Contrary to what the two men who stood before me thought, I had not deliberately intended to evade my train-fare home.
I’d had an exhausting day. I’d forgone the bike ride home on account of the fact that I’d left White City late. By the time I’d travelled the half hour journey to Tower Hill the prospect of cycling for another 50 minutes was too much. I crossed Tower Bridge and checked my train pass with the men at the gate at London Bridge. They were happy to let me through. I was grateful.
It genuinely hadn’t crossed my mind that just because my Oyster card had let me through the barriers at London Bridge that it may not get me past the two “Railway Enforcement Officers” unexpectedly waiting for me (and a few others, no doubt) at Hither Green in their self-important high-visibility jackets.
To be fair, one of them was marginally more polite than the other. Of course, it was my luck that the less reasonable and on ocassions downright ruder one of the two was one the one who took great pleasure in completing a penalty fare form.
Sure, technically speaking I did fail to get a ticket which would cover the entire journey and so I was in breach of the law. But there I was sporting a smart bag, clearly not someone who is prone to leaping over station barriers or hanging around station platforms with some kind of intent.
Neither of them thought to ask the question I’ve been asked before, “Why didn’t you get a ticket?” They weren’t interested, it struck me. Before I’d even had a chance to put my bag on the ground in search of a pesky proof of ID, the lesser reasonable of the two had already retrieved his pen from his pocket and began completing the form.
“What’s your address?” he barked, “Just say it slowly.”
I overlooked it, remembering the advice my manager had once given me about picking my battles.
“Yes, I know the postcode. You already told me. What’s the road name?”
I’m 34, I thought to myself. I’m not some fucking child.
I gave him the address and breathed in deeply. Even if I hadn’t intended to, I had broken the rules.
The truth was, I couldn’t really help myself. Being a daring and shameless chap I did try to engage them in conversation, questioning them about the procedure they had to follow. Surely, I thought, if I show I’m a reasonable and intelligent individual they’ll probably be quite relieved. They might possibly engage.
Not a chance. Despite repeated attempts to ask them the simple question, “If you are charging me the single fare for the journey I haven’t paid for and telling me its up to me to appeal so as to avoid the remaining £18.10 penalty, why can’t I just pay £1.90 to the guys in the ticket hall? That way the train company gets the …”
The guy on the left – we’ll call him Dominic because that’s his name – was having none of it and cut in. He did in fact cut in for the third time in as many minutes. I protested about his interruption but he carried on regardless.
“You’re being issued with a penalty fare because you didn’t have a ticket. That’s it.”
“I know,” I said, “I’m not disagreeing or wriggling out of that. I’m just asking, if I can and will pay you the single fare now and I’m not quibbling over paying the single fare, why can’t I just buy the single fare and you not issue a penalty fare? It’s not like I make a habit of this.”
To regail you with the remainder of the conversation would be pointless and boring. Suffice it to say that I finished the day disappointed that contrary to my hopes there are considerably more people who derive immense joy from adopting a smug sense of superiority in their jobs.
Sure, they have to because they have to deal with a lot worse than me, but sometimes I’d hope for a little bit more from other human beings – especially older ones – when they’re faced with someone who quite obviously isn’t a persistent fare dodger. To speak over me when I’m not being aggressive or giving cause for irritation makes those two Rail Enforcement Officers nothing more than failed wannabee policemen.
Thank Christ they didn’t wish me a good night as I trundled off with my penalty fare notice in my pocket. I’d have scratched their eyes out if they had.
Oh .. and in case you’re wondering .. of course I’m going to appeal.