As my years advance and my bones get old and knackered I find myself more closely in touch with my Inner Curmudgeon. Things were better when I was young. Hair was higher. Sony Walkmen were bigger. And Motorway Services lived up to their name, rather than being just an endless chain of opportunities to extort money from the road-weary traveller.
The trip to and from an otherwise excellent A.R.S.E was marred, on the way down, by the classic Small-Print-Parking-Sign shuffle. I used to campaign about these for a living so it’s profoundly annoying having fallen for one – maybe this is how Geoff Hoon feels, though at least I’m only out a tenner rather than a £5,000 day rate.
YOU MUST PAY TO PARK FOR MORE THAN 2 HOURS. Seriously? TRAVELODGE STAFF CANOT TAKE YOUR MONEY. YOU MUST PAY BY PHONE. What joy. Having been done by Westminster Council in the 5 minutes between parking and getting to my office in the hope of calling without getting rained on, I thought it were best to be done quickly, gritted my teeth and phoned the automatic call-handling service. £10 quid fee, oh, and a “handling charge.” How nice. How much does it cost to have a computer take your money anyway?
Drag the bags out of the panniers, squelch to the doors. In very small writing – FREE. Travelodge customers may park for free if they register their VRN at reception. I ask the receptionist that doesn’t speak English very well and the one with her ear clamped to her mobile phone if they can reimburse me. No, nothing to do with them, sorry.
So you have to pay for parking (if you’re going to be longer than 2 hours) and you have to pay to get your own money to hand back over the counter to the multiple retail opportunities, because free cash machines have been replaced by fee-charging boxes managed by the lovely people at LINK. (No, M&S in Service Areas don’t do cash-back, I asked.) At least in the old days the part of the services that was designed to ream you of your money was over-18s only and in plain sight as a slot-machine arcade.
What’s the point of a Motorway Services anyway? I’d argue that their key function is a safety one – they are a place to stop and rest if you’re so tired that your brain has stopped talking to your body. And since the arrival of HighwayHound, this is my perpetual condition. If you’re on a bike, you have a special need for somewhere you can sit that isn’t conditional on the purchase of fast food, because you can’t buy a sandwich and take it back to your warm and comfy car for scoff & shut-eye (119 minutes, max).
Maybe I am taking this too seriously in my sleep-deprived state. It’s good of the Government to consult on what Services should be provided at an MSA, and I don’t want to be too tetchy about the special prominence given to caravans and electric cars compared to the humble motorcyclist. The consultation says that we should be offered lockers to stash our gear. I’d prefer a parking space that wasn’t seen as a handy place to stash an RAC recruiting wagon. And that I wasn’t fooled into paying for.
Have your say: http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/open/2010-25/