This evening, I left London Paddington on a train bound for Cheltenham. As with all my planned travel for business, I’d bought my ticket well in advance – both to be assured of a seat (not always guaranteed on British trains) and to be on a train that gets to my destination some time before midnight.
Not joking. Not even a bit.
Anyway, I picked up my tickets, complete with reservation number, went to the waiting train and boarded the carriage. After the usual waiting for the last minute announcement from Paddington station as to where I could find my train.
It’s a bit of a game. If you enjoy dashing across the concourse, baggage in tow, while trying to simultaneously avoid commuters running with equal desperation, but in the opposite direction.
My train carriage was basically deserted, but I headed over to the seat associated with my reservation, because my life is all about following “the rules”.
I sat down just as a middle-aged guy did the same, but directly opposite me. Despite the plethora of empty seats all around us.
I had apparently encountered my middle-aged doppelgänger. We ended up sitting opposite each other, across a table, in a four-seater part of the carriage. All around us, empty seats. But – for some bizarre reason – we stayed in our assigned seats.
He kept looking at his ticket and then at the reservation stub behind his head.
Then he looked at me and the stub behind my head. But no movement.
Despite our knees virtually touching under the table. And I’m by no means a tall guy…
He look genuinely perturbed.
Sensing an impasse, and being far too stubborn to move, I pulled out my laptop and got stuck into some work, leaving the world around me behind. Unbelievably, it took an hour for the guy to move to the seat next to him so he could stretch out his legs.
He remained in the same four-seater arrangement, even though there were empty seats all around us. He had a reserved seat and obviously wasn’t going to stray too far from it.
I fear I may have ruined his entire evening. Or given him a whole new story about how rude and ruthless people in London are.
I travel back to London on Thursday. Maybe I’ll sit in an un-assigned seat then. Maybe.
But for this evening, I won the game of “keep your reserved seat”.