My carefully planned trip to London last Saturday went a little awry. I had planned the train so that I had just enough time to reach my meeting. Then we decided it would be good to drop in at the Algerian Coffee Shop to buy coffee beans. It promised to be hot so, to avoid rushing in the heat, I thought I would get the next earlier train – that was, an hour earlier. On the morning I was up early and ready to leave so drove to the station. Being Saturday, the roads were empty and the station car park empty too: I was on the platform early enough to catch the next earlier train.
I arrived at Waterloo 1.5 hours earlier I had originally planned, so after purchasing my coffee beans, proceeded to Oxford Street – Ilfracombe High Street is far preferable – then on to New Oxford Street. I wandered along to Holborn Underground Station and realised that it was more than 22 years since I had last walked the route of my daily commute from this station down Kingsway to the Aldwych. I was determined to retrace my steps.
It brought back memories of walking along that rather grim, grey road every morning. I recalled seeing the regular throng of homeless people, often swigging from cans of Tennent’s Lager: not a comfortable thought at 8.30am in any way. And I looked out for the little temple – as I used to think of it – on the corner of one of the buildings on the west side of Kingsway. High above the grime of the traffic and commuters, I used to imagine being able to see across London and up into the sky: I’ve always been a dreamer and it’s probably why I departed the corporate world.
What I also remembered is how unhappy I was working in this environment and how, from a lot of the rudeness I observed, the seeds of pleaseandthanks.co.uk were sown.
This brought me back to the present as if someone had snapped their fingers. I was on my way to the annual general meeting of the National Campaign for Courtesy where I was to give a report on the courteous town pilot initiative we have been running in Ilfracombe.
It reminded me that you can always extract some positive value from bad experiences.
What had led me to retrace the route of my former commute and realise that something that germinated 22 years ago was now reaching fruition?
I felt that a circle had been closed and that this marked an achievement, especially as our courteous town pilot will be marked officially in a week or so.
I wonder how I really came to take that earlier train?