The Africa Express

Two visits to London, one just been, one coming up.

I always arrive by train – best way to travel from Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris. And the new arrival place is brand new, pristine place called St Pancras International.

It has scared me to death.

Between the time you set foot on it until the time you step out, voices drone on and on and on over the public address system.

Train departures? Sure, we’re in a railway station. Makes sense. But every single inbetween station from start to finish? Spare me.

But it gets worse. In the fog of drones droning on about everything under the sun you get a female voice intoning that “for your safety and security” you must do this or not do that.

There are cameras everywhere, as the drone never ceases to remind me. Twenty. Four. Hours. A. Day. Seven. Days. A. Week.

Surveillance. It’s accepted. That’s scary.

Walking through the railway corridor I see bland corporate stores selling bland corporate stuff at extortionate prices. Except newspapers; these are remarkably cheap.

So I want to get one. I enter a store, grab a paper and want to pay. But the cashier has disappeared. No, not the person working the till having gone out for a ciggie or a toilet break – no: the entire thing. No longer exists. I have to go to a machine and scan my paper. As my hands are full with a bag and a coat, I put both items somewhere so I can scan the paper. As a matter of fact, a very nice man in the shop does that for me. He could have been at the cash register.

I am now busy fishing out coins to pay the 1 pound something for my paper and some other item. Find the coins. Put them in the machine.

The machine refuses. Why? I am informed that there is an “unusual object” on the tray. Please remove.” Annoyance level goes up considerably. First off, you little insolent so-and-so: those are not unusual objects, those are my coat and bag and since the store has provided no other place to put them, they are on your stupid tray. I also object to being told by a piece of soulless technology what to do. Yes, talking elevators is another pet hate of mine.

But the damn thing refuses to take my cash until I remove said unusual objects. Where do I put them? On the floor? On the display over there?

Needless to say, I leave in a huff, paper in bag. I can imagine the other customers looking at me and thinking: unusual object. But the scariest thing is this: it seems that this nonsensical, soulless non-service is largely accepted. At least in railway stations. Why?

Back to the hall and “for your safety and security, cameras are in operation…”

Tune in next time, when I will explain why this piece is called The Africa Express.

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