I am, apparently, some sort of criminal in training (there\’s a pun there, reach for it). Any day now you will find my picture on the wall in all Southern railway stations under the heading “Ticket Thief!” Happily, they cannot—due to lack of hardware—add “Shoot on sight” to that, but they might encourage their employees to “Blow Whistle and Shake Finger Menacingly” if they spot me hanging around the platforms.
Here\’s what happened:
I was returning from a client\’s site last Thursday on a “fast” train. For the uninitiated, a “fast” train is one that doesn\’t stop at every pissant little burg between London and Brighton , touching only on the highlights, such as Croydon, Gatwick Airport, and Haywards Heath. I was in a hurry because it was Thursday and on Thursdays I drive my wife to art class in Haywards Heath. Now, my wife can drive, she just doesn\’t prefer to, so I have been driving her to art class on Thursday nights for the last five years, but if I couldn\’t be home by 6:30 I would be too late to take her and she would have to drive herself.
More to the point, I would not be able to drive her to art class, and then take myself to the pub down the road for a cigar and a pint and a curry and a convivial chat with the locals. And that would be wrong.
And so, as the train pulled away from East Croydon station, I did some mental calculations and realized I was not, in fact, going to make it home on time. The route I was on required me to disembark at Gatwick and find another train going to Horsham. That could add half an hour or more to the trip. And once I got to Horsham station, I still needed to get home. So I came up with a fall-back plan.
I\’m sure you\’ve already noted the fact that the train I was on stopped at Haywards Heath, which was my ultimate destination. Accordingly, I found a train guard and asked if I could purchase a ticket from Gatwick to Haywards Heath. He said he would come by in a few minutes. He never did.
When I got out at Haywards Heath with a ticket to Horsham, I was not worried at all. Now, I know you can\’t travel to Canterbury with a ticket to Cambridge just because they start with the same letter, but in this case, I was travelling the same relative distance and in the same general direction: from Gatwick airport, the lines fork, and one tine goes to Horsham, the other to Haywards Heath. I wasn\’t stealing a ticket, merely transferring the Gatwick to Horsham portion to the Haywards Heath line.
I showed her my ticket, and after we established that I was not at the correct station and I began to explain how I happened to end up there, she started giving me a proper bollocking.
This confused me. I was wearing a shirt and tie, I was obviously a respectable middle-aged man travelling on business, not some saggy-drawered, skateboard-toting hoodie trying to jump the turnstile, yet she was verbally beating me like a red-headed step-child. To what end, I wondered; I was already at the station, she could shout all night and it wouldn\’t change the ticket, or that fact that I had arrived holding it. Was she planning to send me back to Gatwick? For a while, it did appear so.
Eventually, I was released so I could go to the window and purchase a ticket from Gatwick to Haywards Heath. I didn\’t bother asking for a refund for the unused portion of the ticket I was holding, I just bought the proper ticket—which is what I had wanted to do all along—and returned to the guardess. She took it, and picked up where she had left off, launching into another bollocking.
This time I was really confused; not angry, or embarrassed, just confused. I was now outside of the gate, where she had no power over me at all. She wasn’t accomplishing anything; I had already properly paid for my ticket, so what was the tirade for? I felt like putting my fingers in my ears and singing, “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA CAN\’T HEAR YOU!” Instead, I just walked away.
Now clearly, I had not followed the rules, but I openly acknowledged that fact and actively sought to put it right; I thought this—along with my status of “very obviously not a criminal”—would count for something. I suppose this was her means of deriving job satisfaction—a sort of non-monetary perk—from an otherwise unexciting occupation. Thing is, I probably satisfied her scolding craving for the evening and the next group of oiks who sauntered down the walkway with no tickets at all were likely released without comment and sent on their way with a hearty “Cheerio!”