A collective meeting place for the travel weary, the suited and booted important types, and the bus load of pensioners enjoying a mid morning coffee on their way to some godforsaken stretch of British coastline; the great British en-route venue, the service station, leaves a lot to be desired.
And here I sit in the car park of one, just off the M6. As is usually the case with these places, such is their lack of distinguishing features, I couldn’t tell you which one in particular I am currently in. It’s just outside of Stoke if that helps.
With travel constituting a large part of my job, I’m well versed on service station etiquette. There are several rules which, over the course of several years I have learned through the only way possible – by breaking them. So in no particular order, please find below my guide to staying service station trouble free:
- Expect old people. It’s impossible not to bump into them at one of these places at some stage. They’ll arrive in their droves, thousands of limping, moaning, ignorant old sods. And each one will get in your way at various locations, whether they take an inexplicable amount of time choosing a newspaper or take communal toilet breaks which last thirteen times longer than your visit.
- Never play Service Station Bingo. If your petrol light is flashing, or your stomach rumbling a tuneless hunger song, get off at the next services. Do not expect there to be another one 5 miles down the road. There won’t be.
- Accpet that you will put on weight during your visit. Every food item in every service station contains at least 400 tonnes of fat. Don’t be fooled by ‘healthy’ eateries such as M&S, you simply can’t buy anything that will do your heart a favour.
- Expect to pay a fortune for everthing. ‘Excellent value!!!’ exclaimed the sign on my way in this morning, above the picture of a sorry looking breakfast bap. Great, until you notice the intentionally small price tag hanging off it: £4.99. I’m not sure on what planet that is deemed good value, but it certainly doesn’t earn the right to have three exclamation marks celebrating it. Coffees, too, will cost at least £3 and you wont have any choice but to have one that his bigger than the moon.
- You won’t be able to ‘take a break’ as all the signs on the approach to the service station will recommend. This is because there will be at least two prats on mobile phones shouting the minutes of their recent Strategic Development of Business Commercial Objectives meeting at someone on their Blackberry. Their conversation will last for the exact amount of time it takes you to eat your sandwich and finish your cofffee.
- You won’t buy one of those chewable tooth brush things they dispense in the toilets. No one has ever bought one of these and no one ever will, but they will always have at least three machines in each toilet.
- Don’t punch the person offering you AA cover. As tempting as it may be and as essential a task as you might think, this is still considered a crime. Even in service stations.
- When purchasing fast food, don’t expect it to be fast. For no conceivable reason I can think of, McDonalds, KFC and Burger King service station branches cook everything to order. A Big Mac? That’ll take 10 minutes. Chicken Nuggets? You better phone ahead if you want to avoid the wait.
So there you go. Read and memorise the above and you’ll be ok, I promise.