Have you noticed how everything that makes life more difficult these days, is apparently for our convenience? My son’s school has a new canteen. It is proud to be ‘nutritionally compliant’ (whatever that means) but it also no longer accepts cash. This means I can’t dig about under the sofa cushions for spare change for him to buy an extra something at lunchtime. I have to go online and top up a card. Tah! But, hey, it’s for my convenience.
Telephone answering systems. If you want to pay a bill, press one, talk about a mortgage press two, manicure a gerbil, press three. So you press one, two or three, and then you have some clever clogs computer simulation of a bloke from Bolton speaking to you as if you have the mental age of three, and ignoring everything you tell him. ‘I’m sorry,’ he keeps repeating. ‘I didn’t quite catch that. Did you say you wanted to pay £2 million?’ In 20 minutes of mounting frustration I never have to speak to a human being at all. All for my convenience, mind.
We’re so busy trying to make machines work, that we forget who they’re supposed to be working for. Yes, that’s right; us.
Parking meters. In my town, they don’t take cards. They take change, but they don’t give it. It is odds on that when you have posted the entire contents of your purse, they will reject the last coin. And then (after the machine either refuses to return what you’ve already put in, or spews it out like a jackpot win at Las Vegas) when you go off to get change, some traffic warden books you for not having paid and displayed. (Mind you, it’s a bloody miracle if you do get change. Most shops, mindful of their customers’ convenience, don’t give it.)
Trains. Oh, stop me now, Beulah. Railway stations are plastered with posters of smiling families having a great day out by train. Maybe they’re happy because they’ve been nutritionally compliant. Who knows? But we all know that day will end in tears, because, if you examine the timetable with an electron microscope you will see that by the time the poor saps want to go home the trains will have stopped running, and they will have to wait at Clapham Junction, or Crewe, until 6.30 am the next day (but not on a second Sunday in the month) to get their train.
I have been on trains that have stopped at stations where people are allowed to get off, but not get on. I have been on trains that have stopped at stations, and have been told I can’t get on or off because they are not ‘a stopping service’. And then there was the occasion (actually it happens quite a lot) when they gave up running trains altogether from my station and put on a replacement bus service. (Ok, that is for my convenience). However, this particular day the bus arrived at the connecting railway station two minutes after the train left. And you know what? The inspector was amazed that I should query this. ‘We can’t wait for passengers,’ he said. ‘It would mess the timetable up.’