I've just tried working out a route by rail (the car is off-road at present) between Bedford and Pinner for a Monday night. Why the hell should anyone want to be in Pinner (it's a far-flung bit of London, in case you don't know) on a Monday night? Don't ask. But that was my mission, and finding the route illustrated the promise and frustrations of the Net as we know it today.
First, I wanted to find the nearest railway station. National Rail Enquiries Online was prompt, smooth, confident: Pinner didn't exist as far as it was concerned.
I went to Multimap and found out where Pinner is. The nearest well-known place seemed to be Harrow. Rail enquiries responded brilliantly to the query: it told me I wanted Harrow and Wealdstone station, and gave me two serious alternatives for getting there – one into central London and out again, the other via obscure local routes, which I preferred. It also gave me a weird option, beginning with a bus run by Virgin Trains to Milton Keynes. (This sort of corporate cross-dressing is becoming familiar nowadays. I honestly can't tell you whether our gas is supplied by the electricity company or our electricity by the gas company. I think it says on the bills, but it's a long time since I had to look at them – whoever they are just help themselves to the cash without any action being needed on my part.)
So I fired off emails to persons in Pinner and elsewhere, telling them I'd be at H & W station about 6:30 pm. Then I started wondering about the price. The rail enquiries site wasn't so brilliant about this. It seems to want to tell you prices only if you specify a given train company first, and my trip involved two. And not all of those – and not all categories of travel. And, in the end, not the fare for the particular trip I was taking. A helpful link gave me a list of possible reasons for this failure. Unfortunately, the list was a little too long and comprehensive to illuminate me.
Then it occurred to me that I should really try harder to find out the nearest station to Pinner. I tried Google. Strange and obscure sites popped up that made it clear to me that Pinner is a key site in the history of railways. And strongly hinted that it's on the London Underground.
So, off to thetube.com – and there is Pinner, direct via the Metropolitan line from King's Cross.
Well, how the hell was I supposed to know that? I only lived in London for 15 years all told, not nearly long enough to take me to places like Pinner. And why didn't National Rail Enquiries Online own up to the fact? The route via London that they gave me involved a short Tube journey, so why didn't they tell me the whole truth?