As a commuter I’m pretty used to being apologised to. Usually by a computer that’s been programmed to do so, which doesn’t really count, or a pre-recorded announcement grudgingly regretting any inconvenience which may have been caused. Getting apologised to is better than not getting apologised to, as SouthWest Trains demonstrated this morning by silently cancelling one train and then running the next one late, but it’s still fairly routine. But when were you last actually thanked, as a commuter, and not by your fellow passengers but by the staff?
I was heading for the wilds of zone 5 – Sidcup, as it happens – and on what turned out to be a short formation train. By London Bridge the passengers getting on were being forced to play sardines to an Olympic standard and things were getting uncomfortably packed. At this point, the train driver started chiming in: ‘If you’ve got a bag on the seat, take it off and ask the nice stranger to sit next to you,’ he suggested, then, ‘come on, I know there’s some room in there, just squeeze up and let two or three more people on,’ and, finally, as the pips went, ‘Breathe in everybody!’ so the doors could close. Something told me he wasn’t following the train-company approved official announcement script. As we trundled away he apologised for the short train and announced he was switching the heating off – which was thoughtful, but not out of the ordinary. But then at Hither Green when the crowding began to ease and we all breathed out again he came on the tannoy again to say goodbye to the departing passengers and thank us all for our efforts in getting everyone on board. ‘You’re the best bunch of passengers I’ve had all day,’ he said. ‘And I mean that.’ Everyone grinned.
And do you know, as though to live up to his words, everyone started arguing over the remaining seats: ‘There’s a seat free here, do you want it?’ – ‘No, you sit down, I’m only going one stop.’ – ‘no, please, sit down, I’ll just get out of your way’… Amazing what a heartfelt thank you can do to a train full of commuters.
Or maybe it was just Sidcup. Sidcup was very strange. Sidcup was stranger than Erith. There may well be more tales from Sidcup as space and time permit. Watch this space.