London did not behave as expected yesterday. Despite my reservations, it was delightful in the morning, light, airy and quiet and full. It reminded me of the city I lived in once that I really loved. Kings Cross, in its new, glorious sparkling form was radiant. I had a grin on my face. People smiled back. People smiled at Ben. People reached out and stroked his face. An old lady told me he was beautiful. A man on the tube engaged with him, engaged with me and chatted.
It was not the insular and unfriendly city I remembered. It was happier than where I live. It was cleaned than where I live. Hell, it had more sunshine than where I live! And despite huge worries about coping on the tube with my precious baby, I was happy, I got where I needed to (if you ignore being baffled by the apparent alteration of the Jubilee line…when did that happen?!) I met up with friends and all was good.
But on the way home, I realised I had somehow, through a busy day with a baby on my front, lost my ticket. So I walked the longer way back over land to the main Charing Cross station, because all the smaller, closer entrances said ticket holders only. There was a concert in Trafalgar Square and I had 3 bags and a Baby to carry and actually when I got there, I could have gone into any of the other entrances, because there weren’t barriers to stop me. But I met a couple of other Cybher ladies, identified by our bags and travelled the one stop to Leicester Square with them so it being busy and hot didn’t seem to matter. My original tube ticket was part of the lost ticket, so I had to buy another one but at least I was on my way.
But when we got off the train, it all went wrong. It was so busy and so hot and I got disorientated. I had lots of bags and I got shoved too close to the edge of the platform and panicked. Disorientated, I whirled round to try and get near a wall till it passed and I think one of the Cybher ladies spoke to me but I couldn’t remember her face or see which tube I had got off and which one I was aiming for and somehow I ended up going up and back down and on to the same platform, arriving there just in time for another train full of people. So we went round again and my head was pounding because I honestly couldn’t remember where I was trying to get to and by that time it was so busy that people had come to a stop in the tunnels and we were pinned in a crush of people with nowhere to go.
I’m not very good at small places, being underground or crowds. So this was not a very good feeling.
I felt so vulnerable. I suddenly realised that I had no one to help me, was feeling irrationally abandoned and if anything went more wrong at that point, I couldn’t do anything to protect us. Ben, no doubt sensing my anxiety levels rocketing, started to cry; by the time we got on to another hot and crowded train, he was screaming. Full on, head back, arms shaking rage and despair that I couldn’t do anything to comfort. I couldn’t feed him, I couldn’t explain it would all be okay, I couldn’t do anything.
So we both stood in the middle of the tube and sobbed, tears running down both our faces.
I never used to be like this. I used to be super capable in London. I used to be super competent at hustling my children through tricky moments and rising above it all to get us to a better place. I’m a mum. That’s what we do.
Apparently not any more.
The funny thing was though, people were kind. Someone reached out and touched my shoulder. Someone else moved so I could rest against a standing seat, another person offered me her seat. A little boy tried to calm Ben and his mum murmured ‘it’s okay, it’s okay’ while I pitifully failed to stop crying. If I’d been remotely capable of process anything at all, I would have marvelled. These were the Londoners of stories, not my recollections. Kind people. A fractional moment of humanity among fellow travellers.
I got to Kings Cross. My whole journey I had thought I would just go and buy the cheapest ticket for the slower First Capital Connect trains, having bought a fast ticket with East Coast that morning so we would have a quick journey home. Once I got to the terminal though, my head just fell to bits again. I couldn’t make sense of the departure board, the ticket offices had all moved and spying an attendant, I walked over to her and whispered
‘You have to help me.’
I really was that pathetic.
And she did. I’d managed to also lose my receipt by that point, but she took me to the ticket office and they wrote me a ticket out without any quibbling or jobs worth niggling. I can only assume I looked way too pathetic to be a fare dodger. Then she took me to a train, which was fully booked and standing room only, spoke to the guard and settled me in a free seat in first class where, after a few cups of tea and a chat with a family and a chat with a chap who, bizarrely works as a toy buyer for a large chain, life felt good enough to smile again.
Thank you East Coast for saving my sanity with fabulous customer service when you didn’t have to. People complain far more than they express gratitude but you saved my day today and your staff did you really proud.
Thank you London for being a kinder place than I remember and not taking advantage of me when I was vulnerable.
Thank you Peterborough, for still being here when I got back. I’ve never been so glad to see you.