Faith in Human Nature Restored on London to Honiton Train
17th Sep 2021 | Opinion
Thursday 25th July - the hottest day in London this year. Why oh why did I choose that day to travel into the capital?
Against my husband's advice I was determined not to re-arrange my plans just because of some mini heatwave so off I went armed with a couple of bottles of water.The air-conditioning on the train was not working as according to the guard it was unable to cope with the hot temperatures. It was well over halfway through the journey that he was able to use his little window opening device and allow the faintest breath of warm air in. Once in London, I had to navigate my way through the underground system, walking up the flight of 62 stairs at Holloway Road Tube as I was running late and the lift seemed to be taking forever. It was no wonder that I appeared at the pub where I was meeting a group of friends a little frazzled and dripping with sweat. I ordered a small white wine in a large glass and asked the bar tender to fill it to the brim with ice. I did not have a lot of time as, to my surprise, the last train back to Honiton was at 8.20pm. I had assumed I would take a later train back. Had I checked beforehand perhaps I would have taken my husband's advice (again). My second glass of wine remained unfinished as I said goodbye to my friends and made my way back to Waterloo. I arrived to train chaos and much whatsapping between my husband and me. "Don't miss this train, or you will have to stay in London."
"I'm here but it's not even up yet.""Probably delayed, told you not to go."
"But I would have taken a later one anyway.""Ask someone"
"Battery almost dead and I will need to show my rail card on my phone so switching off now."
A member of staff confirmed that all trains were subject to delays and advised me to keep my eye on the departures board.
I needed to eat. I bought a chicken baguette, downed some more water and waited.
At last, my train came up. I dashed to the platform, handbag, computer bag, baguette, water, ticket… I joined the throng waiting to board the last train to Devon and to my relief I got a seat - at a table to boot!
I collapsed in a heap, rested my head against the window and thought, "why is my husband always right?"
The train filled up quickly. I watched with interest as a woman across the aisle placed her lovely little dog on the seat next to her. "That dog won't be staying there," I thought.
Sure enough it was not long before the dog was placed on the woman's lap as a more deserving passenger took its place.
At last, at around 9pm and 40 minutes late, the train pulled out. Again the air-conditioning was not working. If the window was open, there seemed to be no air circulating.
The heat emanating from all those bodies closed in on me and I felt I could hardly breathe. It was somewhere between Clapham Junction and Woking that I felt it.
You know - the wave of sickness. I could almost feel myself pale, clammy and nauseous. I looked at the lady next to me and asked to be excused as I needed to get to the loo.
She could tell something was wrong. I got up and squeezed past her and, as has happened so many times before, my knees buckled and I felt myself go.
I collapsed, right there in the middle of the aisle of a packed train from London to Exeter. I'm never out for more than a few seconds.
As I came to, I could hear, "What's your name, can you hear me?""Quick, give her water." I managed to utter my name "Maria" "Maria, I'm a doctor, are you diabetic?" "Shall we call an ambulance?" "I've called an ambulance". "No", says the doctor, "she's just fainted." "Please don't call an ambulance, please don't stop the train," I managed to mumble. I feel sick. "I've just fainted. I do it all the time." The truth is, I don't actually do it all the time but I am a fainter. Someone hands the doctor the phone.
"No, she's fine, she's just fainted."
"I think I'm going to be sick."
"Quick, a bag!" the doctor shouted.
A carrier bag appeared from somewhere and, sitting on the floor of that 8.20 crowded train from London to Exeter, a respectable, middle-aged wife and mother of three, chucked up her chicken baguette right into the Tesco plastic bag. Thank heavens they still have them.
To say I was utterly mortified would be an understatement. But to say that I could not believe the kindness, compassion and concern from my fellow passengers would be even more so.
By this time, I had completely recovered. All I felt was shame and embarrassment.
The lady who had been sitting next to me asked kindly if I wanted to get out at Woking with her and take some fresh air. "No, thank you so much, I feel completely fine now. My only thought now was getting rid of the "bag of horror" .
"I'll take that for you. We are coming into Woking now." the lady said.
"No," I exclaimed aghast! "I will deal with it…"
"It's really fine," she said. "I'll get rid of it for you."
And with that, a total stranger took my "bag of horror" away and wished me well.
As the doctor helped me up, the lady with the dog spoke kindly to me. "I'm a fainter too," she said.
I sat in my original seat to see at least four bottles of water available for me. The staff came to check on me and the lovely Dr Luke insisted on sitting next to me to make sure I was OK.
The rest of the journey was spent with me apologising profusely and drinking as much water as I could thinking it might mask my "throw-up breath" and chatting to Dr Luke and the father and son sitting opposite.
Dr Luke is a thirty-something-year old Oncologist working at Southhampton hospital.
I have tried looking him up as I would like to write to him and send a gift for his brand new baby that should be born by now. So far I have had no success.
I would like to thank Dr Luke profusely for being so kind and attentive to me; the lady who took my "bag of horror" away; the lady with the lovely dog; the couple who sat opposite us, chatting away and putting me at ease; the lady who got off a few stops before Honiton and offered me a sweet and to everyone in that carriage who did not judge me or treat me with contempt.
I keep wondering about the one and a half glasses of white wine, kicking myself for having had them.
I don't drink heavily but I am a social drinker. I have not been sick from alcohol since I was a teenager so I am trying to convince myself that the episode was not down to the wine but rather a combination of exhaustion and a touch of heat stroke.
I guess I'll never know. The wine could not have helped though. I am still embarrassed when I think of what happened and my husband cringed when I recounted the story.
"Why don't you listen to me? I told you not to go" I sheepishly agreed that, as usual, he was right.
Having said all that, I am heartened by the incident. At a time when we see so much anger, outrage and hostility in our country, it is comforting to know that in the real world (as opposed to the virtual one), most people are good and kind.
If there was anyone on that carriage that evening who was disgusted, appalled or even irritated I certainly was not made aware of it. Indeed I was struck by peoples' empathy and willingness to help.
It has also served to remind me that the kindness showed to me that evening should be replicated.
In just one week, I feel that I have become a more compassionate person - after all if total strangers can have such compassion then it is incumbent upon me to have this same compassion. A kind word and a smile goes a long way.