It will rain in Shrewsbury

Yesterday, I had a nightmare journey. It was the kind you think is made up by travel writers to pad out the pages between interesting sights and ‘how-to’s of ticket management. It didn’t help that my reason for going was to have a chat with the JobCentre Plus (Plus benefits, I assume) about allocation of a National Insurance number.

The first leg of the journey was fine: train to Shrewsbury. I sat down to enjoy a book and baguette (brilliant combination until you take a bite out of your novel) and noticed that the notice on the gantry sign kept changing: next trainon timenext traincancelled. Well, which one is it? Turns out, I just had to wait 25 minutes for the next one. No worries, I’m reading and drinking caffeine-containing hot stuff (It’s not coffee. This is coffee.)

So, I’m late into Telford, but I was going to be an hour early anyway. I have a Google Map printout, but I don’t want to risk it, so I jump in a Taxi, explaining that I’ll need cash first, then on to the Jobcentre Plus (Plus and Minus?). The Royal Bank of Scotland was just across the retail park which is Telford centre, so I tried to get cash out there… no luck. I shrug embarrassedly at the driver, who shakes his head as if to say: “Oh, bloody hell… I’m taking him to t’JobCentre Plus (Plus Jobs for foreigners, no doubt!) and he’s got no bloody money.”

So, across to Asda, which looks more hopeful–there being three cash machines from different banks. Brilliant…but no. “This service is temporarily unavailable,” from Abbey National. “Your card cannot be used in a  cash machine,” (What’s it for then!?) from NatWest, and a simple “Sorry, we cannot complete your request,” from the RBS. So, I phone my bank (don’t get me started on the poor customer service at HSBC!) and wade my way through the ridiculous menus.

I eventually get through to someone who talks…very…slowly…and…keeps…repeating…what…I…ask…back…to…me. I tell the poor dear I’m waiting by a taxi whose meter is running and that I need to use my card to get cash out… “One moment, Mr Zach. Do you mind if I call you Mr. Zach?”

“I really couldn’t give a toss what you call me, love, I’m waiting to pay a disgruntled, bearded cab driver from Telford!”

“Ok, Mr Zach. I’m just going to speak to one of my colleagues. Can I put you on hold?”

“Oh, bloody hell…”

“…Mr Zach, it looks like there is sufficient funds for you to take cash out.”

“Yes, I know there’s money in the account. That’s why I’m trying to take it out, to give to this increasingly red-faced cabbie!”

After another five minutes of this, it turns out there aren’t any security block on the account, so it’s probably the card. “I can send you out a new one, Mr. Zach. Would that be helpful?”

“No, not really…”

The Cabbie then drove me to a garage where I attempted to buy a pack of mentos to get cash back. They don’t do cash back… I’d have to go across to Asda…

Eventually, the driver asked me to buy 20 Embassy Filter. I bought 40–the first time I’ve ever bought a pack of fags–and he laughingly agreed to take me to the JobCentre Plus (Plus acrid, blue smoke, presumably).

He drops me off, at the wrong place, and I had to ask a Telfordian where the Jobcentre was. Luckily, I chose someone who looked like he’d been on the Dole, and he gave me very detailed directions… via three pubs and a discount £-store. Fanbloodytastic.

So, I have the interview (wasn’t actually too bad). And I finally worked out what the ‘Plus’ is for. It’s for: “Plus unnecessary bureaucracy”. The lovely woman who conducted my interview had to fill in literally ten pages-worth of forms. Most of the information was on her screen, but it’s not secure until it’s been hand-scrawled into hundreds of little boxes, apparently. We shared a laugh at the ridiculousness of the system, and she kept on writing the entire time. That certainly explains the name. I think, however, they’ve made a serious marketing mistake. Since this country loves it some Acronyms (LISA), they should call it Jobcentre Plus PUB. It’d certainly fit the intended clientele.

I won’t bore you with the return journey, except to say that it was cold, miserable, two delays and a cancellation. Oh, and it rained at Telford Central just as they announced that the Birmingham New Street train was cancelled. It was freezing, and so crowded I read my book using a shorter person like a lectern.

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