By Vijay Shah
Today I have been briefly browsing my Twitter feed and found this tweet by the comedian Lee Nelson, or as he likes to often refer to himself, a “well good legend!”.
For those Brainiacs not familiar with the on goings of the most televised chav since Vicky Pollard of Little Britain fame, here is a short introduction.
Nelson, real name Simon Brodkin, is a chirpy young lad with a proclivity for swearing and cracking jokes at the expense of audience members on his very well-received “Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show”. The Well Good Show has been running on BBC3 since June 2010, and has got to be one of the funniest sketch comedies I have seen in recent years.
Bedecked in a blue-and-white polo shirt and rarely seen without his trusty baseball cap, Nelson works the laughs with the help of his ‘bredrin’ , the long-suffering Omelette, an obese, often topless and begrudgingly compliant accomplice who finds himself subjected to dares by Lee, such as covering himself in dog food and eating all manners of artery-clogging crap.
Hiding out in train toilets just because you are too skint (poor) to afford to go to your own show must be a funnily awkward situation for our main man Lee. It has got to be a safe bet that the BBC are supplementing Mr Nelson’s jobseeker’s allowance with a sizeable enough salary that he could quite easily pay for the tickets of every single woman, man and child in his train carriage several times over.
It is a clever move on Lee’s part, seeking refuge in the men’s. The conductor has plenty of tickets to check and plenty of fare-dodgers to snare. He should be safe holed up in the bog. As long as one of the other passengers does not develop a full bladder or starts feeling the repercussions of last night’s shawarma kebab. Because if someone else needs to answer the call of nature, Lee could well be in ‘nuff’ trouble. You get me innit…..
Occurring across all the transport networks that criss-cross London, fare dodging, or ‘ticketless travel’ to use the officially sanitised term, is a monumental headache for the people who keep our Tube, trains and buses running.
According to Transport for London’s own figures for last year, collectively about £63 million worth in fares was lost by customers’ refusal to pay whilst using London’s public transport systems.
Now I am an honest guy, but even I have committed some fare avoidance of my own a few times. I am not proud of it, but my finances were very tight. Here in east London, and in many other places, ‘forgetting’ to use your Travelcard was almost a rite of passage. The articulated or ‘bendy’ buses that were widespread until Mayor Boris Johnson sold them off, were so universally popular among fare-dodgers that they were dubbed ‘free buses’. A moniker that was not just based on urban legend.
I had lost count of the number of times I would see people, usually teenagers, breeze onto the bus without ‘touching in’ their Oystercards – some would hop on then hop off after a few stops, like frogs in denim jumping from one red wheeled lily pad to the next. It was not a challenge either.
Unlike trains which always seemed to be swarming with ticket inspectors, the bendy bus was remarkably thin on the wheels when it came to the presence of revenue protection staff. Nevertheless when people I knew jumped on for a gratis ride on the number 25 from Oxford Circus to Stratford, they must have been soiling themselves with fear waiting for that dreaded tap on the shoulder…”Mate, can I see your Oystercard”…”oh s**t, I got clocked!”. But even from my darker days, that was really once in a blue moon!
For fare-dodgers on the bendy buses, the advantages were simple. Unlike normal buses where everyone had to enter the vehicle through the front entrance and tap their cards on the special reader near the driver’s cab, the bendies had three pairs of doors and several readers, making detection by an eagle-eyed driver much harder. On busy routes, crowds were a blessing. With everyone packed to the rafters like Atlantic sardines, there was no way a conductor would be able to check commuters’ tickets.
As long as you kept your mouth shut, kept your eyes peeled and preferably did not look too young , it was child’s play. If by chance Mr/Ms Ticket Inspector made an unscheduled appearance, you sneaked off at the next stop. Nobody had a clue.
For the poorer travellers who chose a free ride, it was because they just could not afford to pay. Gone were the days when a bus ride only cost 70 pence one way. Those gloriously cheap days are long dead. For others, it is their way of ‘sticking it to the man’. TfL are always bumping up fare prices, as my Travelcard and its annual eye-watering increases will bear witness. No-one likes being ripped off and no-one especially wants half their monthly wages disappearing into transport bosses’ oversized pockets while having to put up with commuting under the mind-altering aroma of a thousand stinking armpits. It is not travelling, it is torture. Barmy Boris fiddles while London sweats.
For others it was the ultimate game of ‘chicken’ with the silent hordes of TfL staff trying to protect their employer’s income. Thousands of adrenaline junkies putting their criminal records on the line as they get to Westfield whilst saving a bit of change too. It has become even more daring now, since TfL recently increased their penalty notices for fare evasion from £50 to £80. It is admittedly a pity for the junkies because if TfL revenue protectors do finger your collar, all that money you saved in paying for your journeys just gets confiscated – and then some.
I am not trying to say that the master art of fare evasion is a good thing. Not at all. After all, you are using a service and by not paying for it you are committing theft. Having a criminal record for simply saving on a couple of quid will cost you far more than just coughing up the fare – and that is not just in financial terms.
But as badboy joker Lee Nelson sits the inspection out on one of Greater Anglia’s finest porcelain thrones, you can imagine he is having a ‘well good laugh’. Let’s hope the inspector has a sense of humour, or Lee is going to need a hefty wad of cash.
“Simon Brodkin” – Wikipedia LINK
“War on fare dodgers increases as penalty charges go up this weekend” – Transport for London LINK
@RealLeeNelson – Lee Nelson, Twitter LINK
Mr Craig Ward – Design & Art Direction LINK