In our last house the railway ran along the back of the garden. Not exactly pleasant for us, but for Ravi, a toddler and train enthusiast, it was pure heaven. Whenever he visited he would stand on a chair by the window and watch spellbound as each train passed by. One day we went to the local train station to get a closer look and to speak to a train driver. The speaking part was for me – they are amongst my list of unsung heroes.
We saw lots of engines and then went to the end of a platform on which a train was parked before it started on its journey around London. We knocked on the engine door and it opened. I explained our business to the driver who made us most welcome and patiently answered our questions, telling us of his work with a certain pride. Then he had to go – after all, he had a timetable to follow. We wandered home hardly saying a word. It had been an exciting first for both of us, and that was exhausting.
While I have a special respect for train drivers, to an extent it stretches to include the drivers of all ‘public’ vehicles, in which I would include buses and planes. Accordingly, when I get off a train, I will try, if at all possible, to thank the driver in person for getting me to my destination safe and sound. Time permitting, I might mention his skill and courage – I personally would not want to be at the front of a train hurtling along at up to 120mph! Similarly, and when I can, I thank airline pilots, although they can be difficult to find as security measures seem to keep them locked in their cockpits till well after we passengers have left. And jumbo jet pilots are impossible. Do they go in and out of their own back door?
Naturally, thanks are extended to bus drivers too. But here, expressing gratitude is simpler because they are so much more accessible. Moreover, judging by the many others who do likewise, this is a common practice, at least in London. So I was naturally upset last week when I saw first hand two instances in which this courtesy was flouted, and badly so.
The first incident occurred as I was standing in a bus queue. A bus, not mine, had picked up its passengers and was just about to drive off when a woman rushed up and knocked on the closed door asking to be let in. The door opened and in she jumped. The driver gently pointed out that her small daughter, who was still outside and pushing her toy pram, was now almost under his front wheel. The mother turned, leaned out, hoicked in the child-plus-pram and then swore loudly at the driver, continuing her tirade till she found a seat. He sat resigned. She seemed oblivious. I was left miserable. In my book, such crude and uncalled-for behaviour is simply horrible.
The second incident occurred about 20 minutes later. I got on the next bus and complimented the driver for being bang on time. It was a relief as otherwise I would have been late for my meeting. We sped along and then at a bus stop half way to my destination, we stopped and seemed to wait for hours. There was no one there and I wondered if something was wrong. Then up came a breathless woman with her child. Obviously she had waved the bus down some distance back and the driver had noticed. But our wait continued and after a further 30 seconds another mother and child appeared. I was full of admiration for the driver’s kindness but this was soon followed by a sense of outrage – to my amazement neither woman thanked him. Nor did they thank him when they got off. How could they be so cold and inconsiderate, not to say impolite?
I arrived at my meeting only a few moments late and told my story. A friend asked if I had told the women off. No, I had remained silent. I probably should have spoken up, indeed I had thought to do so, but I had wondered whether such an action would have made any difference. I certainly gave my own thanks to the driver when I got off, but I suspect that this will have offered little compensation.
Photo: Collection of the London Transport Museum