I tried to eat and drink my way into making a profit from a first class train ticket
Pour it up, pour it up
Trains are shit, they're expensive, they're always late and 80% of the time you have to endure football chants from men equipped with Stella, families taking up whole four seaters with Quaver packets and teenagers blaring out shit tunes from tinny phone speakers.
Richard Branson is sucking the life out of us, charging the equivalent of a day's work on minimum wage so that we can hurtle across the country with enough leg room for a ten year-old. Theresa May might have given us a railcard until we're 30, but it feels like a massive consolation prize.
There must be a way to juice better service out of trains? I've heard Virgin's First Class service is essentially a portable all you can eat buffet. So theoretically one could eat and drink their way into making a profit from their train ticket.
With this in mind, I got onto the 14:43 London Euston train to Birmingham International. Without a railcard, a first class ticket booked in advance costs £49.00. I can spend this during a five minute online shopping spree at Missguided so this should be easy? I head off to find out.
Leaving London Euston
The passengers in First Class look like they care about brexit not just because it's long af but due to the falling value of their business assets. I imagine many of them are MPs heading to the midlands to discuss urban regeneration in Stafford's private sector.
There is an obscene amount of leg room, you could do yoga here.
Hot drinks trolley
"Tea or coffee Miss?" asks a member of staff. Everyone is so polite here, they permanently communicate in their phone voice.
I get both an Americano and a tea. I mean who drinks two hot caffeinated beverages at the same time?
2x hot drinks = £3.85
Total = £7.70
Cold drinks trolley
"Unfortunately madam its not on the menu".
After giving my best "I write letters of complaint in my spare time" impression I'm handed a small vial of Gin, a Pepsi and a glass of apple juice.
Some passengers are visibly offended by my gluttony. A woman's face crumples into itself like a cat's arsehole.
1x G&T = £5.95
1x Apple Juice = £3.95
1x Pepsi = £1.60
Total = £15.35
(G&Ts that are not in a can are not on the menu, I am assuming they would be priced around the same as a glass of prosecco, so that is £5.95).
Cold foods trolley
Even at this stage in the banquet the other passengers do not indulge themselves. "Sparkling water, thank-you" says a lady. Somehow she manages to make 'thank-you' sound like an insult. Her mouth is crinkled downwards from years spent snarling at everything bar her own bank account. The man adjacent to me indulges in nothing but a banana. Perhaps when they depart the train they're off to eat weird cuts of duck that no-one's ever heard of.
After ordering pretzels, crisps, a banana, and a fruitcake I lean in and blush with the rigid terror of asking for a second G&T.
When they head back down the corridor, I get a third G&T.
If I continue at this rate, maybe I can push Virgin Trains into administration and in the putrid ashy wasteland it leaves behind – the graveyard of patterned seating and unbelievably hot tea – I could ignite the re-nationalisation of the British rail service. Maybe.
1x cake = £1.80
1x nuts = £1
1x crisps = £1
1x fruit = 80p
1x G&T = £5.95
Total = £25.90
Hot food trolley
Midway past Coventry the staff bring out the hot food selection. It all sounds suitably unimpressive, pulled pork – are we at Glastonbury circa 2015? And cheese ploughmans – do I look like I have a £2.95 budget for Upper Crust? I flex some serious skinny bitch muscles and go for the Tzatski, greens & grains salad.
I mean, Gwyneth Paltrow wouldn't even feed this to her dog. You know a salad's basic when it's got couscous instead of quinoa.
I need a G&T to recover from the trauma.
1x G&T = £5.95
1x salad = £4.95**
Total = £36.80
**The salad isn't on the price list but I am estimating a modest £4.95 market value rate.
Pulling into Coventry
"It's cold in here" says a lady in one of those blouses you only get in brochures that come through the letter box.
"I'm sorry madam, let me get to that immediately" said a member of staff.
How does this guy plan on making it warmer? Is the train going to stop here in Coventry so that double glazing can be installed?
At this point I'm on my fifth G&T. I head for a piss. One good thing about a wobbling train carriage is that no-one can tell when you've lost the ability to walk in a straight line, they think it's the turbulence.
I lose my balance and swing around onto a man, my hair tickling the top of his nose, "sorry, sorry" he says. He's so middle-class he probably gets in queues and apologises to people when they push in.
1x G&T = £5.95
Total = £42.75
Hot drinks trolley round two
Me and the service staff have developed a good rapport, I've invented the G&T equivalent of the "can I get the bill?" nod.
Though at this point having possession of my ex's number would be dangerous, I realise Virgin Trains' game. Though technically I should be allowed to eat and drink whatever I so please, the staff bring the trolley around at intervals meaning you have to approach and engage to get what you want.
Back in the toilets, I'm topping up my makeup, unfortunately no matter what class you're in, you've still got to put your arse onto the same piss-soaked cold metal bowl. Those abrasive lights that inform you that there's approximately 7000 blackheads on your nose never changes.
Somewhere near Birmingham International
Why don't Virgin Trains just install a drip so I have G&Ts pumped into me intravenously? Maybe I am going to have to give them 12.5% service charge to atone for their leg work.
Do you think the Pope likes G&Ts?
2x G&Ts = £11.90
Total = 54.65
As train shakes to a stop the robotic hum of the train announcer lady rings out, "we are now arriving into Birmingham International".
I leave the train equipped with two mid-party snacks and enough alcohol in my system to see me through to 10:30pm.
As I shuffle through the sliding doors and into the cold flicking rain, a woman bashes against my leg with Tesco shopping bags and a dark feeling dawns over me. It's really over. I am no longer the West Coast services' equivalent of Mariah Carey.
Despite my tidy profit of £5.65, for some reason I don't feel like I've won, maybe the system would be better taken down if I refused to buy a ticket and spent the journey locked in the toilet with a bottle of Prosecco?
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WHY WAS ALL THIS ALLOWED TO HAPPEN