It was Friday, yesterday, and I have a long standing arrangement to meet a couple of members of our little writers group in the Muni Coffee shop in Pontypridd. Emphasis on little, there are only four of us at the moment and we're trying to stir up some interest from other carers to join us once a month for a couple of hours to share anything new and give some moral support to each other. A couple of us are interested on getting work published, others are just looking for a sounding board for new ideas, poems or whatever. We came together doing a creative writing course arranged by the Rhondda Cynon Taff Carers Support Project and Academi (Yr Academi Gymreig – The Welsh Academy is the Welsh National Literature Promotion Agency and Society of Writers.)
It was just a short course headed by Mike Church, a performance poet of some repute in these parts. There was a dozen or so of us on the course and we had such a good time that when it finished we decided to set up our own group because we didn't want to lose touch and as carers, all had a lot in common. If you happen to be a carer in Rhondda Cynon Taff and you have an interest in writing, get in touch, caring is the one subject we only mention in passing, you have to be a carer but you don't have to write about it, the group is all about getting away from the caring and having a couple of creative hours to yourself.
This particular meeting was at 10.00am, would only last two hours maximum giving me plenty of time to get home by 1.00pm for the last visit by Sarah's psychologist at 1.30pm. So off to Ponty, I'll be back by 1.00pm. Famous last words.
Leave the house at 9.10 am, walk down the hill to the station, train arrives at 9.24 am, only five stops to Ponty, 20 minute journey maximum. So far so good. I gave some of my loose change to Sarah before she left for the Day Centre earlier, but no problem, I always buy the ticket on the train using plastic. I had forgotten that when I made this journey last month there had been a problem with the new card readers that Arriva Trains Wales conductors are now using. They don't like some cards, specifically Lloyds TSB Debit cards. Guess where I bank! Now we're not talking about a lot of money here, £2.90 return. Last month when the card was declined due to insufficient funds the lady conductor got quite embarrassed, apologised and said they had a problem they would be sorting it out and would I mind paying cash, which I did. This month I discover that the problem has not been sorted out and I am asked to pay cash, and you guessed it, I don't have £2.90 in the purse.
I suggest to the conductor that I pay at the ticket office in Pontypridd, you can't get out of the station without a ticket and I'm pretty sure the card readers connected through telephone lines or computers or whatever they've got there would accept my card. "Not if you haven't got enough funds" was his response. I explained to him that there were more than adequate funds on that card to cover £2.90, and that he knew as well as I did that it was the reader that was at fault. He agreed with me about the reader being the problem but apparently it was my fault the card was declined because I should have asked my bank to do something when it was declined the first time, and I should have known it would be declined again. Since I've been using the card for over a month since it was first declined by Arriva Trains Wales, and no one else has declined it, and was told it was their problem they were fixing, I enquired as to how I was supposed to know I had to contact my bank before embarking on a short rail journey. The first class jobs-worth now told me he would have to ask me to get off of the train at the next stop and find an ATM. My response was "In Abercynon!" I mean no offense to Abercynon or it's wonderful inhabitants, but it's a bit of a one horse town, not sure where I'd even start looking for an ATM.
At this point I should say that the conductor watched me counting out the cash I had and I was in fact, only 11p short of the return fare. I should also point out that Abercynon is the station before Pontypridd. A town with an embarrassment of ATMs beyond the ticket barrier, these thoughts are beginning to make me feel a little angry when it occurred to me that I must be able to afford a single ticket, and that thought must have occurred to jobs-worth as well. But I am not one to climb down and I am also of a prudent mind set, some may call it mean but I would prefer prudent. The price of a single ticket is £2.70, which means when you buy a return, one of those journeys is an absolute bargain at 20p! Quite often you don't see the conductor to pay before you get off at your destination and end up buying your return tickets from there, but this guy has dug his heels in.
I am resigned to not getting the bargain train ride today, we are slowing down on our approach to Abercynon and the conductor is hovering in a meaningful way. He knows I have enough to pay for a single ticket, I'm guessing he's thinking that I've worked that out too, so now it is just a question of who is going to suggest the obvious first. Not me, I can still see the way round not having to pay £2.50 more than I need too, that is, let me stay on the train for one more stop and do what the rest of the people behind us on the train will do, pay the guy set up to take fares at the exit barrier. As we are grinding to a halt in Abercynon it became clear that he would not be the one to suggest paying a single fare. Nothing about this incident was making any sense from the passenger point of view, and this chap was obviously not capable of independent thought whilst wearing his Arriva Trains Wales uniform. He told me that I could not travel on the train without a ticket and that I had asked for a ticket knowing I had insufficient funds. You could almost smell the disappointment on his face when at the last minute I suggested I buy a single to Pontypridd.
Out of the station, scheduled stop at ATM for cash for coffee in The Muni and now sufficient funds for homeward journey and a bit extra just in case, I'm not going to get caught out again! I'm a fast learner. Sitting down with the coffee by 10.00 o'clock. Exchange news etc. with fellow writers, leave The Muni just after 12.00 o'clock in good time for train home. Oh that life were that simple. On arrival at the station it was obvious there was a problem. Way too many people on the platform and the word DELAYED going round and round on the electronic signs. I've had a lot of experience of delays on the Valleys Lines, once one train is delayed the domino effect kicks in and delays become cancellations and I'm supposed to be home by 1.00 o'clock. So I retrace my steps back along the length of Pontybloodypridd to the bus station where I see the bus I want disappearing over the bridge, bound for Aberdare, a bad sign. That means a 20 minute wait, at least, and then the best part of an hour's ride and a dash for a connecting bus from Aberdare back out to Cwmbach. Entire journey home took an hour and a half and cost the best part of £6.00. Ironically, the train has many advantages.
After numerous phone calls in all directions by me, my husband, the psychologist and another of her clients, we managed to rearrange the afternoon to suit everyone. And on top of all this it was chucking down biblical amounts of rain from the moment I left the house to the moment I got in again just short of an hour late.
The final session with Sarah's psychologist went really well, in fact the whole experience with psychology has been good this time, very positive with well thought out and doable strategies for managing Sarah's more challenging behaviour and a sensible forward plan which involves the Day Centre and respite staff. Still a lot of work to do, always will be, but at least we know we are doing it right now.
So on the whole it wasn't a bad day, pleasant meet up in The Muni, good outcomes with the psychology, Sarah still in a remarkably cooperative frame of mind. The inability to buy a train ticket incident probably only lasted 3 mins, albeit tense minutes. The worst part was walking the length of Ponty in the rain. I have a suspicion that the gods of public transport decided I was just a little too complacent about getting a seat facing forwards with a table on the train, and gave the conductor a nasty touch of indigestion just has he got to me. The fact that he didn't show his face until one station short of Ponty tells me he was up front having a cheese roll, a flask of tea and a go at the crossword in the Metro if there is one, I've never made it past the 2nd page so don't really know. It must have been a multi misdemeanor by several passengers to cause all the delays and cancelations on the way back! Buses are a law unto themselves, nothing more to say about them, In fact nothing more to say about Friday, which by the time I've posted this will be the day before yesterday.