When I was the MP for Ealing Acton, I remember getting on the train from Paddington to return to my flat near Acton Main Line station. It was one of those journeys that was destined to fail. The train did not pull out of the platform on time, and then there was a message on the tannoy. “Would the guard for the 17.33 stopping service to Slough be good enough to present himself on platform 13 so the train might depart?” He arrived a few minutes later with his torch and green flag in a leather case, but by that time we had lost our slot. The 17.45 to Greenford pulled out ahead of us. The train then left, but ground to a halt at Royal Oak; it restarted and then got stuck again at Old Oak Common. We looked out of the window at Wormwood Scrubs and the Eurotunnel depot.
At this point, the ticket collector decided to raise morale by inviting us all to display our tickets. I had mine and showed it; but the elderly man with a beard next to me had not made the necessary investment. He asked the ticket collector for a half return to West Drayton. “A half?” said the ticket collector “You are well over 16.” “Indeed” sighed my neighbour “But I wasn’t when the train started.”
And so, undeterred, I plan to go by train to Blackpool for the Conservative Party conference, leading a team of politically motivated men and women from North West Hampshire to help revive our Party’s fortunes.
I normally go by train but leave buying the tickets to the last moment. This year, I thought I would get organised, book well in advance and save enough money to take my delegation out to dinner. And, indeed, the ticket booked two months in advance was a bargain. £25 return, Euston to Blackpool and back. This included a reserved seat - and here is where it gets less good -a reserved train. A condition of purchase was that the tickets had to be used on the specified train and none other.
And of course the party conference this year has been truncated and ends a day early.
So the conundrum has to be addressed. Do I stay an extra day in Blackpool after it has been evacuated by my political friends and go on the Big Dipper by myself? Or do I return with everyone else, enriching Sir Richard Branson in the process? This will require careful consideration.