A young woman in her twenties,
All make-up and power dressing,
Rummages for the missing ticket
and flips through reservations,
receipts and return tickets
The man by her hurrying elbow
looks over her padded shoulder, vainly.
“Oh, I’m sure I picked it up,
she says innocently.
“We have the receipt here”, the man begins,
“I’m sure he understands, of course he does,”
her voice horsey and undaunted.
The man next to her is sleek and fat.
Maybe thirty years older than her, he bristles uncomfortably
“Obviously we are trying to defraud you,”
prickly humour. The brace buckles glint
at the waistband of his pin-striped trousers.
The ticket inspector is unmoved,
He looks down at them through his fish bowl spectacles,
and repeats in reedy, nasal tones,
“I’m going to have to sell you a full price single fare.”
The scene is set. The man is outraged.
“This is preposterous. Abso-bloody-lutely preposterous.
Of course we bought the ticket. Look, here’s the receipt.”
Proof of his right hidden in the starred-out digits
Of his platinum card.
The inspector retains his calm,
“You may have bought a ticket, sir,
But how do I know you haven’t
Given that ticket away to someone?”
“Do we look like the kind of people…”
his voice is rising, loud enough for all to hear,
beginning to expose his hand,
he lays out the cards
that this man cannot seem to read
through his thick-lensed spectacles.
“… The kind of people who would do a thing like that?” he asks.
“No,” I say, “you don’t look that generous,”
But only to myself.
We are nearing Milton Keynes and the scene ends.
The ticket inspector exits to make his announcements.
He promises to return, suggesting that they look again
for the missing ticket.
Opposite the suspects, facing forward on the four-seater table
Sits a thin, nervous looking woman
in a librarian’s cardigan,
who has been bent over her book all this time,
Now, she tries to help. Offers lines of defence.
From across the aisle, I do too.
Until now I have also kept my distance.
My ticket, as usual,
has had a previous stamp scrubbed off.
It only covers half my journey.
It wasn’t that I forgot to buy the right one.
“These people don’t know who they’re talking to sometimes”
“What if I tell him I’ve got colleagues at the bar?”
The girl giggles.
“It’s an absolute disgrace hounding people like us,” he says,
“That man is a prat.”
The train pulls out of the station and
the ticket inspector returns.
“Now have you found that ticket?”
The girl, keen to clear things up begins,
“I must have left it in the ticket machine or something
because it’s just not in my handbag
but we really did buy two return tickets
we’ve got all the other parts of it and the receipt.”
He has her now. She has admitted her deed,
bulky ticket machine
hanging from his neck
in weighty authority,
This minor triumph will be his.
“I’m afraid that the rules state quite clearly
if you are travelling without the appropriate ticket…”
“This is too much,” the man snaps.
He jabs a sudden finger at this man in front of him
as he might swipe away a wasp with a copy of The Telegraph.
“You are a prat. An absolute prat.”
A challenge. The inspector is lost for words.
“My PA here has three tickets and the receipt of purchase.
You know that we bought the ticket.
The actual presence of the forth ticket is immaterial,
You know we haven’t cheated anyone.”
“You have got on a train without the correct ticket for the journey.
I am offering you the chance to buy a single ticket fare.”
Defensive jut of the chin,
holding the man’s angry stare through his thick lenses.
“Do you have discretion
about whether or not you accept our explanation?” our man,
who has colleagues at the bar,
“If you are travelling without…” the inspector begins again.
“Answer the question,” the man interrupts, triumphant now,
playing the Perry Mason, the train carriage his audience and jury.
He spells out his words loudly and slowly,
“Do you, or do you not, have discretion over the issuing of fines?”
“Yes, I do.” he says.
“And so you can choose whether you issue a fine on this occasion?”
but you did call him a prat…
“Yes sir, but I am choosing on this occasion
to fine you as I cannot be certain that you have not given the ticket
Away to somebody else, therefore enabling
the evasion of a fare for this journey.”
“I’m going to go to announce the next station
and when I return I will ask again for the full single fare for this journey.
If you don’t pay I will call the transport police
and have them meet you at Euston station.”
The cornerstone threat of the whole structure
of the interaction. That quietens him a little.
The inspector leaves the carriage.
The man jumps out of his seat,
spreads his arms and addresses his audience.
“Who here thinks I should have to pay the fine?
You all heard him. What do you think?”
Smiling, jovial, intelligent.
“Should I have to pay the fine?”
The gentleman patrician appealing to his tenants.
And then you, from across the table,
Quiet and awkward in your cardigan,
you who would never cheat or buy the wrong ticket,
spoke up softly but firmly.
“I don’t think it’s very reasonable of him to ask you to pay,
but you didn’t need to speak to him like that.”
the sea rises up and swallows the land
cities crumble to dust
and forests spread across their ruined carcasses,
birds drop dead out of the sky.
But only for a second.
“well listen yes, I mean, absolutely,
I lost my temper and I shouldn’t have spoken to him
in the way I did and you know
and of course I can afford this ticket of course yes.
Why weren’t you paying attention at the ticket machine, Erica?
I told you before it’s very important
to look after these kind of details
but he really is pushing it too far
with this kind of attitude
do we really look like criminals?”
A number of sycophants sympathise kindly.
Normality returns and with it the ticket inspector.
generous and wealthy,
pays the full single fare.
It is awkward between him and the woman opposite him.
An unusually long time before we reach Euston
She gets up with her bag and moves down the carriage,
away from the magistrate and his personal assistant.
So a curse on your magistrate’s courts
with your all-boys secret society
and your twisted notions of propriety
How many times have you refused clemency,
Are by no means the preserve of the wealthy.
Look how you behave when you’re standing out in company.
Don’t think you can use democracy
like the whore she was never meant to be,
with no humility of equality,
no feel for solidarity
no notion of mutuality.
And a curse on the spineless who accept this shit so meekly.
Power to the woman who shifted in her seat so awkwardly
And spoke her mind straightforwardly.
Leaving my seat, I get up to find her.
She has moved several carriages further up the train.
“Well done for what you said,” I say.
She is nervous, unsure, thinks she’s been rude.
“No seriously, you did the right thing,” I tell her and explain why I think so.
“Thanks,” she says, I feel better about what I said now.”
“My pleasure,” I say, “you deserve to.”