Those of you who thought ATW stood for ‘Aberystwyth To Wolverhampton’ have another think coming. Or at least you think it's a think coming, but then it stops coming and turns into a funk heading in the opposite direction. You guessed it. Once again, I'm stuck on a four-wheeled chunderwonder through the borderlands, a long way from home and a long way from home. It could be worse. I could be stuck under the only functional loudspeaker in the bus when the driver decides to play Heart FM. Like I was last week.

Yep, the worst-performing train line (with the best on-train staff) in Britain doesn't it again. You'd think I'd've learned my lesson by now, but y'know what? I'm coming back on Sunday. I'll be lucky if I get a frigging camel.

Progress of a Sort

Since my last rant, the on-screen information at Birmingham Lubyanka has improved. Nowadays, when the even-33 to Aberystwyth gets Wolverhamptoned, the even-21 to Liverpool Lime Street gets labelled ‘Liverpool Lime Street and Wolves for Aberystwyth’. The mechanical announcer still says the incoming service has been cancelled without expounding on the consequences for the outgoing service which has also been cancelled. You still need to know the score.

But this evening, it wasn't the Lime Street Lupine Lurch portended by the Birmingham oracles, but rather a ‘2033 Shrewsbury for Bus to Aberystwyth’. I missed the Lime Street train anyway because the 2018 Virgin to Manky Picc was listed as only a little late until it was too far to run to the other platform. It eventually went at 2027. Can't hurt to get up the line, I thought.

From the Jaws of Victory....

So the Manky Virgin drops me to platform 2 at Wolves, and I head for the bridge to check out the screens. Allegedly there's a train, a train, to Aberystwyth at 2048, i.e., very very soon, which is consistent with the usual pattern of Brumbound services getting Wolverhamptoned, yada yada. Sprint. By the time I get to platform 1, it's listed as 10 minutes late. I ask a member of (Virgin) platform staff if this thing's for real, and he seems to think the train is made of train and it's going to Aberystwyth, like the sign says. Which may just mean that we can both read. I decide to take advantage of this brief hiatus in various ways...

[interlude: vending machine]

The snack vending machine on platform 1, OF2019, operated by Selecta, whose phone number is 0870 010 1005, stole my money. It rejected a brass thatcher. It rejected two different fifty pence pieces. It accepted a twenty pence. It accepted another twenty pence. It rejected several different candidates for the third twenty pence and a couple of tens to boot. It really didn't want to give me a balance of more than 40p, which struck me as odd, because the cheapest thing it sold was 50p. I decided to give up.

Then I realised I couldn't find the ‘give up’ button. There was no button labelled ‘reject’ or ‘give me my money back’ or ‘cancel’ like vending machines are supposed to have and the changing room hairdryer always did when I was a kid. There was a button labelled ‘C’ which I was foolish enough to press at this juncture. The machine displayed the message ‘Thank you!’ and reset my balance to zero. I had evidently instructed it to behave like a total c***.

It seems basic to me that a vending machine should not consume your money unless it at least attempts to issue you with some product. For the control software to admit this possibility is a bug. The fact that some idiot wrote that program and it's in use in real vending machines in the real world is way more depressing than the theft of forty pence. The crap software conspiracy is just insidious. Today my forty pence, tomorrow your balls. I realise some of you may not have balls, but there's a computer out there somewhere operating on the mistaken presumption that you do.

Naturally, I don't expect formal methods to protect us from the possibility that the spirally thing will whirr round and your crisps will fall top-first against the glass, with their bottom edge wedged defiantly in position. If that was your last piece of shrapnel, you're scundered. The next punter will order one of the same and collect both, or bomb it from above with a Mars bar before realising that free crisps weren't worth the punishment of eating a Mars bar.

...Defeat is Snatched

Just as it's time for the late Aberystwyth train to arrive on platform 1, it's suddenly replatformed to platform 2. Ace. Back over the bridge. At least the vending machine on platform 2 isn't a klepto. In comes the train, from Brum (hmmm), twenty-something minutes late. Its destination panel indicates that it is bound for Aberystwyth. Can it be true?

So I ask the conductor, and it's not. They're chucking us off at Shrewsbury for a bus. Like they said in Birmingham, but somehow failed to propagate up the line. What is it about information systems these people don't understand?

I'm Glad I'm Going to the End of the Line

Let's get this clear. My grandad was a bus driver and I'm a non-driver. Public transport is what I do. But I hate getting chucked around on a long bumpy bus journey, especially in the dark, when you just have no idea where you are or what's coming.

But this bus driver, bless his poor hoarse throat, is disinclined to announce when and where he's arrived. At Welshpool and Newtown, he just hung around for a bit. He might have been stopped at traffic lights for all anyone could see. He drove straight through Caersws without stopping, which was a pity because a nice lady rather wanted to go there. Fortunately, she asserted herself and he turned back to drop her off. If I was Borthward, I'd be getting nervous.

As it is, I'm on until the terminus, where there's a decent chance the bus will stop in a definitive manner. It's a bit parky in here, but my laptop is warm.