So I was out in the wilds of Berkshire today (and am I the only person who gets a little twinge of nervousness when their train approaches the sinisterly named Winnersh Triangle?). In Earley, to be precise, where I twice proved G.K. Chesterton’s maxim that the only way to be certain of catching a train in this country is to just miss the one before it. This meant I had plenty of time to taste the delights of Earley station – its locked Ladies’ loos (viewings on request), its friendly locals and, as I walked over the pedestrian footbridge to the uninhabited platform two, a tenner. This latter I picked up and, because I had perhaps been over-impressed by the rural nature of the station, took it back to the ticket office to hand it in.
I’m not sure, now, exactly what I expected to happen next. The station master to exclaim, ‘Ar, that’ll be the Squire’s, Ma’am, the rest of us bain’t seen one o’ they tenners since michaelmas last’? Someone rushing in to report it lost – ‘I’d recognise it anywhere – it had an engraving of Charles Darwin on one side, and a picture of Helen Mirren on the reverse’? Instead, the ticket guy took the tenner and looked at it and I stood at the ticket window and looked at him, and he knew and I knew that all that was happening was that the Earley Station Christmas party fund was about to be richer to the tune of ten quid. But the proprieties must be observed so he did what all good public employees do in these circumstances and took a piece of paper and made a note that ten pounds had been found by me at approximately 5:05 pm on the footbridge to platform two. And then he hesitated, looking at his handiwork. Something more was needed to give it that official air. He reached into his drawer and found it – the imprimatur of all bureaucracy, the rubber stamp. Ker-chung. The paper had become a document, the tenner official lost property and I and he could go our separate ways, all honour satisfied.