For the last two weeks, I have been savouring the joys of commuting into the City on South West Trains and the London underground network.
Most modern cities in the developed world have similar smart card technology resulting in a faster, more efficient transport system with cheaper fares for passengers and reduced staffing costs at railway stations.
Last Tuesday, I disembarked at Bank underground station following a hot, sweaty, uncomfortable 5 minute journey from Waterloo surrounded by smart, professional merchant bankers wearing trainers and suits. As usual, everyone strode out purposefully to get off the train first, to reach the ticket barrier first, to climb the stairs first, to reach the blissful cool fresh air first and finally, after a interminable 6 minute loss of communication, get a decent mobile phone signal so they can immediately call the office to show how incredibly important they are: ‘Will be there in 5. Passenger jumped onto live rail outside Hinchley Wood’.
I ambled slowly along (marvelling yet again at Bryan Devendorf’s drumming prowess) behind a gentleman who was rapidly approaching ticket barrier No. 3. I withdrew my Zones 1-5 One Day Travel Card and politely waited for the chap to ‘swipe through’ (as we Cockney trainspotters call it) and proceed towards the escalators.
Only he didn’t proceed because the failure rate on the Oyster card system is high. Astonishingly high. The gentleman in front of me tried to advance by waving his jacket pocket towards the card reader but, inevitably, his Oyster card wasn’t recognised and nothing happened.
I was listening to The National and wasn’t paying full attention so I didn’t immediately notice his quandary until he gave a little yelp. In fact, he may have given two yelps. One as he rammed into a very hard and very stationary, unyielding ticket barrier. And another yelp as I rammed into him from behind with great force.
Once we’d disentangled ourselves, he started to complain that I’d physically assaulted him. I told him he shouldn’t buy an Oyster card if he couldn’t use the bloody thing. One of the three staff manning the ticket barriers - most countries eliminated all ticket barrier staff whereas London had to triple staff manning the station exits - separated us and a ‘revenue protection officer’ then rubbed salt in the wound by charging him full fare plus a £10 penalty. I looked disdainfully at his suit and then I looked down even more disdainfully at his trainers.
I duly appeared in court yesterday charged with ‘Gross indecency in a public place’ but, inspired by ‘Judge Judy’, I conducted my own legal defence, launching a magnificent counter claim of ‘Inappropriate use of trainers coupled with a pinstripe suit’.
Thankfully, the judge saw sense and acquitted me after a forensic scientist gave expert testimony that the rectal injuries sustained by the gentleman may have been caused by the insertion of a tightly rolled up copy of ‘The Metro’ and not sexual assault.