In Praise of Humanity

This whole episode reminded me about Barry Schwartz’s talk on TED: Our Loss of Wisdom (which I highly, HIGHLY recommend) – but anyway, this is just a little something about an incident that happened recently, and how helpful people can be.


On Thursday I attended a conference hosted by Ambition (Scotland) concerning Social Media, Augmented Reality and Webcasting (amongst other things), the conference was very interesting and I came away feeling far more informed about more technology than I thought I would! However, that’s not what this post is about (though there will, perhaps be a post about the conference later). Instead, this post is about people.

I had to be at the conference for ten o’clock, which meant an earlier train from Edinburgh than I was used to. I climbed my way up Leith Walk around eight and arrived at the station with five minutes to spare. The line at the ticket office was eight to ten people long with only two of the seven kiosks open. It was peak time. I waited for a while – cash and railcard in hand so I could get it all sorted out quickly should a kiosk become available – but, realising that those in front of me would not be served before my train was due I opted instead for a ticket machine. I stuffed my cash, tickets and cards in my pocket and rushed for my train (which was due to leave thirty seconds later.

I made it. I sat down next to a middle aged lady who was leafing through a broadsheet newspaper. The sun outside was warm and bright, and the carriage I was on was already begin to get uncomfortably warm. It was a busy train, but at the first stop a large number of people got off. I changed seats so I could work on my laptop without causing the woman any distress (I can be quite a heavy typist) and was halfway through shifting my gear around when the conductor asked for my ticket.

She was short with brown hair, light freckles about the nose and shiny braces. I fumbled in my pocket for the tickets, found them, and handed them to her. She asked for my railcard so I fumbled a little more. I couldn’t find it. I emptied my wallet and, not only had my railcard disappeared, but so too had my cash. Shit. Fuck.

‘If I can’t find it you’re going to have to charge me more aren’t you?’ I said, standing up and checking the seat beneath me.
____‘You’ll have to buy a new ticket,’ she said, or words to that effect. I couldn’t really here her over my concern that I’d be hit paying an addition thirteen pounds on top of the twelve I’d already paid. I didn’t think I’d have to buy a brand new ticket, only pay the difference between a railcard ticket and a standard – that’s what happened last time wasn’t it (when my railcard was one day out of date)?

I couldn’t find it.

____‘You should have had your railcard ready before I came round,’ she said unhelpfully.
____I know, I was in a rush, and I’d just changed seats but I had it in my hands only five minutes ago.’
She shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. I decided I’d give in, I couldn’t find it. I paid for an additionally ticket and continued to search my bag.

Half an hour later the broad-sheeted woman folded her paper under her arm and lifted herself from her chair. The train slowed into the station, but she walked over to me.
____‘Did you say you’d lost some money?’
____‘Yes,’ I said, ‘and my railcard, I just don’t understand what I – ‘
She held out a ten pound note in her hand. ‘I found it on the chair.’
____‘Oh! Oh thank-you! That’s incredibly helpful; do you know if my railcard was there too?’
We wandered over to the chair on which she had been sitting and sure enough, poking up from the cushions was an orange card.
____‘Ah, brilliant!’ I said, ‘thank-you so much! That’s made my morning.’
____‘Not a problem,’ she said, leaving the train.

My awful morning had now improved somewhat. I waited until the conductor passed by again and flagged her down.
____‘Hey, sorry – I found my railcard, I’d dropped it on my seat.’
She looked at me awkwardly, ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘you failed to produce the card when requested.’
____‘But it wasn’t purposeful, I’d dropped it in a hurry,’ I said, ‘I have it now – you can check it if you like?’
____‘There’s nothing I can do,’ she said.
____‘I’ll ask at the station.’
She moved her lips as if wanting to reply, but didn’t – the train was slowing to a stop and she’d have to fiddle with the doors. In part, I wish I knew what she’d have said, though I was somewhat irritated by the bureaucracy of the situation at the time. It may not have gone down well.

I attended the conference and, much later, arrived back in Edinburgh. I went to the ticket office to ask about refunds and whether there was any way to get my money back, or some of my money back (in effect, I’d just paid for two returns and used only one, even if I only got a refund for my railcard ticket I’d be happy). The queue was long yet again, and the four members of staff at the counters looked tired. I too was tired, and, seeing the long line of customers and noticing the time on the clock I began to doubt that they’d want to help me.

____‘Hey, sorry – this is a bit of an odd request. I bought this ticket…’ I explained my situation as best I could to the woman behind the counter. She smiled faintly at me, and when I told her about the lovely lady that had found my money and card she commented, ‘How very kind of her! Not everyone is like that.’ I nodded in affirmation adding ‘she really was a lovely woman.’ The woman behind the counter listened to my story (which I tried to keep brief so as not to delay the long queue behind me) and handed me a form.
____‘Fill this in and put it in the post, if you need more space than the space provided then you can use an additional sheet of paper. You might be able to get something back, though I can’t be sure.’
____‘Brilliant, thank-you so much!’

Of course, I have no reason to believe that I’ll get anything back for the tickets. By sending them through the post with a written account of what happened the issue is no longer an obvious one. On the other side of the delivery will be a man or woman, opening similarly posted material, and all they’ll see is two sets of tickets – one set marked in pen, the other completely unmarked. My story will be only words on a page making the reality of the situation faint, misty, opaque. But again, that is not what this post is about – this post is about the lovely woman on the train and the helpful woman at the station; two people who went out of their way to help me in, what would have been, a pretty awful morning.

So here’s a final thank-you.



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