‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sorry to inform you that we’ve run out of quiche. I repeat, there will be NO quiche available from the buffet car for the duration of this journey.’
And people wonder why we should re-nationalise the railways. What next? No Lentil Crisps? No over-priced Mars Bars? No out-of-date Tuna sandwich on slightly wet bread?
Luckily, I’m well prepared with the other necessities for a long journey to the north. A view of beautiful countryside to ignore whilst staring at my phone? Check. A seat neighbour whose headphones have come out of the socket so we can all hear him enjoy the Best Of Gary Barlow? Check. A load of fake email addresses to keep accessing the 15 minutes of complimentary free Wifi? Check, check, check.
Blimey, he’s tall. Annoyingly good looking. And carrying… a surfboard. Covered in Canadian flag stickers. Clearly hungover, too. Cap down, sunglasses on, still at an age where being hungover on a Tuesday morning is considered cool rather than concerning. He doesn’t even try to entertain us by attempting to fit his baggage into the luggage rack. Just puts his head on the table and falls asleep.
No quiche, no surfboard-in-luggage-rack fun. Not a great journey so far.
The maddening Mexican wave starts so we must be near the next station. A nervous-looking guy stands up far too early, grabbing his bag and heading to the door. This sets off a chain reaction across the carriage of people who clearly believe trains exist within a GCSE Maths question and only ten people are allowed off at every station. Now everyone who’s planning to get off are on their feet, most of them stood up next to their now-empty seat.
(This is why I find it fun to stand up and get something out of my bag a few minutes before the train gets to the next destination, before sitting back down to see the impact of my ‘false start’ ripple across the carriage…)
As we pull into Peterborough station, the standers finally get off and new people get on. A gentle-looking elderly man boards and starts making his way towards the seemingly dead Canadian surfer.
He looks down at his ticket, and up to the seat numbers. Down at his ticket, and up to the seat numbers – this time more obviously.
We’ve all seen this before. Headphones out, time to pay attention.
‘Erm…. excuse me kind chap, I think this is my seat’
‘Excuse me… hello…’
“Erm, my seat, this is my reservation.’
‘See, look it says so here, I think’
‘Forget it old man’
(Looks out of the window)
‘Right… it’s just I do have a reservation. I’m very sorry.’
‘Get lost! Go sit somewhere else. I was here first.’
‘Oh, erm, I’m not sure…
Well, this is new.
Usually, one of two things should have happened.
Either the incumbent knows they’ve been rumbled, gathers their things, and heads off to find another reserved-but-currently-unoccupied seat to settle in before they start looking over their shoulder as the next station approaches.
Or the incumbent claims that it’s ALSO their seat because they were on a previously cancelled train, as if they now own that seat on every train that day, and both parties spend a few minutes showing each other their tickets until social pressure forces one of them to relent.
There is never usually a third option whereby the incumbent openly mocks the cherished reservation system and instead takes the chance to abuse a complete stranger in front of a group of open-mouthed law-abiding commuters.
I’m not sure what to do, so I look around at my fellow travellers for inspiration. We shake our heads, raise eyebrows, telepathically tell each other that this is a disgrace and someone should do something. Just not one of us.
The surfer guy seems to know exactly what to do. Clearly perked-up by the experience, he puts his headphones back on and starts air-drumming, as if he hasn’t just insulted an entire nation and way of life.
With no one standing up for him, the rightful seat owner wanders off into another carriage. The girl next to me types ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ into her Wifi registration form. I go back to not looking at the beautiful scenery.
Drama over for the day.
Until, in turns out, we get to Grantham.
People stand up too early. People fall over into their seats. People get off. People get on. Including a dad with his young daughter, who immediately head for the table seat next to the hungover, air-drumming, nation-insulting likely-Canadian.
‘Erm…. excuse me, mind if we sit here?’
Everyone else waits.
‘Hey sure man, no problem! Let me just move this stuff for you and you can sit right here’
A few minutes ago this guy was easily the least relaxed surfer I’d ever seen (and I’ve seen people try to surf in amongst the condoms of Southend-on-Sea.) but now he’s repeatedly and desperately punching his luggage to make it fit in the overhead rack.
Why isn’t he telling this guy to get lost as well? Didn’t he notice the sheer volume of eyebrow raises earlier? Or felt the reverberations of a hundred simultaneous tuts?
Maybe he’s just a really big fan of the people of Grantham.
The Dad settles into his seat, reaches into his 5p M&S plastic bag, and pulls out a four-pack of tastes-good-on-a-train-but-nowhere-else Belgian beer.
Ah, I see now.
The surfer looks at the Dad. The Dad looks at the surfer. The Surfer looks at the beer. The Dad looks at the beer. We all look at the Dad, the surfer, and the beer, praying to the good lord above that what we think is about to happen won’t happen.
‘Hey, want one of these?’
‘Sure, I’d love one!’
The people that have got on at Grantham with no knowledge of the previous incident look on with wistful smiles and murmurs of appreciation, their hearts warmed by the splendid social situation they’re witnessing.
A few minutes later, it gets worse.
The Dad – who evidentially has a bladder the size of a walnut or had started his daily Belgian Beer consumption at the station – has to go to the toilet.
‘Hey pal, I need to go to the loo, could you keep an eye on my daughter please?’
‘Hey of course, no worries at all dude!’
More smiles from the Grantham group. More frowns from the Peterborough posse. We’re a carriage divided.
They soon see the truth. Off the Dad goes and off the mask comes, the surfer drumming hard on the table and downing the beer his new best friend has given him. The daughter tries to show him her drawings, but he doesn’t so much as look at her. She tries to ask him a question about his surfboard, and he laughs and shakes his head. She grabs her iPad out of boredom, and he finishes his can and throws it towards (and annoyingly, into) the bin.
The Dad returns, the surfer sits upright, and gets given another beer for his troubles. Enjoying his victory, he catches the eye of a few of us and raises his can in our direction. Evil has prevailed.
‘Excuse me, sir, this isn’t your seat. And you need to move – now.’
He looks up. We look up. The old man looks up, defiantly, at the train guard stood next to him, who looks directly at the commuting criminal. Not all heroes wear capes.
The Dad looks confused, hugging his beer can tightly. The daughter looks like she’s watching an episode of Hey Duggee. She keeps watching it. The Grantham half looked appalled; the Peterborough half looked delighted.
Knowing his race is run, he stands up and starts prising his luggage out from the rack – causing people down the other end of the carriage to jump out of their seats ten minutes early.
It’s a near-perfect outcome. If only we had some quiche.