-tasty though rather expensive – apparently it won some competition for the best beer in the world. Who am I to disagree, it was good.

Enough time to have brunch too, a rather gorgeous Eggs Benedict at a modern European bistro, My Habit.

The ferry to Saranda (Albania) said last check-in was an hour before, so I headed to the port well in advance of that. And with no signs and limited staff, I sat around for 1.5 hours wondering why the hell I turn up so early to these kind of things. Until suddenly – ferry here, lets go.

Time for a beer, in the sun, wind in my hair, watching the sea go by. Bliss.

Ahhh bliss

Of course, my one night there doesn’t prove whether I was unfair to consider Corfu in the same bracket as Magaluf, but some quality craft beer, a gorgeous meal and views of a castle gave a much better impression.

Only downside was that the queue for security at the airport on the way home was an hour long – I am so thankful on my insistence on getting to these kind of things so early.

Otherwise, reasonably charmed.

Complaint – Hull Trains (2018)

Hell Trains

Dear Hell Trains

I had the misfortune of experiencing your air conditioning lottery with full force a few weeks back.

I was travelling from Hull to London on Sunday 1st July, circa 14:30. I arrived at Paragon Station to be informed that there was no air conditioning in coach C, and that there was nowhere else for me to sit either. You could say I was fuming. Literally. And I hate the word ‘literally’.

Originally I hoped to do some work on the train, although I know how patchy your wi-fi is (patchy being kind but this was the least of my worries). Instead I just had to sit there with sweat dribbling down me, desperately blowing regurgitated air into my face. I really was fuming.

Just before Doncaster, after an hour of being inside hell, the guard found me a seat in the next carriage. I quickly moved. Ahh air conditioning. Beautiful. I calmed down, though I was emotionally and mentally frazzled, and angry. Oh yeah I had had just purchased a new domain name in my anger, www.helltrains.co.uk

Alas, my new carriage’s air conditioning soon failed, and gradually it became hotter and hotter, stuffier and stuffier. I became angrier. It was a hellish experience.

By time we arrived in London, it was 31’C outside. Yet felt so much fresher than on either of the Hell Trains carriages that I had the misfortune to experience. My religious teacher once told me that I would go to hell for throwing a dice at her head. It seemed that she was right, after all. I estimate that it must have been 35’C on board. Maybe it was more but I don’t want to overestimate things.

Separately my mother travelled to London from Hull last week, and both times she received a shower from the air conditioning unit. This is quite outrageous. I have told her to complain to you separately, but I doubt that she will.

I am not going to use Hull Trains again, at least until you have new rolling stock. And I will eventually get round to starting my website www.helltrains.co.uk to display how bad the service has become.

Regards

James Winfield

******

6 weeks later…

******

Dear James, 

Thank you for your email. Please accept our apologies for the delayed reply due to a back-log we are currently experiencing.

We are very sorry to hear that you had such an unpleasant and uncomfortable journey with us, this is something we wish to avoid if at all possible. Our Fleet team are aware of the issues and are doing their best to keep a consistent temperature on our services. With the recent excessive temperatures, we have seen in the UK it has taken the Air Conditioning systems on our units beyond the parameters which they were designed to operate under.

We have a team of Riding Technicians, who are on our services whenever possible, ensuring that we offer the best possible travel experience to our customers, but the work they can undertake on a moving train is limited, and it is only overnight when we get full access to affect any repairs necessary. In order to gain access to the air con units on the train our train has to go into the depot, have the roof lifted off by crane and then the air con units removed and repaired, this process does require a full day and has to be booked into the depot in advance so we cannot always guarantee the problem can be fixed during service. Regrettably, this can take some time as we only have so many trains and have to work out carefully when they can be out of service in order to minimise disruption.

We understand everybody’s frustration with the heat. In regards to running services under these circumstances, there is currently no legal maximum temperature for workplaces, public areas, modes of transport etc. What the law does say is that businesses must control risks as far as is reasonably practicable. We have in place, many measures to proactively and reactively manage risks such as handing out bottled water and fans where possible. We absolutely believe conditions on our services are as safe as they can be which is helped by the continued support of our on-board staff. They have been doing their best to ensure that customers are having the most enjoyable journey possible by moving customers to seats in more comfortable coaches if requested and when available. If our staff are busy elsewhere on the train, customers are, of course, at liberty to move to other available seating should they wish to do so. We do listen, and appreciate all feedback as it helps us to continually inform and improve our services.

Finally, in line with our passenger charter we compensate customers if the train service is cancelled or delayed for over 30 minutes. Therefore, unfortunately on this occasion we cannot offer any compensation. We are very sorry if this is not the outcome you were hoping for.

On behalf of all at Hull Trains, I would like to thank you for your assistance and understanding in this case. I do hope that this has gone some way to explain the situation and can only apologise again and hope that you will continue to travel happily in the future with us.

Kind Regards,

Hull Trains Customer Services

******

Amused and possibly disturbed that Hull Trains only thought that the trains were “as safe as they can be” – they have twice caught fire in recent years. The service became so bad that most days more services were cancelled than actually ran for a while. It made the Metropolitan line look competent.

I have since taken down the Hell Trains website – too much work to make anything of it. Hull Trains are finally getting new trains at the end of this year, and there is another train company running there now…a handy 17:18 train too, with brand-new trains that have no working toilets.