30 January 2009

Don't ask me, I don't work here

I'm always being asked for information at train stations and bus stops. At first I assumed it was down to my reliable, approachable aspect. I soon realised the truth. Because I wear a reflective cycling jacket, but not a helmet, people wanting to know if this train stops at Stevenage think I must be some sort of transport employee.

It happened first at Waterloo. I'd got fed up of those reflective Sam Browne belts that always end up being held together with staples. I'd just started wearing a dayglo jacket, visible from Mars, instead. A haughty, well-dressed couple demanded to know where Waterloo East was. Being a helpful sort, I walked them there. The woman gave no thanks but muttered to her husband how awful the rail company must be if it employed such scruffy and unshaven people. Only afterwards did I realise she was talking about me.

It's happened regularly since. There I am waiting for my train or just standing near a bus stop, and someone comes up and starts badgering me. Which is the platform for Cambridge? When is the next bus to Lewisham? What are you going to do about this litter? Why is my train late?

What I really want to do is say, 'That's the train for Cambridge there. I know it says Edinburgh Non-Stop, but that's just a mistake, don't worry.'

Of course I don't. I say I'm sorry, I don't know, I don't work here, there's an information point over there, and they humph and grumble like it's my fault I don't know and I must be some sort of luminous-jacketed Reg Varney fantasist.

Last night the fluorescent bib played its tricks again. I'd been hurtling round town all day (exactly the sort of complex short-haul itinerary that's fast and reliable by bike but tedious and unpredictable by public transport). My brother had been down from Yorkshire on business, and I zipped up to King's Cross (top right) to meet him briefly before he got his train home.

Sure enough, as we stood on the concourse having a laugh, there was a procession of people pumping me for information about the next arrival from Hitchin or the wi-fi connection speed on the York train.

So, apologies to Network Rail: if you get any customer complaints about 'one of your staff' who was not only clueless but seemed to be more intent on chatting to his friends and swigging from a can of Foster's... that was probably me.

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