But I have a specific aim - to buy a ticket for a lecture in March. So I approach the section of the Information desk labeled "Information and Advance Tickets", behind which stands a delightful, softly spoken young lady of Eastern European origin. She has a pile of brochures, a computer terminal and a Van Gogh Calendar tacked to the wall beside her.
Me: Hello. I'd like to book a ticket for Andrew Graham-Dixon's lecture on the Sistine Chapel on March 20, please.
The NG assistant reaches uncertainly for a brochure.
Me: It's probably not in the brochure - it's just been rescheduled from January in a larger theatre...
She pauses, then continues to flick through the brochure with a puzzled expression. Then she points to the page for January.
NG Assistant: It is passed. It was last week.
Me: It was cancelled and rescheduled for March 20...
She moves, not to the computer terminal but to the Wall Calendar, and checks a penciled entry.
NG Assistant: It is sold out.
Me: Are you sure?
NG Assistant: Not really. (peers at the calendar). It might be something else that week that is sold out.
Me: (Looking at computer terminal) Can you check?
NG Assistant: Not really.
Me: Is it on the system?
NG Assistant: (stares at computer terminal with tredidation, but does approach it) I don't know.
Me: How can I check?
NG Assistant: I don't know...
Me: Could I try to buy a ticket on-line tomorrow?
NG Assistant: I don't know... I will check
She picks up the brochure again, and flicks uncertainly through the last few pages. I have time to glance down at the "comments" book on the counter. One entry leaps out. "Customer Assistants who know how to use the computer system and can sell tickets would be a huge improvement".
She is still unable to find the information about in-line booking. I give up.
Me: It's alright. I'll try from home. Thank you.
I take a copy of the brochure and wave it reassuringly as I back away.
When I glance back she is still standing sadly behind the sign "Information and Advance Tickets".