On Saturday 12 June 1999 I travelled up to Manchester for the weekend to be fitted for clothes ahead of my brother's wedding later that year and we were supposed to catch the train together from London Euston. London Underground, however, had other ideas. I had to get from Bayswater Underground Station to Euston Square, six stops that should take about 15 to 20 minutes and, although I cannot remember the exact details, I will have allowed myself much more than that. I knew that there were engineering works starting on that day on the Circle Line but that was around the Kensington corner and I had naively believed the advertisements that explained that the rest of the service would run as normal. After all, I would be catching the first train of the day and for such extensive and well anticipated works surely preparations would have been made to ensure that it all starts off well at least. Oh, how wrong I was.
I do not recall that the train was late in arriving but then it came to a halt at Edgware Road, just two stops along. There we waited. And waited. And listened to no announcements explaining what was going on. And waited a bit more. And got off the train to talk to station staff who were nowhere to be found. Now, trains waiting at stations for a few minutes for no apparent reason is par for the course on the Underground but this delay had gone beyond even the worst hold up at rush hour and I was well aware that the ample time I had allowed for my journey was slipping away as I sat less than 3 miles from where my train to Manchester stood ready to depart. Eventually I concluded that I would have to find other means so I left the station to set off on foot while attempting to hail a taxi, not as easy as I had anticipated on a Saturday morning. I had got to Baker Street before I found one and I was now hoping that Virgin Trains were operating normally and about half an hour behind schedule. Sadly this was not the case.
This rather long-winded exposition is to provide background to two letters I found, as mentioned at the start. The first is simple a courtesy reply to a letter of complaint I had written on 21st June and instructed me that according to their Customer Charter I should receive a full response within 21 days. I don't know exactly what the Charter says but it was dated 5th July which by my calculation means that they have added an extra 2 weeks onto their required response time. I no longer have my original letter but in it I explained what had happened, that it was due to the engineering works that they had foreseen and planned in such a way that a normal service could operate, and detailed the extra expense I had incurred; one taxi fare and the surcharge on my advanced rail ticket to allow me to use it on a different train.
21 days from 5th July is 26th July. I received the following dated 30th, a full 39 days after my original letter:
Thank you for your letter of 21 June, about your disrupted journey by Underground on 12 June. I apologise for the delay in replying, which is due to a backlog of correspondence.
I am sorry for any inconvenience you were caused by the delay to the Circle Line service. Trains were subject to delay following a signal failure at High Street Kensington. Under the terms of our Customer Charter, our liability is limited to a refund of the single fare for any delay over 15 minutes caused by a failure on our part. Claims will generally only be considered if submited on the appropriate forms availabile from Underground stations, within 14 days of any delay being claimed for. In this instance, I enclose a voucher for £1.00 as refund in respect of your Carnet ticket. You can exchange this voucher for cash at any Underground station ticket office on production of a satisfactory proof of identity. However, we cannot be held responsible for consequential loss resulting from the delay and in this respect we do not refund taxi costs.
I am sorry my reply cannot be more favourable.
Yours sincerely &c.
So there you have it. Supposed signal failures had meant that I was out of pocket to the tune of a taxi fair and an extra rail fare but London Underground had generously given me a voucher for £1, which I still have because I never got round to cashing it in. I say 'supposed signal failures' because I do not believe that for an instant. The engineering works started on that day and the Circle Line was then in complete chaos up until the point that they decided to completely shut it down. I am sure that the 'backlog of correspondence' was due to huge numbers of complaints similar to mine and the matter had even been raised in parliament.
The other letter I found was also from when I was trying to escape London back up to the North but on a more permanent basis. I had applied for a job at Daresbury Laboratory and received the following, postmarked 10th February 1999:
Dear Mr Haig
Thank you for your interest in our recent advertisement for Software Engineers in our Electronics and Controls Group.
I am sorry to tell you, however, that action to fill these vacancies has been put on hold for the time being. We anticipate that the positions could now be filled rather later in the year than we had initially intended. I am sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused, and will contact you when action to fill the positions is resumed.
Yours sincerely &c.
I'm still waiting. In the meantime I'll continue working on software that may well end up on their machines.