An information system for one’s mobile phone. A lousy user interface, partly necessitated by the small form factor. And every second counts, because it is charged by time, not a per-byte or flat-rate fee. Therefore, obviously, WAP is only useful for information I really need, and which I need right now, and for which I cannot simply go home and use my usual internet connection. Such as, to pick a topic at random, train times.
So it was I found myself in Lydney yesterday (Sunday). Lydney might or might not be a lovely village, but from the train station all you see is a few house-backs, a bus graveyard, a rusty wrecked car, and two doorless brick shelters. The paper timetable listed no trains for over three hours. We wanted confirmation before wandering off to look for a pub. The Railway Enquiries number (0845 748 4950) was busy. In desperation I thought I’d see if WAP could manage the job. My Virgin phone has two links marked Travel. Both lead to adverts for special offers and no actual information. In the end, after twenty minutes of wandering through the menu structure and gritting my teeth at tiny progress indicators, I found Google. Google found several train timetables, including one Dutch one, and (amazingly) a 500 error page or two. One of them worked. Praise Google!
WAP does have a link to PocketBeer.com, which located the nearest pub—in another village–but when I tried to follow a link to a page with the pub’s address, I got a 500 again. Argh.
It was very cold and windy, and Jeremy and I were still dressed in the clothes we wore to her sister Ellë’s wedding, not to mention clutching a bouquet of very exotic flowers.
In the end it was the much-overlooked press-button information point that supplied the most authoratative and useful confirmation of the train times. It also warned us that, because of severe weather, train times were liable to change. By happy chance, someone else pressed the button for the other platform, which alerted us to a train we had overlooked in the opposite direction, which was much earlier than the one we were interminably waiting for. It would at least take us to a station in an actual city, with the prospect of food, hot drinks, and maybe even a warm room to wait in. So we worked out an alternative route. Pressing the button again, we discovered the message had changed—the robot apologised profusely for cancelling the train we had just decided not to catch. We were aware of some fallen trees on the way to the station, but this was this was the first indication of just how badly the train system was affected.
WAP, despite being accessed via a device that knows my location to within a hundred metres, is incapable of delivering such locally specific information. (Even the pub guide requires that I enter the name of the town using the keypad.)
0845 748 4950 is similarly useless: you can press 1 to enquire about the weather, but it is organized not geographically, but according to the companies that run the services. Useless, in fact.
In the end the journey home, which took 3 hours total on Saturday, took twelve full hours (Taxi from the hotel at 11:30, bus from the Oxford train station arriving 23:30). The Lydney–Goucester leg was the most dramatic, actually having to stop at an apple orchard because the wreck of one of the trees had fallen over the line. I have never been so pleased to see Didcot Parkway train station.