Today was my first.
I arrived early, on the station at 0630
The crowd built, a real cut of society but heavily dominated by men in machine washable suits and solemn faces. All with a common goal. Get a seat. Get to London. It was eat or be eaten.
But in an unexpected twist to this trackside tale the camaraderie grew. This was a hushed band of brothers, they had grown close on their mornings together. Handshakes, head nods and pleasantries exchanged. I had my foot in the door of a secret society. Would I one day be taken as their own? Would they wonder after me when I was laid up with flu? Or would my bland features allow me to slip around unnoticed like a spy trying to uncover the truth?
The train arrived. The people shuffled. Seats were had by all.
I sat quietly knowing there are no second chances in the game of first impressions. I figured out most of the rules. I did my best not to fidget or make eye contact, I kept my farts quiet, didn’t crack my knuckles and kept the air timpani practice to a minimum. The tin of chili mackerel – as tempting as it was – remained unpulled in my bag. I was thankfully long past my Nu Metal phase and was considerate enough to hold off on my sock darning duties until later. I’d even left my copy of ‘Stay Calm – 27 Ways To Avoid Violent Outbursts on Public Transport’ on the bedside table. For all intents and purposes I was the model passenger.
We got to Kings Cross. This was a big moment. I stood up and waited, and then it happened. A young chap with more beard than head hair moved forth an arm and let me out into the gangway. To an outsider this would look like a simple act of politeness, but to those of us who move in different circles we knew. I’d been accepted. I had myself a new tribe.
I joyfully bounded across the platform, certain everyone was (very) secretly congratulating me for a job well done. I joined the growing queue for the ticket barriers knowing my family would be proud.
But l fucked up.
The red light lit up, and what turned out to be my receipt got spat out of the smug looking machine. The line grew, hands were on hips, the curious sound of tutting filled the air. They saw through me now, I was an amateur in the world of professionals, a learner stalling at the lights, the trainee chef microwaving gazpacho soup. If May 1958 had been my record attempt the papers in Iffley would have read ‘TRIPPED AT 1700 YARDS – The Story of the 4 and a Bit Minute Mile’.
To embarrass myself like this in front of my new clan was horrific. I considered taking addresses, writing apology cards, possibly quitting work or at the very least emigration. It owed them as much. They trusted me.
Note to self: don’t count your victories before they’re won (or don’t put your receipt in a ticket machine).