I've done it: sent off my completed application form for a rail pass.
It's an old cliché that, once a Senior Citizen, everyone gets a free bus pass, and can enjoy unlimited free bus travel. That's it, a pass that lets you gleefully hop on and off buses anywhere in England, paying not a penny. It must be ordinary buses and it must be after 9.30am; but otherwise it's any day, any time, and as much as you like. If you have nothing better to do, you can spend all day on a succession of buses, breaking only for tea and buns and afternoon bingo. What a lark!
My older Brighton friends insist that they've had this amazing privilege since they turned sixty, and that the same must apply to me - but they're wrong. Each local council has its own rules. I live in the sticks, not Brighton, and my local council insists that I have to be of State Pension age. That for me is sixty-two, not sixty. So for two years I've had to watch on the sidelines while my older Brighton friends bludgeon their way onto the super-frequent Brighton buses, flash their passes to the driver with disdain, smirk their heads off as they collar the seats reserved for the elderly and infirm, and give the finger to younger fare-paying passengers. But my chance to do the same has now come.
Except that, now I can, I'm not going for a bus pass. My local council offers an alternative, if I prefer it - a free rail pass, aka the Senior Railcard. I've applied for that instead.
For me it's a much more interesting option, much more likely to to be used.
Ordinarily there'd be £24 to pay for one of these, but I will get mine for nothing. I won't get free rail travel with it, but I will get one third off the cost of an off-peak ticket. So, for example, if I bought a return ticket mid-morning from (let's say) Burgess Hill station to East Croydon station, it would ordinarily cost me £14.30. With this Senior Railcard it would cost only £9.53, which sounds like an attractive proposition. As it happens, I will be making just such a journey shortly, though the rail pass won't arrive in time for it. But it'll be there for the future. I'm thinking especially of days out when I'm away on holiday. I'd certainly consider taking the train somewhere, if paying a third less. I wouldn't mind if it had to be off-peak. I'd get a seat, for one thing.
Oh, my Brighton friends will say, what a mistake! You still have to pay something! We go absolutely free!
But look. As you might expect, the bus service in and out of my Sussex village is not frequent. And it takes a picturesque but meandering route. It's useless for late-evening travel. It's useless for getting anywhere fast. Why would I ever want to use it? Free travel is not worth having if it gobbles up your time.
Besides, where public transport is concerned, I'm naturally a train person. Train travel still has a faint air of adventure and romance attached to it. And it's usually rapid - no traffic jams to hold you up. And while there's no guarantee of not sitting next to an annoying idiot, by and large it's for serious travellers with purposeful lives. You might even be able to enjoy an illuminating conversation with a person on the same wavelength as yourself.
Whereas buses are the mode of travel for all the people I do not want to sit next to - people with colds or contagious diseases; people with smelly dogs; old bombastic unhappy people who talk utter nonsense when they should know better; cheeky schoolchildren who fidget and talk too loudly; angry oddball rebel types sporting tattoos, piercings, and far too much attitude; sad but irritating local characters filling their days up, using a bus ride as their substitute for a social life. Buses are for people who can't afford cars and don't mind a grindingly slow journey. Being stuck on a steamy, crowded, condensation-ridden bus on a wet day would be torture, free bus pass or not. I haven't the time or patience. I do have a choice. So no thank you.
And when will my rail pass come? Who knows. They say it might take three weeks. It could be my useful Christmas present - if any trains are running.
But mark my words - any rain, frost or snow and I'm in Fiona.