To those constituents who had a horrendous journey home on Thursday last week, I have a message. Your Member of Parliament felt your pain. I was at Waterloo Station at 3.30, and I got home at 8.30.
I got on a train that the departure board said was going to Basingstoke. This was promising, as there was little else advertised on the board. But when the carriages were crammed full, the sardines were invited to disembark.
A group of resourceful passengers found two empty trains; we then found a train driver and guard who were prepared to drive and guard one of them; and a Customer Services Officer who had a hot line to Control. A deal was within our grasp, but foundered on the issue of driver’s hours.
One frustrated commuter asked if four others would share a cab to Basingstoke. There were four volunteers, one of whom was your MP.
We had first to find a black cab prepared to do the journey. “Basingstoke? Is that out Barking way?” When we told him where it was, he declined. We found one who had a full tank, a flask of coffee, Sat Nav and a wife who didn’t mind if he never came home that night. So off went five total strangers, on a mobile Big Brother expedition.
There was Andrew the Jeweller; Sarah the Health Inspector; Sue the Banker and Sue the Mobile Phone. And me.
Sarah knew a lot about inspecting hospitals; but, working for the NHS, she knew even more about being re-organised. Sue the Mobile Phone worked for Motorola, and had a mobile phone a ten year old would die for. And Sue the Banker was in Customer Services.
The first hour was spent as the ladies re-arranged their child care. Sarah had five children, all of whom led active social lives. The logistics of managing their movements, horrendous when she was with them, seemed unmanageable in absentia.
Sue the Banker was sitting opposite me and I saw she was looking with horror at my right ear. I was facing backwards, in front of the meter. And it was the meter that was worrying her. While the taxi was stationery for the first hour, its meter was not. And if the banker was worried, we should all be.
Negotiations were opened with the driver for a fixed price contract. The Jeweller was tasked with these negotiations. He spent his life being negotiated down, and had the required portfolio of skills. A bargain was struck at £25 a head.
Sue the Banker had had no lunch, and had been looking forward to an early meal at home. With a long journey ahead – we spent one hour in Victoria St – we looked round to see whom we would eat first. And decided it would be easier to stop at a Motorway Service Station.
I asked the jeweller to identify the stones on the many rings being worn by the lady passengers, and then value them. He wasn’t going to tiptoe through that minefield. He was not only a jeweller but a diplomat.
There was a low point during the journey. Sue’s husband rang in to say he had caught a train from Waterloo to Basingstoke – and where was she?
But if you had to spend four hours in a confined place with four total strangers, you could not have been more fortunate. All were sober and congenial and, given we were in a very small place, none had personal hygiene problems.
As we disembarked at Basingstoke Station, we thought about a reunion in a year’s time. We decided against and went our separate ways, as the taxi driver accosted folk at the station.
“Anyone for London?”