It was set to be the busiest day of travel in the UK for the whole year. Friday 22nd December 2017: the Friday before Christmas. An onslaught of regular commuters and seasonal travellers would collide on trains, motorways and even in the street. The media dubbed it as Frantic Friday. The Friday was indeed, frantic. Exploding lorries, planes coming off runways, overcrowded trains. Of course, amongst this, existed the usual rail disruption, with the usual excuses:
‘Train derailment somewhere or other.’
‘The wrong type of grass growing on the tracks.’
‘Hooded youths (hoodlums, wrongans).’
We’ve heard it all before, we’ve seen it all before. Everyone travelling on Friday 22nd December 2017 knew it would be a mission to get home. And of course, the resulting chaos lived up to all expectations.
The 15:00 service from London Liverpool Street to Norwich looked like a scene from any other train travelling out of/into London that day: overcrowded, uncomfortable and noisy. It didn’t take long for the carriages to become filled with busy bodies and free-living kids, sitting, standing, merely surviving, on one of the busiest trains of the day.
“Excuse me, I have a reserved seat.” Said a standing woman, to a sitting woman who’s seat hadn’t been reserved.
The usual response to this is of course laden with hand gestures & curse words, delivered promptly via an irritated, unloving voice. But on this 15:00 service from London Liverpool Street to Norwich, no such response.
“Oh, sorry, this seat isn’t reserved. It would usually have the little white tag stuck on it.” That was the sitting woman’s response. The man sitting down in front of the sitting woman said, “Yeah I had a reserved seat as well, but someone else took it. When one person takes one reserved seat they’re not meant to sit in, another takes theirs and there’s just no point anymore!”
Then they laughed. They all laughed together. The three of them, together, laughed.
Yes, there was something different about this 15:00 London Liverpool Street to Norwich train, in particular Coach D. Despite the multitude of people crowding the carriage, there was joy and joy in abundance.
People standing in the aisles were smiling, even when the same man had to walk through them – twice! This crowd of seeming strangers were making jokes, sharing conversations and comfortably enduring the not so comfortable journey. The only visible grievance to be had was when a ginger man mistakenly took offence at a reference to his hair being a ‘Moroccan Sunset’. (The jest was not directed at him, but at another ginger person.) Alas, even that was not enough to disrupt the balance of peace. In a quintessentially British manner, he simply kept calm and carried on.
When the first stop at Colchester had been reached, people were only too pleased to pardon themselves and make way for those wishing to get off the train. At last, space had freed up for those who had been stood up for the best part of the last hour. The abundance of joy looked set to continue all the way to Norwich.
Not a grump to be heard,
Or a sigh to be breathed.
People were content,
This Christmas Eve Eve Eve.
Moments like these need to be treasured. You won’t hear about them on the news, or see it blown across the front page of the nation’s newspapers. People need to know that light exists in this world captivated by the darkness. Even when it seems like it doesn’t.
Light exists in our simple acts of kindness.