Monthly Archives: January 2016

Stealth Debit

Last January I gave my dad a gift subscription to The Economist for his birthday.  He had been a subscriber for many years, but somehow lost it when his life was dominated by an altogether more serious problem.  It’s the ideal birthday present for someone who’s never been easy to buy for: not merely absolutely right for him, but also something that can be repeated each year thereafter.

A week ago he ‘phoned me, having noticed that the end date of his subscription had moved a year, to January 2017.  Great, that’s exactly as intended, but he wondered if I’d renewed.  In fact I hadn’t: I’d been awaiting contact from The Economist about renewal.  Hmm … if they haven’t asked either of us to pay, who do they suppose is paying?  Or do they have one of those billing departments that gets into a terrible mess?

Checking my bank accounts, I find I had indeed set up a direct debit, and yesterday it was debited for another year’s subscription.  OK, fine, but isn’t it customary to send at least a courtesy email notifying me ahead of a direct debit?  Not a big issue: I’d intended the payment anyway and had ample funds in the account.  But I’m mildly p***ed off not to have been warned.

Perhaps they fear losing a subscription?  That would put them in the same game as scammers who seek to sign you up by stealth to something you don’t want.  Not a happy thought.


I made my first longer journey of the year a week ago (Saturday).  All very smooth, and at this time of year the number of people travelling is relatively modest, so there’s ample space to spread out a bit on the train.  Unlike a few years ago when Saturdays were more expensive and at risk of disruption, it’s now the ideal day to travel, as it’s the only day the 10:44 from Plymouth stops at Westbury and makes a relatively decent connection for the south coast line.

As soon as the train pulled in, something was different.  The livery has changed!  Getting on, everything’s been reupholstered in a new colour scheme.  The seats seem a little harder than before.  It’s neither better nor worse than before (hmm, OK, the new headrests may be a tiny improvement), just different.  As if the franchise on the line had changed without me hearing of it and a new operator had re-branded it.  Looking for branding, I find “GWR”, the common name of Brunel’s original railway between London, west and southwest England, and Wales (being an abbreviation of Great Western Railway).

I get out the ‘phone to google for what’s going on.  Turns out it is indeed still FirstGroup, and they’re carrying out a major rebranding exercise.  It’s  a work in progress: the other train (Westbury-Brighton) still sported the old FGW colours, as did both trains on my return journey on Wednesday.

Alas, whoever is responsible for the rebranding is evidently not a user of the service.  For surely no actual user would have failed to take the opportunity to fix the huge, glaring defect on these trains: namely, the critical shortage of luggage space.  The overhead racks are far too small for anything beyond a coat or commuter’s briefcase, and the rack provided at the end of the carriage is inevitably overfilled by the time there are enough passengers to occupy just 20% of the seats.

Until fairly recently, much of the seating was in groups of four around a table (trains are still like that on some lines).  That left lots of spaces for luggage such as my backpack between pairs of back-to-back seats.  Rearranging the seats and losing the back-to-backs lost the vast majority of the luggage space we used to enjoy.  We desperately need a replacement!