Thursday, October 12, 2006

An Unresolved Journey

I had a bit of a problem with my Oyster card today. As Spooner would say, I "didn't understand the system." I knew how to use it on the Tube: when you enter the station, you tap the Oyster card on the yellow touch pad at the front of the cattle shoot. The gate then opens and a screen tells you how much money you have left on your card and/or how much will be debited for this journey. In order to leave the station at your destination, you must tap your card at the exit cattle shoot/gate. If you transfer to a different line at a station, you don't have to touch your card. You only use it when you enter or leave a station.

So, I had no problem taking the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf. It was my transfer to the Docklands Light Rail to go down to Greenwich where I got screwed up. I got off the tube and followed the signs to the DLR, assuming this would be like other transfers, but before I knew it I was going through a cattle shoot and I was outside. The signs to the DLR pointed me through a plaza, across the street and down a block. When I entered the DLR station, I looked for a cattle shoot but didn't see one. Signs pointed to an up escalator, so up I went and found myself on the platform. Thinking something wasn't right and maybe my Oyster couldn't be used here, I went back downstairs to look for a ticket agent, but there was just a ticket dispenser machine with nearly incomprehensible instructions and some indication that Oyster cards were okay on the DLR. Back up the escalator to the track, where the train was arriving and I got on.

When I reached Greenwich, I saw a sign that said that failure to tap Oyster card when entering and exiting would result in a £20 fine. Yikes! Then I saw the yellow Oyster tap pad mounted on the wall. I tapped and I exited.

Periodically as I walked miles and miles, uphill and down, around and through Greenwich and the park, I worried about my Oyster card and whether I'd be stopped as I tried to get on the return train. Worse yet, I worried that I'd be alright today but would be docked the £20 when I took the tube to Heathrow at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Maybe I could get Spooner to switch Oysters with me, so he'd get stuck with any fine when he next used the card. This probably isn't a realistic plan.

Dead tired, I got back on the DLR in Greenwich at around 4 p.m. and was thrilled that no alarms sounded when I tapped my card to enter. Exiting the DLR station on the other side of the Thames, I then noticed at least half a dozen wall-mounted tap pads that I must have walked right past on the way in this morning. Still mildly worried about the whole thing when I entered the Canary Wharf tube station, I saw a ticket window with a real person and decided I should get over any of my usual shyness and ask for assistance.

"I think I did something wrong with my Oyster card," I told him. I explained that I'd missed a tap on my DLR ride.

He read my card and said, "Yes. It seems you have an unresolved journey. I'll take care of that. No extra money will be taken off your card."

Whew! I got on the tube and rode to St. John's Wood where I met Spooner.

My journey on the DLR may have been temporarily unresolved, but I'd say that, on the whole, my trip to London has been fully resolved. I've done nearly everything on my high priority list (the Pearly Harvest Festival, Brighton, a few new markets, some Banksy sightings, dinner with Jamie H-B), and much of my medium priority list (Charles Dickens' house, a return to Frognal in search of the house with topiaries, a few new museums). I've had some favorite Brit foods (fish and chips, Indian take-away, tuna and sweet corn sandwich) and found some excellent new ones (Wagamama noodle dishes, veg burgers at Red Veg, veg pie and mushy peas, HobNobs digestive biscuits). I took a ton of pix, some of them pretty good. And I got around just fine on my own, despite my little Oyster screw up.
Posted by Picasa


  1. Really wonderful photos, MJ. I love the Banksy and the Pearlies!
    Thanks for the welcome and good luck with the jet lag!

  2. Anonymous7:40 PM

    I'm so glad you didn't have to pay a fine, but it would have been fun to try and switch cards with R. Your photos are fantastic, especially the Pearlies, the markets and the Pier.