From the moment he uttered the first shout of the F word, I'd already judged him.
In fact, I probably judged him before then. He was tall, well built and dark skinned - but with dread locks. He wore a face cap and sagged his jeans. And he was speaking on the phone. Rather gruffly. And he was sweating.
I silently wished he wouldn't sit beside me. After a long day at work, I needed a comfortable 30 minute journey home. He didn't - he sat opposite, but facing me.
Right after the train manager announced '...this train will be calling first at Milton Keynes Central' that's when he screamed. He had gotten on a wrong train.
I must have rolled my eyes. How does one get on a wrong train? Didn't you read the sign on the platform? Didn't you hear the several announcements made before the doors were finally shut? It didn't help that he was lamenting to the person on the other end of the phone, exclaiming how he thought all trains stopped at his exit point - Watford Junction. I kind of concluded he did this intentionally to avoid buying the right ticket. Still on the phone, he mentioned to his friend that he had not been in this area for about 6 years. At that point I believed him. Well sort of.
This incident happened months ago.
Fast forward to last week Thursday. I got on a wrong train.
I've used this same route for almost two years now and I still got on a wrong train. Did I not read the sign on the platform? Did I not hear the announcements? To be honest I didn't. I was engrossed in reading an article on David Miliband, and how he thinks Hilary Clinton has a fantastic smile. (It was quite a surprisingly interesting read). I tapped my seat mate 'Sorry is this train calling at Milton Keynes?' In a friendly but an I-am-sorry-for-you tone he chirped, 'I'm afraid I don't think so, the next stop is Stoke-on-Trent'.
Stoke on Trent? Like close to Manchester? An extra hour away from my stop.
The train manager said it was impossible to stop the train for me. But he was really nice. He gave me a ticket to ensure I could get back to Milton Keynes on the next train from Stoke. He also let me use his cell phone to call Tee explaining my (mis) adventure.
I settled down into my seat and thought. 'Oh well! At least I've never been to Stoke'.
I love Stoke on Trent! There was something so warm about it. I couldn't leave the train station premises but it felt so welcoming. Like the people of Stoke had no worries in the world.
I had about thirty minutes to explore before my train back to Milton Keynes. My phone was dead so I walked to the customer services department to get a charger. The attendant was so friendly and warm. Old Baba* that he was. After admitting that he knew nothing about all these new smart phones, he asked if I'd had a drink. When I shook my head he offered me access to the First Class waiting lounge and told me to help myself to anything. I couldn't figure out how the coffee machine works (I've never drank coffee, but who knows what Stoke does to you!) so I settled for a 250ml can of Pepsi - that I later realised had 107 calories!
I wanted a picture showing that I had visited Stoke. The policemen so eagerly offered to take one for me. Why are they so nice? I was almost getting suspicious.
Then I went back to get a selfie with my old Baba. The extra two hours (and the motion sickness I encountered) on the train that day was irrelevant.
Now I think I just want to live in Stoke.
At 8.52 my train to Milton Keynes arrived. I sank into the seat and snapped out my phone. In approximately fifty nine minutes I heard, 'We are now arriving at Milton Keynes Central. Thank you for travelling with Virgin Trains. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform'.
I don't think I got up immediately, because the guy ahead of me turned back, gave me a wink and said 'Now, you don't want to miss your stop, do you?' Hahaha. 'I wouldn't', I replied. How did he know though?
When I realised my folly after the Stoke bound train doors shut, I caught one particular woman looking at me funny. She was probably judging me, perhaps thinking 'Yeah right, wrong train indeed. She probably wanted to avoid paying the fare'.
To her, to me and to all ye judgers, note ye that:
Any experience of being the judge or the judgee? Or of any similar wrong-stop adventures?
pS: I don't think everyone in Stoke is that amazing. At 8.51, while the MK bound train was approaching I asked a middle aged woman if she could take me a picture with a Stoke-on-Trent wording background. She declined saying she had to get on the train. Maybe she's a Londoner?
*Baba - Nigerian lingua; (endearing) term for an old man
The Selfie - Baba and I