The Kindness of Strangers, The Weather & Public Transport


The weekend of the 4th December I was invited to visit my son and his family up in Scotland. They’ve recently moved to anther coastal village east of Edinburgh and it would be the first time I’ve seen their new home. Even on the Friday night before my trip it was very uncertain, as the weather was appalling. Stewart and I spent hours on the Internet and/or phone trying to get an answer to the likelihood of disruptions to the train service. One of the calls I made must have been to India and after about 5 minutes of the guy asking me to wait (as he attempted to gain the info) he eventually gave me a UK number, which I had already phoned!

On the http://www.thetrainline.com I decided on instant chat – except I had to wait around 10 minutes to get a ‘live’ response. I’m no typist so it was taking me ages to ask my question, with the guy on the other end writing, ‘are you still there?’ Quite an extraordinary palaver – and it would have taken far less time speaking to him in person, but that was not an option  – other than the numbers already phoned.

Firstly, I had to write my details including my booking reference. I was informed I was 7th in the queue, then after watching the clock tick away we were up and running:

Kiran: “Hi, my name is Kiran, (maybe we were back in India) how may I help you?”

Me: “Hi – I need to know about possible disruptions to the service tomorrow morning – to Longniddry”

Kiran: “Hello, Patricia J”

Me: “Hello”

Kiran: “Sure, I will be glad to assist you.”

Kiran: ‘May I have the complete journey details, please?”

Kiran: “Are you there?”

I explain that I don’t want to pay for a taxi to get to the station the following morning if I would be turned back somewhere along the journey. Also I was taking my mother that afternoon to respite care and I didn’t want to waste that money, either. Apart from all that, I’m an OAP ill equipped for a night in the snow.

Kiran: “I do understand your concern and apologise for the inconvenience caused to you, on this occasion. I mean to ask, please provide an Origin and Destination station of your journey, so that I can provided (sic) you with an appropriate information”.

Kiran: *provide.

Me: “Blackburn Lancashire – Longniddry”

Kiran: “OK”

Kiran: “Patricia, thank you for providing the above information”.

Kiran: “Please give me a few minutes so that I can find the information.

Kiran: (Listening)

Kiran: “Thank you for your patience”

Me: “OK”

Kiran: “Please note, the train services are amended for your planned route, by the service provider. The train services may be cancelled if weather conditions deteriorate further or they may be delayed.”

Kiran: “I hope this information is helpful.”

Me: “Do you advise me to cancel?”

Kiran: “I request you to please be careful and accordingly plan your alternate journey. Sure, I advise you to cancel, in this case.”

Me: ‘There is no alternate route for me – so do I go to your main website to cancel?”

Kiran: Please note, as we have not received any update from the service provider regarding your train disruptions, I request you to contact the Customer Relations Team on 0845 00 00 125, where an advisor will be happy to assist you, with your issue. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused to you, as we are not authorised to process a refund/compensation on behalf of a service provider.

Kiran: “Hope this information is helpful.”

Me: “OK”

Kiran: “Is there anything else I may assist you with?”

Me: “Wish there was.”

Kiran: “Are you there?”

Kiran: “OKJ”

Kiran: “Thank you for contacting the trainline.com”

Me: “OK, bye”

Kiran: “Have a nice day and stay safeJ”

Me: “r u having a laugh?!”

Kiran: “Bye, Patricia.”

Kiran: “Please click on the ‘Hang Up’ button.”

Me “OK”

Now wouldn’t that have been quicker on the phone?

In the meantime Stewart was checking the Met Office and saying the weather was due to improve the following day and as I had to come to a decision that night (had to leave for the station by 6.50next morning), so I decided to risk it.

Next morning I walked to the main road to pick up my taxi, as my road was treacherous with snow and ice (very hard to pull a suitcase on that surface – and I also discovered that when pulling it up the long sloping ramp at the station, in fact I had to pull myself up with the aid of the railings). The train was on time and at Preston I had time for a coffee – well, if there had been any! Unfortunately I had queued for five minutes before receiving that information!

“So there are no hot drinks?’

Quick flick of head by the assistant – indicating that I go to his left to the adjoining café. I join that queue as the time ticks on, eventually having to abandon the coffee and go onto the platform for my train that was remarkably on time and arrived in Edinburgh also on time, receiving intermittent calls on my mobile, from my son who was at home watching the train’s progress on the internet. He reliably informed me that the North Berwick train was on schedule and the platform I would find it on.

With just 10 minutes to spare I found the platform and settled down in my seat on the train. I texted my son, “On train!”

“Let me know when you are moving.”

“Moving!”

Within a few minutes I started thinking that the train was making peculiar noises. I have little experience of submarines, but have seen several movies and could honestly say that previously I had never heard a train making sonar pings and deeper pings.  Still we chugged along, until we appeared to be coasting for a while, and then chugging again at snail’s pace.

We limped into Wallyford, which I thought sounded inauspicious – and limped out again. Stop start – coast – until the appearance of the conductor, telling us what we had guessed already – there was a fault with the train and the driver was trying to sort it. Not long after, she returned to make a note of the destinations of all the passengers.

Text from Stewart now at the station in Longniddry – “where are you?”

“No longer moving!”

I phone him, tell him the story and he instructs me to get off at Preston Pans. I wonder if we will make it there, but I guess it is downhill from Wallyford as we start rolling again.

As I get my things together to leave the train early, the conductress appears in the carriage once again, informing all of the passengers that the train is well and truly stuffed and everyone must get off!

Stewart was there to greet me and we loaded the car with the Christmas presents and gardening books for Nicky – and the rucksack containing my clothes. By the time we reached the road there were two stranded passengers standing at the exit (one each side of the car), looking mystified as they looked up and down the road. We wound the windows down and ask each of them if we could help. They were looking for the bus stop, but didn’t know which way to walk. Stewart was able to tell them that the bus actually does a loop through the houses and doesn’t  pass by the station, so he offered to give them a lift to the bus stop – after asking if either of them was going to Longniddry. The elderly gentleman was going to the end of the line at North Berwick and the young woman was going to Drem, where she would be picked up and taken to her place of work at a golf club.

The buses only ran every hour from Edinburgh and probably not on time due to the weather. As Stewart drove further east to find a bus shelter, it occurred to me that our two passengers would have longer to wait for the bus – and in sub zero temperatures. I was just thinking that if I were driving, I would take them to their destinations. No sooner had that thought crossed my mind, than Stewart announced that he would do exactly that. A chip of the old block!

We dropped the young lady at the end of the golf club drive (Stewart would have taken her to the door except the lane looked treacherous and he was now running late to collect my granddaughter from school at lunchtime) and as she was getting out she thanked Stewart profusely and said she never ceases to be amazed by the kindness of strangers.

We continued to North Berwick. The Gentleman said we should just drop him at the station – unless we wanted to take him to his house where he would be delighted to give us a couple of bottles of wine. As time was running out and Stewart would have to backtrack towards Edinburgh and Victoria’s school, Stewart declined the kind offer.

I didn’t see much of Victoria that day, as she had a party in the afternoon and a sleepover. The following day we went for lunch at the local pub and then Stewart and the girls had a good time sledging with a group of people on the golf course. The weather was bright and the sun glinted off the thick snow and it was many degrees below freezing.

I was leaving with Stewart on Monday morning and found that the Met Office had been extraordinarily inaccurate with their forecast of mild weather. It was blowing a blizzard! Stewart said that instead of us walking to Longniddry station, Nicky was going to take us further along the line towards Edinburgh, as she was taking the girls to school. Just before we left the phone rang and it was the girls’ bus driver saying he was collecting the girls as usual. Nicky told him not to bother, as she had to get her mother-in-law to the station and so she may as well take the girls.

The driving was bad, with cars parked up at the side of the main road with the side roads impassable. The snowplough had carved its way through, so the owners of the parked cars were now having to dig themselves out and in many places it was single file traffic. Nevertheless we made the station just in time to catch the train where it was standing room only, due to there only being two carriages.

We arrived at Waverley with only a few minutes to spare before my train left. Stewart travelled with me as far as the next station, Hay Market. My booked seat was in the last carriage and when he got up to leave he made his way to the end door which was the nearest. Within minutes he was backtracking along the carriage to the next door, as when he went to alight from the train there was no platform! Fortunately he just managed to leap off before the guard blew his whistle.

The Virgin Super Voyager sped southwards, making good time, until Lancaster that is, where we seemed to wait for an inordinately long time, until came the announcement, “Sorry for the delay, the mail train ahead of us is having problems and we will be on our way as soon as possible.”

After a while, “we apologise to customers, the mail train had broken down and is blocking the line. This train will terminate here and return to Edinburgh. You will have to leave the train now and await further advice.” Everyone left the train in an orderly fashion, except for one inebriated fellow who I had seen in the buffet car just after we left Edinburgh. He seemed well under the influence then, so by now (two hours later), he was well and truly zonked! I kindly passenger roused him from his stupor and tried to explain the situation. Very disgruntled he got to his feet and lurched in the general direction of the door, fortunately unable to fall as we were jammed like sardines. When finally I did make it to the platform the inebriated man was pushing his way back to the train as he had left his coat!

The evicted passengers were now huddled on the platform as far as the eye could see, all of them freezing cold, but scared to move away in case they missed an announcement. Eventually it came by way of an apology and instruction for us to move to the waiting room to await further announcements, but where we would be nice and warm. Joke! It was a vast waiting room with four of the smallest wall heaters, which didn’t even seem to be on. Twice more passengers loitering on the platform were urged to go to the warmth of the waiting room. Needless to say this caused much hilarity!

The next announcement was to tell us to make our way to the concourse where two coaches were waiting to bus us to Preston. They could carry 50 passengers each, so it was a case of first come, first served. In a surprisingly orderly fashion we carried out the instruction. I was approximately number 20 in the queue, but like several of the passengers ahead of me, I had to leave the queue in order to put my bag into the hold. Having done so, I then walked towards the front of the bus to find my place, as the ones ahead of me had done. I stood back to let a couple of elderly ladies go ahead of me when suddenly a railway employee asked us to stand back so that he could climb on board to count the remaining places. Having done so he disembarked, saying there were only 12 places left and he started to count the passengers on, touching each one as an indication for them to climb aboard. I was standing immediately to his left, right by the door of the bus, but he was totally ignoring me – and clearly counting passengers who had been behind me. Yet another perfect example of older women being invisible! When he got to around 8 or 9 I had to chip in, “excuse me, my bag is on the bus.’ But still he continued counting. When finally he got to number 12 he said, “I haven’t counted you!”

“I know – and that’s why I’ve been telling you my bag is on the bus!” He stared at me blankly until number 12, a tall young man who looked like a student said, “this lady can go instead of me – her bag is on the bus.” I thanked him profusely. The kindness of strangers again! I climbed onto the bus and was relieved to find that the railway official had miscounted and in fact there was room for the kind young man and one other passenger too.

Obviously I missed my connection at Preston – as I had also done on my previous two excursions! At least it wasn’t too late to collect my mother from respite care, unlike last time, when I had to take a taxi from Preston to Blackburn, costing me £25, which was almost the total cost of my return fare from Blackburn to Birmingham!

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Published by

willosworld

Born in Liverpool at the end of WW2, but raised in Skelmersdale. I first studied art in Southport from 1960-63 and worked in graphic design till I married. In December 1969 I moved to Zambia with my husband and two young children. There I taught art in the local girls school, illustrated for the National Correspondence College and did all sorts of other artwork, paid and unpaid. In 1978 I divorced and remarried in the summer of 1980. In 1985 I became ill and the following year cancer was diagnosed. There was no treatment available in Zambia and so I had to go to the UK. After recovering from a radium needle implant I went back to Zambia, but 18 months later the cancer recurred and it was off to the UK again for radical surgery. This time I realised I must stay in the UK where treatment was available, so I never returned to Zambia nor my husband. A few months later I applied for a degree course, but two years later the disease metastasised and I spent most of my final year in and out of hospital. It’s been a long hard road, but I’m still plodding on and it is now 24 years since my last cancer treatment. Because of my experience of cancer and surviving against the odds, I try and help others cope with their devastating diagnosis and prognosis.

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