Tuesday, 7 June 2016

East Coast Feel Good Story

It didn’t start as a feel-good story.

“Oh my God!” said the woman, suppressed panic in her voice, as the train slipped out of Peterborough station, ”I’ve left my handbag on the platform.”

She was in her late thirties or early forties, dressed in a way that said both 
”business and ”studiedly casual. She was, understandably, distressed.

Virgin East Coast train.
Scene of a minor human sympathy story
There followed a long and, on her part, tearful conversation with the ticket collector. He was shorthanded on the train and not handling the tension well. He couldn’t, at first, find it in himself to show her any sympathy.

“Where’s your ticket, madam?”

“Why,” she wailed, “in my handbag, of course. On the platform back there.”

“Well, if you don’t have your ticket, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the train.”

“Leave the train? Leave the train? You just don’t understand. I’ve just been promoted to the kind of job I really want. After nineteen years in the company. This is my first day. My new boss is waiting for me in Sheffield. I’m meeting the team this afternoon and we’re all going out this evening. That’s why I’ve brought a case.”

He glanced at her cabin-luggage sized case.

“Yes,” she said, sensing a slight hesitation, “I remembered the case. I forgot my handbag. Oh, can’t you phone the station and ask them?”

He grumbled something incomprehensible. Presumably to say that it wasn’t procedure. But he added, grudgingly, “I’ll see if I can contact them.”

He was back ten minutes later.

“They’ve found your bag. It’s in the ticket office. When are you going back?”

“Tomorrow,” she said.

“Could you pick it up then?”

“Well, I could," but she sounded disappointed. "you don’t suppose they could pop my bag on the next train to Doncaster?”

“It’s not what we do,” he said, but I could feel he was relenting.

“And look, look,” she said, thrusting her phone towards him, “here’s the receipt for my ticket.”

“OK, OK” he said, “we trust you. Don’t worry. We won’t make you leave the train.”

While he was away doing his ticket-collectory thing, she turned to me for sympathy.

“My first day in the new job. My boss is going to kill me.”

I couldn’t see it.

“Tell the story the same way you told it here. He’ll just laugh.”

“Do you think so? This is such an opportunity for me. And I was so looking forward to today.”

“You’ll be in a pub before long having a good laugh over the whole business with your friends.”

The ticket collector was back. He was on the phone.

“I know it’s not usual procedure,” he was saying, “but could you see your way to doing it? I know, I know, but it would make a big difference to her.”

He listened for a while.

“Many thanks. That’s grand. Really. Thank you.”

He hung up and turned to her.

“They’re putting your bag on the next train. If you wait on the platform at Doncaster for the next train, and head to the back, you’ll see the collector. This is my name,” he was pushing a slip of paper towards her, “show him that so he knows you’re the one I rang about and he’ll give you your bag.”

When we drew into Doncaster, she again came past the table where I was sitting.

“I’ve spoken to my boss. He thinks the whole thing’s a joke.”

I smiled at her. And, as she left the train, I could see that for the first time since she’d got on, she was smiling too.

What a good thing the ticket collector found it in him to overcome his own sense of grievance to sympathise with someone in more need than he was. And give a feel-bad story a feel-good ending.

No comments: