It just goes to show
‘Don’t talk to strangers’
Like many of us, this is something that was drummed into me as a child. As my own children were growing up, there was a book which went the rounds, entitled Just Say No, which came out of the book case regularly to reinforce the message.
My mother also used to say that adversity brings people together. Thank God it’s years since we were under threat from war in this country, but certain things can still bring out the Dunkirk spirit. One of them, I’ve discovered, is fighting your way on to a Cross Country train when half the carriages on which passengers have booked seats have been removed. Result: too many people for too few seats. Fortunately for me, carriage C was one of the ones that they’d left behind, and after 10 minutes of patient waiting in a queue (Dunkirk spirit again) I braved the obstacle course presented by those unwillingly blocking the pathway to my seat,. Amazingly, when I found it, it was vacant, so I didn’t have to do that ‘I’m awfully sorry, but I think you’re in my seat’ routine. All I had to do to reach it was to interrupt the supper of the lady in the seat next to mine (she was eating what appeared to be a healthy-looking tuna salad, carefully packaged; I felt a sense of shame at the high-calorie cheese sandwich in my hand), find somewhere for my suitcase, remove my coat while balancing my sandwich and too large cup of tea on the too small pull down table in front of my seat and clamber in.
‘Shall I take your case to the luggage rack for you?’ she asked, showing much more consideration than was justified, considering I’d just interrupted her supper. ‘That’s really kind of you’ I replied, but I’m afraid I’m slightly paranoid about leaving my suitcase there. I once had one stolen from there and prefer to keep it where I can see it’ After several attempts to jam my overnight bag on to the luggage rack above my head (this, we are told, is for small bags: larger ones should be stowed in the luggage rack at the end of the carriage, where, presumably, they are safe because no-one but the owner has the strength or will to try lifting them. My suitcase was bought specifically to fit in the overhead luggage compartment on an EasyJet plane, so I’m not sure what Cross Country’s definition of small is). ‘That’s not safe’ said my travelling companion assertively, and not unreasonably, since her head was in the firing line if it fell down. In the end I stuck the suitcase on the floor in front of where I was about to sit. After only a few minutes writhing in my seat, then executing a few of the movements I’d practised that morning at the gym, I was safely ensconced: my suitcase under the seat in front of me; my cup of tea and sandwich on the pull down tray; my coat only slightly damp from the tea which had emerged from the tiny hole on the lid of the cup as I was being jostled in the not-so-patient queue to get on the train (how DOES that happen?) stuffed inelegantly into the gap beside me; and my handbag on my knee.
Within thirty seconds, I realised that my book was in my suitcase, and there was no way I was going to extract it until the train began to empty at Bristol in an hour-and-a-half’s time. My co-traveller was solicitous of my efforts to squeeze myself into the space (‘so elegant’, she said, with a wry smile) and no doubt caught up by the Dunkirk spirit, we started talking.
‘It’s funny what you’ll say to a stranger in a train’ she remarked at one point in the conversation. And she’s right. Our conversation ranged over business (each of us working for ourselves) family, how we turn into our mothers as we get older, travel, social media – oh, and Scrabble, with her explaining to me that she was playing a number of people all over the world, and punctuating our conversation by checking how different games were progressing, and taking a turn in several of them, without losing the rhythm of our conversation.
I was inspired to renew my focus on developing my online presence as a means of marketing my leadership development business, as I learned from her lots about how she supports clients in the tourism industry to refine theirs. The journey from Birmingham to Taunton has never passed so quickly. I’m not sure what she got from the experience – a couple of words for her scrabble games and a cautionary tale about not leaving your suitcase where you can’t see it, probably. But it all goes to show that John Donne was right in the sixteenth century when he gave some early networking advice: ‘no man is an island’.. – and that as adults, we should recognise the injunctions which remain from our childhood, and give ourselves permission to ditch the ones which are no longer useful.
When did you last question a ‘rule of life’ which you learned as a child?