Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bet Blanche Dubois would've done the same if she'd been stuck at High St. Ken...

I'm 26, just finishing a late night's work in London. I set the office alarm, slam the door, walk the 10 minutes to the tube station...and realise I've left my wallet, my house keys, my tube pass and my reason at my desk. No way back into the office tonight, and this being the pre-mobilithic era, no cell phone to call for help. Home is 6 miles away.

I do what I always do - I find someone to talk to about the situation. It's the compulsive habit formed by a small-town upbringing and, not for the first time, I'm glad of it. I look as small and pathetic as I can (yeah, yeah, not difficult even under the best of circumstances) and approach the station guard (is that what they're called? The men in the luminous jackets who hang out at the Tube snarling at tourists).

At first, the conversation goes as you would expect:

"I don't have my ticket"

"Buy a new one"

"I don't have my wallet"

"How are you going to get home, then?"

but then something changes. Maybe the station guard thinks I'm actually going to cry on him. I'm shaking, sure, but that's because I'd last eaten at midday and now it was 9:30 at night.File under: jobs I'm dead glad I no longer do. Also: stupidity of youth.

"Perhaps you could let me through without a ticket, just this once?" I ask in my nicest poor-idiotic-overwhelmed-no-threat-to-anyone guise.

The station guard ponders it. My heart lifts, and I start mentally calculating whether my housemate will have left me supper in the oven (for though I was ridiculous at 26, I had the kindest roommate ever. He'd probably still leave my dinner in the oven now if he thought I needed it).

"That wouldn't work" the guard says, breaking into my reverie of what said oven-waiting supper might possibly be (shepherd's pie, probably. We ate a lot of shepherd's pie in those days. Young, fetterless, and living in London: staying in and cooking shepherd's pie. We knew how to live. Um...).

My lip quivers, perhaps.

"There are automatic gates at Wimbledon" he reminds me. Clearly whilst I've been dreaming of lamb mince and carrots, the guard has been running through his mental rolodex of exit apparatus on the District Line. And I thought I had an exciting life.

Then he does something that I imagine would have got him fired had his bosses noticed, London Underground not being known for their bendiness of either trains nor rules: he reaches into his pocket and hands me the exact change for the tube fare.

"Here," he says. "You look like you need to get home before you fall over".

The next morning, flush with cash lent to me by my long-suffering-but-still-saintly housemate, I seek out the guard on my way into the office and press the loaned money back into his hand. He refuses it. "Buy yourself something nice for breakfast" he says.

So every time it snows I think of Kurt Cobain; and every time I eat a raisin Danish, I think of the tube station at High Street Kensington.


MummyMaps said...

Sarah, that's so lovely - it's so nice to be reminded that many people are really kind - especially when you've just about had enough! I'm tired tonight and this made me smile!

Anonymous said...

Ok I must be hormonal because that nearly brought a tear to my eye. Lovely ditty.

Sarah said...

Aww, thanks, both! Imen: I'm hoping it's not hormones but the dazzling clarity of my prose. Betting on the hormones, though...