“Tickets please.” mumbled the train manager as she ambled her way along the carriage. I held mine out for inspection. She looked at it, on both sides, pulled out a red biro from her waistcoat and scribbled the date on the ticket. She ambled off to the end of the carriage, stopped, waited for the next influx of passengers, and ambled back up the carriage, scribbling in red on the outstretched virgin tickets.
“Tickets please.” I ignored her as I assumed she knew she had already validated my ticket, but no, she persisted, looking intensely at me. I hesitated.
“You’ve already seen my ticket?” I asked with that annoying upturned tone in my voice which suggested I was asking her if she knew what a ticket was.
“Show me.” I did.
“You’ve already used this today. You can’t use it again.”
“No I haven’t – you just wrote the days date on it not 2 minutes ago.”
“I did not. I’ve never seen this ticket. It’s been used already. You have to buy a new one. Where are you going?”
Exasperated at this point I looked around to see if any other passenger could corroborate my story. Everyone was wearing newspapers for hats or praying intently, silently to their smart phones so I clearly wasn’t going to get any support from Mr or Ms Jo / e / sephine Public.
“You pulled out that pen, signed that date on that ticket not 2 minutes ago. I’m not buying another one as this is a perfect valid ticket. You can call your manager or whoever you like but I am not going to be buying another ticket any time soon.” Time to dig my heels in I thought.
“If you say so.” She reached up and pressed a large red emergency stop button and the train came to a shuddering halt. One or two of my neighbours looked up from their prayer book smart phone, looked out of the window briefly and then returned to their genuflections.
We stared at each other, the train manager and me.
“My supervisor will be along shortly to see what your problem is.”
“Fine, I look forward to it.”
The carriage sat in silence, apart from the shuffling of newspapers and the distant tinny sound of pop songs being played in head phones located up and down the carriage. I could make out Abba’s Dancing Queen behind me.
We all sat still apart from the manager who stood, resting between the seating, typing delicately into her hand held ticket dispenser, no doubt logging every detail of our encounter. Waiting for the supervisor.
“Passenger refused to pay up after several reasonable requests had been made.” I bet she was writing something like that. “Passenger tended to the rude and obstructive.” She would be adding right now. “I was proceeding in a northerly direction up the carriage.” I can hear her thinking aloud, following the letter of her training manual to the final full stop no doubt.
I’ll show her and bloody railway system. I’m in no hurry.
I looked out of the window and saw her reflection huddled up, typing unsteadily into her machine. For a moment, she looked lost, unsure of her ground. I became more sure of mine.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” The PA kicked in. “We’d like to apologise for the delay in your journey but we will making progress soon. The next station stop will be Mytholmroyd.”
Station stop? I mused. Why not just station? Or just Stop? The language of petty officialdom never fails to amaze me.
Speaking of which, two smartly dressed train managers had opened the door at the end of the carriage and were walking purposefully towards me and the train manager.
“Now sir, what seems to be the problem?” I explained my point of view and they looked at her once in a while when she would shake her head. They had clearly been briefed by her – that’s what all that typing was about. She was messaging her colleagues elsewhere in the train. I showed them the offending ticket.
“This ticket is for a different journey.” One of them observed tartly – rather too tartly if you ask my opinion.
“Does it? Is it? How on earth…?” I was lost for words temporarily.
“Look – it says Plymouth.” He almost spelled out the destination out loud. “Ply-mouth.”
“This train’s going to Cardiff” sneered the second official.
“You’ve both been in error; you gave my colleague the wrong ticket and you..” he nodded to the train manager, “didn’t read what he gave you properly. Have you got a ticket for this journey sir?”
I flummoxed around my pockets and laptop case and lo and bloody behold what did I find in a safe place? The offending missing ticket.
I apologised profusely to all three of them and she, to her credit, apologised to all of us for wasting our time. Her head was somewhere else this morning she explained. I commiserated as mine obviously had been as well.
The two supervisors raised all four of their combined eyebrows simultaneously and looked at us both, their silent tut tutting adding to the waves of silence which were by now drowning the carriage.
The manager – her name was Eileen I found out later after a pint in the station bar – looked sheepish and I felt sorry for her. We had both been the victim of our lack of attention to details and had jointly wreaked commuter havoc that morning.
The praying smart phone operators looked up at us in unison as if to forgive us our trespasses as we forgave them that trespassed against us and the newspaper hat wearers all folded up their copies of Metro and lay them on the tables in front of them, like mini prayer mats with their hands resting on them.
We both announced our apologies to the collective and before long the train had set off again, with me slumped in embarrassment in the seat and Eileen mumbling her way back up the carriage. Two years later we got married. The wait for the love of our lives had ended with a furore over some missing train tickets.