A not-so-everyday encounter
I know why this sort of thing happens. I know why I’m in a queue behind seven other shuffling, irritated, complaining people, with a train ticket in my hand and a train due to leave in fifteen minutes. But it doesn’t make me feel any better.
I know that statistical processes involving large numbers of peripatetic people run according to inescapable laws of mathematics and chance, and that the fate of any one human speck of dust such as myself, floating in the shining sunlight with millions of others, can turn upon the whim of a tiny breeze such as that which awaited me.
Like a thousand others, the businessman leaves his meeting when his secretary beckons, as the chauffeured limo pulls up in front of the glass tower, to be whisked away softly and silently through the city hubbub, to the nexus of the nation’s railway system. He thinks fondly of the cold, droplet-condensing bottle of oaked Chardonnay that he has imagined all afternoon while listening to the Finance Director extol the virtues of third level investment holdings. Such a hot afternoon!
The teacher, having attended his first National Union Meeting in a two-star hotel, carries the sandwich pack that his gaunt wife prepared for him that morning in their semi-detached house in Devon Drive. He has walked, of course, all the way from his ‘venue’ to the station, hoping, as the sweat trickles down his open-collared check shirt, that his trusty bike still remains safely padlocked to his hometown railway car park railings, and that the chicken sandwiches have not become the venue for a microscopic conference of rapidly reproducing bacilli.
‘Excuse me,’ I say to the small bespectacled middle-aged woman behind the counter. The smile she was giving to the gentleman sinks like the Bismarck as I hold up the offending ticket in front of her. I hope that my smart city suit and tie will get me through this embarrassing intercession unscathed.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I say, ‘but can you tell me which platform this train goes from?’
‘Really!’ she says disdainfully, fixing me with a gorgonian stare.
I hope she will not launch into a lecture on how this is England and how we just don’t queue-jump here! She doesn’t! Thank goodness.
‘Platform seventeen!’ she says, and immediately turns back to the gentleman, lighting him up with a smile intended to emphasise to me that if only I had waited my turn, I too could have been the recipient of such warmth. I fear for his health from radiation burns!
He loved the train for everything that its first-class luxury meant to him. The steward’s quiet ‘Good evening, sir;’ the quiet murmur of the cabin; the smell of the furnishings like a well-appointed lounge of an evening; the dinner being prepared in the galley, and the aroma of real coffee percolating. All these things were his personal reward; confirmation that all his hard work had succeeded in getting him to the top of his profession – and next year his company would be listed on the Stock Exchange!