February 24, 2013

This from my “There Must Be an Easier Way” collection.

We’re all being encouraged to use public transport. So, buying a train ticket should be a simple task.

I recently set off to take a short journey by train, but on arriving at the unstaffed station I was confronted by a ticket vending machine the size of a Volkswagen Camper Van.

It had to be that size to display the four plaques bolted to the front. These signs are covered in text instructions, bullet points, email addresses, postal addresses and telephone numbers.

Well, I had no wish to contact the train company. I only wanted a simple return ticket.

And that’s when it became just a tad confusing.

Mind you, the text does suggest that if you have difficulty operating the machine, you should ask a member of staff. Well, who would have thought of THAT clever ploy?

Unfortunately, this was an unmanned station – but there was a station Help Point.

But, hey, I’m a reasonably intelligent bloke. I could work this out… and then I started reading. And what I read was enough to send anybody into a slumber so deep they might never come out of it again.

There was information about TOD – that’s Ticket on Departure, it seems. There was everything you would need to know about pre-paid internet and telesales tickets. Remember, you’re going to need your unique booking reference and your credit cards.

Then comes the instructions for buying a ticket from the machine: a 6-step process. It involves calculating your destination and other routes, then using the keyboard. Once you’ve got that, there’s ticket type, such as off-peak, anytime – and that gets a whole lot more complex if you’re buying a weekly season ticket. For a start, you’re going to need pohoto ID.

Think you’re finished? No. You still have to work out the complexities if you have a child travelling, if you’re using a railcard, “other ticket”, or there are more passengers in your group.

When you get through all that, you are invited to use your credit card to pay. That’s right, shove your precious credit card into the tin machine and hope it works, AND you get your card back.

But you’re still not finished. You need to read the helpful information, such as the type of tickets available, and the type that are not. Wade through everything from Off-Peak Anytime to advanced date tickets, and from Multi-modal fares to Zonecards and day-tripper tickets.

I hope you’re following all this!

Hang on, there’s more. Yes, more “helpful information” such as refund application procedures, age restrictions for child fares, tickets not being transferable, and “unless indicated otherwise… as some tickets are not valid… additional payment… blah de blah de blah de blah.”

And then, when you’ve waded through all that, you spot a little plastic plate further down. It tells you the machine doesn’t accept cash (ScotRail apologise for that inconvenience.) And one little line: “Cash payments can be made on-train”.

What? After all that, I can just pay the conductor on the train?

Guess what I did.

Yes, there’s got to be an easier way… It’s just a shame that they don’t tell you the easier way right at the beginning.

Drew McAdam



February 6, 2013


It’s become a multi-million pound industry – testament to the fact that an army of people are using these services.

I’m talking about internet psychic hotlines. You’ll find the little adverts popping up online with the headline: “Ask our psychics anything – for free.”

Ask anything? And for free, eh? That sounds like it could have comedy potential.

The advert for each psychic usually runs along the lines of: “I’m Monica. I’ve been working with tarot and angels since my early teens.” The site invites you to type in a question, and the psychic will type an answer… Well, half an answer, and an intriguing one at that.

It’s a teaser designed to intrigue you about the stranger they tell you is about to come into your life. Or the life-threatening danger you face in the coming week. Or the money you could miss out on.

It’s at that point you are invited to “please click to go private”.

Clicking private means giving your credit card details. Don’t worry, though. They accept all credit and debit cards. And it’s only £1.50 a minute to type in your question and get your answers.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure some of these psychics are terribly accurate. One psychic told me that I will be giving birth within two years. (They obviously thought that it was the female version of my name.) That’s one of the problems when you’re corresponding by keyboard, rather than voice.

And when I really tested their abilities, they were left wanting. Not one of them could tell me with any certainty whether or not my car would start in the morning. And most of them were completely wrong in their answer to my query about whether or not it was going to rain next Tuesday.

Not one of them was able to tell me where I’d left the remote control for the TV, or where I could buy a monkey. You know, I’m beginning to suspect that some of these psychics aren’t very good.

Just because they say they can see the future and talk to angels doesn’t mean they really can. Which is a shame for the many thousands of individuals, many vulnerable, who – perhaps in desperation – turn to these psychics. They pay vast sums of money for an answer to their problems.

Typing messages back and forth for an hour is going to cost you £90. And I’m not sure there’s much to be gained from that.

But what would I know? I’m not psychic.

Drew McAdam


February 3, 2013

A wet and windy morning, yet some 200 people went along to the Playhouse Theatre at 11am the other morning. Why? Because it was the Press Launch for The Lion King, coming to the theatre later in the year.

And it wasn’t just for journalists, but for competition winners, too.

I have to say, this was a slick and professional presentation. Well, it would be – it was organised by Disney. And they don’t do things by half.

It started bang on time. Some of the cast members were there in full costume – along with a gospel choir. They performed a clutch of song and dance numbers, right there, just feet from the assembled group.

The representative from Disney gave a slick presentation and slide show – with video segments – on how the costumes and puppets used throughout the show are constructed.

Visit Scotland were brought in to the frame. The Playhouse staff members were polite, attentive and efficient.

Even already, giant advertising posters are everywhere, and the box office is being doubled in size to cope with the demand for tickets. Impressive stuff.

But of course it’s impressive – it’s Disney. They do things properly. They are customer-focused. They do it big, and they do it right.

And that got me thinking. All those sluggish companies and inefficient firms that let us down and break their promises when it comes to everything from delivery times to product quality could do with bringing Disney in to advise them how to run their businesses properly.

Actually, I think some of the captains of industry would look rather fetching in big ears, red shorts, large yellow shoes, and white gloves.

There would be no delays with the trains and transport companies if Disney was at the helm. No standing from London to Carlisle. No surly staff… Yes, Disney would sort it out.

And when when you think about it; a lot of those inefficient and incompetent firms are Mickey Mouse setups. They’re halfway there already.

Drew McAdam