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Trained to be early

April 30, 2012

Being a commuter, a lot of my travel is the standard run to and from the office. That involves a car, a train, and the tube. Not every day, but a lot. There are not many days when all goes according to plan. And there are a surprisingly large number of ways that things can happen not according to plan.

I’m not a particularly punctual person by nature. I’m usually rushing to get somewhere on time, which usually means I’m on the train after the train that I meant to catch. So when I am on time it’s good to make the most of it. But being on time isn’t always the fastest way to do something.

Take today. I drove to the station with about 5 minutes before my train was due. However, for whatever reason (perhaps that it is a Monday today) there was a bit queue for tickets. So I queued, and then the train came while I was still in the queue without a ticket. So I decided I would catch the train and buy a ticket on board, rather than wait the 12 minutes until the next train. I got on, remembered to pay my parking on my iPad, and sat and waited for the conductor to appear to buy a ticket. The conductor was unusually quiet, with just the occasional announcement to tell us why we were running late, and why we were going to be delayed further getting in to Waterloo (signal problems for trains leaving Waterloo.) He did eventually say, sorry that I didn’t make it through the train, but if you need a ticket, I’ll be on the platform where I will walk to the front of the train so you can get a ticket from me.

I got off the train, and walked to the front of the train, but no sign of the conductor. The station began to empty out, and I turned round, and saw, down near the back of the train, a group of people clustered round someone. I walked back down the platform, to join the end of the line of people who were purchasing tickets from the guard who not only didn’t make it through the train, but also didn’t make it more than a step or two from the door which he alighted from.

Finally I reached the front of the queue. A return from Hook, please, said I. Any underground? asked he. No, replied I. Some tapping on his ticket machine ensued, and just as it looked like it might start spitting out my ticket he says, Sorry, I’ve just got a signal, and hops back on the train. See someone at the gate.

So, I returned the length of the platform, to where a man with a jacket proclaiming passenger assistance was standing by the turnstiles. I explained the situation to him, and he pointed me to two men standing with South West trains uniforms and ticket machines. I went to join the queue of people from another train to see them. They had little badges on which said, Penalty Fare Inspector, and one was writing lots of things in triplicate in a pad. I chose the other one to queue. Fortunately he was selling tickets, and after a little questioning as to why I was seeking to buy a ticket, he decided that he would sell me a ticket rather than a penalty fare.

It was all an interesting experience, but took longer than 12 minutes, and I was later in to work than usual. That’s what comes from trying to be early.

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