I have a tendency for catastrophe. This facet of my character was observed during my student days by my flatmates, who, to celebrate/commiserate with me, once bought me a card. On the outside it said, optimistically: “One day your ship will come in…” On the inside, it said: “And knowing your luck, you’ll be waiting at the airport.”
Daughter No2 could probably empathise with me, after her 20th birthday yesterday was marred by a similarly unfortunate travel mix-up – only this time a real-life one. It had all seemed like such a great idea… She and a group of old school friends were meeting up in Newcastle for the weekend, to mark the birthday of both DD2 and another chum.
Being an impecunious student, she had booked the train ticket weeks in advance, to ensure a low-cost fare. And lo and behold, Trainline must have known that she would be returning north on her 20thbirthday, as they offered her the chance to “top up” her ticket to First Class for the princely sum of £1.00. Daughter dear whooped inwardly with delight, said “yes” and began to look forward to her first-ever first class travel experience.
Having evidently inherited her mother’s slightly (!) chaotic tendencies, DD2 was a tad flustered when she pitched up at Newcastle Central station yesterday afternoon and proceeded hurriedly, but in good time, to the platform.
Along came an Edinburgh-bound train at around the right time, so she jumped aboard, made her way in anticipation to the hallowed terrain of the First Class carriage, and duly sank down in comfort to enjoy the journey back North to Edinburgh. A fairy-tale ending to a lovely weekend. Or it should have been…
Enter a grumpy , middle-aged male train conductor, stage left, like the veritable panto villain. He took one disdainful look at DD2’s first-class ticket and said, with not a little pleasure: “You’re on the wrong train. This is a CrossCountry train – your ticket is for the East Coast train. You’ll need to buy another ticket.”
DD2 was simultaneously perplexed and confused, as her mistake (a genuine one – the train she had mistakenly boarded had been running slightly late so arrived closer to the time her train was due) was explained to her. Her public shaming was carried out loudly, in full view and hearing of all other passengers, and with no discretion whatsoever.
The happy chappy (let’s call him “Kev” – because that appeared to be his name) insisted that she pay £30 there and then for a ticket, which only caused her more distress, as she had to explain (still in full public hearing) that she was a student and didn’t know whether there would be sufficient funds in her account to cover that.
“Well then, you’ll just have to stay at the station in Edinburgh when we get there until someone pays it for you or transfers money into your account,” retorted her inquisitor, with less compassion than a seriously hungry lion getting stuck in about a frightened wildebeest.
By this time, the humiliation and sheer disappointment of the happy birthday train journey gone wrong had become too much for DD2 – who is not known for displays of weakness even when in pain (just ask her hockey opponents). She became visibly upset as he booted her verbally (and again with no discretion) out of the First Class carriage.
She then proceeded to spend the entire (£30) journey sitting on the floor or standing in the small space between carriages, as there were no seats at that point in the second class carriages. Incidentally, Kev walked past her several times and completely ignored her.
I have absolutely no problem with him asking DD2 to leave the carriage or pay for another ticket – those were the inevitable and unfortunate consequences of her having accidentally alighted a train run by a different company from the one she bought her ticket from. Lousy luck, but these things happen – even on your birthday.
What I cannot excuse is his officious and uncompassionate handling of the situation. If he had been a semi-decent human being, he could still have been paid the fare and have got her out of his precious carriage without utterly humiliating her.
Firstly, he could easily have kept his voice down when discussing the situation with her rather than turning it into a public spectacle. Secondly, whilst still charging her for the ticket (which I fully accept he had to do) he could have at least sympathised with about her misfortune, instead of using it as an opportunity for his own professional peacockery. Even when his poor passenger mumbled through her embarrassment that this wasn’t much of a way to spend her birthday, he didn’t bat an eyelid.
I do hope the illustrious ‘Kev’ enjoyed his moment of power and glory yesterday afternoon – that he went home basking in the warm glow of satisfaction that can only be achieved from having kicked a fellow human being when they were down. And no doubt it gave him even more of a kick to know that he’d ruined her birthday, too. Truly a job well done!